Every time I listen to ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers, it strikes me just how much poker advice the 67-year-old included in his 1978 hit. And with its inclusion in Geico’s 2014 advertisement, I took a closer look at the strategic content of not only ‘The Gambler’ but several other poker-related songs.
Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
The obvious first choice for everyone’s favourite poker song. The refrain is catchy as hell, and this gambler on a train actually has a fair bit of solid advice for beginners
“Son, I’ve made a life out of readin’ people’s faces
Knowin’ what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.”
Noticing and picking up on tells seems like quite an advanced poker skill, but it needn’t be. By simply observing your tablemates when you are not in a hand, and not getting straight back onto Twitter, you may be able to pick up on minor patterns which should aid your game in the long run.
The idea however, that you can truly know what someone’s hole-cards are from their eyes is a little far-fetched (unless you’re Daniel Negreanu).
“You’ve got to know when to hold’em
Know when to fold’em”
The words ‘disciplined lay-down’ comes to mind, and Kenny Rogers is right to draw attention to this. Discipline and the ability to not get carried away with hands is of paramount importance for beginners who look down at two picture cards or a pair and suddenly end up losing all their chips. The importance of this is reinforced later in the song when it says:
“The secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away
And knowin’ what to keep”
Great short-stack strategy here. The gambler in Rogers’ song knows that in an ‘all-in or fold’ situation you are going to be faced with several decisions for your entire stack. Whoever this gambler is, he has definitely had some coaching, and wouldn’t surprise me if he’s made several major final tables.
Poker strategy rating: 8/10
One of my favourite bands, and if you can put the gonorrhoea metaphor to one side for just one minute (don’t believe me?), we can try to look at the strategic content contained within the song
“She was holdin’ a pair
But I had to try
Her Deuce was wild
But my Ace was high”
Ah the classic bluff gone wrong, we’ve all been there. Couple of things wrong with this. Firstly, bluffing in ‘Deuces Wild’ is infinitely harder than in regular hold’em. Secondly, if you had read her for a pair and deuces were wild, then why were you trying to push her off her hand with just ace-high! Unfortunately we don’t know the board texture, so we don’t know if it was a truly awful bluff, or a great hero call by the lady in question.
“She played ’em fast
And she played ’em hard
She could close her eyes
And feel every card”
A style of poker characterised by playing loosely and aggressively? Looks like we’ve got ourselves a maniac. Unfortunately AC/DC do very little to enlighten us on how to play back at such a loose-aggressive player such as this, and that is where their poker strategy falls down.
Poker strategy rating: 4/10
The song that made ever 21st century aspiring poker player think that the game was all about bluffing. As the only song in this list with poker in the actual song title, let’s see how Ms. Gaga gets on.
“I wanna hold ’em like they do in Texas, please
Fold ’em, let ’em, hit me, raise it, baby, stay with me (I love it)”
Lady Gaga gets something correct right at the start of this 2008 hit: the game Texas Hold’em did originate in Texas. Robstown, Texas to be precise. After the opening line she proceeds to spew poker terminology like a broken fire hydrant. One critique I have of Gaga’s play? She starts with fold’em and I just feel like that is too passive an approach for someone who would have as much of a table presence as her.
“Can’t read my,
Can’t read my
No he can’t read my poker face”
Whether this is the covering your face (Phil Hellmuth & Leo McClean), staring (Mike McDonald & Tom Dwan) or generally trying to keep your emotions in check, it would be seem that Lady Gaga has got her poker face nailed. It’s a shame really, that a song with the title ‘Poker Face’ really doesn’t elaborate on the skills required in perfecting the ideal poker face. It’s also given rise to hundreds if not thousands of people saying that they simply couldn’t play poker because they have a terrible poker face.
Poker strategy rating: 3/10
Motörhead – The Ace of Spades
The song that gave the ace of spades the prestige it has today. Allegedly. Obviously Motörhead are going to have slight allegiances to a particular card, but let’s have a look if they shed any light on other strategic content
“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man,
You win some, lose some, all the same to me”
It would seem that Motörhead are going down the route of manic mega-rich businessman at the Macau cash tables when it comes to playing poker. Their acceptance that you “win some, lose some” is admirable, however their focus on poker as pure gambling really is going to be counter-productive in the long-run.
“..The only card I need is
The Ace Of Spades”
There is nothing wrong with having a favourite card. And by all means choose the ace of spades, I mean it has long been described as the prettiest card in the deck. As for it being the only card you need, I’m struggling to think of a situation where this could be the case. Unless you currently had trip-aces and your opponent had quads and you needed to see the Ace of Spades on the river to have a higher quads. Maybe Motörhead should have offered to help write the ‘Casino Royale’ script…
Poker strategy rating: 1/10