The Many Faces of Poker Tilt

While many players will tell you that they never go on tilt, this is rarely (if ever) true. What they probably mean is they never notice they are going on tilt and/or they don’t tilt very badly. Very few people have the ability to play their A-game all the time and in all circumstances, even professionals. If you notice you are tilting in a ring game, or even that you may be about to, the best response is nearly always to stop playing. While you may be able to control and beat it, if in doubt it is far better to go for a walk, watch some TV or take your frustration out on the pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto. Your bankroll will thank you for it in the long run. Tilting in a tournament is a far trickier proposition. Here there is no value at all in quitting and you must adopt a more hands on approach to tilt management. That however is a topic for another article.

There are many different forms of tilt, and the only thing they have in common is they cause the person tilting to play at less than their best. This article will identify and explore the most common forms of tilt, while next month the second article in this series will look at some of the rarer forms.

Loose Tilt

Loose tilt is probably the most common form of tilt, and causes you to continue with hands you should be folding. Pre-flop this will translate as playing bad or mediocre hands out of position. If the tilt is only slight, it may just be that you start calling with KJo from early position or ATo in middle position to a raise. However, when on a bad loose tilt, you may find yourself playing all kinds of garbage from any position. Post flop, loose tilt will result in chasing draws you don’t have the pot odds to chase, and calling down with clearly beaten hands.

Cause

Loose tilt is so common because it involves a reversion to something that most poker players want to do by instinct, i.e. stay in the hand. All poker players enjoy winning pots, and you can’t win a pot once you’ve folded, which is why most beginner’s biggest mistake is to not fold enough both pre and post-flop. Any event or chain of events that makes a player more desperate to win a pot than normal, or makes them feel they are more likely to win a pot than they are, will leave them more vulnerable to loose tilt. Unfortunately there are many events that can do this, of which the main ones are.

· Trying to get even, while ‘stuck’ for the session

· Overconfidence caused by a good streak of luck or playing with bad players.

· Frustration due to bad beats (steaming)

· Impatience and frustration due to not getting a playable hand and/or winning a pot for a long time.

Detection and Prevention

Anything similar to the following thought processes may lead to this kind of tilt or be the first signs of it.

‘I’m almost certainly beat here, but if the river is (insert miracle card here) then I will be almost even for the night.’

‘I’ve got to call here, I’m running hot at the moment; all my draws are coming in’

‘These players are terrible. I can play more hands here and outplay them after the flop.’

‘They keep winning with awful cards, so I can too’

‘I know I shouldn’t play this hand from this position but I’m desperate to get back on track after that beat’

‘K-5 suited? Compared with what I have been getting, that’s practically a pair of aces!’

Preventing this kind of tilt is nearly always a matter of discipline. If you follow a list of starting hand charts (from Internet Texas Holdem or another source) then you will be far less prone to pre-flop loose tilt, as it will be stated in black and white that you should fold. The same can be said of people who religiously calculate pot odds and apply this to post-flop call or fold decisions.

The problem comes when you are one of those players who play from ‘feel’. These players will create a justification in their mind for their actions, and will often not even realise they are tilting until they look at their hand histories. If you are one of these players, you need to identify your individual triggers that cause you to make loose calls. All players are different and, for example, some players are great at handling bad beats but their play always deteriorates when they are winning. If you look through your hand histories and notice loose play, try to remember what you were feeling at the time. This should provide some clues as to what triggered the tilt, and if you find yourself in the same situation, you can quit the game before it starts costing you money.

Passive Tilt

Passive tilt will cause you to check and call when you should be betting and raising. As a result, you will not be getting value out of your good hands and will not protect your hand properly, causing you to get drawn out on more. This can potentially be very damaging to a player because it can be a difficult type of tilt to detect and will normally kick in when you are already losing.

Cause

Passive Tilt can have a number of triggers but all normally come down to you being overwhelmed or scared by the game you are in. The particular trigger might be playing at a new (higher) limit, playing in a game where you think you are outclassed, playing above your bankroll or losing confidence after taking a beating. As a result, you may find yourself playing more passively for either of the below reasons:

· You will tend to assume you are beaten in the face of any aggression unless you have the absolute nuts.

