If you’ve spent a lot of time at the poker tables, you are most likely aware that some players like to minimize their distractions by wearing headphones. Especially if you’re going to sit at a table for hours on end, a quality ‘poker music’ playlist can make your day go by easier as well as help you get mentally prepared for the game.
Overall, poker is a mental sport. Whereas other sports challenge you physically, poker challenges you intellectually. That means that your state of mind can have a much greater impact on your performance than any other factor. Given the fact that you have to pay attention to the game and make decisions that could have serious ramifications, a good mental state is crucial to avoid going full tilt and losing your entire stack.
But is music the best way to do this? If you ask the pros, you will get about an even split down the middle. Some of the top players in the world swear by listening to music while playing, while others criticize it as an unnecessary distraction.
To get the full picture, let’s look at the reasons why players like Annie Duke, Phil Gordon, and Daniel Negreanu all have a favorite playlist for the table.
Why Listen to Music While Playing?
Even if you’re not familiar with psychology, you have more than likely heard about Pavlov and his dog. The basic principle is this; you can train your mind to associate a certain stimulus with an emotion. In Pavlov’s case, the dog associated the ringing bell with food, even if there was no food present.
The same can be said for your emotional state on the tables. This is known as psychological conditioning, and it can happen by accident, or you can train yourself to use it to your advantage. If you’ve ever heard a song that has some importance to you (your wedding song, a song that you loved growing up), then you have probably experienced some level of conditioning. By experiencing that stimulus, you are transported to the first time you heard it, which can put you in a different mental and emotional state.
Because you can condition yourself over time, this can become a powerful tool in your poker belt. If you have a certain playlist that you listen to on a hot streak, then you can associate that music with winning, and it will give you more confidence as a player. Conversely, if you’re running bad for a while, then the music you hear during that downward trend could cause you to start second-guessing yourself and make things even worse.
Can Music Make you a Better Player?
If you ask the professionals who like to listen to music, then they will tell you that it certainly does help. But, keep in mind that these are people who are already skilled at the game. If you had to quantify it, music can help you focus your strategy and keep you on point. What it won’t do, however, is offer advice on a particular hand or tell you to change strategies.
The Story of Joe Sebok
To understand how music can impact your performance, let’s look at one particular example. Many years ago, a professional poker player by the name of Joe Sebok was having a terrible run. He started to lose money, which made him question his skills, which, in turn, made him lose more money.
The downward cycle began, and it lasted for months with no end in sight. Joe was trying to get back on his game, but nothing was working. Fortunately for him, however, he was a player that liked to listen to music. Even though his current playlist wasn’t doing him any favors, the songs that he had on repeat during his last winning streak could help him in his time of need.
Using the advice of a close friend, Joe decided to go back and start listening to the music that he had on his iPod before he began losing. Thankfully, he had changed up his poker music playlist. This meant that it wasn’t the same songs that he heard during his losses. What was the result? Within a day, Joe went from losing tournaments left and right to winning three high-stakes games in a three-day stretch.
So was the music his saving grace? According to Joe, it was. While we could attribute other factors to his sudden change, it seems like music was more effective than anything else that could have happened at the same time.
Music For Your Mood
From this story, and from other professionals, we know that your choice of songs can significantly influence your decision making. For example, Annie Duke says that she listens to hard rock when she needs to get back in the game. Daniel Negreanu tells us that he likes “massage music” while he’s on the tables.
Overall, your taste in music will help dictate how it affects your mood, but the consensus is that some songs will help you play tight and conservatively, while others will make you more fast and loose. Which playlists have those effects will depend on what kind of music puts you in that mindset. It may take a while to find your ideal poker music, so persist with trying several playlists and genres.
Best Poker Songs
While your poker playlist will vary greatly from those of the professionals, there are plenty of songs that seem to have good feedback from many different players. We do suggest that you mix and match your music and see what happens, but we have also compiled a list of the top seven poker genres that can get you started.
Also, please keep in mind that this list is not ranked in any particular order. Thus, don’t feel offended if you see a song or genre and feel that it should be number one instead of number seven, or vice versa. This is a just a guideline.
If you want to play tight and keep your wits about you, a smooth song with a soulful melody can help you get into that mindset. Let a love ballad or breakup song help you keep your chip stack high and tight.
Notable Artist: Anthony Hamilton
Ideal Song: Comin From Where I’m From
Because this music is a bit more bouncy, it should help you feel a bit more confident in your skills and let you have a little bit of fun on the table. Thus, listen to your favorite pop song when you feel a bit overwhelmed or anxious.
Notable Artist: Bruno Mars
Ideal Song: I Wanna be a Billionaire
Heavy guitar strings and a throaty voice can have a profound effect on your playing style. If you want to be more aggressive in your bets, then hard rock can help you find that extra boost that will make you stand out on the table.
Notable Artist: White Stripes
Ideal Song: Seven Nation Army
First of all, if you’re not into this type of music, then you won’t want it on your playlist. However, if you are a fan of this genre, then it should help you get a bit more swagger to your game. When listening to gangster rap, you may feel a bit more confident. As long as it doesn’t make you cocky, keep it on repeat.
Notable Artist: Eminem
Ideal Song: Lose Yourself
Even if you’re not that familiar with heavyweights like Vivaldi or Beethoven, classical music can still have a positive influence on your playing style. The best part about it is that the instruments will not distract you the same way that lyrics can. Listening to classical will make you more conservative with your chips. An excellent choice if you are concerned about going full tilt after a bad beat, or if you are experiencing velocitization.
Notable Artist: Bach
Ideal Song: Magnificat in D Major
Again, this genre isn’t for everyone, but if you do enjoy jazz, then you might as well incorporate it into your game. With jazz, there are two main varieties: smooth and upbeat. If you like your jazz with a bit of zing, then it will make you more lively and loose on the tables. Smooth jazz, on the other hand, will help you be more restrained and thoughtful.
Notable Artist: Grover Washington Jr.
Ideal Song: Winelight
This is another genre that can change your mood depending on which variety you listen to the most. On the one side, you have fast beats and high-tempos. On the other, you can have songs that are smooth as silk and will help you relax. If you like fast electronica, it will get you energized and pumped up, whereas smooth techno beats will make you more conservative.
Notable Artist: Bassnectar
Ideal Song: Butterfly (smooth), Timestretch (fast)
Songs with Poker References
When talking about poker and music, you cannot ignore the fact that the two have been linked ever since the days of Frank Sinatra singing about lady luck. With that in mind, here are the best five songs that are about the game of poker or gambling in general.
Luck Be a Lady (Tonight)
Viva Las Vegas
Poker Music Conclusion
Overall, whether or not you listen to music on the tables is entirely up to you. If you think that it will distract from your gameplay, then you don’t have to use it. However, if you’re on a bad streak and are looking for something that can help you get out of it, a batch of good music may just be the best thing to happen to you. Keep an open mind and the world is yours. We hope you enjoyed reading about Poker Music and we look forward to seeing your comments below here!