Ever since Elvis scandalized a nation with his swinging hips and suggestive lyrics the world’s been in thrall to rock music. Sure, it’s been split and sub-divided into so many different genres since then – grunge, metal and alternative to name but three – but its primary purpose and appeal’s always been the same. This is music to motivate, to excite and to really set the pulse racing.
Think about driving in silence. And then imagine the same experience with the pulsing beat of your favorite band playing in the background. Which one makes you feel more alert and focused? And more willing to put your foot down and really take off?
The answer’s simple – rock music heightens experiences in every way. There are even studies that show that, depending on your personality, listening to music can sharpen up your mental processes.
It’s this fact that may explain just why so many professional poker players go into the big games and tournaments with a very specific uniform while listening to their favorite bands.
Most poker pros wear a cap or pull up a hoodie while their outfit is highlighted by an impenetrable pair of dark glasses. Then there are the headphones. Not the little buds that slip inside the ear but great big Beats-style ones. This suggests two things, firstly that they want to block out as much extraneous noise as possible and, secondly, that they want to listen to some pretty heavy music in high fidelity.
Pump it up
Sure, this kind of music with a driving beat is designed to get the adrenaline pumping, which might not always be the best frame of mind to get into at the poker table. After all, there are always going to be situations where taking a more cautious approach will be the route to success. But in terms of getting you pumped up for the big event there’s nothing quite like a blast of Slayer or Fields of the Nephilim. It’s going to make you feel insuperable and super confident.
Professional poker players are notoriously secretive about how they prepare and what pushes their buttons so don’t expect too many of them to be very forthcoming about their choice of poker music. But the legendary player Phil Hellmuth has let slip in the past that he loves to listen to classic rock from the 1980s and ’90s. One of the best women poker players of recent times, Liv Boeree, who has won nearly $4 million from the game to date, even used to play lead guitar in a couple of metal bands in the past. She’s also on record as saying that Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” still makes her come out in goose bumps whenever she hears it.
It’s all in the lyrics
We can never know for sure exactly what songs other players decide to listen to. But there are more than a few heavy rockers that certainly allude to the game, especially in the metaphorical way that life’s like poker. A prime example’s always going to be the legendary “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead. With lyrics like “Pushing up the ante, I know you’ve got to see me” and “Read ’em and weep, the dead man’s hand again” you can be 100% sure that Lemmy was no stranger to the poker table.
Going even further back into the mists of time, the famous California rockers The Grateful Dead also had their own homage to the great game with the song “Deal.” As the first verse tells us, “Watch each card you play and play it slow, wait until that deal comes around, don’t you let that deal go down, no, no.” Great advice not just for life but for also for pretty much every game of poker that you’re ever likely to play.
Rockers who like to play
With all these references to poker in music it’s also not a big surprise that there are plenty of rock musicians who like to kick back and enjoy a game of poker themselves. After all, those long hours on the tour bus have to be filled in somehow – and how better than trying to win a few dollars off your bandmates and crew along the way?
One of many who can’t resist a game is Scott Ian of Anthrax. He came late to poker by entering a celebrity tournament sponsored by VH1 and, to everyone’s surprise, went on to win it. Since then he’s become a passionate player entering tournaments whenever he gets the chance.
Sully Erna of Godsmack has taken things even further by having his love-hate relationship with poker immortalized in a tattoo. Playing in a high stakes game one day he believed that his hand of four aces was unbeatable. But when an opponent countered with a royal flush – the highest hand it’s possible to get – he shouted out “There’s no justice in poker!” To underline the fact, he then went on to have the words “No justice” inked on his back to remind him of the sorry event.
There’s no doubt about it that the links between rock music and poker are very strong indeed. The players like rock and the rockers like poker so we can expect to see many more crossovers in the years to come, and that’s really got to be something to look forward to.