The Mind Sport: Legitimacy of Poker as a Sport

The other side of athletic competition: wits, strategy, and skill


What makes a sport, a sport?

When we read our newspapers or switch on our television sets and browse through the sports channels and sections, what we often see are headlines focusing on an athlete’s physical dominance or a team’s incredible manhandling of their opposing rivals. Athletic competition has always been viewed as an image of the brute and the burly and rarely do we find the strategic games as actual “competition.”

But over the years, the public has gradually changed its perception of what to consider as a legitimate sport. This is primarily due to the rise of board games like chess and card games like poker. When the devotees and the masters of the strategic sports exposed to the public, the purists of the physical sport finally understood that the game of wits and skill should not be underestimated. As a result, more and more grandmasters and card experts filled the streets and casinos. Soon enough, these tactical sports have been ingrained into the nation’s culture. America soon fell in love with poker and Europe has seen a rise of online poker sites in the last decade. Pretty soon, “sport” was no longer used to describe the physical game alone, but also to depict the smart and skilful. Today, the felt tables have been marked by the legacies of great poker players like  Phil Ivey or the notorious  Stu Ungar. As such, poker was highly regarded as a sport for great minds.

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A game of skill versus a game of chance

Although a number of critics still look upon poker as a game of chance, a number of statisticians have already proved otherwise. Why else do we have frequent poker champions? It’s not about being lucky, but rather it’s about being skilful. Several studies have already been released, claiming that the amount of winnings or losses during a poker game is related to a player’s abilities. Last year, the New York Times presented reports from Randal D. Heeb, a statistician and economist, who concluded that poker is a game of skill based on studying 415 million hands of no-limit hold’em games online. This is why a number of today’s expert poker players have first tried their wits on the internet. And surely with the rise of several poker sites, a lot of today’s card aficionados have decided to practice their skills first by frequenting on the virtual felt tables before actually competing in prestigious tournaments like  Partypoker.com’s World Poker Tour. Poker is no longer dismissed by the majority of sportsmen as a simple recreational activity but a true sport determined by the knowledge of game theory, psychology, and probability.

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