The Well-Dressed Gambler – A Guide to Style
Published on January 26, 2018
During the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event, the world was introduced to a mild-mannered accountant by the name of Chris Moneymaker.
Dressed in the usual attire of a middle-aged man visiting Las Vegas — a polo shirt and ballcap, in mismatched colors — Moneymaker managed to pull off a miracle. Having qualified for the $10,000 buy in World Championship of poker through a $39 online satellite, Moneymaker outlasted the world class field to win it all — $2.5 million, a shiny gold bracelet, and poker immortality.
And while everyone else was watching Moneymaker work his magic, I found myself drawn to the dapper dude he defeated in heads up play: Sammy Farha.
Back in 2003, before the famous boom that Moneymaker’s win inspired, Texas hold’em tournaments were still considered a small niche within the gambling world. But within that niche, Farha stood out as a consummate professional, with his aggressive style on the felt complemented perfectly by his personal style.
As you can see in the image of Farha below which was taken from that fabled 2003 Main Event final table, he cuts quite the image.
No polo shirts for this guy, only tailored suits and flared collars, complete with a shiny gold chain dangling from his neck, a designer watch, and a ring fit for kissing. Top it all off with an unlit cigarette pursed between his lips, and Farha would feel right at home playing baccarat with James Bond at the Monte Carlo.
Here’s how Farha describes his signature style, as told to Bluff magazine back in 2008:
You can get them in America, but it’s different – the difference between American and Italian fitted – I buy unique stuff; unique designers – it’s about the quality and the uniqueness.”
Style isn’t essential to success as a gambler, but if you’re going to spend an evening on the casino floor, why not dress your best?
I’m no candidate for the cover of GQ magazine, don’t get me wrong there, but when I make my way to the casino I take pride in dressing to the nines. For me, that means leather loafers, a nice pair of dress slacks, and a button-down shirt. For you, the preferred gambling garb may be cowboy boots and a western shirt, or maybe a V neck and some skinny jeans.
Style is one of the most subjective concepts out there, after all, but no matter how you like to look, dressing the part can be a big part of the gambler’s lifestyle. And that’s not just my opinion, it’s a proven fact.
Over the last few years, an emerging scientific field has developed to study the link between clothing and confidence.
People have always said “the clothes make the man,” and while that credo is a bit of embellishment, recent findings indicate it may not be that far from the truth.
In 2015, psychologist Michael Slepian of Columbia University led a research study into the matter, ultimately producing a paper entitled “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing.” Slepian’s research was published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science, and according to him, dressing well provides tangible benefits in terms of both confidence and cognitive ability.
This is how Slepian described the phenomenon in scientific terms:
The findings demonstrate that the nature of an everyday and ecologically valid experience, the clothing worn, influences cognition broadly, impacting the processing style that changes how objects, people, and events are construed.”
In other words, dressing nicely sparks a subconscious wave of brain activity that we recognize as confidence. You feel powerful, competent, and in command of the situation.
But those feelings aren’t the only benefit of a formal look on the casino floor. As Slepian notes, formal clothing tends to accentuate a person’s processing ability. Strategic thinking and mental calculation seems to come more naturally as a result of the increase in confidence one feels while wearing fancy duds.
This sentiment was echoed in a previous study by researchers Adam Galinsky and Hajo Adam, who published their paper “Enclothed Cognition” to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2012.
According to Galinsky and his team, the way clothing affects your mind is all about the symbolic power you attribute to a particular outfit.
Galinsky’s study focused on two groups of people, the first donning a doctor’s professional gown, and the other a painter’s pair of white jeans and a coat. With one group dressed formally in the uniform of a well-respected professional, and the other outfitted in workmen’s gear, Galinsky ran his subjects through a series of cognitive tests.
In the end, he found that the people dressed as doctors managed to hold their focus for longer periods of time, while recalling information much more easily.
As he described the situation, it’s not the clothing itself that really matters, but how the individual views that clothing within the wider context of their worldview:
If you associate those clothes with power and confidence, it’s going to have a huge impact. It’s really about what the symbolic meaning of the clothes is to the person.”
Ask any gambler worth their salt what confidence means to their overall game, and you’ll learn firsthand that “mind over matter” is more than just a maxim. For skill game grinders who specialize in live poker, blackjack, or video poker, knowing basic strategy like the back of your hand only goes so far. You’ll still suffer through drastic swings and the whims of variance, which is where a confident mindset comes in handy.
When you’re well-dressed and feeling yourself, as the kids like to say, those downswings are eminently easier to manage. Sure, you’re losing your pants at the moment, but if they’re a tailored pair of chinos, you’ll feel good anyway. Feeling good keeps you in the right mindset, which helps you to focus on playing your best, and playing well is the most effective way of ending a rough run.
Like Farha, I’m a sucker for a nice Italian suit, but your personal haute couture can come from any segment of the fashion world.
Another successful poker pro who made a splash at the WSOP is Matt Affleck, and he’s known for donning jerseys representing his hometown Seattle sports teams. Phil Hellmuth is usually clad in an all-black tracksuit and tinted sunglasses, all the better to complement his “Bad Boy of Poker” persona. And for high stakes pro Max Steinberg, every final table appearance is an opportunity to try on a full suit and tie ensemble.
Style is a matter of personal preference above all else, so you should feel comfortable in whatever clothing you choose to wear while gambling.
As you may have noticed by now, I’ve approached this conversation on gambling and style from a man’s perspective, talking about suits and trousers for the most part.
That’s because I’m a guy, and aside from dressing my daughters in their pajamas way back when, I don’t have much insight into the world of women’s fashion.
Even so, plenty of ladies out there love to hit the casino and let loose, so I’d like to point readers representing the fairer sex to a few fashionistas of the gambling industry.
Maria Ho, Liv Boeree, and Vanessa Rousso are all successful professional poker players who stack opponents in style. In a crowded tournament room where most players are haphazardly dressed men, this trio always manages to stand out.
Whether they’re wearing dresses or skirts, leggings or jeans, a blouse or a denim jacket, Ho, Boeree, and Rousso come to the table dressed to impress.
For players who already have a firm grasp of the fundamentals, the impact that personal style can exert on gambling results is an interesting idea to consider. When all else is equal, two gamblers of equal skill level who happen to be dressed on different ends of the fashion spectrum will tend to play differently.
The regular who seems to be wearing the same musty sweatpants for every session might slouch in their seat, or respond poorly to bad beats, because they lack the kind of confidence that nice clothing can inspire. Meanwhile, the stranger in a tailored suit sits straight up and smiles while taking wins and losses in stride.
These are generalizations of course, but as the scientific studies cited earlier confirm, a sense of style can go a long way toward improving your mental outlook. And a positive mindset is one of the most powerful assets you can add to your gambling arsenal.