Dealing with tilt: Learn to control your emotions

Learn how to handle your bad beats and control the tilt monster if you want to be a winner. Just ask Dan ‘danshreddies’ O’Callaghan and his broken laptop…

Right now I’m sitting in a cosy train station cafe with a surprisingly awesome cappuccino… Or latte, I really can’t taste the difference. Who can, right? About three meters north-north-west of me there’s a youngish, hooded degenerate slyly kicking the base of a fruit machine as it steadily relieves him of 50p a spin (you’re not hiding it as well as you think buddy!). In the time it’s taken me to write this sentence alone, he’s easily lost enough to have paid for my mysterious caffe-chino- late, and with each spin he hits the ‘start’ button harder and faster. He’s tilting, plain and simple.

Oh! Em! Gee! I’ve just had an epiphany! It’s just dawned on me that as I’m sitting here watching Gav slowly lose his mind (let’s go with Gav, it suits him), I’m essentially witnessing a heads-up match between a tilting fish and a level-headed pro. the similarities are uncanny, and it’s a master-class in the destruction capabilities of emotional tilt.

Look at it this way, unless he’s either deluded or has one of those magic administrator keys, Gav knows he can’t beat that machine. everything about it, from the flashing lights to seductive feature modes is designed to heighten human emotion and destroy his sense of logic. Just like a professional poker player, that fruit machine’s strategy is tailored to make money; it will make no mistakes and will manipulate it’s opponents’ sense of reason in order to exploit their wallets.

Deluded or not, Gav is pretty much drawing dead. Yes, he may run above eV and scoop the jackpot, but his poor emotional state, paired with his unwillingness to admit he’s outclassed, mean he’s pretty much doomed. It’s a case of David and goliath, of John Connor and the terminator, of O’Callaghan and Ivey, Gav is an underdog; he’s simply no match for the fruit machine’s professionally calculated, emotionless and profitable strategy. And to make matters worse, the more he tilts, the more of a dog he becomes.

If you ever watch videos from beasts such as Ike Haxton, Phill galfond, or Ben Sulsky, make an extra effort to notice how emotionlessly they handle even the grossest of beats. I would go so far as to say that this ability to just ‘shrug it off’ is one of the key sources of their success. You might argue that they have so much control because they have already ‘made it’, but I’d insist that they have ‘made it’, because they are so in control.

Winning mentality

Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure we’ve all been gav at the tables at one point or another in our poker lives. We’ve all felt our stomachs tighten and our teeth grit as we ‘see red’ and throw logic, and sometimes our laptops, out of the window. and I’m no exception! Not only have I ruined way more than my fair share of mouse buttons in my time, I’ve also been responsible for a ‘motherboard meets fork’ incident. RIP Toshiba Satellite.

All joking aside though, there’s simply no place for this in a perfect poker game. You’d struggle to convince me that skill is more important than discipline in poker. Just as there are many average players making a living, I’d bet there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of players that play fantastically 95% of the time, but are completely undone by a few hot-headed, laptop-impaling, moments of rage. Former chess grandmaster Savielly Tartakower summed the perils of this up perfectly:

‘It is not enough to be a good player; you must also play well’

So how can we minimise monkey tilt and improve our discipline?

Well one of the first things I’d do is try to appreciate Tartakower’s sentiment. Engrain this logic, print it out, stick it on your fridge, a t-shirt, hell, get a tattoo if needs be, do whatever it takes to instill this objective frame of mind within you – it’s a vital part of a winner’s mentality. If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s the value of this quote, it changed my life.

Three Strikes

One of the problems with diagnosis is that tilt affects everyone differently. There’s a bunch of stuff out there already, but tilt is far more than sighing, swearing and hitting whatever is at hand.

In fact, the danger isn’t tilt itself, it’s what it leads to. It can make players impatient, disregard relative hand strength, and, as we mentioned above, shred any sense of discipline. The reasons why this can harm your profitability should be obvious, but on the off-chance they’re not, remember, there’s probably a reason that nobody’s spent time discussing the profitability of spite-calling…

To understand how you tilt you must be honest with yourself. Thankfully, one of the beauties of internal monologue is that you can say whatever you like without any fear of embarrassment or third party interference. Remember, nobody likes to admit their inadequacies, but it’s vital for your bottom line that you learn how you tilt, not just so that you can spot the warning signs and minimise its impact yourself, but also because it’s in nobody’s interest to spot it for you. After all, a tilting shark is just another fish. Once we’ve identified the problem we can begin eradicating it, just as Manchester United did when they realised how inept David Moyes was. (Perhaps they were tilting when they made that signing!).

A great tip I got from my buddy Gino was his baseball method. Now it only works if you are honest and disciplined with yourself, but the idea behind it is pretty straight forward: everytime you see an indication that you’re tilting, a bad call, a sigh, a tut, etc, regardless of the result, you lose a strike. Just as in baseball, three strikes and you’re out. You force yourself to take a break. Gino measures his strikes with poker chips, and I recommend doing this because they they act as a reminder of the process.

Control and crush

I picked up another technique from Jesse Silvia during a home game in Vegas: The ab-roll. Whenever we got stacked we had to do ten complete ab-rolls dedicating one to every player in the game as we did it. It doesn’t take many ab-rolls to rake your mind of whatever it was that was tilting you, but even if it doesn’t help you to feel better, surely the consequential six-pack will.

Go to the gym, hit a punching bag, smash pumpkins with a baseball bat, read a book, take a break, watch a video, name your nipples and nose ‘ctl’, ‘alt’ and ‘delete’ and pretend to reboot yourself if it helps. Do whatever it takes to relieve your tilt because your profitability depends on it. Control tilt and you will crush.

Not convinced? Then just imagine how much bigger your bankroll would be if instead of those annoying PPI calls, someone called you offering you a refund on every dollar you ever lost while tilting. It would probably be a pretty big cheque! I know I’d be up at least a fork and a laptop for a start!

Dan ‘danshreddies’ O’Callaghan is a member of Team PKR Pro. Play with him in 2D or 3D at, but remember not to tilt!

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