The “Sport” of Poker

Or, Why You’ll Hate BJ Nemeth

by , Jul 30, 2008 | 5:31 pm

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Now that I’m joining the Pokerati team (Do I get a jersey? Is number 17 available?), you’re going to see me writing about the “sport” of poker.

Then the comments will start. “Poker’s not a sport!” “Are chess and Monopoly sports, too?” “Next you’ll be telling us that sitting on the couch watching poker is a sport!”

I make my living with words, and I take them very seriously. No, poker is not a sport. To me (and many dictionaries), a sport requires two components: physical activity and competition. Poker is a competition without physical activity, so it’s not a sport. The same goes for carpentry, which is a physical activity without competition — again, not a sport.

But I’ll continue to call poker a sport, because the metaphor works.

Click the “more” button to find out why. Or you can click “Comments” to just go ahead and call me an idiot.

To the player at the table, poker is not a sport. But to those of us in the media, we cover it like one. As a tournament reporter, the closest analogy to my job description is that of a sports reporter. We report on the individual players (Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein, etc.), the scores (chip counts), the million-dollar victors and the ten-thousand-dollar losers.

Fans watch poker like a sport. Some have their favorite players, fanatically following the progress of Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu. (Or even Allen “Chainsaw” Kessler.) Other, more casual fans, only tune in to ESPN for the biggest game of them all, the WSOP Main Event. But they still watch it in much the same way that they watch the Olympics. (More on that next week.) Others don’t even care about the players or the big prizes, because they’re more interested in the play itself. “How did this player correctly lay down middle set after a rainbow flop?”

When I refer to poker as a “sport” (and I will), I’m referring to high-profile, high-stakes tournaments that are usually televised — the WSOP, the WPT, the EPT, and a few select others. You can flame me in the comments, but I’ll continue to call poker a sport, if only metaphorically.

For those who don’t know me, my name is BJ Nemeth, and I’m a longtime poker tournament reporter. I won’t bore you with my resume, but I’ve been doing it for more than four years, and most people agree that I’m pretty good at my job. I’m currently the lead reporter for the World Poker Tour, which is a pretty sweet gig (lots of travel, nice casinos, and they let me freelance here at Pokerati on the side).

Now that I’m officially on the team, I’ll be writing actual Pokerati posts, instead of post-length comments. Expect me to offer well-researched commentary on the big news stories (the UB/Absolute scandal, the WSOP final table delay, and Tiffany Michelle’s UB decision) along with industry analysis on everything from Bluff vs. Card Player to the WPT vs. the EPT.

Metaphorically, poker is a sport. Deal with it, and commence comments.

31 Comments to “The “Sport” of Poker”

  1. son of sue


  2. tbonezz111

    BJ… I am glad you have come aboard the pokerati team and I think you are a great addition. I look forward to your insight, analysis and lengthy posts on this “sport” we all love.

    I find myself in this argument w/friends and co-workers all the time. While we all agree that the competition aspect of this definition of a sport is unquestioned, the physical activity part is where the heat of debate stems. What exactly defines physical activity? Lets break it down a little:

    Physical: “of or relating to the body” as well as “employed in putting objects into motion”.

    Activity: “an educational procedure designed to stimulate learning by firsthand experience” as well as ” a form of organized, supervised, often extracurricular recreation”

    Now.. You tell me…… physical activity????!!!!! Too many people let the “normal” understanding of what we all have been brought up to understand as physical activity — running, jumping, throwing, hitting, etc. lead them to believe that poker is not a sport.

    Most of the people that argue poker is not a sport have never sat in a chair at a table with hundreds/thousands/millions of dollars on the line. I would like to see them deal with their life as they know it on the line, then, ask them if they feel like they just got done dealing with a “physical activity” !!!!

    Welcome aboard BJ!!

  3. California Jen

    Yeah, BJ is here!

    Welcome. I hope you enjoy posting as much as we’ll enjoy reading and engaging in discussions with you.

  4. Ed

    Screw the words…I want pictures! Do your posts come with pretty pictures?

  5. BJ Nemeth

    @ED: Funny you should mention pictures. One of the first posts I plan to write is about using more poker photography in general. I also look forward to taunting California Jen with the fact that ladies-only poker tournaments are good for poker.

    @tbonezz111: I think you might agree with me more than I agree with myself!

    Personally, I think poker is disqualified from “physical activity” because a full quadriplegic (no motor functions below the neck) is capable of competing at the highest levels. All a poker player really needs is some way to “see” the cards and his or her opponents’ actions, and some way to make his or her intentions known for checking, betting, calling, raising, and folding.

    If we call poker a “physical activity,” then we’ve opened the doors to include everything that happens between birth and death. If you include everything, the definition is meaningless.

    Is there an endurance factor in a long tournament? Absolutely. But that’s not enough to make it a true sport.

  6. edbucks

    Did your gay lover give you your initials/first name?

  7. BJ Nemeth

    Surprisingly, like most people, I was named by my parents. None of my future lovers (all female, by the way) were around for my birth … which would have been awkward, don’t you think?

  8. dan m

    fishing is a sport. or at least a “sport.”

    btw, am in the middle of atlantic posting via cell phone. i think this comment is costing me about $80. but welcome, bj!

    i once had a teacher tell me that in all sports save for one, the scoring is done with a ball. the lone exception: baseball.

