The Poker Shrink, Vol 18 – The Anatomy of Tilt
It doesn't matter if it's the final table of the Main Event of World Series of Poker or a $2/$4 game at your local casino; players go on tilt. We have all seen Mike Matusow lose it at the table and we have seen the drunk, internet wiz go ballistic when the clueless player in seat two sucks out on a runner, runner. The question is why? Why do we all, at one time or another, lose our cool at the poker table? Why do some players tilt less and others go off at the slightest downturn? Why?
I got to thinking about this the other night when I played a tournament at the Venetian. On the first hand, before everyone was even seated, I had pocket Queens in the small blind and the button was dealt pocket Jacks. He managed to blow off two-thirds of his stack by overplaying the Jacks and went on uber-tilt. He threw his cards at the dealer for five straight hands until she called him on it and then he argued with her. He basically brooded and bitched for the better part of an hour and nearly got tossed by the floor for overall bad behavior. Fortunately, he eventually took a walk and then got a miracle river card to stay in the tournament, calm down and eventually talk with me at during the second break. This was a fairly good poker player with no control of his emotions.
So I got to wondering, is it just the cards or is there something else going on when players tilt? This begs the more simplistic question: Why do players get angry? And even more simply: Why does anyone get angry?
Anger is an appropriate psychological reaction to perceived danger. As we became more civilized the danger changed from simply physical danger to the more subtle perceived danger of language. We get angry when we are insulted or we feel slighted or ridiculed. Or we feel anger when our religion or race or job or thoughts are challenged or belittled.
Often angry comes as a result of misperception or misinterpretation of someone's words or actions. At other times we get angry simply when things don't go our way. This would seem to be the case at the poker table when bad cards or "bad play" puts a player on tilt. However, psychological studies have shown for years that anger (and in this case tilt) only occur when there are certain factors already in place within a person before the actual trigger incident occurs.
We all know "angry" people. There are among us those persons whose initial response to the world is anger. These are usually males and if you were lucky they were somebody else's dad. But these extreme examples of an angry person give us the clues to why anyone, of any temperament, goes on tilt. The basic question you have to ask yourself about tilt is: Why did I get angry?
Here are the most common precursors to tilt at the poker table:
1) You are playing with money you cannot afford to lose. This was the case with our tiltboy at the Venetian, he had to go borrow the rebuy $50 from a friend at another table. He clearly should not have been in the tournament with his last $125 and he donked off most of his chips on the first hand. Good situation for getting angry but not when you know, as we all do, that you cannot play your "A" game on tilt.
2) You were already angry before you got to the table. The nasty behavior has more to do with your girlfriend not wanting you to play or your boss being a jerk yesterday than anything that happens at the poker table. Remember the old adage: Leave your emotions at the door.
3) You misunderstand the game and think your own "skill" should make up for the variation in the cards. This is commonly known as the Phil Hellmuth factor: "If it weren't luck, I would win every tournament." No one and I mean no one wins every hand or every race. Two outers happen. A good solid poker player understands that the underdog wins sometimes or the odds would be 100 to 0 and no one would ever gamble.
4) You are an angry person by nature and tilt is just a way to act out your decidedly miserable view on life. Get some help. Life is too short to spend it mean and angry. In the alternative--stay away from my table. My rate is $200 an hour, $400 if you are an angry client. Until next week: Tilt Less, Win More, and Enjoy It A Lot More.