Advice from Alex “Assassinato” Fitzgerald, Vol. 3: Unconventional Tips for Tilt Control

Alexander Fitzgerald

My students have always expressed surprise at my typical remark when they tell me a bad beat story:

“No one cares,” I say. “More importantly, I don’t care, so don’t tell me a bad beat story again.”

A student of mine once remarked that he could have bubbled the Sunday Million final table and I wouldn’t have given half a crap. I told him he was right.

I don’t do this to be callous. I am taking the role of a martial arts trainer when I am your strategic consultant. If I go easy on you in a sparring round, then you could get yourself killed intervening in a real-life conflict. My job is to backhand you when I see an opening, because the world is going to be much less forgiving.

You know who else won’t care about your bad beats? Your children. Your wife. Your sick parents who depend on you. The bank won’t care when they call you about your mortgage. To date, I have not found a grocer who will exchange eggs and milk for tales of one-outers.

I also hate wastes of time. All that energy you’re focusing on how you’ve been “wronged” could have been channeled into something productive. Whining about the audacity of a game of chance not to bless you with riches strikes me as the epitome of time misuse.

I’ve created the following list of 13 pieces of advice I’ve dispensed over the years that has helped my students become more controlled at the tables. It’s not what you’d typically read in an article about tilt control, but it’s helped nonetheless.

1. Work ’Til it Hurts

Here’s where I earn my street cred: Before I was a professional poker player I worked a variety of not-so-fun jobs. I worked as a security guard, a line cook, a landscaper, a carpet mover, and a commercial fisherman.

I wouldn’t tell anyone to work these jobs. However, there is something earned internally when one surmounts a seemingly impossible task, such as working sixteen-hour shifts at a grueling, monotonous job. When you do finally get to do something you enjoy, you have an appreciation for how the work is not nearly as hard as it seems, and that you’re blessed to spend time with such problems.

You don’t need to work the jobs I did, either. This is why I tell people to stay in school. Anybody who has taken on a challenging major has had periods of time where sleep and time for breakfast seemed like distant luxuries.

2. Do Charity Work

If you don’t need the money or if school isn’t your thing, then do charity work. Every one of my students thinks I’m nuts when I suggest this. But not one of them has told me it was a bad idea when they actually do it.

My wife runs a physical therapy clinic. It’s built into our home. I don’t particularly have time for it, but I let the patients in, field some calls for my wife, and generally try to help.

I could hire someone to do it full-time, but I try to be around what my wife does. She takes on many cases where the people can’t afford to pay her much of anything. When I see her struggling to help little children who can’t walk without extreme pain, I realize how pathetically small my problems are. Furthermore, I get rattled much less at my job, because I know I’m hurting this small project if I take a mental day off.

Go help at a soup kitchen. Meet the veterans with PTSD who got thrown out on the street by their families. Go volunteer at a teen runaway shelter. Get close to real pain, make yourself useful, and remember what other people go through every time you get whiney on the air-conditioned felt.

3. Training Should Be Hard

Actually playing poker shouldn’t be difficult. The training is where the real pain is. Exploring the hands of no-limit hold’em you’ve played is time consuming. It takes countless hours. You can analyze situations daily for years and still realize a hundred other things you don’t know.

And then one day you’ll realize: You’ve explored 99% of the situations that confront you. And you will be calmed.

A great deal of tilt comes from this insecure thought: “I’m not good enough.” When you lose, and you haven’t done the work to understand whether you made a mistake or not, you feel like it’s a confirmation of your deep-seated fear. It’s difficult to embrace this insecurity and use it to make us work harder, since so many of us reject the pain with anger.

4. No One Cares About You

This is a great question to ask Americans: Who was Franklin Pierce?

Don’t know?

He was the 14th president of the United States. Now if nobody remembers a president’s name, what are the chances anyone will remember, or care, about what you did in a game of chance?

Every three years I ask my students a series of names. “Know any of them?” I ask. They respond no. I tell them, “they were going to be the greatest players of all time a few years ago.”

When you leave poker, no one but you is going to know but you whether you came out a winner or not.

A good deal of tilt comes from players wanting to be recognized as good, but such a desire betrays a lack of perspective. The money in poker is pennies compared to business. We’re not building houses for the homeless. It’s a fun game played by people of all kinds — nothing more, nothing less.

I have been recognized both as a great player and as a world-class donkey. Neither was true. As with most of us, the truth is somewhere in the middle. These people don’t know you, and most never will. It’s better if you focus on bettering yourself, and the intrinsic reward derived from doing so.

If you’re nothing without other people’s respect, you’ll be nothing with it.