· You are scared to put in too many raises, because you are worried about how much money it will cost you if you lose.

Passive tilt can be a vicious circle. If you start to play more passively, this may give your opponents an opportunity to draw out on you. This may, in turn, cause you to play even more passively for the second reason above.

Detection and Prevention

Anything similar to the following thought processes may lead to this kind of tilt or be the first signs of it.

‘A raise would cost me $10. That’s a lot of money!’

‘I have a good hand but there is a chance he may have me beat. Had better just call it down’

‘There are a lot of dollars in this pot, I’d be happy just to win it as it is, no need to raise’

‘I’m just going to call it down and hope for the best, I don’t want to tangle with this guy.’

Given that this type of tilt is nearly always caused by a loss of confidence or intimidation, the key to prevention is not playing in games in which you feel outclassed, intimidated or out of your depth. If you are prone to this, make sure that you leave games where you don’t feel comfortable and always make sure you have a large bankroll for the limit you are playing. Maybe instead of 250 big bets, you should aim for 300 or 350. This will ensure that you have enough money that you won’t be scared to put in a raise when a raise is called for. Also, when you do move up a limit, don’t be afraid to move back down again if you don’t feel comfortable. While jumping around limits too much isn’t a good thing, there is no shame in dropping back down if things don’t go well immediately. You can ruin a hard-earned bankroll by playing at a limit where you are not comfortable, and this is often caused by playing too passively.

Formulaic Tilt

(Thanks to the ITH off-topic forum for this name)

A player on formulaic tilt will play almost on automatic without really paying due attention to the specific state of the game. The result of this is not usually catastrophic, especially in low to mid limit hold’em. In fact, many players have found it profitable to play formulaically on many tables at once rather than optimally at just one or two. It is however also a form of tilt, and can affect all players from time to time. It will cause you to play ‘by the book’ even when this is not the best way given the specific players involved.

For example, you may fold A-J pre-flop to a raise, even though there are no other callers and the raiser has raised 8 of the last 10 hands. Alternatively you may re-raise with JJ even though the raising player is a rock, who only raises the flop 1% of the time. Post flop you will make similar mistakes, folding to players who bet with nothing and calling down with a marginal hand against a very passive player. The situations in which you are badly hurt by formulaic tilt will not occur often, and the decision will often be marginal, but it can cost you bets and will sometimes cost you a pot.

Cause

Formulaic tilt generally occurs when your attention is not entirely focussed on the game. This is often unavoidable when playing four tables (or more) but can occur needlessly for other reasons. Maybe you are distracted by something else (especially poignant when playing on the internet) or maybe you are just bored. Tiredness/fatigue is also a big cause of formulaic tilt, as it will lead to your mind working less than optimally even when you are doing your best to concentrate on the game.

Detection and Prevention

It is difficult to list the particular thought processes that lead to this form of tilt, as it is generally caused more by a lack of thought. I suppose the closest we can come is to say that if you are thinking hard about something other than poker and specifically the game in front of you then you are probably suffering from formulaic tilt.

What is easier however, is spotting when you are suffering from this form of tilt. Look for the following as signs.

You have been playing with one or more opponents for 50 hands or more, yet you don’t know anything about his/their play-style without looking at Poker Tracker.
You just responded to a bet without looking where the bet came from and who made it.
You have no idea who at your table has won or lost money since you’ve been at the table.
You are playing on multiple tables and still trying to surf the net, read your emails or watch TV.

To prevent this type of tilt you really need to be disciplined about how you play the game and not allow yourself any distractions. Turn the TV off, don’t have any programs open on your PC other than poker software, switch your phone onto answer-phone. If you are tired or can’t concentrate for some reason then take a break or call it a night. When you are not involved in a hand, rather than letting your mind wander, watch the other players and see if you can pick up any tendencies. Look at not only what hands they show down, but think back to see how they betted with those hands on all streets. Make detailed notes using the in-game notes feature and don’t just rely on information given to you by Poker Tracker.

That wraps it up for the most common forms of tilt. Next we take a closer look at more uncommon forms of tilt you will need to be aware of.

