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WPGM Commentary: Music To Their Ears – What Rocks Top Poker Players’ Boats

Go to any major poker tournament and one thing that any casual observer will notice is the number of players wearing headphones. It’s a trend that has grown in recent years and it’s proved to be quite a controversial one too.

Those who do listen to music while they play claim that it helps them to focus more effectively. Certainly, research suggests that listening to a favourite performer or band can help students concentrate and there’s no reason why it should be any different for a poker player involved in a high stakes game.

After all, in a tournament situation there are certain to be many distractions, so anything a player can do to block these out has to be a good thing. But, on the other hand, some believe that by shutting themselves off from external sound some poker pros could be missing out on vital clues or “tells” which shed light on the cards that their opponents are really holding.

The Voice of Doubt

One major critic of players in headphones is Daniel Negreanu, who believes that they should ditch the cans and focus on their play instead. As the one-time biggest money winner in the world of poker with over $14 million in prize money, Negreanu should know a thing or two about how to succeed but other, equally high profile players, disagree.

It should also be said that Negreanu doesn’t always practise what he preaches. In one interview, he once admitted that listening to Missy Elliot or the Rocky soundtrack can get him fired up before he hits the table, and while he plays, sounds of the ocean and birds chirping can help to calm his nerves.

Rock The casino

One example of a player who is unabashed by his love of listening to music is Phil Hellmuth. He’s one of the most extrovert players of all and has won 13 WSOP bracelets – the poker equivalent of Olympic gold medals. With something of a rock star persona himself he swears by the value of listening to music and his personal choice is heavy 80s and 90s rock.

Another player who uses music for a very specific purpose is Mike Sexton. He gets his inspiration by listening to songs that are actually about gambling, and poker in particular. His two favourite tracks of all time come from very different artists, “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers and “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga.

“The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers – one of Mike Sexton’s favourite pre-game songs:

Winner In The House

This year’s winner of the biggest tournament in poker, the WSOP Main Event, was 25-year-old Scott Blumstein so his musical tastes are likely to be a little more contemporary probably taking in hip hop and house, although he’s yet to come clean on the matter. One thing’s for sure, however, and that’s that he’s over $8 million richer after winning.

So if you want to follow in his footsteps it could be time to try playing poker to music yourself and the ideal place to start could be through playing online. Once you’ve got the feel for it, and if it’s working for you, then maybe it’ll be the moment to start getting on the tournament circuit and trying your luck there too.

And remember, even if the old pros are muttering behind your back there’ll be nothing to worry about: just crank up the volume to 11 and get ready to show them who’s boss!


More and more poker players are choosing to wear headphones at tournaments saying it helps them to concentrate – but some older pros don’t approve. There are enough examples of successful players who also listen to music to prove that it can at least have its benefits.

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