5. You’re No Worse Than Anybody Else

As the world’s busiest strategic consultant for tournament poker players, I get access to the financials of many backing houses.

Want to know a secret? All those people who act like God’s gift to poker? The ones who are bragging about insane credit card roulette bills and their new cars? Yeah... they’re in debt, and the tax man is looking at their house.

I also get to talk to the few guys who actually do have the money most of us dream about (and make no mistake, there are very few of them). These rich guys have as many problems as anyone else.

Don’t fight to be big tough poker player, and get mad when it looks like you’re losing. Daniel Negreanu and Faraz Jaka are always having more fun than anyone. They get to learn more than us, because they have the luxury of being able to make mistakes.

6. Help Out Your Family

There’s always someone in the family who needs a little help. The elderly often don’t have access to the resources they need to live comfortably. Spending some time with them not only fosters feelings of belonging, but it will again show you how tough other people have it. It will give you perspective.

7. Keep a “Reality Check” Nearby

I could write an entire article just based on this section.

When I take bad beats, many of my friends wonder how I end up giving them the speech about why it doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t I be heated in the moment?! It’s not that I’m emotionally mature. It’s just practice. I have certain things I tell myself every time something egregious happens.

Here are some of my favorite bullet points I’ve written down as helpful “reality checks” for such situations:

  • “80% of the world doesn’t have access to a computer. Only a very small percentage of the other 20% is able to put money on a poker website and even try.”
  • “You won the lottery for even being born now, and for being in a situation where you could play poker. There has never been another time where more people have made a living from a game.”
  • “If you make $33,000 a year, you’re in the top 1% of wage earners on Earth. You also have the extremely rare opportunity to make your money in USD anywhere in the world. So remember, you’re a one-percenter griping right now.”
  • “Control what you can control. The more you play and study, the more opportunities you’ll get. Statistically, you’re supposed to blow up and lose before a final table. It’s lucky to even get so close.”
  • “If you watch the hand histories of most major tournament wins, there will be one hand where the eventual winner loses 50-75% of his or her chips. Go in expecting it.”

Feel free to add your own reminders as you find them.

8. Save Money

This seems fairly basic, but few poker players do it. When I became a professional poker player I put six months of expenses into a separate savings account. It really helped me keep a level head, even when I was teenager and extremely dumb about the swings in poker.

To this day, I still try to save each month. It works wonders for my own sanity when the deck goes against me for a season.

9. Play at Stakes You Can Afford

And play with money you can afford to lose. Have a plan to move down if things go sour. Oftentimes tilt is just a byproduct of having too much on the line.

Your goal is to be a better player today than you were yesterday. The money will come if you stay in the game and keep practicing with focus. Your goal is not to get rich quick.

10. Have Calming Hobbies

Put these into your work schedule, because they are an investment in yourself. Try meditation. Hiking. Reading under a tree. Get away from the computer or casino. Breathe fresh air. Relax.

11. Find an Outlet for Your Anger

Over the years I have boxed, wrestled, battle-rapped, run half-marathons, lifted weights, and enjoyed more than a couple mosh pits at metal concerts. You have to let go at some point, and it’s better you don’t do it in the office or in a family setting.

12. Pets

I have really small dogs. I never really liked small dogs growing up. They bite your ankles. They’re way more annoying than bigger dogs. I’ve always liked the huge mutts who are loyal and hang out all day.

But I have a Maltese and a poodle because they’re happy and want to play all the time. They also force me to be active. When I’m playing they sit on my lap. I can’t really jump and scream, unless I want them to face plant into my monitor, so they keeps me calm.

13. It’s Just a Game

No one is supposed to make a living from a card game. It wasn’t that long ago professional poker players were equated with mythical creatures. You are blessed to have an endeavor that could pay you anything, from anywhere you want to live on Earth. There’s no boss turning you down for the promotion because he thinks his brother is a better fit. There’s no regulation board that won’t give you a permit to play pot-limit Omaha. There’s no vertical leap requirement.

It’s all about the work you’re willing to put in. Just enjoy the ride.

* * * * *

Check out this link to read about Assassinato and Apestyles’s new joint webinar, “Why Apestyles Is Right!” Learn all about how Jonathan Van Fleet makes more money than anyone with trash hands out of position, and see how he bluffs regulars at all stakes!

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In addition, don’t miss the recordings of my private webinars “You Flat Too Much” and “Why Pessagno Is Right.” The hardcore should also be sure to check out my live sweat series, where I recorded every hand of my recent WCOOP with live commentary. See every hand of my $215 Second Chance Win!

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