Listening to music while playing poker can really benefit your game. It can balance your mood, act as a neat deterrent to tilt and provides a terrific soundtrack to some of your best moments at the felt.
Which poker songs should you add to your current playlist? We’ve compiled ten absolute essentials of the genre, and there’s not a Lady Gaga song in sight.
Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
It would be impossible to look at songs you should add to a poker playlist without kicking off with this bona fide classic. Kenny Rogers was quite a storyteller in this song all about meeting an old poker player on a train ‘bound for nowhere’ and getting bluffed out of his last shot of whiskey.
Success: The Gambler got to number one in 1978 on the Country Music version of America’s ‘Billboard’ chart, reaching #16 on the main chart. It performed best in Canada, reaching number eight.
Best Lyric: “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.”
Rating: We’re all in.
Elvis Presley – Viva Las Vegas
There’s no-one quite like ‘the King’ when it comes to singing about Las Vegas, and you can picture Elvis Presley in his white suit singing this classic. All about the neon attraction of Sin City, the song was actually recorded for the film of the same name where Presley played a race car driver called Lucky Jackson.
Success: Viva Las Vegas only reached #29 in the charts when it was originally released in 1964, although it peaked a lot higher in the UK, reaching #12 and #15 when it was re-released in 2007 over 40 years later.
Best Lyric: “A fortune might be lost on every deal. All you need is sonar and nerves of steel.”
Rating: We three-bet shove, smiling all the while.
Clint Black – A Good Run of Bad Luck
Coinciding with the release of the 1994 movie Maverick, starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, the song speaks about a high roller who is down on his fortunes and a lucky lady, although leans more towards the former.
Success: The song reached #1 on both the U.S. and Canadian country charts and was announced as the 20th best country song of 1994.
Best Lyric: “A high roller even when the chips are down.”
Rating: A slightly embarrassed fold when four-bet pre-flop.
Frank Sinatra – Luck be a Lady
Originally made for the musical Guys and Dolls in 1950, the song is about whether Sky Masterson will win a bet to save his relationship with the girl of his dreams. Re-recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1963, it has much more of a gambling overtone to the song and features prominently in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire, played over footage of Robin Williams’ character Daniel Hillard being transformed into the older woman of the film’s title.
Best Lyric “A lady wouldn’t make little snake eyes at me, when I’ve got my life on this roll.”
Rating: We play a ‘stop and go’ and quietly but happily slide the cards face down back to the dealer after our opponent folds.
AC/DC – The Jack
A slightly lame, infinitely regrettable song off the album ‘TNT’, AC/DC’s poker effort is a little less explosive than they might have liked.
Containing nonsensical lines such as ‘She was holding a pair, but I had to try. Her deuce was wild, but my ace was high’, The Jack is a little like pocket jacks. Faced with so many hands that are stronger, it looks worse when scrutinised.
Success: The album T.N.T. reached #2 on the Australian chart.
Best Lyric: “All the cards were coming from the bottom of the pack, and if I’d known what she was dealin’ out, I’d have dealt it back.”
Rating: A pre-flop fold, never to be thought of again.
Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Referencing the playing card upon which the makers credentials are always displayed, Motorhead’s Ace of Spades remains a popular song to this day and in some ways has aged better than any other song about playing cards. Full of swagger and style, perhaps without the substance of a more lyrically accurate song, it’s all about how the song makes you feel.
Success: The song reached #15 in the UK Singles Chart upon its release in 1988.
Best Lyric: “If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man. You win some, lose some, all the same to me.”
Rating: We put in a straddle for the first time.
Sting – Shape of My Heart
Playing out over the end credits of the film Leon, and released in 1993 to general acclaim, Shape of My Heart is a Sting song that has a lot more weight to it than much of the man formerly known as Gordon Sumner’s work. Describing the main protagonist as a “card player, a gambler who gambles not to win but to try to figure out some kind of mystical logic in luck, or chance”, Sting clearly loved writing the song, with lyrics such as ‘He deals the cards to find the answer, the sacred geometry of chance’ typical of a clever and inventive tune.
Success: Shape of my Heart was oddly more successful used as a sample by Craig David and The Sugababes decades after the initial release than for the original artist, with Sting’s song only reaching #57 in the UK Singles Chart back in 1993.
Best Lyric: “I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier, I know that the clubs are weapons of war. I know that diamonds mean money for this art, but that’s not the shape of my heart.”
Rating: We’ve got to play this one, can’t skip it. It’s our favourite.
Mark Knopfler – You Can’t Beat the House
Catching a soulful groove, Mark Knopfler may not be anywhere near his best song (Going Home: Theme from ‘Local Hero’, the song that Newcastle United walk out to at St. James’ Park) but it’s still pretty good, acting as a cautionary tale to those heading to the bright lights of their local gambling house.
Success: Reaching #9 on the UK Albums Chart in 2015 (it went all the way to number one in Norway), Knopfler’s special Deluxe Edition Boxset of the album came with three engraved poker chips and two branded poker craps, as well as an assortment of other bonus gifts.
Best Lyric: “They’re all as mean as rat snakes, all got knives in their boots. Even the piano player, man, he don’t care who he shoots.”
Rating: We play the first hand as we sit down to this walk-on music.
The Weepies – Vegas Baby
Released only on the 2003 album ‘Happiness’, Vegas Baby sees Deb and Steve of The Weepies sing about packing up troubles and taking a road trip to Las Vegas.
As they sing, ‘Slip the traffic like a noose, on the trail of some mirage, it’s easy to imagine making the drive all the way to Nevada with this in your ears.
Best Lyric: “Every time it comes, I think my luck will stay. Drive all the way to Vegas, baby.”
Rating: We’re tapping our feet while we make the right call.
Fleetwood Mac – Lazy Poker Blues
This less-than-lazy track is busier than the table captain at the poker felt, and feels – pretty similarly – like it keeps raising and raising until its all-in.
Coming from the 1968 album Mr. Wonderful, it’s a Bluesy number featuring lyrics such as ‘Yeah when I’m with my baby, lazy poker going on, she puts some coal on the fire so I can keep my poker hot.’
Best Lyrics: “Me and my baby don’t do nothing but lay around all day long.”
Rating: We pick up our chips and leave the game with this ringing in our ears.
So, there you have it. Load up those tunes and enjoy listening to them during poker tournaments the next time that you play, whether that’s live or online. It’ll help you keep a steady rhythm while you’re piling up chips. Just remember that you don’t count them until the dealing’s done.