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Variations of Tilt

Variations of Tilt: Controlling Your Emotions in NLHE
Dan Johnson of

As human beings we all display a large amount and variety of emotions and moods throughout our daily lives. Showing these emotions helps us as well as others, to figure out what we are really trying to say; it helps us communicate. However, in poker, the display of emotions can give away important information, the cards we may be holding and in the end, our chips. To have success at the tables requires a player to not only refrain from showing his/her emotions, but also to attempt to not even feel them. Since we are humans and not robots, this is something that is much easier said than done, but if mastered can lead to great rewards and success on the felt.

Since poker is a mental game, one that is being played even between hands, self-discipline is the main area that players need to work on to control their emotions and the showing of their emotions. Even before they are able to do that they must understand their emotions and moods and when they happen. Being aware of your own emotions and what image you're giving the table is the first step in mastering and controlling your emotions in a No-Limit game. The reason that this part of your poker game is so vital mostly in No-Limit as opposed to other games is simply the fact that fortunes change more quickly from hand to hand in No-Limit. Thus when fortunes change so fast many players' emotions can change just as fast. In fact fortunes can be won or lost in just moments in this game. You can play great in a tournament for hours or even days and lose control for a moment and go broke. Most players would call this "going on tilt" and I would agree, but to me there are many variations of tilt (each one which I will discuss). Tilt can be any emotion, combination of emotions or moods that affects your game negatively. Players' moods can vary from frustrated, to jubilant, to bored, and to even just plain pissed off.

Anger (Steaming): Most people associate the term tilt solely with anger and frustration. Although there are other forms of tilt, anger is probably the most common. Players' reasons for getting angry vary from bad beats, losing streaks and sometimes even other players getting under their skin.

When a player becomes angry that person tends to be involved in too many pots. They play hands they would not normally with a cool head, often times in an attempt to change their luck, get their money back, or simply beat their nemesis at the table.

Whatever the reason for tilting, they all lead to the same path, going broke. Sometimes players play great for hours and then one bad beat puts them on tilt and then on a downward spiral to busting out. These players have to realize and know the odds in poker and that the best hand doesn't win all the time. This knowledge may not give them comfort, but it should tell them not to get to upset because of one bad beat or even a small series of beats. After all, all you can do in a poker tournament is put your money in when you have the best of it, and if you do that you will win more times than not.

If a player only ever loses to bad beats and doesn't lose because of bad play, I would argue that he/she shouldn't get upset at all because if that person plays like this over a long period of time he/she will see great results. Players need to not be concerned as much with short term results and focus on making good plays. If a player is making the right play at the right time that player will not be unlucky forever, but sometimes players force the issue and convince themselves that they are unlucky. It's hard to admit when you are playing poorly, but it's something you must recognize to be able to prevent it and to come back to the tables when you are back on your "A game".

Jubilation (Rushes): There is no better feeling in poker than when you are on a rush. The action is fast, your excitement is up and the cards can't be dealt fast enough. You just can't wait to see what you get dealt next and you can't wait to get back into the pot. This feeling is great; however it is yet another that can get you into trouble, especially in No Limit Texas Holdem. Sometimes when players get on a rush they feel some kind of invulnerability, almost like a superhero and they think they can't lose. The problem with this kind of thinking is that players start to play lots of hands, too many hands in fact. They play cards they would certainly not play if they weren't on a rush, thinking they will hit every draw and every flop. There are a couple things to keep in mind about rushes and although they seem simple enough, players often forget because the feeling of jubilation can overwhelm them.

1. Rushes never last forever. When you are on a rush beware when it might expire and continue to play your cards by making good decisions not based on your current lucky streak. If you raise and get three callers with pocket kings and the flop comes with an ace, don't automatically think you are still good. Some players have a hard time laying down kings anytime because they look so good and on a rush they look even better, but you have to play the situation and the players and not convince yourself that you are the only one hitting flops.

2. Rushes can quickly go in reverse. Luck is the only thing that's not constant in poker. In fact it's very unpredictable, so be aware that your luck can go from good to bad in a split second and then back again. Try to not play differently than you normally would on a rush or on a cold streak. Simply play the odds and your opponents.

Despair (Running Bad): Sometimes it just isn't your day. You can't seem to do anything right. Your bluffs don't work and you can't win a pot whether you are ahead, behind or in a coin flip. When you are running bad it can be very tough to keep your composure at the table, but in a tournament or long cash session it is imperative that you do keep a cool head.

One major problem I see with players who are running bad is that they often give up on tournaments or sometimes even blow the rest of their dwindling bankroll in a cash session. They start gambling to try to get their money back or they simply have lost all hope and don't care anymore. This is the worst thing you can do, because you will just be giving money away that you could play well with if you weren't on tilt.

When I first started playing online, I usually would get frustrated after a bad beat that crippled my stack and simply give up on the tournament by pushing all in on the next hand. When I look back at those days now, I realize that I wasted many buy- ins by doing this when I could have made a come back in at least a few of those tournaments. (See: A Chip and a Chair for more reasons to never give up.) Now that I have a lot more discipline and focus and I understand what tilt is, I can avoid it much easier. Fairly recently I was playing in a low buy-in 45 person SNG on Full Tilt Poker. Early on in the tournament I was crippled when I went all in with pocket kings preflop and was called by A 5 unsuited. Of course my opponent flopped an ace putting my stack down to 145 chips with the blinds at 30-60. Instead of giving up, I waited for a hand and ended up doubling up to a little over 300. I continued to play strong and eventually won the 45 person SNG. Many things had to go right for me to comeback and win, but I never put my money in behind and won only a couple of coin tosses on my way back. The moral of the story is simply to never give up on a tournament and if you are running really badly sometimes it is best to just call it a night and come back to the tables when you are off tilt, because wasting your money is the worst thing you can do.

Bored (Card Dead): Sometimes even good players just can't get anything going and it's not because they are playing bad or are upset, but rather their cards are colder than the North Pole. Some players just don't have the attention span for long cash sessions or long tournaments when they aren't getting action, and others just get bored when they don't get dealt anything playable over an extended period of time. Boredom at the table can lead to an early exit short of the money many times. Sometimes players waste the rest of their stacks with marginal hands craving action. I might tell some of these players to stick to short cash sessions and not play long tournaments in general (some players might have a little too much of ADD) but for others there are a few things you can do to keep from getting bored at the table.

Some people are opposed to having ipods at the table, because they can slow the game down, but for players who get bored, listening to music might keep their mind occupied between hands. Another solution is to simply start some friendly table talk with someone next to you. Poker is a game of patience and staying focused is one of the most important things in No-Limit, so keeping from getting bored is just as important. If you are a person who gets bored very quickly and easily and can't stay focused, then frankly poker is not a game for you unless you just enjoy gambling. In that case being card dead might not matter to you.

Tilt is the state of mind that curses many good players and sends them to the rail, but as players become more aware of their emotions and moods and get more experience playing No-Limit, they will start to see that they can control their emotions and see consistent success at the tables.

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