Should poker be considered a sport? There is an on-going debate about considering poker a sport, a game or form of gambling.
Poker enthusiasts argue that it is a sport or game, while many regulatory authorities hold a different opinion.
The fair thing would be to go by logic, not sentiment.
Let’s consider definitions of sports and gambling to understand where poker lies.
Definitions - Sports, Game, Gambling
A sport, by definition, is an activity that requires skill and in which a person or team competes with another person or team. Sports are played for entertainment and usually involve an element of physical exertion.
There is yet another question to consider: Is Poker a Sport or a Game?
A game, by definition, means a competitive activity or sport which is undertaken for fun and is played as per set rules of the game.
This definition of a game indicates that sports are subsets of games.
Gambling, by definition, means playing a game or undertaking an activity that is based on play of chance and is played for money or other desired results.
Features of Poker
Let’s breakdown the features of poker to understand which category it falls in.
Poker is played by competing players for entertainment and is played with certain rules. This qualifies poker to be a game.
Playing poker requires skill. It does not apparently involve physical exertion, but one needs to be mentally alert during lengthy poker tournament events that last for 8-10 hours at a go.
One gets physically exerted in such situations and has to keep mental alertness and equanimity to take sound game decisions. A lapse in judgement due to tiredness can cost a player a lot of money or the entire tournament.
This element of physical and mental exertion during play, combined with competitive and entertainment elements of the game, makes poker a sport.
Poker may or may not be played for money. However, in tournaments and other events, poker is generally played for monetary stakes.
Also, poker is not entirely based on play of chance. There are good and bad poker players for a reason—they all have different levels of experience and skills, which define their performance.
Even though what hole cards players get and which community cards are dealt on the table are based on chance, that doesn’t entirely define the course of a poker hand. How players assess their cards relative to those of other players and how they bluff and bet define whether they win or lose.
Therefore, poker is gambling for those who play without skills.
So, is professional poker a sport? It certainly is, as it requires players to display certain skills and have physical and mental stamina, while they compete with other players for entertainment and money.
Even in other sports, players are paid less or more money when they lose or win, respectively. Similarly, winning poker players use their skills to gain more. However, the only difference is that the winning amounts in other sports are fixed, while in poker they are directly related to the bets made, which makes poker risky and controversial.
Associating risk with gambling is natural, but should not be given undue highlight, as there is a fair amount of skill involved in playing poker.
Therefore, asking why poker is not a sport is like asking why water is not liquid, i.e. the question is invalid by nature.
Is poker a sport or gambling? - The Answer
Due to betting of money involved, poker does have some elements of gambling, but as it is not entirely dependent on play of chance and requires skills, it is largely a sport.