I am the Music Man
They say that music feeds the soul but does it feed the bankroll?
I'm a bit of a music freak and my collection is eclectic to say the least, pick up my ipod and you're serenaded by the likes of Al Jolsen, Slipknot and Mary Poppins. So when I read how an online pro listens to different music at different stages of an MTT it got me thinking. The "Mozart Effect", a term used to describe how playing classical music to an unborn child supposedly makes them smarter, suggests that music does influence part of our psychology. Research at Penn State University showed that when testing two groups of students, music, in any form, has a positive effect on our mood.
So keen to find any edge I can I arranged a specially entitled "MTT Play list" of fifty tourney winning tunes (see sample list below). My basic strategy was to have mellow ballads playing throughout the opening stages of the tournament, then move into rock music for bubble play and onto relaxation music for the final table.
To begin with I chose mellow music so that I would be calm and able to focus clearly without getting too over excited in the early stages. Playing tight, solid poker is often the best way to start an online MTT as many people over play their hands so it pays to be patient and wait to get paid off when you have a monster.
As the tourney progresses playing tight can only get you so far and when the cards run cold you need to be prepared to make some big moves in order to keep increasing your stack and avoid the ever growing blinds. One of the best times to do this is around the bubble. Many players, whether they consciously think it or not, are influenced by the bubble and as a consequence tighten up their game and this is where you can exploit them. I say most players aren't consciously affected because it is not so much the money that will be made by surviving the bubble, as this is generally a small return, but the psychological feeling of failure and of time wasted. Most players want to achieve success and by cashing in a tournament players feel they have at least achieved some tangible reward for their efforts. Also players don't want to feel they've played well, waded through a couple of thousand players and after a few hours have nothing to show for it; essentially people don't want to feel like they've wasted their time.
So changing gears becomes important and aggression should be key around this time and studies have shown that rock music causes significant increases in hostility and reduces the emotion of caring. This is perfect for plucking up the courage to shove all your chips on a river bluff or moving all-in pre-flop to steal the large blinds. For this section of the tourney I made some obvious choices such as Slipknot and System of a Down, as well as one of my favourite bands Dragonforce (think rock music but at a thousand mph).
Once the bubble has burst it is often common for the smaller stacks to feel they've achieved as much as they can and push in their chips regardless so now is the time to sit back and wait for some hands. After the flurry of eliminations just after the bubble it is important to shift down gears but maintain a certain amount of aggression. Your first objective is complete and you have at least your money back but now you need to win. Picking your spots to be aggressive is key and for this I thought I needed some pop music to provide just enough stimulation to keep me upbeat and active but not so much as to get overexcited and become reckless. Some particular gems within this section were: The Kinks – Come Dancing, The Coral – Dreaming of You, 1910 Fruitgum Company – Simon Says.
The final table is where I like to play my safest poker if I have a medium to large stack (Obviously this theory changes if you're the short stack). If you can comfortably cope with the blinds then I like to let a few people knock themselves out before I begin to open up. The money is generally in the top three positions so it makes sense to wait for the shorter stacks to bust out and when it gets down to about 5-6 players then begin to shift gears. Here I opted for some relaxation music in order to subdue the excitement when reaching a final table. Once your down to three handed then you must become the aggressor; try to establish yourself as the table captain and look to bust one of your opponents. This can often give you a sense of momentum and the psychological edge going into heads-up play. The two obvious choices for heads-up play were, Pavarotti's Nessun Dorma and The Final Bell by Bill Conte (the classical theme from the Rocky film). To play like a champ you need the music of a champ so what better way to seal a victory than with these two.
*(One important addition to the collection is the emergency bad beat track which should only be played when suffering severe on table tilt. For this I chose Part of That World from the Little Mermaid, one blast of that and no one can stay angry).
Did this left field approach work and help me win any MTT's? Well not so far (although I have managed a 19th out of 700 and bubble finish in the last two days) but I'll let you know in a couple of weeks, because you know what they say: it ain't over till the fat lady sings!
Ed note: You'll be singing all the way to the bank with a $1000 bonus at Sun Poker