Beware the Tilt Terrorist

I thought I’d share a personal experience concerning one of those subjects that poker players have talked about since the dawn of time. Or at least since when Doyle Brunson bought his first Stetson which is more or less the same thing anyway….

Yes, tilt – the potential bane of all our lives whether you’re the newbiest of beginners or the latest King of the WSOP Hill. Either way, it’s lurking out there ready to feed you a dose of that bitter tilt juice. And my, how some of us like to sup from that cup!

But for this particular cautionary tale, I wanted to talk about tilt from a slightly different angle. First though, I’ll set the scene with a clear ‘don’t try this at home, kids!’ warning. For before I even started playing the other night, I had already broken all the cardinal rules of a healthy poker mindset – I was tired. I was in a bad mood. I was a little bit drunk. I was expecting the game to cheer me up. I had a fixed idea of a particular amount of cash that I hoped, no, wanted…no, even worse than that, believed that it was my poker god given right to win. I came to the table with so much dangerous baggage that I might as well have saved time and just asked everyone for their bank details and where to send the money.   The only thing wrong that I didn’t do was pick a table full of coke fuelled Russian maniacs. Oh wait, judging by some of the action, I think I managed to do that too…   All in all, I was not in a good place in poker terms. The sort of place that means even when in position, I was SO out of position mentally.

So sure enough, a couple of hands got a bit messy and then it was all going to be downhill from there. The fatal spiral of mental anguish and frustration leading to the wild and wonderful plays that you know are wrong and yet feel so good. And which your now silenced voice of reason will tell you always ends in stack destruction.   But then something happened. If I wanted to get all esoteric about it, I’d almost call it a moment of grace. The Argentinian guy to my right took to the chatbox with a deluge of trash talk. This man was steaming. The abuse was torrential. And it took me a couple of moments to realise that it was all directed at me.

There in full-on high definition quality was every sort of colourful language and vitriol to make a fainthearted soul quiver. And mostly the F word. Yes, gentle reader, he was using that most offensive of words. The ultimate taboo. The thing that makes our poker hearts tremble with hurt. Yes, he called me a fish.

Clearly he was upset about something. It’s not as if we had played directly against each other much so far in this session and when I checked Pokertracker, the last time we had played was almost a year ago. So either this man was one to hold a grudge for a ridiculously long time or my play was really getting under his skin.

But here’s the interesting thing – his words were like a bucket of virtual ice cold water. The blast of his abuse literally woke me up from my stupor. It was like in the movies when someone’s screaming with shock and the doctor strides forward and slaps them across the face. (Tangential note – am I bad for always wanting to get the chance to do that? Just once? Um, ok don’t answer that…)   Well, I definitely had no longer lost control now. The last thing I wanted to do was prove him right so I instantly tightened up. Everything shut down as I was determined to not be the fish at the table. I concentrated on my play and although I didn’t really win back any of the money lost, the key thing is that I didn’t lose any more. And every time I laid down a mediocre hand, I looked at it and knew instinctively that 10 minutes previous it was one that I would have played. And probably be slaughtered by.   And it wasn’t just me who was affected. A couple of others at the table who had been the sort of valuable weak passive players that are gold dust for keeping the money flowing seemed to freeze up and then subsequently soon left.

The guy had managed in the space of a couple of minutes to poison the atmosphere and change the whole dynamic of the table including crucially of course my own path to self-destruction.   So this is why I said that this post was not about how dangerous tilt could have been for my own play. However valid of course that warning is for all of us. Tilt can of course seriously deplete our bankroll if we allow ourselves to steam off into the land of trash hands.

No, instead I wanted to focus on how my opponent allowed his lack of self control to ultimately result in a loss of money. The Argentinian guy was clearly tilting. He was angry about something and not necessarily just me. Perhaps he’d had a few bad beats or maybe like me earlier, he’d come to the table in the wrong frame of mind. Whatever the reason, his blowing up was disastrous for his win rate in this particular session. But not because tilt led him to play bad hands or bet size wrongly. Rather, his tilt stopped us from giving him our cash.

I dread to think of all the money that he could have won off me – and the others at the table – if he had remained quiet and had allowed the dangerously seductive friendly atmosphere to continue. Instead for the sake of some short term pleasure that no doubt came from getting all that vitriol off his chest, he basically killed the golden egg laying geese. And I certainly don’t want to be a goose never mind a fish.

And in stark contrast with him, I think of another player I see regularly at the tables. A guy who never fails to compliment an opponent on their winning, how ever ridiculous the play, how ever awful a suck out. He’s always there with a ‘nice hand’ or ‘well done on that draw’. To the extent that sometimes I think that even Mother Theresa would probably be screaming by this point about these goddamn lucky fishes!!!

But of course it shouldn’t come as any surprise that although he seems to have the patience of said saint smiling as he sees a big chunk of his stack taken by another 72o hitting their full house, in the long term he’s a formidable winner. And I have no doubt that every time he’s writing ‘nice hand’ in the chat box, at the same time he’ll be writing yet another note to himself about the ridiculous play that he just witnessed. While knowing – as we too should never forget – that the very existence of poker relies upon such players. And we should do nothing to scare them away.

So there’s the moral of the tale. However tempting it may be to lay into the fish who just rivered that magic card; however satisfying it may be to show the resident sucker your superior grasp of the game and however much you want to teach the aquarium the error of their ways, just remember the economy that drives our poker society. Remember the flows of money and where it all comes from and why it pays to be nice.

Of course I am extremely happy that he lost control in such a way. Not only because it saved my skin but as a reminder to myself to never stop welcoming those who in the short term may do me wrong but who are in the long term the dear friends that I never knew I had 😉

Oh and just in case by some weird cosmic coincidence, a certain Argentinian is reading this, I would like to take this opportunity to say….

“You cold called a UTG raiser with J6o and you call me a fish?!”

Thank you. I already feel a lot better now I’ve got all that off my chest 🙂