The Leaning Tower of Pisa (Tilt)

I've been thinking a lot about tilt lately. Maybe it's all of these poker books I'm reading lately (Killer Poker by John Vorhaus, The Tao of Poker by Larry Phillips, I've even got Poker for Dummies by Lou Krieger sitting here). Of course the topic of tilt and going on tilt comes up a lot. I can sum it up for you if you want.

Tilt is bad.

I guess this makes for a short article in the series. That's all you really need to know. It's bad. Don't do it.

Ok I can't resist. I'm starting to feel some of that Mike Caro rambling vibe that he seems to have when he writes his strategy articles that undoubtedly comes from lack of sleep and too many carbs.

What is Tilt?

Tilt is an emotional response when things don't go your way at the poker table. When your set of kings is cracked by a 7 2 offsuit (K 3 4 5 6 board) and the very next hand JT calls your top two pair AK to the river and catches their 4 outer Q to show you how the game is really played.

Tilt and so many other things in life are about what we expect to happen vs. what actually happens. The gap between those two things causes emotional distress. At the poker table that often translates to bad play for some period of time which varies from person to person.

There are two kinds of poker players. Those who admit to experiencing tilt and those who lie about it. I hope you are the type that can admit it--at least to yourself. I certainly admit it to myself--I experienced it up close and personal several times today alone.

Sometimes the results of tilt can be pretty subtle. The way I recognize it in myself is in the half second after I make a call with a questionable hand pre-flop and hear myself thinking "What am I doing in this hand?!" It used to be, back in the day, that I would then continue on with the marginal hand--perhaps picking up a piece of the flop or a ridiculous draw all the way to the river and then end up calling even that bet (to fold on the river when you have anything at all is usually a mistake when you are heads up). Now I can usually get out of those hands for the one small bet investment pre-flop unless I make some kind of ridiculously good hand on the flop.

The real question though is this: How can you recognize tilt in yourself and what are you going to do about it? And you do need to do something about it because it costs you and me a lot of money. A Lot Of Money.

Are you prone to anger? Do you try to make people who suck out on you pay for it? If so that's a sign of tilt and the only one that ends up paying for it is you. You need to know what causes you to go on tilt because I can't tell you what that is and then you need to figure out what you need to do to prevent it from hurting your game.

Once you are able to identify yourself on tilt while it is happening (it's really really easy afterwards as you leave the table chipless) you need to take steps to deal with it.  Here are some suggestions.  Try some of these or make up your own:

Tilt Remedies

Sit out of the game

This is anti-tilt 101. If you know you are on tilt you can simply sit out until you are in a better state of mind. If you're unable to get back to your normal state of being then leave the table with whatever chips you have left and go home.

Look, See, Move

Notice that you are on tilt and be clear about every decision you make. Get off the autopilot! You'll want to get into the next hand and the hand after that after you suffer a bad beat. Do not do that (or at least don't do it automatically, do it because you've got cards that really really qualify to play). Also, don't play timidly with your good hands just because you were stung.  You still need to bet on the river, for example, when you know your opponents will call with far inferior hands.

Go to your happy place

Practice relaxation exercises and meditation.  No seriously.

Change your expectations

This can be key. If you shift your expectations away from whether you win or lose a hand and towards whether you played the hand correctly your entire game will improve. Did you make the right moves in the right places? Did you bet when you should have bet, raise when you should have raised and folded when you should have folded? Some advanced poker players can do this so well that they actually get a charge when someone sucks out on them. They feel good! They know that it means they can expect to make a lot of money in similar situations from their opponents in the long run when they call with slim draws.

Hum loudly

Ok this probably isn't a good idea, yet it might just spread your misery to the rest of the table without you putting your chips into pots they don't belong in.