Too much stressIf you hit a pinball machine too hard, a sign flashes “Tilt”, and the machine stops working. When a poker player gets hit by too much stress, the effects can be almost as visible and much more destructive. If you tilt a pinball machine, you lose a little pleasure. If you go on tilt in poker, you can blow your bankroll or, if it is too extreme or lasts too long, even lose your home or business. Because luck has such huge short-term effects, you can go on tilt without losing any money this time, and you might not even realize that you’re off balance. However, since the danger is so great, you must constantly watch out for it.
Most of us have experienced brief periods of tilt, and some players have lost control for weeks, even moving to larger games or switching to the craps tables, trying desperately to get even. Since tilt is so common and destructive, this four-part series will cover all the major issues:
Coping with it
The series starts and ends by discussing ourselves, while the middle two parts focus on other people. Of course, we profit when other people go on tilt, but avoiding it or coping with our own emotions is much more important. We can gain a little from another person’s foolishness, but if we go on tilt and stay there, we can lose a great deal.
“Tilt” means that someone is playing very differently and much more poorly than usual, and most people use the term only for playing too many hands too aggressively. If someone is always wildly aggressive, he’s not on tilt. He’s just playing in his usual, maniacal way.
I’ll use a broader definition: “Tilt” means someone is making plays for emotional reasons that he would not normally make. Wild aggression is just its most visible form. Another form is to become so upset, frightened, or convinced you can’t win that you “play scared.” You might fold good draws with pot odds or not raise with pocket kings. Your play deteriorates so much that the “I can’t win” belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This form of tilt is less dramatic and noticeable than wild aggression, but it can be equally destructive. Perhaps you won’t have such dramatic short-term losses, but because it is harder to recognize, this form of tilt can last much longer, slowly destroying your bankroll.
Avoiding is Much Better Than Coping
Of course, you must learn how to cope with tilt, but avoiding it is much better. Good professionals emphasize preventing problems more than solving them. Good dentists tell us to brush and floss. Good doctors recommend diet and exercise. Good lawyers try to keep us out of court. Exactly the same principle applies here: If you wait until you’re on tilt before taking corrective action, some of the damage will have already been done, and your problems will be MUCH harder to solve. So, stop tilt before it starts.
Knowledge is Your First Line of Defense
The first step is to acquire two types of knowledge. First, you need to understand poker thoroughly on casino en ligne. Mason Malmuth once wrote: “Emotional control is … aided by a thorough understanding of how the game should be played.” Without that understanding, you may overreact to events that would not severely upset a more informed player. For example, I’ve read many threads on twoplustwo.com’s forums stating that someone went on tilt because he played well but was beaten by bad luck and stupidity. Yet, the poster’s own words clearly reveal that he played badly and deserved to lose.
Or, take bad-beat stories. Many of them show that the storyteller doesn’t understand the most basic element of poker, the odds. You probably have seen people bitterly complain that they rose with A-Q suited and were called and beaten by an “idiot” with K-2 off suit. They seem to believe that their hand should never lose, but it’s really only about a 2-to-1 favorite, meaning it will lose about one-third of the time. In many situations, the “idiot” would have been absolutely right to call.
If you don’t believe me, go to cardplayer.com and use the “Poker Odds Calculator for Hold’em.” You may be very surprised at how different the odds are from what you believe. And if you don’t understand the odds, you can easily overreact to predictable losses.
The second kind of knowledge can come only from detailed, accurate records of your own results. If you’re a long-term winner, these records will show that the bad beat you just took or tonight’s “huge” loss is trivial, a tiny fraction of your total profits. Even if you’re a long-term loser, good records will show that tonight’s loss isn’t that important. That’s why so many experts recommend treating tonight as just part of one continuous poker game. When you put a bad beat or tonight’s loss into a larger context, you’re much less likely to overreact.
Identify Your “Triggers”
Although a solid foundation of knowledge is essential, it is not enough. By definition, tilt is an emotional overreaction, and emotions obey their own, partly irrational rules. We all have done stupid things for emotional reasons, and we should understand the factors that trigger emotional reactions.
The three most common triggers are alcohol, bad beats, and losing too much money tonight. Alcohol is particularly dangerous because people often think they can “handle it,” even when its effects are obvious to others. The same illogical thinking that makes so many drunk people drive makes them believe, “I can play better drunk than they can play sober.” Other triggers include playing for larger stakes than usual, being “card dead” for hours, obnoxious people, being hungry and/or tired, inept dealers, software problems and bad connections (for online players), and even loud noise or sitting next to an inconsiderate smoker — anything that upsets you. By themselves, none of them may have much effect, but several of them combined can destroy your balance.
Triggers are individualistic, and yours may be quite different from mine. You might not even notice things that really bother me, and vice versa. You should therefore remember what caused past tilts, and then avoid as many triggers as possible. Of course, you can’t avoid bad beats, inept dealers, and some other triggers, but you can avoid alcohol, large losses, and many others.
For example, nearly all of us have a “psychological bankroll,” the amount we can lose without getting severely upset. It is almost always much smaller than our financial bankroll. You might have a $5,000 bankroll, but get very upset by a $300 loss. If you don’t recognize and stay well within your psychological limits, one bad beat can put you on tilt. You might decide to buy more chips than your usual limit because you’ve “got to get even.” Once you start thinking that way, you can lose control, keep buying more chips, go to the ATM, perhaps blow your entire bankroll, and then borrow money. It has happened countless times.
Think About Triggers Before You Start Playing
Some triggers have nothing to do with poker. Problems at home or work, backaches, financial pressures, or anything that troubles you will increase your vulnerability. For example, if you had a bad day at work, argued with your spouse, and have a headache, don’t play poker “to relax.” Instead of relaxing, you could easily become even more tense and play badly; once you do that, it’s just a small step to going on tilt and losing lots of money.
You should constantly monitor both your play and your emotional state. Ask yourself again and again: “How well am I playing?” “Why did I make that last play?” “Am I angry, confused, sleepy, eager for revenge?” “Am I feeling the effects of alcohol?” Many people have taken huge losses because they did not realize how much their drinking or other factors had affected them.
There are lots of similar questions, but most people don’t ask or answer them. The poker culture is extremely anti-introspective. We’d rather focus on how other people think, feel, and act than seriously analyze ourselves. In fact, your opponents will often see that you are on tilt or approaching it long before you do.
When in Doubt, Quit
A later column will focus on what to do when you are clearly on tilt, but don’t wait until you are sure you’re on it. If you see signs that your play is deteriorating, and/or you’re getting upset, go home. I cannot count the number of times that people — including me — have ignored that advice. We may recognize the signs but stay because we won’t admit that we’re not playing our “A-game.” Or, we may think, “Perhaps I’m not playing my best, but this game is too good to leave.” Sometimes we may say it even when the game is too tough for us. We’re so off balance that we can’t assess ourselves or the competition.
You may think I’m being too conservative, but we’ve all seen players who are on tilt lose serious money in wonderful, average, and terrible games. There will always be another poker game, but if you go on tilt and blow your bankroll, you won’t be playing in it.