Sports Greats Define Poker at PCA

Mats Sundin
'In my mind it is a sport.'

Like most major poker tournaments, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure is being filmed for TV and will likely appear on sports networks all over the globe.

But does it really belong there? Is poker really a sport?

Webster’s defines sport as an active diversion requiring physical exertion and competition.

Under that definition, 1988 Major League Baseball World Series MVP Orel Hershiser, who certainly knows a thing or two about sports and is playing at the PCA as a Friend of PokerStars this year, says poker might just fit.

“I don’t think Monopoly is a sport, but there’s no tells in Monopoly, there’s nothing physical,” he said. “That’s the part about poker that makes me think it’s a sport, because there are some physical attributes to the game, as far as controlling your heart rate, how you move your chips and what you do with your eyes.

“People say that it’s not physical, but there are some physical attributes to the game and that would make me push it closer to the definition of a sport.”

PokerStars SportStar Matt Sundin, a National Hockey League legend, tends to agree.

“In my mind it is a sport,” he told PokerListings on a break at the PCA. “Except for the physical grind of hockey, I see a lot of similarities between hockey and poker. The same anticipation exists, you need to have a good game plan and you need to be physically fit in order to play four or five days in a row.

“I couldn’t believe it the first time I played a live tournament; you get the same pulsing heart rate you do when you are playing hockey.”

However, tennis Legend Boris Becker, another PokerStars SportStar playing at the PCA, sees poker as a totally different animal than the sport that made him a household name all over the world.

“The same question is whether chess is a sport,” he said. “It’s a mental sport, not a physical sport. I would consider poker a sport, but obviously not a physical sport. It’s somewhere in the middle.”

In making the 2008 World Series of Poker Main Event final table, Team PokerStars Pro Dennis Phillips had to endure eight 16-hour days on the felt.

He believes anything that requires that kind of endurance has to be considered a sport.

“It’s competition, it does take a skill level and you have to practice to improve, so yeah, I do consider poker a sport,” he said. “If you are at the World Series of Poker, and you are going to play eight days, 16 hours a day, every day, you do have to be physically prepared for it. You have to eat right, sleep right, and get mentally prepared just like any sport.”

But fellow Team PokerStars Pro Hevad Khan, who went through the same grind to book a seat in the 2007 WSOP Main Event, disagrees.

“It’s only a sport because it’s on ESPN so people consider it a sport, other than that, no way,” he said. “You’ve got to sweat to make something a sport. Poker is very high-level professional gambling. They may want to say it’s a sport to get it into new markets, but you can’t lie about it. It’s gambling.”

Sport or not, Phillips believes those who come to poker from a sports background, like Becker, Sundin and Hershiser, bring with them a competitive edge that certainly makes them better poker players.

“They’ve been competitive their whole lives, probably from grade school on,” he said. “These guys have been doing it year after year and they don’t like to lose. I don’t like to lose either, you give me a game of Tiddlywinks and I’m going to try and win the damn game, and that’s where we are similar. But they have an edge because they’ve been doing it day in, day out for years.

“I can’t believe Orel Hershiser is going to lay down for anybody in any game or sport.”

More than 1,500 players descended upon the Bahamas to play poker this week, making the 2010 PCA the largest poker tournament ever held outside the United States, further proving poker isn’t going anywhere and neither is the debate over whether it is a sport or not.

To follow all the action from the event, click through to PokerListings’ Live Updates.

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