Until competitive sitting down becomes a sport, it’s a fair bet that many of us aren’t going to be considering ourselves athletes any time soon. However, the connection between movement and organized sport is tenuous – activities like archery, shooting, fishing, sailing, and bird watching can be “played” from a stationary position, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drive between holes on the golf course.
So, with the above in mind, why do pastimes like poker, chess, and even competitive video gaming (known as “eSports”) earn so much ire from sports traditionalists? The inability for soccer fans (etc.) to accept activities with a greater emphasis on mental aptitude has even produced an entirely new category within the shadow of rugby and basketball – mind sports, an industry that has hosted its own Olympiad since 1997.
Much of that disdain probably comes from the fact that mind sports seem to get ever more eccentric with each passing year (Stratego, creative thinking, Tetris, and mental calculations are all competition games in the Olympiad, while speed-texting words like Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus is a popular activity in some countries) and board games are perhaps more commonly associated with young people in the mainstream consciousness.
The problem with dismissing the authenticity of mind games as a sport is that its practitioners often dedicate their lives to honing their craft, much like footballers do. Experience is so critical to a game like poker that players are sometimes pigeonholed by how “green” they are – newcomers to the poker table are “fish”, reckless and poor at bluffing while a “shark” is about the closest a person can get to card-based godhood, solid but risk-averse.
A popular brand like 888 even has a quiz on its website to help players determine what kind of player they are and how to improve their game. While poker might have the image of a high-stakes exhibition in Hollywood movies, the reality of the pro player is something much closer to the NBA star, days spent practicing and nights spent reading Doyle Brunson and Gus Hansen, the tournaments an opportunity to show off.
There’s also the physical aspect; as lovers of daytime TV will no doubt be aware, it’s easy to fall asleep when the body is idle. “You can’t play bridge for 12 hours unless you are in good condition”, Heather Dhondy of the UK’s women’s bridge team told The Telegraph. “The crucial thing is keeping up your concentration […] and that takes stamina.” Poker players have much the same concern, with events lasting several hours.
While acceptance of mind sports into the regular Olympic Games seems almost inevitable – at least in the opinion of Jose Damiani of the International Mind Sports Association – video gaming has the greatest chance of swaying the critics. Already a multimillion dollar industry, eSports has teams, sponsors, huge prize funds, worldwide coverage, and arena-based events. Structurally, the only thing separating it from the NFL is all the running about.
So, the next time your parents criticize your decision to become a professional Sudokuist, let them know that they’ve got a potential Olympic athlete on their hands.