Poker- A sport, surely not

By Domenic Favata

A recent documentary on ESPN about Poker caught my eye, a documentary that compared poker to sport. Currently, the Australian Poker tournament is underway at Crown and it was interesting listening to the comments of the “world’s best” poker players. This initial tag by the hostess made me laugh, but she was serious, as were the poker players who were adamant they were playing a ‘sport’. I thought to myself, “What is the world coming to? How can gambling be considered a sport?” To be honest, I don’t even know how to play poker (haven’t been taught yet) but this documentary brought up the much loved sport (footy, soccer, tennis, and cricket) or pastime (poker) debate.

As the Australian Open and Australian Poker Tournament are on concurrently, one of the players at this event was comparing his ‘sport’ to tennis and that he could never return a ball from Federer or Nadal, but he could beat them in poker in 15 minutes, not a very good comparison mate. Poker has no form of physical or strenuous activity that sport has, poker does not cause injury to players and poker is played on a table not on a field, court or oval. So, how can this poker play compare his game to a sport? The only similarities between poker and sport is the prize money and the fact that ‘sport-stars’ like Shane Warne and Fev play it. Look where they have gotten to, and in particular, Mr Brendan Fevola.

Sport or pastime, that is the debate, but what really qualifies something to be called a sport. I’ve created three principles that I believe differentiates a sport between a pastime.

–          A sport must involve physical, strenuous activity which is a result of an individual or a team playing for a certain goal, which is to win and deprive the other individual or team from playing the best they can.

–          A sport must be played in an environment that tests the durability, fitness and endurance of the professional, like a football field or swimming pool and not on a table like poker.

–          A sport must have fans. Those who come in force, colour and pride, which add energy and excitement to sport. People forget, the fans make the sport what it is and without them, sport would be boring, dull and shielded from the community.

I believe these factors deter pastimes from sport, but this debate has raged on for years, in our lounge rooms, our backyards and around the table at dinner time. These three factors are not set in stone, everyone will have their opinions and own principles of how a sport and pastime are different, some may even think that poker is sport! The example of poker is only one of many. What about fishing, darts and snooker, are they sports or are they pastimes? It creates a topic of discussion, so fellow Almanackers, voice your opinions.


  1. Is there not also a distinction between sport, game and pastime? That allows a bit more flexibility.

    Anyway, I don’t think this is a perfect demarcation system either. See points raised after…

    Somewhere back in the past I recall a wise old man saying that a sport involves

    a) numbers on players, defined teams (identified by colours) or designated positions,
    b) an objective, usually to score more points than an opponent. (Although could be to score less, or go higher, faster, longer etc). The point system must be objective, rather than subjective.
    c) elements of physicality as part of the competition

    What I like about these criteria is that it eliminates ‘sports’ like figure skating (subjective) and poker (no physicality). While I respect the athletic ability of figure skaters it is closer to ballet than high-jumping even though the skill set has similarities. And sports like gymnastics and diving qualify as their judging systems are based on taking points away for faults.

    On the downside, it does reduce surfing to an artistic pastime and while I recognise that for me that is what it is. I do believe that the elite surfers are incredible athletes, who have yet to find an effective scoring system. And it also includes horse-racing. Don’t start, I don’t mind the punt, just don’t really see it as a sport..

    I would argue that there should also be an element of either non-body type advantage. For example Basketball is a game where at Pro level it is an advantage to be 6’7″ plus. As opposed to sports like Aussie Rules and to an Rugby Union (not League) where different body types are suited to particular positions and play different roles, ruck vs rover, key position vs flanker, lock vs halfback. Or variation in skill sets affects position so the RU flanker is a back who can’t kick (as a poor example).

    Sportsman vs Athlete? This question was solved by Colin “Funky” Miller, late blooming off spinner/medium pacer for Australia and Tasmania(?) On a TV show when asked about fitness training, he replied:

    “That’s for athletes. I’m a sportsman”

    Implying that all that running malarkey was not required to be a sportsman. Therefore clarifying my approach to training as being skills based.

  2. Andrew Fithall says

    Any “sport” where you are required to smile while you participate cannot be deemed a sport. This rules out synchronised swimming and many aspects of gymnastics.

  3. John Butler says

    And ballroom dancing.

  4. A sport just has the vibe. We all know what that means don’t we?

  5. lee donovan says

    I think anything that requires too much luck is not a sport and poker while requiring some skill needs more luck to win but indoor games like snooker , billiards , darts etc require more skill than luck and I would call them indoor sports.For years Walter Lindrum has been classed as one of Australia’s greatest ever sportsman once dubbed the Bradman of billiards

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