Monday, July 23, 2007

Avoiding Tilt

In the "Ryan Blows a Hand" thread Austin asks:

"I'm curious if there's any mental mantras you try to go through when you know you just made a stupid play and are trying to make sure it doesn't happen again. I've noticed that every once in a while I'll go on a binge of terrible calls and they all seem to be related to one another."

The general subject of tilt avoidance is a topic worthy of its own post. Here are my thoughts…

The first thing to do after a frustrating hand is to make a conscious effort to tighten your hand selection to the extreme, and to stay focused on the hand…at hand.

The second thing to do is to be self-aware when you are failing to do the first thing, and pull yourself from the game when that happens.

If you realize you are playing less than premium hands less than optimally because you are still distracted by the emotions or details of a previous hand, then you have to take a break. Playing tilty and refusing to get up from the table is like driving groggy and refusing to pull over. Both are dangerous exercises in denial:

"The fact that my eyes keep closing means nothing--there's no way I'm going to fall asleep on the interstate! Sure, I'm singing out loud and rolling down the windows to stay focused, but I can handle this."

"The fact that my mind keeps obsessing over that hand from last orbit means nothing--there's no way I'm tilting! Sure, I've made a loose call here and there lately, but I can handle this."


"I'm all in..."

BAM! Disaster.

Get up from the table and take a walk, go have a snack or a smoke, but get the hell away from the table before disaster strikes.

Another thing: measure your tiltiness not by your blood pressure, heart rate or rage levels, but by where your head is at. Some people don’t tilt in a visible, emotional way. Maybe you aren’t obviously flustered, but if you are playing one hand while thinking about another, you are probably tilting.

If you are adding extra layers into assessment of the current hand after a rough previous hand, you are probably tilting. He’s not raising because he has a good hand, he’s raising because he thinks I’m tilting, so I should reraise with my crap hand…

One way to avoid tilt if you are an emotional player, like I am, is to go ahead and vent the steam right away. I’ve been known to shove neat stacks of chips to the winner in a big messy pile (don’t splash chips around if you do this, though, that is way uncool), and vocalize my frustrations after a brutal hand.

I can contain this…I never do this at a casino, for example…but among friends, it can help me avoid tilt to let out the steam while it’s fresh. I basically fold the next couple of hands (barring monsters) while I grumble, mutter, shake my head, etc., so that I can clear it all out and move on. Do not sit there muttering about a hand for more than one or two hands after, though. After that, nobody will have any empathy or tolerance (if they had any to begin with), and you’ll just be the annoying dick who can’t take a beat. If you can’t clear the tilt in a timely fashion, get the hell up and walk away.

Opening up the vents can be a way to prevent a more damaging steam buildup, but I’ve been working on not needing to do this to avoid tilt. (Seriously, guys, when’s the last time you remember me do anything blatantly steamy at the table?) Despite being an emotional gamer, I’m also a very logical one, and I’ve been using my logical side to process potentially tilty situations. (“Decisions, not results, decisions, not results, decisions, not results…”) These days, I take bad beats fine when I made the right decision…it’s when I am angry at myself for a mistake that I need to watch out for.

The main thing, though, is to be good about knowing where your head is at, and be honest with yourself about it. One night, in a shorthanded game in which Martin schooled me first for all my sugar and then for all my chips, I was furious with myself for how badly I'd played. I stood up, put on my coat, curtly said goodnight, and bee-lined it out of there, obviously at full boil.

Maybe it wasn’t my classiest moment/exit, but the key here is that I did not reach into my pocket for another buyin. There was no way I could play anything even close to my A game at that point and I knew it, so I quit.

Know your own steam, and get away from the table if you can’t successfully process it after a hand or two.


Austin said...

I'd say that's pretty good advice, especially for our little games, but I wonder about tournament style games, especially ones where you really can't just get up and leave for a while.

A good example was me today in lunch poker. I had semi-good hands (nothing really good except jacks which got destroyed on the flop), but just kept saying to myself "maybe it'll come this time". I would overvalue the hands and it certainly didn't help me at all since I wasn't catching any of the flop or turn cards. In retrospect, I should have just gotten up and walked away, but apparently I haven't learned that yet :P.

Ryan said...

Tournament advice: lol donkaments

Ryan said...

A real piece of tournament advice from Phil Gordon is, if you've just taken a sick beat, pretend you were a short stack who has just doubled up instead.

Really, though, if you have difficulty controlling tilt, tournaments are not the best format for you. Good tournament players have to let it all slide, and quickly.

Phil's advice is sound if you can pull it off. Pretend you have had a stroke of good fortune to keep you alive instead of bad fortune that cost you a chunk of your stack.

For me these days, being in a tournament at all puts me on tilt...

Sushi Cowboy said...

To paraphrase the overused sports cliche, you can’t avoid tilt, you can only hope to contain it. Everyone tilts, you just have to do your best to minimize the adverse effects. If pushing stacks of chips over works for you...well, then so be it. Something that I tried to do in LV was to blog stuff after I ran into a tilt-inducing hand. It not only records the hand for future review but gets me away from the table to help keep me from doing further immediate damage.

One thing that might work in the lunch game is to just set a hard limit on how much money you will put into the game for a day. Since it is only an hour, it's not like you can miss *that* much poker. And setting a hard limit will force you to be more conservative with your rebuy money, similar to what you'd have to do in a tournament.

Not only is tilt bad enough by itself but you can expect observant experienced players to try to exploit that fact and get into hands with you.

Marshall said...

Man thats a damn good post. I read it twice. Regarding tilt control, this is some really quality advice. I think its really important to reiterate that tilting is a generic term for playing poorly as a result of things that happen on the felt. Some people get visually angry, and some don't, but they are tilting either way if they aren't playing well. I have noticed lately that I have not been letting my steaminess effect my play much, but I still FEEL it.

Bob Loblaw said...

I think I have a pretty good grasp of my tiltiness, but I can't say really why that is. I do play pretty conservatively, so I don't get myself into too many bad-beat situations. But there are a couple hands I can think of specifically (such as Martin hitting an inside straight draw after a big- but not-big-enough check-raise to him) that should have put me on major tilt but didn't. I do go into the game with a set limit of cash on me (although this is for the wed. night game, a much longer, higher-stakes game than the lunch game). And I let things roll off my back.

Perhaps my work, where I deal with unruly, unexplainable clients all the time, who definitely put me on edge, allows me to sit back at the poker table and not sweat the small or even big stuff.

Either way, good post, Ryan.

Now we need a post about how to restrain yourself when you've been on a long dry run of really bad cards, you're folding non-stop, and then you get dealt the not-so-pretty unsuited Jean Enerson staring you in the face... time to raise?

Ryan said...

It's funny, I originally titled this post "Avoiding Tilt and Maintaining Your 'A' Game," but quickly realized they were two separate topics despite being two sides of the same "mind your EV!" coin. No time for that second part tonight, but I'll post on A-game maintenance eventually...