Tight Tilt

Tight Tilt will cause you to fold too much, turning down situations where you have positive expectation from a call or raise. While the cliché often used for this type of tilt is ‘waiting for aces’ it is not normally that extreme. Normally it will be the only slightly profitable hands such as JTs from middle position, 88 from early position, and middle pairs on the flop (obviously situation specific) that the player will muck. Because of this, the lost value as a result of this form of tilt is generally marginal and your win rate will not suffer much because of it. In fact, occasionally players will intentionally start to play too tight in situations where they might normally be prone to a more destructive form of tilt, and this can be a money saving solution. Remember though, that leaving the table is nearly always the best solution in ring games when you find yourself on tilt. Cause

If you start to play tighter, it is usually for one of two reasons. You have either become more scared of losing, meaning you are willing to sacrifice value for lower variance, or you have lost confidence in certain hands (either a particular type of hand or just marginal holdings in general). Unfortunately, there are many psychological reasons why either of these may be the case, the following are the most common.

· You are playing above your bankroll

· You are playing at a new higher limit and are determined not to lose heavily.

· You have won money in the session and don’t want to lose it again.

· You have taken a number of bad beats

· You have had repeated failure to win with a certain type of hand (such as suited connectors, small pairs, straight draws, top pair weak kicker etc)

Detection and Prevention

Anything similar to the following thought processes may lead to this kind of tilt or be the first signs of it.

‘I’m not putting money in with this hand when I will probably have to fold on the flop’

‘I can’t afford to lose a lot of money here, so I’m only going to play with the very best hands.’

‘I’m $100 up in this session. I’m only playing premium hands from now on so I don’t blow it.’

‘May as well fold. The way my luck is going, he’s bound to have me beat.’

‘I’ve missed with my last 10 flush draws, I think I’ll just fold this one before it gets expensive.’

The key to preventing this type of tilt, as with many other kinds, is to treat each hand as a completely separate game, forgetting anything that has happened so far that evening. The fact is, playing a hand when you are on a tear and up 50BB has exactly the same chances of developing in any given way as if you are on a 50BB slump. As soon as you find you are playing a hand differently because of how a session is going or how previous hands have gone you are tilting.

On the other hand, if you are going to tilt then playing tightly is probably the best way to do it because what you are giving up in value is very marginal. It can be potentially dangerous if you realise you are on tight tilt and try to correct the problem, only to overcompensate. In fact, if you are playing in a tournament where quitting the session is not an option, you may want to continue to play especially tight until you are sure you have your emotions under control.

Aggressive Tilt

A player on an aggressive tilt will regularly bet and raise when they should be checking and calling. The problem usually manifests itself in the overplaying of marginal hands (such as bottom and middle pair on the flop) or trying to buy the pot too frequently or when it should be clear your opponent has a hand. Severity is obviously related to how much you do it, and it is most dangerous when combined with loose tilt. This form of tilt can be very costly, because it can cost you many big bets in a single hand. Good players will wait for a good hand and will then bleed you for large pot after large pot, while folding when they don’t have a hand. On the plus side, sometimes you can go on a tear, making the rest of the table scared of you, and actually win money. Don’t count on it though.

Cause

There are two real causes for this kind of tilt. The first is when you simply lose it. You have taken one bad beat too many and emotion takes over causing you to lose all objectivity, you just want to shove all your chips in the middle and hope for the best. This is a situation where your bankroll can really be at risk if you’re not careful. The second cause of aggressive tilt is a little more subtle. Somehow you will get it into your head that you need to be more aggressive. Maybe you have been drawn out on a few times, or maybe the few times you have shown aggression, your opponents have folded. Whatever the reason, you make an ill advised deviation from your normal game, and before you know it you are piling chips in the middle, while your opponents re-raise you with superior hands.

Often your misplaced aggression will be directed at a particular player. This can be a legitimate tactic when you have identified that player as weak or a habitual bluffer, but too often ego will get in the way and you can find yourself frequently raising a particular player just because you don’t like them for some reason. Obviously this is just playing into the hands of your nemesis if they are smart.

Detection and Prevention

Anything similar to the following thought processes may lead to this kind of tilt or be the first signs of it.

