Believe it or not, this article is ultimately about playing good poker, but we’re going to approach the topic from a slightly oblique angle, so hopefully you’ll forgive me. You see, I’m currently listening to my latest downloads on iTunes, which include some pretty cool riffs.  In fact, the songs I’m listening to are so good, that I’m inlcined to forget the fact that it’s currently 2:30am, and even though I’m crushing a $1/2 game on Stars, I have to get up for a blistering day of work in just 4 measly hours.

There’s a saying coined by a gentleman called Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche that goes like this:

Without music life would be a mistake.

Well guess what…life with music can be a mistake as well.  At least it can be if you are a poker player.

I’m no expert, but as an avid music fan I think what old Nietzsche was getting at was that there are very few of us who are immune to the effects of music.  The rythym and melody of a top notch song can invoke a myriad of emotions in even the most stoic of us.  Ever cranked Linkin Park, Incubus, or Faith No More up to notch top on your CD player?  I’ll bet the one thing you didn’t do is sit still like a limp bisciut…am I right?  Whatever your music taste might be, chances are there are a bunch of your favourite tunes that you like specifically because they invoke certain emotional responses, most likely positive ones.

That brings us to the crux of the article…is there a way we can profit from people who wear ipods at the poker table, or can we minimise the negative influence music can have on our own play?

If you’ve spent any time at tables where the players (at least some of them) take poker seriously, then in all probability you’ve been sitting opposite people who have dutifully strapped on their ear phones for a dose of feel good melodies.  Whilst music can be a great way to pass the time at a live table during extended play, have you ever considered the effect that the music you, or your opponent is listening to, might have on play? 

Coniser this…listening to music is one way to kill the doldrums of several hours at the felt. But to be effective, that sort of stimuli has to be interesting…right?  And to be interesting, chances are that it’s going to be a playlist of our favourite tunes.  But just how many of those tunes are going to invoke emotional responses which are going to be beneficial to our play? 

In part, that depends on the situation.  Cranking out some System Of A Down might be perfect when chipped up and feeling aggressive, whereas some vintage Enya might be the worst thing when we are short stacked and desperate.  But the hard reality is this…most large field multi table tournaments, whether live or online, tend towards favouring players who capitalize on the mistakes of others.  Letting ourselves be influenced by the sanguine riff of a great song just may be the last ingredient in the recipe of our disaster if we aren’t completely tuned in to what’s happening on the felt.

I’ll give you an example. I was at a 0.5/1 game a while back and there were two players with headphones on.  One of them was particularly vocal, and I asked him what he was listening to.  He was a friendly enough player, and let me know what was generally on his playlist.  At one point, I noticed he was visibly jittery in his seat, and with a raised brow asked him what was playing.  He let me know it was his favourite album, and I heeded that advice when he bet into an unraised pot on the turn two hands later.  My call of his bet with medium pair decent kicker on the turn and river turned out to be correct, and my observation of this otherwise solid player lead me to believe that the music he was listening to might have inlfuenced his play.  A little over confidence CAN do you some harm.

The moral of the story?  Don’t be afraid to engage players who are wearing head phones in converasion.  Information at a live table is priceless, and knowing what’s on a persons play list can be just another source of insight in to how they might be playing.  By the same token, if you rely on music as a means to pass the time at the table, be prepared to block out that stimuli and focus on a hand when the circumstances demand it. 

To do otherwise could be, well…a mistake.

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