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How to Test for Tilt

by Max Shapiro |  Published: Jul 11, 2012

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Max ShapiroI ran into Action Al, “the Gambler’s Pal,” one night as I was entering a casino while he was rushing out. Action Al is usually in an agitated state, but this time he seemed more frantic and stressed out than he normally is (not that he’s ever normal). I asked what the problem was.

“Ah, I was in this terrible game,” he replied, waving his arms all around. “Couldn’t win a pot, kept getting outdrawn, went on tilt and lost my entire bankroll.”

“The whole $20? Too bad, Al,” I said, trying to get away before he could hit me up for a loan. But this time he had something else on his mind.

“I wish there was some way I could keep from going on tilt, Maxey. Instead of just writing about Big Denny all the time, maybe you could do an advice column.”

“How to keep from going on tilt? I could do that in one sentence, Al. Don’t play Omaha high-low.”

“I’m serious, Maxey. Maybe you could write about warning signs, how to tell if you’re starting to lose it, that sort of thing. Write something helpful and constructive for a change.”

I later thought about what he said. “Tilt” is never a desirable condition, whether you’re working a pinball machine or a passenger on the Titanic, but it’s really lethal when you’re playing poker. It’s a disorder that even your best friend may not notice and warn you about – especially if he’s playing against you. So after considerable research and lengthy consultation with medical experts such as Dr. Wolfgang Puck, the eminent poker psychologist, I came up with an early warning list of danger signals. It’s a test you can take to determine if you’re on tilt and at what stage. Simply grade yourself with the following point listing and then compare your score with the guidelines at the end of this column.

How to score:

Give yourself five points if you feel everyone has started playing much too slowly.
Score five points if it’s past the time you should be home and 10 points if it’s past the time you should be at work.

Add another five if you find yourself calling before anyone has even bet.

Take five for every stack you’ve lost past the stack you promised would be your last.
Score five each time you call a river bet when you can’t beat the board – or can’t beat an opponent’s up cards when the game is stud.

If you’re playing draw, jacks or better to open, take five if you find yourself calling after the draw with just a pair of 10s.

Tack on five points if you’re playing Omaha high-low, and you keep chasing a low draw after two picture cards hit the flop. Make it 10 if three paints have flopped. Better make it 15 if the game is high only.

Give yourself five points if everyone at the table is laughing at you; 10 if they’re being especially nice.

Another five if you see that you’re talking to yourself.

Add even more if you start talking to God. Take five if you find yourself seriously promising God to quit poker if you can just get even, and 10 if you promise to cut God in if He lets you win.

Take five if you throw your cards so hard when you lose a hand that you hit the dealer, and 10 if you hit a dealer at another table.

Rack up five points if you’re so stressed out that you eat a dozen candy bars. Kick in five more if you also ate the wrappers.

If you’re playing past the point where you feel your bladder will burst, you get five points, and 10 for playing past the point where it has burst.

Score five more points if there’s an empty seat at the table, and the floorman is holding an auction for it.

Add five points if you’ve taken the last $100 in your checking account out of the ATM. Add 10 for each $100 you take out that’s more than you have in your account.

Throw in five points if you sob each time you lose a hand…10 if you giggle.

And five points if you think the players are cheating you, 10 if you’re certain the dealer is.

Physical symptoms are often reliable evidence that you’re on tilt, so score five points for each of the 20 following signs that fit:

(1) Tightness in your chest; (2) your head hurts; (3) Your stomach hurts; (4) Your teeth hurt; (5) You hear noises in your head; (6) dizziness or faintness; (7) difficulty breathing; (8) difficulty thinking; (9) difficulty talking; (10) chills; (11) hot flashes; (12) facial tics; (13) uncontrollable trembling; (14) amnesia; (15) inability to focus your eyes; (16). hysteria; (17) convulsions; (18) paralysis; (19) your heart is racing; (20) your heart has stopped.

Of course, anger is the most reliable sign that you’re on tilt. Give yourself five points for each person you’re angry at, whether it’s yourself, the other players, the dealer, the floorman, the food server, the cocktail waitress, or the porter. Better make it 10 more if you’re angry at God for not listening to you.

Now add up your score. If you accumulated between 30 and 60 points, you are in the early stages of tilt. Take 12 slow, deep breaths and walk around the table a few times. Between 60 and 100 points, your condition is reaching the critical stage.

Fill a bucket with ice-cold water and keep your head in it until you pass out. More than 100 points? You’re not just on tilt – you’ve completely capsized! To quote the ancient Greece philosopher Aristotle: “Svet gournisht helfen.” Loosely translated, that means, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna help.”

Your only out at that point is to dial 911 and hope the medics can haul you away before you lose what’s left of your money and your sanity. ♠

Max Shapiro, a lifelong poker player and former newspaper reporter with several writing awards to his credit, has been writing a humor column for Card Player ever since it was launched more than 20 years ago. His early columns were collected in his book, Read ’em and Laugh.