‘Sod it, I’ve lost $300 tonight already, what does it matter if I lose more’

‘My opponents are playing with worse hands than me on average. I should always raise for value’

‘If I keep raising, they’ll have to put me on a big hand and fold’

‘My hands never hold up in these multi-way pots. From now on, I’m going to raise even with marginal hands pre-flop’

‘I raised with Aces and everyone folded, they might as well have been 7-2!’

‘He keeps raising me! From now on I’m going to raise him back.’

The reason this type of tilt is rare is because aggression is generally a good thing, and for most players the problem is not being aggressive enough. To prevent this type of tilt, you need to remember why aggression is good so you can spot the circumstances in which it isn’t. The purpose of raising as opposed to calling is the following.

For value when you have a pot equity edge
To protect your hand against draws
As a bluff or semi-bluff

Therefore you should only raise if you feel one of these is applicable. If you think there is a good chance you are behind and there is no real chance of forcing a fold, then you normally have no business raising. In a lot of hands, all the aggression in the world will not win you the pot and you just have to accept that.

FPS Tilt

FPS is an acronym for ‘Fancy Play Syndrome’ and is a term used to describe when a player makes a tricky play when a more straightforward one would be better. While everyone is affected by FPS occasionally, it is also a form of tilt, and players can find themselves making a string of ‘FPS plays’ without realising they are tilting. The two main examples of FPS are sandbagging with a big hand and playing aggressively with a marginal holding (or even nothing). Note that is not to say that these two things are definitively bad, just that often players do it when they should be making the more obvious play. Sometimes a player will lose sight of his primary goal (maximising profit) completely and will make plays because they ‘look good’ or similar.

Cause

It is sometimes difficult to see why players fall victim to FPS, but it is generally either because they are having a bad time at the table and are trying to ‘make things happen’ or they are having an especially good time and get overconfident. Either can cause a player to completely forget or ignore what kind of players they are playing with, and attempt the sort of fancy moves that are either lost on them or they can see right through. Playing at lower limits than usual can often contribute towards FPS tilt. At the low limits you should usually play more straightforwardly, yet the comparatively low stakes may actually cause you to play trickier as you are less concerned about losing.

Detection and Prevention

Anything similar to the following thought processes may lead to this kind of tilt or be the first signs of it.

‘I’m not getting good value out of my premium hands, I need to disguise them more.’

‘These players are rocks, I’m sure I can get them to lay down a lot of their hands with some tricky play.’

‘If this works it will be the sexiest play ever!’

This type of tilt is rare, and preventing it is often just a case of training yourself to keep it simple. At the lower limits of poker, the obvious play is very rarely wrong. To clarify this, there is sometimes a better play based on astute readings of the particular player or situation but by making the ‘by the book’ play you are rarely giving up much in value. Consider these two examples:

1. You hold 33 in the big blind. An EP player raises, there is one caller, and you call. The flop comes 995r. You check, the pre-flop raiser bets and the other caller folds. What is your play?

2. You hold JJ in the cut-off. An MP player limps, you raise, the button, the big blind and the limper all call. The flop comes down AJ6r. The big blind checks and the MP player bets, what is your play?

In both hands above there is an obvious play, fold in the first hand and raise in the second. In both hands there may be a better play depending on the reads you have on your opponents and the specific situation. In the first example, if your opponent is a solid player who can lay down a hand, a check-raise may work, and if your opponents in the second hand are especially tight and/or aggressive then you may smooth call here. However, in both hands the obvious play is not far wrong and will often be the best play. Except in very extreme circumstances, you will not be giving up much by making the obvious play in the above examples, and this is true for most hands until you reach high limits.

Because of this, the best way of avoiding strange bouts of FPS tilt is by making the obvious ‘by the book’ play as often as possible. Protect your hand and build a pot when you think you are ahead, fold if you suspect you are behind and drawing slim and call if you have a good drawing hand and have the pot odds to do so.

Remember that all forms of tilt exist only in the mind. By being disciplined and prepared, and by playing within a sensible bankroll structure you will help protect yourself from most forms of tilt. Play for the long term and don’t let any hand get inside your head for too long. And remember the golden rule. If you feel yourself beginning to tilt, get up from the table and walk away.

Ian Taylor (aka Piemaster)

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