Sunday, 5 December 2010

I don't think anyone who doesn't play poker can really understand how tough poker can be mentally. As they say, "It's a tough way to make an easy living".

Poker should simply be a game of mathematical decisions but we are emotional beings and it is very hard to separate the two. I won't list all the emotions here, but I think its possible to feel pretty much every emotion on this list at wikipedia in varying degrees due to poker. Any single one or combination of these can affect our decisions, and any time we are not making perfect decisions and not playing our A-game is a form of tilt.

Tommy Angelo talks about striving to be "tiltless" and I think this is another crucial element in being successful at poker and one that can't be ignored. As Tommy also says, we need to work on "lopping off our C-game" - working on things that we know we are really bad as well as working on improving our already good skills. Many of these bits of C-game are incredibly hard to deal with such as this. However, any improvement to our C-game can affect our winrate just as much if not more than improvements to our A-game. I think many people who play for a living don't do enough work on this because it can be so hard, and therefore if we make any efforts at all we can only improve our edge over the other players.

There is some great material out there to get started, but in the end in just takes some effort to be self-aware and try to reflect objectively on your state of mind at all times and how it is affecting you and your game. Being able to adjust and also quit at the right time can have a huge bearing on results.

I'd recommend the following to anyone wanting to learn more

Over the years I've been playing I think I've probably experienced every form of tilt but now I feel I do better at almost all of them, especially with the effort I've put in over the last year.

Tilt comes in many and varied forms. One particular demon of mine was Bankroll Tilt: Playing higher stakes or taking silly risks in an effort to reclaim money that I had formed an attachment to and lost, in an effort to get back to even. This hand from June 2009 before I went full-time pretty much sums it up and the dangers involved.

At the time I was playing 100NL within my bankroll requirements but had not had a good month (down about $1k). It was approaching the end of the month and I wasn't happy with my results.. I jumped into a 400NL game and quickly lost a stack and felt worse. To compound it I then jumped up to 1000NL promising myself only a single orbit of the table and to only consider putting all $1000 at risk if I had the nuts. 2 hands from the orbit being complete the hand above happened.. flopped the nuts in a 3bet pot, got stacks in and then was brutally coolered by runner-runner.

I felt pretty terrible at that point finishing down $1400 for the day - my worst day ever (and still is fortunately!). It took a couple of weeks to really get over it but when I did I was able to really think about what I did, why, and how I could prevent it happening again.

I think I'd always had this tendency, but sometimes it can take an extreme event to really become aware of something. In hindsight I'm pleased it happened in that I have been able to recognise when I've felt the same since and been able to step away from the tables or play some silly cheap game instead until I'm back on an even keel.

Unfortunately, not all forms of tilt are as easy to fix but it can only have a positive effect to make an effort to seek them out and deal with them.