Is Poker A Sport, eSport, Game or Pastime?

I play poker about once a month with some of my triathlon buddies, mostly for fun. Which means to say that I lose more than I win.

Being a competitive, sporty type I still want to either do the best I can…or win. I’d apply that mantra to making an omelette, playing poker or running hard.

is poker a sport

I’ve had worse. Oh, wait a minute…

Some people ask, “Is poker just a game of luck?”. I can assure such people that there is a high level of skill involved. The two key elements, however, are: a good appreciation at any one time of the mathematical odds of your hand vs. those of your opponents; and a good read of the degree to which your opponents know how to bet and bluff. Clearly there is an element of luck as if you are dealt two aces and the other two are showing then you are almost certainly going to win the hand – but poker is more than winning the hand, it’s winning as much money on the hand as you can. There is skill in betting. Yet there are elements of luck in all sports and also in Poker – take own goals in soccer as an example of luck happening elsewhere.

Others assume that poker is always gambling. Certainly the monetary element of the game adds a certain edge and interest. To a degree money can focus the mind on the task in hand. However money is not necessary, if you want to win then you could quite easily play free poker with (poker-) chips or even match sticks.Sometimes I can make £20 last for a couple of hours at a friendly poker game on a Friday night – compare that to playing the lottery when you throw away £2.50 in about 30 seconds…even if I lost all my Friday night poker money it would represent better value per minute than the lottery and, let’s face it, many people do NOT think that the lottery is gambling. When it clearly IS gambling – there is zero skil involved and money changes hands.

I have a friend (acquaintance) who works in marketing for one of the larger UK betting companies, he is adamant that there are a large number of people who gamble for fun and why shouldn’t they do that? Why is a £100 spent at a day out at a race course any less worthy that £100 spent at the opera or £100 doing a 5 hour Half Ironman triathlon to test out my latest Garmin Forerunner 935 functionalities. The problem with gambling is when the fun is lost and it becomes a life-changing addiction. The specific problem is that gambling can change life for the worse whereas my addiction to triahtlon and getting better at is would generally be seen as a positive ‘fitness thing’.= which changes my life for the better. (Let’s not talk about injuries or the amount of sugar and extra salt I have to consume)

Coming back to the title of this post. ‘PASTIME’ is something that passes time, like a jigsaw or a game of patience with cards. Sure there can be an element of competition in a pastime but I think that, for most people, poker is a lot more than a pastime.

So. “Is poker a sport?A definition of sport must involve “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Poker does have these aspects but is lacking somewhat in the physical aspect. A mammoth 4 hour-long poker game requires a mild degree of physical endurance but certainly a good deal of mental endurance. There IS a small physical element. Is darts a sport? Is snooker a sport? Is architecture a sport? Is archery a sport? Is painting a sport? You’d be surprised that the last three (yep) either ARE in the Olympics or USED TO BE in the Olympics (go and check wikipedia 😉 ) Americans might be surprised to hear that in the 1970s there were professional snooker players taking performance-enhancing drugs – beta-blockers to calm the nerves and steady the hand. That’s a very sporty-like endeavour 🙁

Cutting to the chase: Being honest, I would say that poker is almost certainly not a sport.

However in this technological age the lines are further blurring as we now have the rise of eSports.

  • Q: Is American Football a sport?
  • A: Yes
  • Q: Is tennis a sport?
  • A: Yes
  • Q: Is soccer a sport?
  • A: Yes

Let’s try again

  • Q: Is American Football an eSport?
  • A: Yes
  • Q: Is tennis a eSport?
  • A: Yes
  • Q: Is soccer a eSport?
  • A: Yes
  • Q: Is poker an eSport
  • A: errrrrr

Poker probably is an eSport as all those other eSports clearly do NOT meet the definition of a real-world sport as they involve little or no physical difficulty.

There you go. Poker is NOT a sport but it IS an eSport. Eesh even tiddlywinks could be an eSport.