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The Madness of Tilt

The Madness of TILT
by Daniel Johnson of

Mike Davidson is normally a mild mannered person; he is calm and relaxed when not at work. He is especially relaxed when he is sitting in his cushy office chair. He is enjoying a nice poker tournament online, when all of a sudden he snaps. He hurls a baseball, a souvenir he caught at a local minor league game, as hard as a MLB all-star into his bedroom wall. The hole in the wall reminds him why he narrowly lost his security deposit and also about the effects of what poker players call "tilt".

The poker term tilt describes the action of playing poker while heavily influenced by emotion. A player making his or her decisions under emotional duress tends to play poorly, gambling more and going after certain players who they may dislike when they are in a pot. Tilting has cost a lot of people a lot of money, so for years people have tried to find a way to avoid tilt, but it seems to be a losing battle as we as human beings let our emotion come into play in more things than just poker. Most players like Davidson know where their tilt comes from, but stopping it from happening is another story.

"It was a situation where I lost a big pot, then made a big comeback, got my hopes up and then took another huge beat. The second one just crushed me and I kinda lost it," Davidson said.

His tilting not only caused him to lose his cool, but also his tournament buy-in, as he busted out shortly thereafter. The fact is, all players are vulnerable to tilting as we all have emotions as human beings, but to be a successful poker player, it is important to keep those emotions in check and to suppress tilt as much as possible.

And tilting isn't just for people for who are pissed off. Any emotion could be construed as tilt if it affects the mental state and decision making process in a negative way. Decisions based on emotions like greed, jubilation, and depression also results in donating a player's hard earned cash at the tables. Professional player Matthew Hilger adds fatigue, boredom and intoxication to the list of mental states that affect someone's poker game negatively in Card Player Magazine article "Why do Players go on Tilt?"

Many players feel they need to win, so when they fail, tilt usually ensues. Sometimes they don't have to be unlucky to go on tilt. Card Player Magazine writer and professional poker player Todd Arnold argues that the more skilled players are actually the ones most influenced by tilt, because they can let their egos get in the way.

"Once you realize that this game is not about you, and that the results do not matter, you will be less likely to tilt," Arnold wrote in an article titled "The Psychology of Tilt" published in Card Player Magazine in January of 2007.

Tilt is a vicious cycle, which if not treated quickly or dealt with, could cause a player to go broke. When tilting, players often feel the need to "chase the money", to win back their losses as quickly as possible. This mindset rarely pays off and what happens is they end up playing irrationally, making decisions in the game not based on logic, but rather their own need to get back to even. Sometimes the night will start off oh so perfectly. After a nice winning cash game session it's decision time. Go to bed or play one more. Many times I have been in this situation and decided, why not? I'll play one more. I'm running good and feeling like a winner. I sit at the computer, the glow from the screen lights my once happy face, until this last minute late-night session drains gleefulness and my bankroll as one wrong move or bad beat tilts me. I have the mentality that I need to end the night where I started. I cannot rest until I get my money back. Tilt consumes me and the chase for the money is on. It's a chase that rarely ends in me catching up, because with tilt laughing in my face, my "A" game is gone and so is my money. And there I am, lying in bed, tossing and turning. I'm thinking "Why did I do that? I could have quit while I was ahead."

"These sort of mental traps can force a player to try and force the action. Once you start trying to make things happen, instead of letting the game process naturally, you are almost certain to make mistakes, letting your lust for chips blind you," said Sean Lind, a writer for Pokerlistings in his article titled: "How to Crush $1-2 No-Limit Redux: Money Mistakes."

People express their tilt differently. Some stew and steam in their chair silently after an unlucky card falls on the river. They say nothing, but you can almost hear and see the jet of steam shooting from their ears. Their face turns red and they say something like, "nice hand sir" with sarcasm and a scowl.

Others are more violent. They will slam the table in anger. They may throw nearby objects, like chairs or drinks. Shouting obscenities is not uncommon and complaining to other players is a habitual reaction. A tilting player might turn to you and tell you "a bad beat story", looking for sympathy in a cold and horribly unforgiving world. He might say "Can you believe I lost that hand? Why does this always happen to me?"

And if you play poker often, you can relate on some level, but some players lay back and wait for tilters like wolves. They lick their lips thinking: "Here comes some dead money."

Eric Levesque has been playing professionally for three years and last year alone, made $80,000. He makes his home in Ontario, Canada where he plays online as well as live at a local casino. As a professional, Levesque can surely relate and is not immune to tilting, despite making a living playing the game. "I usually will talk it out with someone, angrily of course and punch the couch I'm sitting on. Sometimes I berate the other player for an awful play in the chat. It's kind of a natural reaction, but it makes me feel better at the same time," Levesque said. But Levesque is a professional. He is one of the wolves, looking for the wounded and defenseless tilters. It's a part of how he makes his living, so being able to spot tilting players and even the ability to set others on tilt is something Levesque doesn't overlook concerning his success in the game.

"I definitely look for those opportunities. Getting players off their game is a big way I play. When I make a big call against an opponent, or see them play a weak hand, I like to point that out and try to get under their skin," Levesque said.

So we already know that ego is a factor when it comes to tilting, and believe me when I say most poker players think they are the greatest player of all time. As poker pro and World Series of Poker bracelet winner Dutch Boyd once said in an ESPN telecast, "Poker is a lot like sex. Everyone thinks they are the best, but most people don't really know what they are doing." Because of this there are many ways to get other players to tilt off big stacks of cash. One of those needling techniques used by players to tilt others is to show their hand after a bluff. The move lets the other player know they were bluffed, fooled, and outplayed. As you can imagine someone with a big ego might be sent into the tilt stratosphere afterwards. "Yeah that's a big one for me. After you show a bluff they feel this need to come after your stack (chips) it seems, and that usually doesn't work out to well for them," Levesque said.

With a bruised ego and money lost, it's very easy for anyone to tilt and lose even more money. So is there a cure for tilt? Good players are said to be able to avoid tilting, but how is this possible all the time? Levesque and most poker pros agree, when you are losing, not having fun and tilting, sometimes it is best to call it a night and leave the tables, cutting your losses.

"I would definitely say walking away is the best idea. If you walk away it's obviously impossible to tilt. Being away gives me time to cool off and makes sure I don't do anything stupid."

Some players cannot simply walk away. So they come up with other ways to help treat tilt. Some listen to music to keep their mind off their unlucky streaks and also to occupy time in between hands. Others try to find humor in the situation or simply think about the hand analytically and understand what happened and why it did. It's wise for players to find what works for them and if nothing seems to help, then they need to find a way to get away from the table and cut their losses.

In general the understanding that luck comes around to everyone equally will set some players at ease, especially when they put a bad beat on someone else.

"Sometimes if I play awful and suck out and manage to put someone else on tilt, it seems to cure my case and pass it along. It also shows you that their win was a fluke and the more you put your money in with the best hand the more you will win in the long run," Levesque said.

When a player knows his or her skill level and understands that making the right play will be profitable for them in the long run, they are much less likely to go on prolonged tilt episodes. "I know I'm a good player, so I just try and laugh at the bad beats. Also having the bankroll to bounce back helps deal with tilt," Davidson said.

Now when I sit at the computer on the virtual felt or when I sit at a table on the real felt, I try to enjoy the game no matter what happens. Tilt doesn't come into my dreams the way it used to, keeping me up at night, but that's not to say it won't ever return. But next time it rears its ugly head, I'll just go do another thing I thoroughly enjoy and am good at. I'll just go take a nap.

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