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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Grinding Online - Avoiding Tilt

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I was playing in a no limit holdem tournament on PokerStars, approaching the final table, where the top seven players cashed, when a short-stacked player caught a two-outer on the river to reduce my stack a bit. Two hands later, I was dealt A-A, and put in a 3x raise, only to have two other people go all-in after me. I called, and was delighted to see a J-10 offsuit and a J-J against me. The case jack came on the turn, and I was out. Two outs followed by one out leading to elimination just before the money is a great way to be put on tilt; in fact, it is a great way to have your laptop end up as a pile of scrap metal if you are not careful!

The Urban Dictionary describes “tilt” as follows: “Gambling term (most common in poker) describing an angry or "reeling" state of mind usually caused by a big or unlucky loss. People playing on tilt play below their usual ability and usually make larger and more aggressive bets to try to quickly recover their loss. In poker, this is very valuable to other players at the table, hence worth keeping track of and/or attempting to cause. People known to be prone to tilting are often taunted or generally aggravated when they take a loss and then egged on when they do tilt in order to keep them in this state as long as possible.”

In reading the definition, I hope you focused on the phrase describing how you and I play AFTER the event that put us on tilt. It happens to everyone, even to the best players in the world. One need only think back to when Scotty Nguyen went from huge favorite to win his second WSOP Main Event to busted in two hands, to realize that no one is immune to this problem. Therefore, staying off of tilt, and minimizing the damage that is done once you are on tilt, is of the utmost importance if we are going to perform at our best at the table.

I believe that the most important step in avoiding tilt is to play within your means. While any bad beat is aggravating, it is much easier to laugh it off when only a tiny portion of your bankroll is at stake. In the tournament I described at the beginning of this article, the buy-in was much less than 1% of my stake, which is easier to turn into a source of amusement than into the beginning of an ulcer. For more information on bankroll management, refer to my previous article in this series.

Next, the actions you take right after the “unlucky loss” will determine just how badly you compound the problem. There is always another tournament starting online every minute of the day, and hundreds of ring games into which you can jump. It would have been very easy to simply throw some more money out there, and chase the loss that I had just experienced. Instead, I decided to take a break and write! Immediately doing something constructive with the energy that I was feeling completely defused the charge, and allowed me to look at the events objectively, remember the many times that I have been the one to catch the one or two-outer to win (naturally, many times less than my opponents, lol), and get my mind back in a neutral state to play again. In live tournaments and ring games, players on tilt often just leave the table and walk away for awhile, until they cool down and can once more be at their best. Online, it’s even easier. The beauty of the online experience is that all you have to do is click on the “sit out next hand” box, and no one needs to know what you are feeling or what you are doing. Take a shower, lift some weights, laugh with your kids, or make yourself a sandwich. It really doesn’t matter as long as you get away until you are mentally ready to play.

Now, the title of this article is “Avoiding Tilt”, and ultimately, we want to get to a state where tilt rarely, if ever, even becomes an issue for us. In my professional life, I work with people’s nervous systems all day, helping them better respond to the various stresses that life throws at us. The bottom line is that tilt is just another form of stress, and nothing is stressful until the nervous system interprets it that way. Therefore, the more flexible a person’s nervous system is, the more “tilt-resistant” he or she will be. There are many different practices, including a slew of meditation techniques, yoga, tai chi and others, that can help you achieve a state in which tilt will become much less of a problem. Recently, I have been working with a new technology that enables me to measure my brain wave response to various stressors, and allows me to train my brain to be more frequently in a state where it is at its most resourceful. Obviously, that state is one that will inevitably lead to more winning sessions at the poker table, and much less susceptibility to tilt.

In closing, I suggest you be honest with yourself about how frequently you go on tilt. How often do you get angry at the table? How many times do you mutter “This site is rigged” or start screaming in the chat box at the player who just felted you? What happens to your game right after this? Do you find that you are “tilting” in the rest of your life as well? Being on tilt, at the table and away from it, can cause you to leak money, time, and relationships, often before you even know they are gone. Becoming the master of tilt in all areas of your life will not only make you a more successful poker player, but also allow you to squeeze more enjoyment out of everything that you do.

See you at the table!

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