min read

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?


For the longest time, most people considered poker as just another gambling game, and few would ever consider it to be anything else. However, as the popularity of poker grew, it became clear that poker is more than just gambling and that there are real elements of skill and competition to it.

Quite a few players and poker enthusiasts went as far as claim poker is a sport and should be deemed as such. While it is generally not considered a sport in most of the world, some great arguments support the claim.

So is poker a sport or just another game? We try to find out by looking at poker from different angles and comparing it to the most popular sports and games out there.

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?

Skill in Poker is Undeniable

With poker being so popular for so many years now, it is beyond question that poker is a game of skill and one where better players eventually come out on top.

This is not to say that poker doesn’t include elements of luck, but so do many other games and sports that the general public looks upon a lot more seriously.

Despite all the success of the world’s best poker pros and their consistent results, many still choose to attribute their wins to pure luck and nothing more. Yet, it is not too difficult to prove conclusively that poker is a game of skill and not chance.

It could be argued that other games that require a certain skill set to be successful are not considered sports either.

However, poker is one of the most complex games in the world, as it requires many different skills and knowledge, and understanding of various aspects of the game.

What’s even more, poker requires elements of physical exertion as well, even though one could not tell from simply observing the game from the outside.

Poker as a Test of Physical Abilities

Simply observing poker players play the game would hardly make one think it represents any serious test of physical abilities. After all, the players are just sitting down, not making too many physical motions, and not exerting themselves as most other athletes might be.

However, if you have ever played poker for a living, you surely understand how hard it can be on you from a physical standpoint as well.

To succeed in the game, you must spend countless hours playing it, which requires serious stamina. Not only do you need to stay awake for many hours at a time, often at times that are not the most convenient for you, but you also need to remain mentally sharp throughout the entire process.

Keeping your focus at a high level through long night sessions can be extremely difficult and is one of the things players most struggle with. It is not uncommon to see players make huge mistakes due to fatigue or lack of focus, and avoiding such mistakes means having to be in shape.

Most great professional poker players try to stay in good physical shape as well, as this helps them deal with long sessions and be better than their opponents when the fatigue kicks in.

This is also one of the reasons you often see older players struggling in poker games, as the long hours take their toll even on the most physically ready, let alone those who don't work out or keep in shape.

Whether you are young or old, being a truly great poker player will require you to work on your physical well-being, which is one of the parallels we can draw between poker and other sports.

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?

The Competitive World of Poker

Looking at how poker has developed in recent decades, it is easy to see how it resembles other sports in many ways. Poker tours, such as the WPT, EPT, and the most recent PGT, all include leaderboards where players win points across several tournaments and compete for the title of the best year-round.

The PGT, in particular, has resembled the likes of ATP more and more in recent years, with the world's best players coming together to play in some truly elite poker tournaments.

The smaller field events make variance less of a factor than some of the massive open poker tournaments out there, which turns poker more sport-like than ever before.

Competition between the likes of Fedor Holz, Daniel Negreanu, and Phil Ivey for WSOP bracelets and other trophies also draws quite a few parallels with the world of competitive sports.

The kind of commitment and dedication these players have to the game equals the best athletes in the world competing in tennis, basketball, or any other sport you can think of.

Importance of TV Poker

Another thing in which poker is unlike any other game, especially any gambling game, is the fact that televised poker is great entertainment for the masses. Thousands tune in to watch the final tables of the WSOP or EPT events and see the best players in the world compete in their discipline.

Watching these poker players play the game often leaves us speechless as we see them make moves and plays we could never think of on our own.

In fact, if you watch the pros play poker for long enough, you will notice very little gamble to the way they play and that every move is carefully calculated and made with a good reason.

Poker on TV has been growing and booming in recent years and has turned even cash games into a competition that we can record and track over the long run.

Poker shows like Hustler Casino Live has created new poker heroes out of players like Garret Adelstein, with thousands of fans actively cheering on their favorites in the games.

The importance of fans and TV poker cannot be understated if we want to talk about poker as a sport, as any true sport needs to have a strong fan base behind it.

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?

How Does Poker Compare to Traditional Sports?

Of course, many people out there claim poker can’t be considered a sport because it does not require the same amounts of physical exertion as sports like football, basketball, or hockey.

While this is partly true, many sports don’t require players to do too much in physicality.

Golf is a great example of a sport that is accepted as one by everyone but actually requires no running, no jumping, and very little physical activity altogether. It’s all about making the few moves you do need to make perfect.

In addition to this, chess has been recognized as a sport by the International Olympic Committee since 2000, and the game probably requires even less physical activity than poker.

This alone goes a long way to prove that sports aren’t about running or pushing people and that any form of competition that meets certain criteria can be considered a sport.

The real argument then is whether or not poker meets a similar set of criteria as chess, and many professional chess players have come out and openly said that poker does meet these standards in their opinion.

How Does Poker Compare to Gambling Games?

A parallel is often made between poker and gambling games like blackjack or roulette, and it is not hard to see why this is the case. After all, most poker games are played in casinos, poker uses the same cards as blackjack or baccarat, and to an innocent bystander, it would be easy to completely confuse one for the other.

However, the difference between poker and every gambling game is quite clear. All gambling games are played against the casino, while poker is played among the players.

All gambling games are losing games in the long run for every player who sits down to play, and there is no getting around that. No amount of strategy or skill will help you win over a million spins of roulette while playing good poker will make you a certain winner over a million hands.

While poker may have started as a gambling game back in the day, it has evolved into a competitive game with all the elements required to be called a sport and very few elements that would make it a gambling game.

How Big is the Luck Element in Poker?

One last thing we need to discuss regarding poker being called a sport is the fact that luck plays a part in this game.

There is no denying that any individual hand of poker can go either way after the chips go into the middle and that there are also many scenarios in which players will lose chips through no fault of their own.

However, this doesn’t matter because poker score is not kept by looking at individual hands or even short-term results of a single tournament, cash game session, or even several sessions.

Instead, serious poker players look only at their long-term results and focus on making good decisions that will get them good results in the long run. If you play poker the right way and your opponents make mistakes, you will come out on top in the long run, and this has been proven time and time again.

For this reason, we could argue that luck plays almost no part in poker results as long as you approach the game correctly.

Furthermore, it is important to note that luck plays a part even in the most competitive sports out there, as a single lucky or unlucky moment can mean the difference between winning or losing a big game in any sport out there.

We have seen countless examples of lucky shots, unlucky misses, and even poor decisions by referees that cost athletes tournament titles over the years, which shows luck plays a part in anything we do in life, including every sport.

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?

So Is Poker a Sport or Just a Game?

It may take many years for poker to get any kind of international recognition as a sport, and it might never even happen unless a poker community makes a serious push for it. Regardless of this, players need to recognize the game as a sport or at least a game of skill that is not governed by luck.

Of course, there will always be those who will play poker only recreationally and recognize it as just another gambling game, but such players will hardly stand a chance of winning throughout their lifetime.

The actual recognition of poker as a sport would go a long way toward making it more widely available and less stigmatized.

For example, if poker was recognized as a sport, we could see truly international poker tournaments online without any restrictions from countries trying to battle online gambling.

Yet, it is very likely that poker will remain just another gambling game in the eyes of lawmakers and casual observers worldwide for many years to come, regardless of all the factors pointing at poker being an actual competitive sport.

Is Poker a Sport or a Game?

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