Friday, June 5, 2009

Is Poker a Sport?

I've heard many arguments over the past several years about whether or not poker is a sport.  I understand how it could be seen as a sport.  In poker, as in traditional sports, there are winners and losers.  Major poker tournaments are aired on ESPN.  Poker is an extremely competitive game.   But the argument against the "sport" status of poker was solidified, for me, by one woman.

A couple months ago I was playing poker at the Borgata casino.  At first, I'm looking down at my cards.  I held pocket aces, the best starting hand in texas hold'em.  I look up and see my opponent and she's... asleep.  No doubt about it, her eyes are closed and she's out like a light.  The player to her right folds and it's her turn to act.  Her neighbor nudges her, then she looks at her cards and calls.

I've played organized football, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse.  In 16 years of playing sports, I've never seen anyone fall asleep on the field, let alone in the middle of a play.  If you can take a nap while you're doing something, then it isn't a sport.  I like poker a lot, but I would prefer it if people stopped referring to it as a sport.  Poker is a game of skill that requires a keen intellect and a cool hand, nothing more, nothing less.


B.Graham said...

that might be the most perfect system I've ever heard for differentiating between sports and... anything else.

Matt Lindeboom said...

I'm inclined to say no; poker is not a sport.

The dictionary will tell you that a sport is "an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment."

One might argue mental exertion in the case of poker, but mental exertion is hardly a physical act. This is the same reason why chess is not considered a sport, nor backgammon.

A game on the other hand is "a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck."

I'd say the better fits things like poker or chess. And while a sport can be a game, a game is not necessarily a sport. Much like the square rectangle analogy.

Matt Lindeboom said...

Sleeping is a HUGE indicator as well. My brother did fall asleep playing baseball once. He had his glove over his face. Of course the ball hit him in the head. He plays chess now.

AZ Winer said...

yes the World Series of Poker is on ESPN (Entertainment Sports Programming Network).. but it gets away with it I suppose if you claim to file it under the "entertainment" part.

other than that... I find defining a sport much more difficult when it comes to say NASCAR or the Kentucky Derby...

Dennis said...

ESPN also used to show Magic: The Gathering tournaments at the height of the games popularity. I agree that poker is not a sport, it's a skill.

I also don't consider NASCAR or horse racing to be sports either. I don't understand how NASCAR can even be considered to be a sport. (Someone explain that to me sometime? Am I a marathon caliber athlete because I used to work full-time as a delivery driver? O.o)

Actually, I take that back, horse racing is a sport. For horses.

Matt Lindeboom said...

You actually have to be in really good shape to ride horses at full gallop for that long, in addition to having the skill to lead them and not fall off. I would categorize that under physical exertion.

Ozkirbas said...

Interesting question:

On an anthropological/cultural level, most sports developed as an acceptable metaphor/replacement for war. Historically, many sports were implemented to settle disputes between neighboring tribes/territories/countries. Despite Matt's dictionary definition, on a cultural level must an activity fit this scope in order to be considered a sport?

Dennis said...

Yeah, you definitely have to be good shape to ride a horse. I've only ridden a few times in my life, but I could feel it for a day or two after every time.

Drag racers have to be in good shape to keep the G force of the acceleration from making them pass out. They have to have the skill to control their car, as it is basically a jet engine with 4 wheels and a thin frame around it.

I still don't consider it a sport, as it is a race, and the force most directly involved in a race, propulsion, is controlled by an outside force. The same goes for horse racing.

I'm curious now, would anyone consider hunting to be a sport?

Max Nova said...

So here are my personal rules for sports:

1. Physical Activity
2. Can't be a race/relay
3. Can't be a survival skill
4. Both teams gotta be on the field
5. Referees yes, judges no

So that means:

Basketball/Football/Hockey/Soccer/Capture the Flag/Ultimate - yes
Biathlon - No
X-Games - Basically No
Golf - No
Baseball - Maybe. I personally don't think it's really a sport, but then it's fun to wind people up with that one.

Matt Lindeboom said...

A representation of a hunting enthusiast from Middle Pennsylania's five reasons for why Hunting is a Sport (Add an accent if you'd like):

1. Physical Activity? Stalking after prey through the under brush and thickets is both physical and active.

2. The only race is between the prey and my bullet, which isn't really much of a race at all because bullets are always faster.

3. Thanks to modern day supermarkets, hunting doesn't have to be a skill, but when the apocalypse comes I'm going to be the one who's prepared. I'm just saying.

4. The field is the nature, and here are the teams: Man and Wild.

5. Hunting has Referees AND Judges. The referee is mother nature and all she throws at you. The judge is my Remington R-15 modular repeating rifle, which I named "The Judge."

AZ Winer said...

Max I think your definition is just a bit too strict... because I believe a sport can be a competition sometimes... it doesn't just have to be a game. My main basis for this is that running was the original sport, especially in the Olympics, and your definition doesn't include a race.

I'm also not sure why you're not included golf and baseball unless it was just to give me a hard time.

Hunting: The definition of sport has probably changed.. at once time Hunting was I guess some kind of sport... it my mind it is definitely not.

Max Nova said...

Until the animals get guns, I just can't call hunting a sport.

B.Graham said...

Hunting is definitely not a sport because "animals" isn't a team, but it's a necessary evil in a world in which humans have eliminated all natural predators except their own cars.

Just puttin' that out there, seein' what comes back.

Stephen said...

But saying animals dont have a team is like saying touchdowns don't have a team. Animals aren't the opponent as much as they are the goal.

... said the city boy with no hunting experience.

"Hunting isn't a sport, it's an excuse!"
-Murderesque ex-veep Dick Cheney

Dennis said...

I don't consider hunting a sport, just was curious as to what the community thought. It requires some physical exertion, and skill, but is not a sport. Yes Steve, that was the angle I was getting at, not animals versus humans (that's silly) but people hunting and comparing kills.

Also I don't understand how a person can talk down about hunting, and also eat meat. I have never hunted before, but I know many people that do. ALL of the hunters I know eat/give away every piece of meat from their prey. It irritates me when people stereotype all hunters as redneck assholes who revel in killing. (That's not *completely* directed at response posts to the hunting question, it's more of a general statement.)

This whole post has reminded me of how long it has been since I've played poker. Can we remedy that?

Ozkirbas said...

Is serial killing a sport?

B.Graham said...

no, but it's The Most Dangerous Game

Jason Heat said...

I'm pretty sure that's dating, actually.

Jason Heat said...

@ Dennis - I'll be setting up a Poker Night at my new place very soon.

B.Graham said...

hahaha what if touchdowns were a team!!!

also: Jason I think you're right about the Most Dangerous Game. ghhllll.

nevie said...

i once heard the criteria for whether something is a sport as whether winning or losing was objective or subjective. for example: ice-skating and cheerleading would not be considered sports because victory is subjective to one (or three, etc) judge's opinion about the score one receives. on the other hand, soccer and basketball have a defined way of racking up points that (ideally, ignoring the possibility of paid off refs getting blown by the uva coach- er...) cannot be argued with.

not sure i agree with it but it's something to think about.

also-- as nuts as my friends get over a triple ace flop, i would consider the amount (or lack there)of physical exertion in poker to be the obvious deciding factor to the answer of "no."

ali d said...

@Max - When the zombie apocalypse hits, I’m going to consider that softball bat I learned how to swing a survival skill, so I have to disagree with your criteria.