  9. zach

    game and nothing else

  10. Short-Stacked Shamus

    A jersey? Hey, blogging isn’t a sport. (Is it?)

    I’m much more apt to call poker a “game” than a “sport.” However, I will grant that tourneys (and their coverage) more closely resemble sports — or at least produce the same kinds of narratives most sports do — than do cash games.

    Looking forward to more here, B.J.!

  11. Uncle Ray

    The angle that usually finds its way into my comments is showing up again.

    I compare poker to, that’s right, horse racing, the “sport of kings”. While we can acknowledge that it truly is a sport for the horses (and the jockeys), plenty of physical activity and plenty of competition (as long as you believe the races aren’t “fixed”), is it a sport for me?

    Surely there is competition, but I don’t think yelling at a horse or jockey or the contortions I go through trying to get the one I wagered on home first constitutes “sporting” physical activity.

    I gamble on a sport, just like people who bet on football do, but BETTING on football is not the sport, the game itself is. And as manic as sports bettors are, they are a different breed than normal sports fans.

    Poker is kind of a hybrid. You are the bettor, but you are also the participant. Does that make you a “sportsman” like the jockey? or the gambler like me?

    All in all it doesn’t matter because we, your audience like it for what it is…entertainment. But it makes for a fun discussion.

    And welcome, BJ, your comments in the past, and now your posts, always stimulate discussion.

  12. Johnny Hughes

    I think it is good for the poker player to think of it as a sport. There is definately a physical element to long tournaments. As a Senior jester, that becomes even more important. I think many other sports elements jump in such as sportsmanship, competition, the joy of victory, the agony of defeat…felt mostly by suckers. There is a team element in that ten people are sitting talking. If one person such as Hellmuth thinks every moment in life is about them, it makes a drag on the joy of the sport. The mix of emotion and rationality make patience and self-control key elements just like in all sports. Way back, gamblers were called sportsman or sports. Welcome, I will continue to enjoy your wonderful writing.
    Johnny Hughes

  13. Aaron


    (hey you asked for it)

    Good to see you here BJ, another reason for me to continue stalking Pokerati in my free time.

  14. edbucks

    “I was named by my parents.” Your parents named you Blow Job?

  15. BJ Nemeth

    @EdBucks: Actually, I was named after a bar (BJ’s Bar). But to be fair, I don’t know if the bar was named after a blow job.

  16. BJ Nemeth

    @Dan: I think the quote you’re reaching for is that in most major sports, the *offense* has control of the ball (or hockey puck, or whatever). The sole exception is baseball, where the *defense* has control of the ball.

    I learned something interesting while taking horseback riding lessons a decade ago. The instructor pointed out the importance of keeping your weight up on the balls of your feet (almost standing above the horse), rather than sitting back in the saddle. He then talked about how *all* sports are really played on the balls of your feet. It’s the “ready position.” I’m not certain that he’s right, but it definitely gave me a new way to think about sports. (Any time someone changes my way of thinking I consider it to be a Good Thing.)

  17. edbucks

    Was it a bar? or Brothel?

  18. BJ Nemeth

    “BJ’s Brothel” lacks a little imagination, don’t you think?

    It was definitely a bar. While it no longer exists (that was a long time ago), I still have a photo of it.

  19. edbucks

    Was it in Schurz, NV, by any chance? You are right, it no longer exists.

  20. BJ Nemeth

    Hmmm. I guess some brothels do lack imagination.

    According to MapQuest, you missed the geographical mark by 2,177.49 miles. And the one-time bar I was named after is now a bank, but they decided to call it something other than “BJ’s Bank.” (Though I would definitely bank there if they had.)

  21. edbucks

    Is it a sperm bank?

  22. BJ Nemeth

    EdBucks, you’re more fascinated with the fact that my name shares initials with a sexual act than anyone I’ve known since my annoying older brother (who eventually outgrew it) and Gavin Smith. I guess all I can say is “Congratulations!”

  23. shronk

    Animal style.

  24. edbucks

    Just trying to figure out if you were born in a brothel or artificially inseminated in a sperm bank. Either way, the name fits!

  25. Ed

    Ass Ed,

    Give up…the joke didn’t work out for ya…move along.

  26. shronk

    Hey! You’re initials are the same as Blow Job. Like, the sex act. They both have the same initials – you and the sex act. Man, are you like, a human sex act? with sex acts for hands? AND FEET??? BAHHH!

    No seriously though – animal style.

  27. shronk

    P.S. There are so many better reason’s reasons to hate BJ Nemeth.

  28. shronk

    And someone please edit that last post so I don’t have a disgusting misuse of an apostrophe in it.

  29. BJ Nemeth

    I’m always up for a little apostrophe fixin’.

    (Cue the lame joke from EdBucks about how that’s some sort of gay sexual euphemism.)

  30. Poker Shrink

    BJ and Michalski on the same site; why not just change the name to “The Vinnie Vinh Memorial Sometimes Poker Reporting Site”.

    Ah, you guys know I luv ya… Guys? Guys? You here???

  31. DanM

    I’m still outta town.