Poker: A game of luck or a sport of strategy? unraveling the classification debate

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By luckyspinpalace

With the growing popularity of poker, the classification of this complex game has been a matter of debate. Drawing parallels with betting games like blackjack and roulette, poker, too, is often seen as a game of luck. However, akin to strategy games like chess and Magic: The Gathering, poker is also a game that rewards strategic decisions. Furthermore, akin to traditional sports such as football, baseball, and basketball, poker demands physical and mental endurance. So, could it be considered a sport?

Recently, this debate was reignited when chess player Hans Niemann criticized Alexandra Botez for promoting poker, dismissing it as gambling and “degeneracy”. This raises the question – can poker be classified as a sport or a game?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a sport as a “physical activity engaged in for pleasure” or “a particular activity (such as an athletic game) so engaged in.” According to the Oxford Dictionary, a game is described as “an activity involving physical exertion and skill”, especially one regulated by set rules or customs in which an individual or team competes against another or others.

Applying these definitions to poker shows that it indeed fits into both categories. Poker requires physical stamina coupled with skill – factors that distinguish it from most gambling games. Even though luck plays a significant role in poker, its long-term results demonstrate that skill is crucial. Also, irrespective of the format – be it a home game, casino cash game, bar league, or World Series of Poker (WSOP) event – poker is always regulated by set rules or customs.

Poker also meets the definition of being an activity where individuals or teams compete against each other. Whether it’s a heads-up match between two players or a multi-table tournament with thousands of entries – competition is inherent in all forms of poker.

Is it fair then to consider poker players athletes? According to Merriam-Webster, an athlete is “a person trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.” While poker may not require the physical strength of traditional sports, it unquestionably demands agility and stamina.

One aspect that sets poker apart is its reliance on luck more than traditional sports. However, since the publication of Doyle Brunson’s Super System in 1979, poker has been considered a skill-based game. Decisions with positive expected values will lead players to profitability in the long term. Legal rulings have also affirmed this aspect of poker being a skill-based game.

The possibility of poker becoming an Olympic sport by 2028 isn’t as far-fetched as it may have seemed a few years ago. There are efforts to get the Olympics to recognize Match Poker – a format where all players receive the same cards and are judged based on how they play them.

However, for poker to make it to the Olympics, it would need approval from the International Olympic Committee and meet game requirements such as popularity and contribution to the Olympic legacy. If successful, poker might join skateboarding, snowboarding, and karate as the latest non-traditional activities at the Olympics.

With all these considerations, it is evident that poker can be both a game and a sport. Its classification shouldn’t detract from its enjoyable nature as a form of entertainment that needs to be enjoyed responsibly.