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Can Poker Really Be Considered a Sport?

Can Poker Really Be Considered a Sport?

There’s no denying that poker is everywhere these days. From poker nights in pubs to the countless online sites where you can play 24/7, not to mention huge tournaments that are played in some of the world’s most glamorous locations, it’s fair to say that many millions of people globally know how to play the game.

In fact, to see its meteoric progress you only have to look at the evolution of its biggest tournament, the World Series of Poker. The event, held over the summer in Las Vegas, first started in 1970.

It was the brainchild of the Horseshoe Casino’s owner, Benny Binion, and in the first year a few selected players were invited to compete. A player called Johnny Moss emerged victorious and was awarded a silver cup for his trouble.

Fast forward to the 2017 WSOP and its biggest contest called The Main Event and you’ll find that no less than 7,221 hopefuls paid the $10,000 entry fee.

The eventual winner, Scott Blumstein, won $8,150,000 in prize money, nearly three times the amount Roger Federer banked for winning the men’s championship at Wimbledon last summer. So with a popularity level like this, isn’t it time that poker was fully awarded sport status?

As with all things sporting, the question has led to a lively debate with good arguments to be made on either side. So we’re going to weigh up the evidence by looking at the commonly regarded features of a sport and try to reach a logical conclusion.

 

A sport should involve physical activity

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Look up virtually any dictionary definition of a sport and it will say that sport should involve an element of physical activity.

On the surface it looks like poker falls at the first hurdle but this is to underestimate the calorie-burning effect of using the brain power needed to see you through a three hour session of Texas Hold ‘Em.

So while poker might not leave you out of breath, you will be using considerable energy keeping the grey matter working.

 

A sport has to be competitive

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Well there’s no question about this one. Poker’s all about the competition. In fact, its whole purpose is to come out on top of your opponents. Its unique nature and the way that you can bluff yourself out of tricky situations to emerge victorious even means that it can be ultra-competitive so it certainly qualifies as a sport on this front.

 

A sport should need skill

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On the face of it, poker is a game of luck with elements of skill built in. The former’s the case because you can’t choose the hand your dealt, but the skill comes in with the way that you play it.

A lot of this has to do with judging your opponents’ actions and using logic to work out just how strong their hands really are.

The fact that a computer recently took on four professional poker players over 20 days’ play and eventually beat them all proved that winning is as much about skill as it is about luck.

 

Players need to train for a sport

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You might think that poker players can just rock up at the table and start to play but that’s to overlook the hours of practice that the very best ones have to put in between games.

When they’re not actually playing they’re analysing previous games to pinpoint what they could have done better so their training schedule can be just as intense as any athlete who wants to stay at the top of their game (or sport!)

As we’ve already mentioned, this is palpably the case for poker with Scott Blumstein’s $8 million win at the WSOP. And there are plenty more examples of players who make a very tidy living from both online and actual games.

Plus, in the UK, because poker is classified as a game and not a professional sport, all winnings are completely tax free, certainly not the case for other sports and their stars!

But for high rollers in America they do have to pay their dues to the IRS. Possibly a very good reason, in the UK at least, why it might be best to keep poker as a game.

Players need to be able to earn a living from sport

As we’ve already mentioned, this is palpably the case for poker with Scott Blumstein’s $8 million win at the WSOP. And there are plenty more examples of players who make a very tidy living from both online and actual games.

Plus, in the UK, because poker is classified as a game and not a professional sport, all winnings are completely tax free, certainly not the case for other sports and their stars!

But for high rollers in America they do have to pay their dues to the IRS. Possibly a very good reason, in the UK at least, why it might be best to keep poker as a game.

 

Sport needs spectators

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Again, and maybe surprisingly, poker scores here too.

The big tournaments have started to attract more and more live spectators and there are many more who tune in online to watch and, hopefully, learn from the experts.

For example, ESPN reported that an average of 615,000 people watched the final table of the WSOP Main Event Final Table in 2017, a 3% rise on the figure from the previous year, conclusive proof that it provides a viewing spectacle.

 

A sport needs to be recognised as one

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The bottom line should be that if it looks like a sport and people call it one then it must be true. But this is by no means clear cut and there is no overall authority who can declare whether an activity is a game or a sport.

For example, in 2010 poker was accepted as a mind sport by the International Mind Sports Association  which surely has to count for something, especially when this has also been ratified by the hosts of the 2016 Olympics, Brazil.

On the other hand, in a ruling that may have ramifications for all card players, three years ago bridge players in Britain lost out in a High Court ruling which effectively stopped the game being able to class itself as a sport.

The English Bridge Union had wanted it reclassified as a sport for a various reasons including the fact that it would have become eligible for government funding.

If successful, they also hoped that they could get it considered for inclusion in the Olympics, this is the dream for many athletes.

Then again, with the increasingly popular phenomenon of e-sports starting to be regarded as sports, the same claim could certainly be made for online poker.

After all, the latter could well be considered as being a video game as much as a card one and how different would that make it from e-sports favourites like Call of Duty and Halo?

However, even given this last point, it does seem like it’s unlikely that poker’s going to get any official recognition as a sport any time soon, at least in the eyes of the law.

But, ultimately, does this really matter? After all, players will go on playing, winners will go on winning and it will continue to bring pleasure to millions, whether you want to play for fun, for money or even just watch the spectacle.

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