October 17, 2010

Poker Massages—A Hidden Leak?

Massage gals are a common sight in many larger poker rooms and at lengthy poker tournaments.  As an aside, I can't recall ever seeing a massage guy in a poker room.  Presumably there are plenty of qualified male massage therapists, theoretically a poker player should care only about the quality of the massage rather than the gender of the person performing the masage, and the pay seems good.  So, one has to wonder if the gender disparity is due to the fact more women go into massage therapy than men, or if most poker players are men and everyone (management, massage therapists, and players) just assumes male players want women performing their massages, or if male players actually do prefer massage gals to guys because of some psychological need (having the attention/touch of an attractive woman, or not appearing gay).  Eh, I frankly don't much care, it's just one of those quirky social things that pop up in poker.

Anyway, I was thinking about poker massages the other day after reading an interesting blog post by Dan Ariely over at "Irrationally Yours".  Ariely discusses three interesting studies in which people received a 15-minute massage, a 45-minute Swedish massage, or were just touched on the shoulder by a woman (note:  these were three different studies, not three options compared in one study).  The studies reached interesting findings and conclusions:
  • Massage releases oxytocin, a chemical leading to feelings of well-being.
  • Massage recipients are more empathetic and trusting.
  • Massage recipients are more generous givers in a money "trust" game.
  • Massage recipients are more relaxed and less aggressive.
  • Massage recipients feel more safe and secure.
  • Massage recipients make riskier financial decisions when gambling or investing money.
In essence then, massages can alter a poker player's psychological state in profound ways.  Now, a little bit of artificial positive feeling and relaxation might help a player's performance; think of all the players you know who play better after one or two drinks.  But taken altogether, the findings above show that massages might lead a poker player to be less aggressive, more willing to make risky plays, and more likely to pay off with weak hands or to chase draws.  It's at least something to think about next time you're tempted to pull a $20 bill or two out when the massage gal walks by your table.

Of course, now that I think about it, the poker world should be grateful Phil Ivey appears to love getting massages at the poker table.  The Ivey juggernaut would be nigh-unstoppable otherwise!


  1. I might be a huge poker massage NIT, never had one ! But think about this, I have played 282 live sessions in the last 2 years. Had I had 282 massages at an average cost of £10 that'd be £2820 total. Hmmm, I can see the benefits of being a huge massage nit !