Preventing and Mitigating Tilt
The reason why tilt is so dangerous is because it causes you to lose focus on expectation. Chasing losses in bad situations frequently due to a loss of control is certainly another precursor to the downfall of profitable players.
There are plenty of people who have their own theories on how to prevent tilt and stop it from hurting too much when it inevitably happens, and each will resonate more for different types of people. Some coaches take a more hard-lined approach and demand that you develop the ability to stop whining and stop getting upset over negative events, and learn how to act professionally. They describe tilt as childish and unattractive, hoping to strip people of the notion that bemoaning your bad luck is part of what being a poker player is all about. Other coaches approach tilt as more of a natural aspect of the poker player’s condition, and argue that the most important skills to develop are those that help you walk away when you realize you have lost too much focus to keep playing, before any serious damage occurs.
Both perspectives are valid and useful. Serious poker players do need to internalize that there are decisions involved in getting tilted and that you can train yourself to be steadier. Teaching them to see those who tilt much more negatively is a slick psychological trick that helps to accomplish that. It is also inevitable that some amount of tilt and emotional play will still occur, and learning productive steps to take when it does is very important, too. Which of these frameworks you should think about more to attack your own issues with tilt depends on who you are and the intricacies of what makes your mind tick.
My thoughts on tilt tend to be much more general, and begin with what it is in the first place. Yes, tilt is that negative emotionality we feel when something does not go our way, but things don’t go our way all the time in life and we don’t go berserk about it. For most competitive poker players, when we lose a close game of ping pong to a friend we don’t like to lose to, we’re pissed – but our performance in the rematch is going to be better, even more focused, even more motivated to play well. I have experienced that same feeling in poker after a losing start to the day, a fierce determination that led to a long session of extremely good play, even as things continued to go against me. After one of those days, I’d proudly thump my chest after earning four dollars total instead of losing the five figures I was “supposed” to from the bad run of the cards. Or, maybe I would book a loss, but still shrug my shoulders, forget about work, and meet up with some friends for ice cream – how can you be upset when there’s ice cream? That said, I have also experienced real tilt in poker, that eyes-bleeding, don’t even see what buttons I’m clicking anymore, all-consuming rage. So what gives? When do we feel that productive, motivating determination when things don’t go well, and when do we lose it and stop answering phone calls for 48 hours while drinking copious quantities of expensive whiskey or whatever our preferred destructive behaviors may be?
As I progressed in poker, I got better and better at managing tilt, so much so that people would start joking that I was a robot, grinding out hundreds of high-variance, high-stakes games a day, experiencing significant intraday swings, without much of an apparent effect on my play. I think I just got much better at understanding where those harsher feelings of tilt come from. The things that get to us so much that they have major performance detracting effect, rather than a motivating, performance enhancing effect, hit us really hard somewhere more significant to us. For a variety of potential reasons, they attack us on a personal level. In order to really mitigate the effects of tilt and prevent it from happening in the first place, you have to be conscious of where those awful feelings really come from.
Most often, the core of tilt is fear. It’s fear that you will no longer be a profitable poker player. It’s fear that you won’t realize the expectation you’ve worked so hard to earn. It’s fear that people will see this absolute moron at your stakes as a better player than you without knowing that he’s run hotter than the sun in your games together. It’s the fear that you won’t get to the places you wanted so badly for poker to take you. It can be fear on a highly personal level: Whatever you are most afraid of in life, it will come out during a horrific session of bad luck. Oh yes, that’s right: Tilt is a boggart. Riddikulus!
I always found that the happier I was with my life, and the more I felt I had to be proud of outside of poker, the less upset the swings of poker made me, even as those swings got more intense in terms of dollars. When being a successful online poker player is a big part of your positive self-conception, it only makes sense that the bad times in poker feel that much worse. If your balance in life is so bad that being a successful online poker player is the only part of your positive self-conception, that’s when things start to feel really desperate.
OK, you get it – the rest of your life has an effect on how much you tilt. But just like in the rest of this ebook, really focus on how you would apply this and make an adjustment that makes a measurable difference. I do think that understanding the real core of where your tilt is coming from is half the battle, and that consciousness of your own emotions makes controlling them and using them to accomplish what you want to accomplish significantly easier. Fittingly, the last article will discuss how to broaden that expectation-driven approach to decision making even further and talk about that balancing act of poker in the rest of your life.