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.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

7 thoughts on “Game-playing with the Olympics

  • 2004/07/24 at 12:50 pm

    Oh boy. I’d not heard about this, and I even know a couple of the people involved with Full Tilt Poker. I’d say that including poker in the Olympics is a silly idea. As much as I love poker, and as much as I would argue that poker is, over the long haul, a skill game, there’s just too much luck involved in the short term to make winning a gold medal mean much in terms of deciding who are the best players in the world. Full Tilt is a brand new poker site and I suspect that this is just a way to gain some attention for the site. Besides, I don’t think anyone with a beer gut should ever be allowed to consider themselves an Olympic athlete. And yes, that includes me. LOL.

  • 2004/07/25 at 7:00 pm


    Yeah, the publicity stunt angle sounds right. It’s a pretty well-funded publicity stunt if they can put out television commercials.

  • 2004/07/26 at 1:12 pm


    I don’t think chess was ever part of the Olympic games, although not for lack of trying!
    There is a team tournament called colloquially the “Chess Olympics” that has taken place
    since 1927, but I don’t think it was ever actually part of the games themselves. I could be mistaken there though.

  • 2004/07/31 at 12:47 am

    “… 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.” A friend of my wife, a competition rider, tells us that the only people who stand behind horses are those who haven’t yet been kicked.


  • 2004/08/07 at 12:49 pm

    Although I have been watching a couple of TV Poker shows weekly and bought a computer game for poker that I enjoy very much, I don’t think the game belongs in the Olympics. Unless you add a twist. Bear with me, I haven’t thought this out…..Picture this, the felt is a lazy susan marked with your name. Every couple of hands the chips in front of you slide to the next person. In the end when the chips are all in front of one person, you hope they are sitting on your name.
    Think of the alliances that would be made, the need for teamwork(isn’t that a criteria for being on a Olympic team?).

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