Home » Is Poker a Sport? Debating Physical vs. Mental Skills

Is Poker a Sport? Debating Physical vs. Mental Skills

Home » Is Poker a Sport? Debating Physical vs. Mental Skills

Is Poker a Sport? Debating Physical vs. Mental Skills

A man’s hand claiming poker chips with a winning hand of four aces

“Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?” This line from the classic Louis Jordan song is addressed someone who might answer, “It depends on what you mean by ‘your baby.’” The same is true of the eternal debate about whether or not poker is a sport. The answer depends entirely on how you define “sport.” That doesn’t mean there’s no point in asking the question. In fact, looking at online poker specifically through the lenses of two different definitions of sport provides valuable insights that we can use to improve our game, whether we view poker as a sport or not. Let’s dig a little deeper into the sporting debate.

The Physical Aspect

Man celebrates his poker win holding four aces

One defining argument against counting poker as a sport is that poker players don’t sweat as much as basketball, baseball or soccer players. At least, that’s the impression you get from researching the topic on the internet. The pros and cons of this view tend to hinge on the Oxford Dictionary definition of “sport” as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

Skill? Check. There’s no question that professional poker demands strategic thinking skills that are light years away from chance-based gambling games such as roulette. Even baccarat and blackjack are more about luck than skill. Poker is not the same.

Competition? Check, obviously. Entertainment? Check. CBS Sports wouldn’t be covering the WSOP (World Series of Poker) if they didn’t think people found it entertaining. Networks don’t play games with viewer figures.

That leaves “physical exertion.” This is where a poker detractor starts smirking and forms a big L on their forehead with a finger and thumb. It’s no secret that holding cards at a table and pushing chips around doesn’t require physical exertion, so poker can’t be a sport. Case closed. Right?

On the contrary! The fact is that anyone who makes an argument like that doesn’t know the first thing about playing poker. Physical fitness is a priority for the world’s top poker players because it’s the foundation of a strong mental game. Keeping in shape helps them make better strategic decisions, focus on the game and avoid distractions.

Take six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu. He works out daily, follows a vegan diet and has a self-imposed goal of 100,000 steps per week. The legendary Phil Hellmuth combines a keto diet with regular exercise to boost his energy for long tournament days and give himself the best shot at winning at the table. Dan Cates carries his gym bag with him everywhere he goes. Look up their respective lifetime winnings to judge if their commitment to fitness has made a difference to their performance at the poker table. They’re certainly much more successful than professional sports stars who play poker!

The Mental Aspect

Men playing poker, with three of them staring back at the player who holds a royal flush

The argument of insufficient perspiration often stems from prejudice against nerds. The age-old rivalry between ball sports players and chess players at college comes to mind. Surely the same logic applies to chess? Unfortunately for “sweaty” debaters, chess is recognized as a sport by none other than the International Olympic Committee (IOC.)

According to the Amphy chess blog, “The IOC defines sport as an activity that involves a competition between two or more individuals or teams, governed by rules and customs and recognized as a sport by the international community.”

This is obviously quite a different definition of sport from the Oxford Dictionary, but maybe the IOC is on home turf here.

Amphy goes on to say that while chess may not involve physical exertion, it does involve mental exertion.

“Chess requires intense concentration, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills. It also involves physical stamina, as players can spend hours sitting at the board, analyzing moves and making decisions. In fact, some chess players have even lost weight during tournaments due to mental strain.”

It’s a sure bet that many poker players can relate. Poker, like chess, is also a competitive activity governed by rules and customs. Poker tournaments are organized and regulated like any other sport, with players competing to win prizes and gain bragging rights. What’s more, the International Federation of Match Poker is a member of the International Mind Sport Association and even belongs to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

So is poker a sport? If mind sports such as chess qualify as sports, the sporting debate is over. Poker as a sport is no future trend — it is a sport, end of story. 

 Those who disagree are free to take up the argument with the IOC!

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Is poker a sport, and if it is, what kind of sport is it? How important is physical and mental exertion? Keep on reading to follow the sporting debate.