Monthly Archives: July 2004

Game-playing with the Olympics

Last night, while Diane and I were watching “Stargate SG-1” we were treated to a commercial showing a dressage event with a horse and rider performing a piaffe. “If this qualifies,” the voiceover said, “why not poker?”

It turns out that this isn’t just a joke with big money behind it. “Full Tilt Poker” is campaigning to have poker included as a sport at the Olympic Games in Athens.

Let’s clear up some fuzzy thinking here. It’s possible that the Olympic Games have scheduled certain activities that don’t have the sort of “sweat equity” that the marathon or decathlon do. Does that mean that the proper way to rectify the situation is to add further “sports” that have nothing to do with physical effort? No, of course not. It’s a certainty that the Olympic Games have scheduled certain activities that are less popular than poker. Does that mean that the Games should be obliged to admit activities based upon their popularity? No, of course not.

On the “Poker in Athens” web site, the lack of physical activity is noted with the counterargument that poker is “mentally tough”. Mental toughness, though, seems to be neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a sport included in the Olympic Games. I’d just like to point out that dressage, the equestrian event derided by the poker players in the commercial mentioned above, features levels of physical and mental toughness that poker players just can’t handle. Dressage is derived from the training given to war horses, and the particular maneuver shown as if silly in the poker commercial is actually the prelude to a capriole, where the horse leaps into the air and kicks violently, which is something unhorsed combatants desperately do not want to be anywhere near. The poker players might just as well have put a clip of saber competition from fencing in so far as it advances their cause.

Maybe there is a good argument for inclusion of poker in the Olympic Games. I’ve looked at the “Poker in Athens” site, but I just haven’t seen that good argument yet. My friend Ed Brayton is a poker enthusiast; I’d be interested to hear his take on this development.