Tilt and the art of anger management

Tilt is your worst nightmare – you play badly,
lose money and everyone takes the piss. So
how do you keep a cool head when the chips
are down? Rick ‘The Rage’ Dacey reveals all

Bad beats will, from time to time , still rob you like a crack addict with an empty crack pipe

Picture the scene: You’re on the button and you find a pair of regal Kings as your freshly dealt hole cards. A tasty raise sees only the big blind call and with a K-8-3 rainbow flop you’re laughing. Cue the fireworks – you’ve hit top set and decide to trap with a checkraise. Glory be, your opponent takes the bait and bets into you. Holding the nuts at this stage, you re-raise them all-in, figuring that they’re holding the fourth King, or possibly an Ace, both of which make them a gigantic underdog. With a shrug of their shoulders they call and turn over… Q -8 ! Yes, not only did your opponent call your pre-flop raise with that substandard junk but also called your all-in with middle pair. With a 95% chance of taking the pot down, their stupidity will be giving you the chip lead. Until, that is, runner-runner hearts on the turn and river gives your opponent a backdoor flush and you a free ticket to Tilt, the land of rage and utter disbelief.

We’ve all been there. It’s happened to you and it’s definitely happened to me. You’ve lost a lot of chips and you’re not down and out just yet, but all you can think about is how that last hand should have been yours. You strongly consider screaming profanities at the top of your voice but that will only serve to make you look like a petulant child, whether you’re in a casino or in your underpants in your front room. What will determine whether you’re a winner though is how you react to the slings and arrows of terrible (mis)fortune.

For an outsider, it’s difficult to understand – what kind of maniac would completely lose control while playing cards? What could possibly get someone so incensed that they’d lose all composure and make some ridiculous plays? It’s only a game after all, isn’t it? But as poker players know, there are few things that can infuriate you more than a ludicrously jammy outdraw. So it’s not a theoretical proposition that you may be pushed into this state of temporary insanity – it’s a stone cold guarantee. Poker players term these lapses in clear-thinking and emotional overload ‘tilt’.

Deal with it

Anyone playing poker will go on tilt, but what separates the professionals from the rest of us is that they don’t deny its existence, they simply doff their cap in its general direction and attempt to limit its effects. It’s impossible not to get a little worked up when you lose four hands on the bounce to opponents that have come back from being big underdogs. It comes with the territory and there’s not a lot you can do about it, but if you’re going to avoid further unnecessary losses you have to learn not to surrender your soul to the evil poker gods.

The main thing to remember when playing poker is that, although it requires skill and knowledge, it’s also a game of luck, with fortunes resting on the turn of a card. Sometimes your opponents are going to hit that one-outer that will scoop all your hard-earned chips. It happens to the best of us. Even if you play perfect poker and every decision you make is theoretically spot on, bad beats will, from time to time, still rob you like a crack addict with an empty pipe. But if you understand that it’s part of the game, and accept the inevitability of it, then it’s less likely to bother you and affect your game.

Show of emotion

You’ll find that your worst losing sessions aren’t simply to do with bad luck or ‘not hitting the cards’, although that might be your excuse, but are in fact due to you becoming emotionally unstuck.

You might think that your play is perfect, up until a certain point, but it can all fall apart swiftly, because you let a so-called ‘bad beat’ get the better of you. Emotional discipline is every bit as important as the technical aspect of your game. There’s no worse feeling than looking down and seeing all your chips being pushed across the table and then wondering, ‘Why in the world did I chase that straight when there were three hearts on the board? What was I possibly thinking?’

And if you’re doing this because there’s one person getting under your skin then disable the chat mechanism online or stop bantering with them. The only one way to get the fool to shut up is to take their money so they can’t sit at the table anymore. If you can’t learn to take successive beats then you’ll never be a consistent tournament or cash game winner. If you’re that type of character, you need to get up and walk away from the game and take a few minutes to regain your senses. When you let your emotions take over you’ll almost certainly do nothing but lose money. Have a break from playing, so when you sit back down to play you’ve got a clear head. This could take five minutes or five days, but be sure to compose yourself before returning to the table.

Typically, you’ll start feeling that you’re owed some luck and start chasing gutshot draws and backdoor flushes. This is a bad move. Not only is that very dubious poker strategy but solid players will see you tilt and trap yo’ stupid ass. If J-6 suited is looking like a meal ticket to you then you should know that you’re tilting off the back of your chair.

On the other hand, tilt can make you paranoid like a small child peering at the wardrobe door from under their duvet. When you’ve been harshly outdrawn you start worrying that someone else will have a bigger monster in their closet. Big slicks and pocket rockets suddenly become hands that you’re scared to play for fear of another dirty beat. When this happens try to adjust to your normal play as soon as possible. Don’t dwell on the bad beat; accept it, embrace it, enjoy it. Admittedly that’s much easier said than done.

And don’t forget that although a few pints are grand of a Friday evening the demon drink can turn what would have been an irritating loss into the catalyst for a vocal and/or physical explosion of sound and movement that will see you attack with cards as dull as spoons and defend flops as flaky as Cadbury’s chocolate.

Comeback king

Another factor to consider is that you don’t want to rule yourself out of making a comeback. If you’re in a tournament and losing due to being consistently outdrawn, the probability on each hand dictates it won’t continue. You need to hold yourself together long enough for the cards to come your way again to enable you to start grabbing chips back.

Remember that you’re not short-stacked until you have less than ten times the big blind in chips. Better cards will almost certainly turn up, so sit tight and take deep breaths. Listen to some Enya if you need to, recant Buddhist mantras, do whatever you can to soothe the savage beast. It’s vital you look calm, as sharks will smell a tilting player a mile off and expose you as the vulnerable bag of emotions that you are.

Tilt can’t be ignored, but it can be controlled. Be aware of it, stay strong and don’t let it get the better of you. There’s only one thing worse than losing to your opponents and that’s being beaten by yourself.

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