Is poker a sport or is it just gambling? Sure, it might look like a game of luck like blackjack or roulette to anyone who doesn't know the rules. They might be near to each other in a casino, but poker is in a league of its own. Still, sports usually involve movement and physicality, but what about games where the skill is purely mental?
Nowadays, poker is an officially recognized mind sport, just like chess, Mahjong, bridge, and checkers.
Here’s how the great game of poker has become a mind sport.
How and When Did Poker Become a Mind Sport?
Player and writer Anthony Holden is president of the Internation Poker Federation. His organization played a large role in promoting poker as a mind sport, betting on the game being recognized before long.
In 2010, the International Mind Sports Association made the call, officially accepting poker as a mind sport. Anthony said this after the milestone decision: “Over time, this should help to free poker from much governmental interference and other such unnecessary restrictions all over the globe”.
Doyle Brunson himself thanked the International Poker Federation and called it a “key moment for poker”. Doyle Brunson’s key moment was when Doyle’s Room, an online poker site, was acquired by Americas Cardroom in 2011.
What is a Mind Sport?
Since 1997, the Mind Sports Organisation (MSO) has been hosting and promoting the Mind Sports Olympiad. This sports league has poker, chess, backgammon, and dozens of other games.
Long before you could play poker on an iPhone or enter WSOP events, humans have been playing mind sports. Mancala is a strategic board game with small tokens, where the aim is to move the tokens around the board and into your basin through careful planning. This game may be as old as 6000 B.C.E., making it one of the earliest mind sports.
Here’s what defines a mind sport:
- The game has an element of competition
- Luck is not relied upon, though it can be an element of the game
- Player interaction is not a safety risk or health hazard
- No living creature is harmed by playing the game
- The equipment doesn’t come from a single source
A game like poker ticks all of these boxes. While there is an element of luck, the game does not rely on it. Players rely on probability, which is much more reliable than hoping for some luck. If you go all-in with two aces and your opponent has two 3s, sometimes they will “get lucky”, but the probability will usually give us the result we expect.
You might even say there’s no luck at all, just probabilities at work.
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Why Isn’t Poker in the Olympics?
Poker, chess, and other mind sports aren’t going to be on TV after Olympic Games the 100-meter dash. Instead, there’s something called the Mind Sports Olympiad, an annual competition dedicated to games of mental skill. They’ve been holding events since 1997, with games like poker, Chinese chess, bridge, and backgammon. The poker events use different formats, not just Texas hold ‘em.
The Mind Sports Olympiad calls PokerStars their “poker host”, which is fitting since they are one of the leading poker sites. They’ve got a trusted reputation after more than two decades of hosting online games.
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Is Poker the Most Popular Mind Sport?
Poker is one of the most popular mind sports, but chess might be in the lead for now. Poker has only been in the spotlight for a couple of decades, while chess has almost 1500 years of heritage.
The World Poker Tour estimates that more than 100 million players worldwide, just at online tables. Around 60 million of those are in the United States. On the other hand, Chess.com has a staggering 100 million players and that’s just for a single website. There are an estimated 800 million chess players around the world.
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