There has been a long debate on whether or not poker players should listen to music. Those that oppose it say that music is a distraction, causing players to miss other players' tells. Meanwhile, those that are for it have a multitude of reasons for listening to music that vary from boredom prevention to giving the player a relaxed look and hiding expression.
If you watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN, then you’ll get a clear picture that the field is pretty well split on whether or not to listen to music. But if you focus on the top players in the game, then you’ll see that they’re typically wearing headphones - at least during the early stages.
Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth Jr, and Daniel Negreanu are all within the top ten of all-time poker money earners, and they are all known for listening to music while playing. But what are they listing to?
Not so surprisingly, their playlists vary quite a bit.
Daniel Negreanu, winner of six WSOP bracelets and third on the all-time money list, admitted to listening to “massage music” while playing, in an interview with Askmen. Negreanu went on to further explain the music as “sounds of the ocean and birds chirping” and said that it keeps him focused and relaxed. He also admits to putting on Missy Elliot if he needs a pick-me-up. On top of that, he said he listens to the Rocky soundtrack before hitting the table.
Phil Hellmuth, known for his rock star persona and for winning 13 WSOP bracelets, listens to '80s and '90s rock music and taps his foot to the music. He has done so since his beginnings as a professional poker player, which was noted in Sports Illustrated back in '94.
Mike Sexton, a well-established poker player and host for World Poker Tour events, has a different approach to music. In a post on the Partypoker blog, Sexton said that his favorite poker songs were songs based on old poker greats. One’s an old country song about Amarillo Slim. He said the other was a song that he made about Puggy Pearson, which he named “Puggy Pearson, King of the Gambling World.” His song’s chorus goes to the theme of the Davey Crockett song.
One thing is for sure, listening to music while playing poker isn't just about listening to a favorite track. In the early rounds of a tournament, the action is slow and can become boring, which can cause a player to lose focus and money. So, players use music in order keep their focus. It’s also great for hiding emotions, since their emotions and expressions are affected by the music.
Towards the end of tournaments, especially at final tables, the pros usually lose their headphones and really focus their energy on reading their opponents. It looks like the pros enjoy listening to music, until the stakes get high.