Secrets of poker Poker

Headphones at the poker table

Written by James Potter

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Headphones at the poker table have become the quintessential poker accessory, but is this a good thing for the game?

There are some from the old school of poker who believe that even a drink sitting on the side of the table is sacrilegious. They believe a poker table should have seats, chips, cards, a dealer, some players and nothing else. While I can see where they are coming from those days are long gone.

The ability to listen to music at the tables has changed the game of poker, allowing players to keep themselves entertained or drown out distractions. It is hard to say whether this is a good or bad thing. The one thing it should never do is slow down the game. Someone who regularly fails to pay attention to the action at a poker table, and who is constantly asking for a dealer clarification because they didn’t hear an opponent announce “raise” is annoying for everyone. It should be the responsibility of every player to keep up with the pace of the game. Waiting for someone to fiddle around with the music on their smart phone is almost as painful as waiting for five minutes while some idiot decides whether to call all-in when pot committed for his few remaining chips mid-way through a low stakes tournament.

If people don’t abuse the luxury of being able to listen to music then it should be allowed. Some tournaments like the WSOP have a policy that you can’t listen to music once the tournament hits the money stage. Some people don’t like this rule, but I don’t think it’s unfair to ask players to concentrate a little harder when things heat up at the business end of a tournament.

The main problem is the fact that many music-playing devices are also cameras, phones, notebooks and mini-computers offering users a host of game-slowing distractions like ebooks, games, social networking tools and internet access. As long as poker room managers keep on top of the situation and monitor the usage of such devices I don’t see any problem.

Does listening to music affect your game? The answer to this is an obvious yes. The first thing any poker player will stress is the importance of being aware of your environment. The absence of the sounds of the game lessens your ability to read your opponents well. After all, hearing is one of your most valuable senses and there are times when you should keep your ears open.

Having said this, there are times where the benefits of music outweigh the negatives. This comes back to the point that poker players are all different and what works for Peter doesn’t necessary work for Paul. Poker for most people is a pastime, hobby or passion but for others it is a nothing more than a moneymaking exercise. Music can offer sanity for grinders spending countless hours at the poker table. It can keep them sharp and most importantly stop them from making stupid mistakes.

I wear headphones a lot in tournaments. For me tournaments are all about routine and I find at the start of a tournament I like to listen to relaxing music to help me acclimatize to the surroundings. I am very conscious about my playing environment and I can always turn the music off if I need to listen to what is happening.

I also have a wide variety of music on offer and pick and choose my tracks to suit the style of play I am adopting at any particular time. If I am playing a very long tournament, have plenty of chips and there are a couple of crazy players on my table then I am playing a waiting game and listen to some chilled out tunes. If, on the other hand, things are starting to tighten up on the table, I am getting short on chips and I judge the time is right to move up a gear then I tend to listen to some thumping rock or fast techno to get the blood pumping.

Not everyone is going to dissect their playlists to the point I do, but you should be mindful of how and why you listen to music at a poker table. Anything that improves or detracts from your game is relevant and all good poker players are trying to get the best out of their game.

Love’em or hate’em: other pet hates at the table

Sunglasses: The use of sunglasses was a hot topic on the poker table prior to the headphone revolution. There was a stage where every second player in tournaments wore sunglasses. Daniel Negreanu was one pro that said he thought sunglasses gave players an unfair advantage. Again I think that it’s each to their own and if Daniel thought they were an advantage then he should have bought himself a pair.
Hoodies: The Unabomber Phil Laak was the first person to make a poker tactic out of wearing a hoodie. For those of you not in the know, a hoodie is a jumper with a hood that can cover your head. Players then extended this concept and started covering their entire faces when other players were trying to read them. I wish dress standards applied at poker tables, but I am in the minority. If people like Phil Laak want to cover up their faces then best of luck to them, even if it does make them look like a total imbecile.
Massages: Masseuses plying their trade at major poker tournaments have become the norm. Those that dish out the back rubs must love this development so good luck to them. Personally, I prefer to be totally relaxed when getting a massage, but that’s just me. My only gripe is if there is limited room at the table. I don’t want to sacrifice my comfort for some other fat idiot to sprawl themselves out and start grunting and groaning while getting a rub down!
Food: This often causes controversy. Many card rooms have, or at least had, a no food policy. However, this is becoming rarer. People have to eat and many players do lengthy stints at the table. I prefer to take half an hour away from the table to chill out and relax when I am having a feed, but once again this is merely personal preference. As long as a player doesn’t spill his fried rice on the table, get burger grease on the cards or slow the game down then best of luck to them.