Research is still inconclusive, but it seems music has already found its home on the tournament scene
When the World Poker Tour announced its partnership with premium headphones manufacturer Monster earlier this year, the poker world once again became very divided by the issue of listening to music at the poker tables. There’s no rule against it in most major live tournaments (except for televised tables where pretty much any electronic gadget is banned), but it has been a long-debated topic. Does music help poker players focus?
Pioneer poker theorist and professional poker player Mike “The Mad Genius of Poker” Caro, one of the most vocal critics of the idea, claims that it does the exact opposite. Playing while listening to music is, in a way, anathema to traditional poker as it cuts the player off from spotting opponents’ verbal cues and tells – an important aspect that Caro says sets poker apart from other games. He further adds that electronic equipment at the table may be used to facilitate cheating.
Despite critics’ misgivings, however, it seems music has definitely found a home on the poker table. At big events like the WSOP, the white earbuds that come with Apple devices are on almost every table. Major headphones manufacturers like Bose, Audio Technica, and most prominently Beats are also well represented. Perhaps the most conclusive proof is the aforementioned partnership between the Partypoker-owned WPT and Monster: WPT event winners are given Gold Monster 24K headphones as part of the prize.
Research on music’s effect on focus and concentration is still inconclusive. It doesn’t hurt to test the hypothesis, though, and so far it seems the best choice is to stick to instrumental tracks. A 2012 article on the Wall Street Journal mentions a Taiwanese study that linked listening to music with lyrics and lower scores on tests of concentration. It makes sense: when your brain is confronted with strong verbal stimuli such as catchy lyrics, there’s less brainpower for you to use on your present task.
Another study mentioned in the same WSJ article suggested that listening to music you don’t have any strong feelings about is more beneficial. The study, which was conducted at a university in Taiwan, found that workers who either loved or hated music being played where they were working scored lowest on tests of attention. Basically, more unobtrusive background music is better. It’s no wonder then that very successful poker players like Daniel Negreanu say that they listen to meditation music or nature sounds when playing.