Poker as an Olympic sport is closer to reality than ever before and could debut at the 2024 Olympics.
The Timeless Question – Is Poker a Sport?
For many years, many non-traditional sports around the world have been questioned whether or not they meet the criteria for being called a “sport”.
The criteria for a sport is, “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
This definition has ruled out many popular activities or games from being considered as a “sport”, including arm wrestling, animal races, and mind sports such as poker.
The debate surrounding whether or not poker should be a sport has been around for years. The first time that this debate got some real coverage on mainstream media was in 2010 when ESPN poker columnist Gary Wise asked if poker should be considered an Olympic sport to fifty professional poker players. The result was mixed.
PokerStars pro Barry Greenstein sided with the traditional definition of “sport”, and said, “No, it’s not a sport. Sports involve athleticism.”
Mike Sexton’s opinion was, “Certainly in terms of the mental side of it, I don’t think any sport ranks higher, but I still think the Olympics is for physical sports and poker doesn’t’ fit in that category.”
Even one of the biggest names in poker, Daniel Negreanu, believed, at the time at least, that poker did not belong in the Olympics, “I’m going to say no. I think if there was an Olympics of mind sports, like chess and backgammon and so on, I think poker would belong, but you think of the Olympics as physical.”
Most of the players that responded positively to the idea answered from the “good of the game” perspective, rather than argue the rightful categorization of poker.
Scott Huff, the host of Poker2Nite, said, “I don’t think it ever will be, but I think it would be the best possible thing for poker: to present it as a strategy and logic game with the gambling taken out of it.”
As years passed, some pros, namely Daniel Negreanu, changed their minds on the matter. In 2014, Negreanu created a full-blown blueprint with potential teams and structure. He wasn’t the only one who caught the Olympic bug. Dave Brannan, the CEO of Mindsports International, an entity whose goal is to drive the value of mind sports around the world, also believes that it was only a matter of time before poker becomes an Olympic sport.
With more and more supporters, for the first time ever, poker was actually being considered to be tested at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio, but the idea was eventually dropped after the Full Tilt and Black Friday fiasco.
Poker at the Olympics Now a Possible Reality
Fast forward another 3 years to now, and poker at the Olympics is once again on the table, and this time around the table is far more solid.
According to Global Association of International Sports Federation, which claims to work closely with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), poker, along with other “non-sport sports” such as arm wrestling, pole dancing, dodgeball etc, have now achieved what is known as an “observer status.” This is the first step in the process of becoming an official Olympic sport.
If this does come to fruition, then the type of poker that would debut at the Olympics would be “Match Poker”, a team-based variation of Texas hold’em. Also, as the money element will be removed, players of all ages will have an opportunity to compete.
Teams, composed of 4 players from one country, are split across four tables, with each player sat at a different position to the others. All players will start with the same amount of chips, and each table is dealt the exact same cards. So, all players sat at seat 1 of each table will have the exact same cards. This is in an effort to remove the element of chance inherent in the random drawing of cards, and also allows the “best players and the best teams” to be identified.
Teams are awarded points at the end of every hand based on the team’s total chip count, and then everyone’s chips are reset before the next hand begins. The team with the most points after a predetermined number of hands is declared the winner.
2024 Olympics at the Earliest
As games for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are already set, even if poker develops and achieves a full membership status, it won’t be until 2024 that it could debut. That is also assuming that other current sports are eliminated. This is because new sports can only be added to the Olympics if a vacant spot opens up.
The next step in the process is for the committee to decide whether or not the lack of physical exertion involved in play poker is enough to deter them from considering them a fully-fledged Olympic sport.
If they do, then perhaps Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all times, and an avid poker player could add to his record-breaking 28 Olympic medals still.