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Poker and music: the perfect double act

Poker and music? One would think that it is an odd combination but the game that’s played by millions of people all around the world today is no longer an old timer’s game. Players today tend to be younger, hipper and generally cooler.

That means that whereas the old-style soundtrack to the game might have been favorites like Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” and The Eagles “Desperado,” today’s players are far more likely to listening to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as they get into the right frame of mind for a big tournament.

In fact, there’s a strong relationship between poker and music. That’s why so many of today’s players turn up while wearing big pairs of headphones. Some even continue to wear them when serious gambling starts.

As anyone who’s ever played the game knows, a big part of the tactics is to prevent opponents from knowing anything about you, your habits and, most importantly, your weaknesses.

That explains a lot about the traditional young poker professionals’ outfits. Forget smart shirts and card dealer’s visors. Today’s look is the hoodie and the pair of shades plus, as already mentioned, the big headphones.

So, given this need for secrecy, it can be quite hard to prise out of some players and exactly what their favorite genre is. Let alone what can be found on their playlist. However, a few players have been a little more forthcoming than others.

Rock on

One of the most outspoken has been the poker legend, Phil Hellmuth. Famous for having the personality of a “poker brat,” Hellmuth is famous for being the last player to take to the table, in most tournaments.

Maybe that’s because he’s caught up listening to one of many epic rock tracks from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that he’s admitted a fondness for in the past. Something like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 14 minute epic, “Freebird.” Whatever it is he’s listening to, it’s helped him to earn nearly $23 million over the course of his career.

Another of today’s players to open up about their musical tastes has been one of the most talented women players on the international circuit today. Although nowhere near as successful as Hellmuth, for the moment at least, Liv Boeree has won $4 million in prize money.

Before turning pro she played lead guitar in a couple of heavy metal bands both at university and after graduation. She’s also on record as saying that “The Unforgiven” by Metallica is her go-to track when she needs firing up to play and it gives here the same goosebumps that she had when she first heard it at the age of 17.

This openness about her preferences is typical of Boeree – unlike her more secretive fellow pros, she’s even spoken at The Oxford Union about the science of poker in the past.

Hip to the beat

There are plenty of reasons to suppose that the even younger generation of poker players are pretty major hip-hop fans, especially as plenty of artists have shown a reciprocal interest in poker.

In fact, back in 2006, it looked like poker and hip hop were going to join forces to create a new Soul Train for the 2000s with a show called “Hip Hop Hold’em”. Combining hip hop, celebrities and poker, 11 episodes had been filmed featuring performers like Ludacris but only one episode was ever broadcast after the budget for the series was withdrawn.

At around the same time, Wu-Tang Collective member Ghostface Killah launched his own website called GFK Poker dedicated to bringing the two worlds of poker and hip hop together.

Alongside this, he promoted the track “Pokerface” from his “More Fish” album as the site’s official anthem. But, following a few tournaments, the site disappeared from view leaving the singer to concentrate on his own tournament play at a number of leading events in the US and beyond.

Getting on the poker stage

Another artist who Ghostface may well have come across on the tournament circuit is Cornell Haynes, a.k.a. Nelly, whose career in music has been going from strength to strength for well over 20 years now ever since his breakout album “Country Grammar” which went on to sell over 8 million copies in the US alone.

Not content with the millions that this must have earned him, Nelly is another regular on the pro poker circuit and has competed at a number of World Series of Poker events as well as at the famous Rolling Stone magazine’s pro-celebrity poker tournament.

Next up is Rulah Divine who also wanted to go down in poker history not so much for his skill but for creating the poker song to end all poker songs. So, in May 2019 he released “Eye of the Grinder” as a tribute to the two passions in his life – hip hop and poker.

And, looking at the flip side, one poker pro has even tried his hand at hip hop. California-based Prahlad Friedman put out Hazy Eyez in 2016. Although it’s still available to stream via the major music stores, it’s generally agreed that he’d be better off sticking to poker.

So there you have it. A quick tour of the story of poker and music – and it’s one which surely has many more chapters to come.