Some poker pros like Alex Foxen swear by listening to music at the table as it helps them focus/get in the zone. However, many pros like Chance Kornuth never listen to music while playing. Is listening to music while playing GTO or is going headphone free the way to go? Hear from celebrity poker stars Chance and Alex on why they prefer one way or the other.
How many times has this happened: You've played close to perfect for hours and built a nice stack but haven't played a hand in a few orbits. You feel boredom start to creep in and decide to raise in a marginal spot. You end up losing a chunk from your stack. Boredom during a poker game can cause players to make irrational and impulsive decisions, playing hands they wouldn't normally play or making larger bets than they can afford.
When boredom can cause you to lose patience and control, some upbeat ambient or classical music can help keep you alert and focused. Music provides the right amount of distraction that can help improve your focus and create a more relaxed atmosphere for a player, which can increase engagement and motivation. The rhythm and melody of music can also help regulate heart rate and breathing, reducing anxiety.
Big tournaments are a much bigger deal than kitchen table poker or informal cash games, so the stakes are way higher in terms of major prize money. It’s important to stay focused in games like this. In one study, listening to classical or ambient music led to a change in gamma wave activity in the brain. Listeners displayed an increase in 30-40hz gamma wave activity over no music which was close to a 5% bump.
Alex Foxen said this about why he listens to music while playing:
“I use music as a tool to help regulate and stimulate my thoughts rhythmically. The right beat can help keep me in the zone. It helps lead to the feeling of the world being in black and white while the table is in full color.”
In the study, the only genres of music that showed an improvement in concentration were ambient and classical as they share the following traits:
-They have no lyrics
-They’re relatively less complex in structure
-They’re interesting yet easily ignorable
Music with lyrics is often considered to be more distracting than classical music when it comes to tasks that require concentration, such as playing poker. This is because the lyrics and emotions conveyed in the music can interfere with a player's ability to remain mentally sharp.
Some players listen to music earlier in a tournament as decisions are more straightforward, pots are smaller and boredom is more common. As the bubble approaches or you advance later into the tournament, boredom is less of a factor.
The later stages of a poker tournament are when the stakes are highest and the competition is toughest. Players who have made it this far are typically the best and most experienced, and making mistakes at this point can have serious consequences. This is why it is crucial for players to be highly focused during the later stages of a tournament.
Sometimes listening to music during a poker tournament can cause players to lose focus as it can divert their attention away from the game. The music can interfere with a player's ability to remain mentally sharp and focused, leading to suboptimal decision-making and decreased performance.
While listening to music can potentially eliminate distractions, it can also limit information gathering on opponents. Many opponents will freely dispense information or explain their reasoning for making certain plays.
Catching tells is a crucial part of the game since it can provide valuable information for making informed decisions. However, when a player is listening to music, they may be less likely to pick up on these subtle cues as their attention may be elsewhere, rather than on their opponents. Additionally, the noise of the music may also cover other auditory cues that a player might pick up on, such as the shuffling of chips or the sound of an opponent's breathing.
Chance Kornuth said this on why he prefers not to listen to music:
“I like to think of the analogy of us as computers - we only have a certain amount of RAM. Having other programs open while we are processing complex problems can hurt our ability to do so.”
To summarize, a lot of professional poker players have differing opinions on whether or not they like to listen to music during poker tournaments. A lot of players listen to music for relief, and others find it to be a catastrophe in tournament poker.
On one hand, music can increase focus and reduce boredom, and really benefit a player during the earlier stages of a tournament. On the other hand, music can limit your ability to pick up information on your opponents, as well as distract you from your overall goal. Every player is different, so you should experiment with different strategies to see what works best for you!