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Switching from Online to Brick-and-Mortar Poker -- Part IV Will You Go On Tilt?

Will You Go On Tilt?

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Sep 21, 2011


Alan SchoonmakerParts I-III stated that the danger of going on tilt is much greater than you may believe. This column will tell you how to reduce that danger, but you can’t completely eliminate it. If you’re too frustrated, you will go on tilt.

You must accept the fact that you’re at risk. If you deny that reality, nothing else matters. You’ll ignore the warnings, take foolish chances, and pay a high price for your denial.

Parts I-III briefly described the psychological effects of 14 new frustrations you’ll encounter when you switch to live (brick-and-mortar, or B&M) games. You’ve learned how to handle — or at least tolerate — online games’ frustrations, but don’t know how to cope with some of the new ones.

Their sheer number intensifies the danger. You may be able to handle one or three or five, but the cumulative impact of 14 can overwhelm your defenses. After enough frustrations, a small irritation can push you over the edge. That’s the meaning of the old saying, “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

For example, you may shrug off a bad beat online, but go on tilt if exactly the same beat occurs when you:

- are in an undesirable B&M game because your preferred game is unavailable
- are irritated by the slow pace, background noises, interruptions, and silly chatter
- and have a slow, sloppy dealer

The Definition of “Tilt”

Most people think that “tilt” means that you’re playing crazily. This series uses a broader definition: “Tilt” means that you’re making mistakes for emotional reasons that you wouldn’t normally make.

Subtle tilt can be more expensive than the crazy version. If you go crazy, you may lose a rack or two, but you’ll probably recognize the obvious danger and quit. You may never realize that you’re making subtler, emotionally driven mistakes, so you’ll keep playing badly and continue to lose.

Preventing Tilt

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly applies to tilt. It’s much easier to prevent tilt than to fix it after it starts. Several steps will help. Some are adapted from a 2004 series you can read at, while others are new:

- Avoid your triggers
- Adjust to B&M games’ slower pace
- Closely monitor your own play
- Constantly ask, “Why did I do that?”
- Don’t kid yourself
- Don’t try to get even
- When in doubt, go home

Avoid Your Triggers

A trigger is anything that really bothers you. Triggers are individualistic. You may ignore something that severely upsets me and vice versa. It is immeasurably easier to avoid triggers than it is to change your reactions to them. Of course, you can’t avoid bad beats and some other triggers, but you easily avoid noise, excessively slow games, irritating players, large losses, and so on.

For example, if you overreact to losing three buy-ins, never buy in more than twice. If noise really bothers you, play in quiet rooms or the quieter parts of your room, or at quieter hours. If certain players infuriate you, avoid them.

Some people won’t follow that simple advice. For example, a friend bitterly complained about a player who kept slow-rolling and demanding to see players’ hands. He told me, “I’m going to get that jerk.”

I replied, “Joe, switch to the next table.”

“No, why should I have to switch? He’s the trouble-maker, and I’m going to make him pay for it.”

So, Joe kept steaming and blew a lot of money trying to punish someone he easily could avoid.

Adjust to B&M Games’ Slower Pace

The slower pace creates boredom, reduces concentration, and directly causes frustrating mistakes. My first column on switching recommended using the extra time wisely: “First, study the players … Second, use the extra time to think carefully before acting.”
If you do both tasks well, the slow pace will be much less upsetting. Plus, since you decisions will improve, you’ll get better results and feel better about yourself.

Closely Monitor Your Own Play

Continuously ask yourself, “How well am I playing?” and “What mistakes am I making?” Monitoring yourself has the same two benefits, better decisions and reduced boredom. Instead of waiting helplessly for playable cards, you’ll be busy observing and thinking.

Constantly Ask, “Why Did I Do That?”

Don’t just observe your play. Intensely analyze the causes for your mistakes, especially the ones you don’t usually make. If you don’t know why you’ve made a serious mistake, take a break and carefully review your play, your thoughts, and your feelings.
Look for patterns. One mistake probably doesn’t mean much, but if you’ve made several mistakes that you don’t normally make, you’re probably reacting emotionally. That is, you’re already on tilt, and you’re in danger of getting worse.

Don’t Kid Yourself

Poker players kid themselves about many issues related to tilt. For example, they may ignore their triggers or underestimate their effects. They don’t want to admit that something really bothers them.

Players are especially likely to kid themselves about their ability to handle stress. They may not recognize their mistakes, or they may pretend that the mistakes were not caused by emotions.

You must admit both your mistakes and their causes. If you’ve made several emotionally driven mistakes (or a single important one), you’re in danger of taking a devastating loss. You may want to deny it, or you may think that you can quickly regain your balance, but why take the chance?

Countless players have insisted that they were not on tilt when everyone at the table could see it. Countless additional players have let their machismo overwhelm their common sense. They knew they were on tilt, but insisted, “I’m going to tough it out.” They usually regretted it.

Don’t Try To Get Even

The dumbest words in poker are, “I’ve got to get even.” Just having that thought indicates that you’re on tilt. You’re letting your emotional need to get even affect the most important poker decision: Should I play or quit?

If that need is affecting your thinking, recognize the obvious truth: You’re already on tilt, and it can easily get worse. Then do the only intelligent thing — go home.

When In Doubt, Go Home

If it looks like you may be on tilt, don’t wait until you’re sure of it, and don’t pretend that you’re so good that you’ll win anyway. “I may not be playing my A-game, but I’m still better than these fish.” Don’t pretend that you will quickly regain control of yourself.

Perhaps you will, but the downside risks are much greater than the upside potential. Countless players have gone on tilt and blown their bankrolls. There will always be another poker game. Preserve your bankroll so you can play with it.

Do you often wonder, “Why are my results so disappointing?” Ask Dr. Al, He is David Sklansky’s co-author for DUCY? and the sole author of four poker psychology books._