At first glance, poker and sports are worlds apart. Even though poker has cleaned its image a lot in the last few decades, some still view it as a gateway to vice, with smoky rooms, alcohol, and unsavoury elements.
This is in stark contrast to the popular perception of an athlete: pristine, demanding daily physical work, and vice-free. However, you’d be surprised about how these two worlds mix sometimes and to what extent.
There’s a hot debate on whether poker is a game or a sport. Proponents of poker being a sport defend this posture with several arguments. These include that poker is competitive and requires physical and mental prowess to win consistently. This would set it aside from other card games.
What do they mean by “physical prowess”? Poker can include long sessions that challenge the player physically and require fast reflexes to check the opponent’s body language and coordinate eye-to-hand movement.
Since the brain is also physical, a researcher even dubbed poker an intellectual martial art. It may even be a safe sport since there are fewer chances of serious injury, no matter how taxing each playing session is.
The thought of poker being called a sport is inflammatory to some. This is because anyone can learn the game’s rules, play video poker online to train without moving off the couch, and be considered an “athlete.”
Leaving personal feelings aside, it is true that poker is mainly based on luck and randomness instead of skill. This doesn’t mean that no skill is involved in poker, far from it. It just means that competition between athletes of any physical sport will mostly end up with the athlete showing more skill and winning.
Luck might also be involved since an athlete might have had a bad night before the contest, or the weather conditions might be more unfavourable for them. But in poker, a bad hand can mean defeat, no matter how skilled you are.
With all the pros and cons, the status of poker as a sport is still on the fence. Some consider it a sport, but it’s not fully sanctioned.
Sport became a global phenomenon after some intelligent marketing, mainly thanks to PokerStars. This company is the main force behind poker’s legitimacy today. The fact that poker is more respectable than ever made it attractive to public figures, too, including athletes.
Cristiano Ronaldo promoted PokerStars in what many considered just a well-paid gig. However, the football superstar also posted pictures of him playing poker and clarified that he’s an avid poker player.
Shane Warne, the cricketer, is also committed to poker. For him, it’s attractive that anyone can beat anyone in a poker tournament. Poker is even a family tradition for him since his father held poker nights.
Poker Is Competitive, Just Like Sports
Ronaldo and Warne aren’t alone. Many other top athletes are poker enthusiasts, even pros. It includes tennis champion Rafael Nadal, Fatima Moreira De Melo, a gold medal Olympics winner, and many others.
A key aspect of why these athletes are interested in poker is that you don’t need to build a team to play, and you rely on your own. This appeals to competitive types, which most sports people are.
They are also accustomed to a lot of pressure, which poker offers in large amounts. For instance, De Melo mentions that poker fulfils her need to compete at the highest level. She’s not only enjoying it but has also amassed 6-digit in earnings from poker so far.
This is especially important for retired athletes like her, who suddenly feel a void in their lives thanks to a lack of competitiveness. Poker is an excellent way to channel their energies and keep them busy in a similar environment.
As in the case of De Melo, they know you can earn a good amount of money from the game itself, aside from sponsorships and other promotional tactics.
Warne finds a lot of similarities to cricket too. For instance, he claims you need to work out the poker players like batsmen. You need to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and playing style. There’s a strategic element to it, like it happens in sports.
While it may sound hilarious, several athletes claim they have the edge over other poker players. Believe it or not, they claim professional poker players think they’re dumb.
Sport or not, it’s clear that poker is much more a cerebral activity than a physical one, and that is why poker players often underestimate their athletic counterparts. Warne also mentions that poker players think athletes are just there for the fun of it and don’t understand the game’s intricacies.
This plays out well for the athletes because they have the element of surprise, and some are very skilled at poker too.
As you can see, there are many reasons why sports people are into poker, and the trend is likely to keep growing.
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