Poker and music have always had a close relationship. Artists have written songs about it, often driven by their own experience and love of the game. Players use it to get them in the right frame of mind. There are even instances when poker pros have started to create their own music. But then it’s not so surprising. Sport and music have always been closely linked, whether it’s through the anthems that big teams come out to when they first take to the field or, in maybe the highest profile coming together of the two, during the half time interval at the Superbowl.
The great poker songbook
This may be because both sport, and games in general, communicate with people in the same emotional way that music does too. Looking at poker, in particular, it also makes a brilliant subject matter for songs that can be treated as an allegory of life. One of the best known comings-together of poker and songs must surely be The Gambler by the sadly recently departed Kenny Rogers. With its lyric about knowing when to hold and when to fold it perfectly encapsulates the difficulty of making the right decisions not just in poker but in life.
Or, for a more aggressive interpretation of how poker reflects life, and vice versa, there’s Motorhead’s biggest hit, Ace of Spades. Lemmy sings “Pushing up the ante, I know you want to see me, read ‘em and weep, the dead man’s hand again”. With the chorus of “you win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to me” it also expressed the band’s devil-may care attitude perfectly.
In fact, the list of songs that are either directly about poker, or which use the imagery of the game and playing cards in general, goes on and on. It just seems that it’s locked into the songwriter’s psyche.
Players’ favorite beats
So it’s also not very surprising that in a game that relies on psychology quite as much as poker does that the players themselves are often big music fans. Often, to get them into the right frame of mind for a big encounter they will don a pair of headphones, pull on a pair of shades and put the hood up on their top before withdrawing into a favorite tune or two.
It goes with the territory that poker players are very secretive about their methods and their preferences – and that includes sharing with the world what music they like to listen to. Having said this, we have been allowed to get glimpses into what a couple of big names on the professional poker like to listen to when they’re getting fired up for a big game or to lift their moods when the cards might not be going their way.
One legend who is famous both for his big personality and the forthright way that he handles himself is the self-styled “poker brat”, Phil Hellmuth. The 6’7” player is one of the most successful of all time holding no less than 15 prestigious WSOP bracelets – the Olympic gold medals of the poker world – and having won over $20 million in his career.
One of his trademark moves to unsettle opponents is to be the last to join the table and then to ask the other players to stop talking. It may well be that he’s psyched himself up by listening to the rock music of the seventies and eighties that he’s admitted to being on his playlist. Think Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd and other big guitar bands of the era and you’ll start to get a feel for his tastes.
Another heavy rock fan is one of the most successful women players currently on the circuit, Liv Boeree. In the past she has told interviewers that The Unforgiven by the legendary Metallica has always been the song that she’s turned to for inspiration ever since she first heard it at the age of 17.
Boeree has gone even further in her love of music by being an accomplished guitarist herself having even played in number of bands before taking up poker full time. In fact, music and poker are just two strings to her very talented bow. Boeree also uses her background as a scientist with a degree in physics to put videos on You Tube explaining various concepts including the probability theory behind successful poker playing. She speaks with some authority, having netted career earnings of over $4 million to date.
The tables turned
If you’re looking for another poker player who has fancied trying his hand in the music scene then there’s Prahlad Friedman. The LA-based Friedman has frequently collaborated with his partner, the Brazilian singer Aida Leal Magalhães, and released a number of singles. The most recent of these was called Hazy Eyez, a song which unfortunately failed to set the world of music on fire. So perhaps he’ll be concentrating more on the poker table than the recording studio in future.
So that’s how poker pros approach music, but what about how the ordinary player? When making the choice of what to listen and when, it’s very much a matter of personal choice and taste. But there are some obvious principles to apply. If you need to up your aggression levels go for hard-rocking sounds. But, if you need to rein yourself in slightly, go the other way. Then, let the battle commence!