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Psychology – Dissecting Tilt & What it Does to You

Published January 26, 2009 - RSS/XML Feed RSS
By Sean Gibson
Tilt is the biggest enemy of any poker player. It’s worse than ignorance, inexperience, or bad luck. It’s a time-bomb inside each of us waiting to explode if we don’t diffuse it. There is no player that is above tilt, and there is no player that hasn’t succumbed to it at some point in their playing career. Being able to dissect tilt and understand why it happens to you is the first step in making yourself a more psychologically stable player. More stability and less tilt will undoubtedly lead to bigger profits at the tables making it one of the most important subjects in your poker education. Recently I broke down what makes me tilt, and after reading two books that deal with this subject this article should help with your battle with poker’s biggest enemy.
First I’d like to reference the two books that have greatly assisted my efforts with tilt control. The first is a book called Elements of Poker by Tommy Angelo which you can buy straight from the author (he’ll even write you a little note in it for free). You can order Angelo’s book by clicking here and ordering from his website. I’m a huge fan of this book and highly recommend it for any serious player live or online.
The second book I’d like to reference is a book called The Poker Mindset which does a great job illustrating why bad beats and “variance†will hit players mathematically and how to deal with it. You can pick up this book from by clicking here.
The best definition I’ve read about tilt is from Angelo who says that tilt is any deviation from your A-Game, meaning that tilt is something gets you just a little bit (or a lot) off the best game that you play,. 
Here’s the usual slew of hands which will run together to get me on tilt. Note that this all happened in the same 400 hand session:
Step 1: Cooler hand against a donkey
This guy is one of the worst 100nl regulars on Stars, at least in my opinion. He plays with a 75% stack and posts his blind out of turn, and then raises which I had seen him do to “protect his posted blind†and I have a great hand in QQ I am comfortable stacking off against with him in this situation because usually at worst it’s a flip and so often its hands like AJ, AT, KQ, KJ, TT, or 99 from this guy. Anyways he luckboxes out and shows up with AA and it holds up.
Step 2: Getting it in Good, and Losing
Where the last hand wasn’t a bad beat but a pure cooler, this is a pure bad beat. I got it in good here and he hit his miracle K to win the hand against my aces. At this point I’m feeling cursed.
Step 3: Big Hand … Not Cracked but NO Action
This is what really gets my blood boiling. I’ve taken two punches to the face but here’s a chance to recoup some losses hopefully. Not only does nobody try to make a raise but everyone folds and I take down fifty cents.
Step 4: Cold Cards … NOTHING
There’s no replay because there’s no hands. You get a slew of 73o, T5o, J2, Q6 … etc etc … nothing but hands that you have to fold even after 40 minutes and 9-tabling. You’ll find yourself with KQo in the CO but the UTG raises and UTG+1 shoves, meaning you got to fold. Just BLEH.
The Result
When all those things happen rather quickly I really feel like I can feel my blood boil. I start to overplay pots and also start to get FPS (fancy play syndrome) where I am not making “the right moves†but make fancy moves in a sad (and usually failing) attempt at making the pot as big as possible while totally disguising my hand. It ends up that I either lose more money this way, or get no value for big hands. Either way it’s costing me money.
Getting off of Tilt – What I Do That Helps
Here’s a short list of things that I do that help me calm down, analyze what’s happening to me and why, and come back to play better.
Step One: QUIT
This is the hardest and most important step. You always feel like that big hand to get back that money you lost just might be the next hand dealt … and that is a gambler’s fallacy you must avoid. The cards will come and when you’re playing poorly it’s time to quit and step away. Just QUIT.
Step Two: Breathe
Instead of slamming your keyboard around and screaming like this ridiculous kid on Youtube just go outside or into another room and close your eyes. Focus on breathing. If you’ve worked out or done long distance running, or even tried Yoga, you know that doing proper breathing exercises can heal your body. It’s time your mind and emotions are healed by getting back to this fundamental living exercise.
Step Three: Do Something Else, Immediately, That Doesn’t Involve Thinking/Reading/etc About Poker
Another huge step is to remove your poker brain from reality and just put it aside for a while. For some that could mean a few hours, and I’ve seen people take breaks that lasted longer than a week. It’s up to you to figure out how long it’ll take to where you don’t feel any rage or revenge factor (aka Vendetta Tilt). Just make sure you do something that has nothing to do with poker.
Step Four: Return to the Computer, and Analyze Your Session
This is where programs like Hold’em Manager and Pokerazor really come in handy. Take those horrible sessions and replay through every hand. On hands where you might have made a bad turn or river call/check/raise run it through Pokerazor and see just how likely your hand was ahead and what your equity situation was at the time. You’ll find that if you made the wrong moves, you just got the information to fix that error. If you made the right moves you’ll have to feel better knowing that you were the better player and just got a little unlucky in the hand.
Step Five: Return to Playing
When you feel you can take another session just like the one that tilted you without setting fire to a building or blowing up (ideally just staying calm) then you are most likely ready to head back. Play your normal game if you want, or mix it up with some lower-than-usual stakes action. Just get back into the swing of things by doing whatever makes you comfortable.

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