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Unhinging Your Opponents

Unhinging Your Opponents
by Chad Holloway of

All poker players have experienced being on tilt and know the effect it can have on their game; as such, there are some poker players out there who recognize the advantage of playing against a tilted opponent and do their best to make it so. They do this through a number of techniques such as developing a table persona (such as acting cocky, arrogant, inexperienced, annoying, etc.), verbally criticizing other player's play, or disrupting the game, each designed to anger and frustrate their opponent. There are numerous poker pros who do this on a regular basis including Mike Matusow, Brandon Cantu, and perhaps the most infamous, Phil Hellmuth Jr. In her book Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker, Duke explains Hellmuth's antics and how they can be overcome:

"Phil tends to be a bit misunderstood. He's a better player than I am, but if you catch him at the right time, he can get unhinged. Part of Phil's strategy involves trying to get players mad at the table. He'll insult your ability to play. Most folks fall for this tactic and get defensive, which hurts their game. They try to go after him and, lost in their aggression, they lose a lot of money to him.


But I try to outfox him. I just laugh and agree with him when he implies that I'm not playing well. "I never said I was good, I'm just trying to get lucky," I say. Or, "You're right. I'm not a good player and I'm really lucky to be heads-up with you."

It's a total dead end for such people because they don't know what to do. It takes all the wind out of their sails. It takes all the power they have away from them. It's like the reflective shield that shines the laser beam right back at them."

Most experienced poker players either adopt Duke's technique when dealing with a tilt-inspiring player, or end up ignoring them altogether; however, every now and then even an experienced player will tilt when confronted with an unconventional player. This is even more true or an amateur or recreational player, who tend to play for the fun of the game. They are easily tilted by unconventional players because they are not used to being criticized and having their fun tainted. Although this seems mean and ill-spirited, it is important to remember that this is just your opponent's strategy. They want you to get mad and play badly so you will lose your money to them.

The best strategy to avoid this is not to take it personal, humor or ignore them, put in some I-pod headphones, or just get up from the table and take a walk. The important thing is to recognize what your opponent is trying to do and develop a counter-strategy. On the flip side, you may want to keep an eye open at the table for opportunities to tilt your opponents yourself, because it can be quite profitable. Just be sure not to disrespect proper poker etiquette too much!


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