Poker: Tilting in the wrong direction

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'GOING on tilt', like most other aspects of human behaviour, has been studied by psychologists. The two most common tilt-inducing situations are 'bad beats' and 'needling'.

In the former case, for example, you might lose a hand holding trip aces to a man who started out with 2-4 and catches a low straight. This is, in fact, only one of those quirks of probability that always seem to crop up. 'Needling' is when someone chooses to make a personal comment, such as telling you that you misplayed the hand anyway.

'Going on tilt' happens if such an experience induces a desperate desire to get even by chasing the betting. The result is a loss of control, evidenced by throwing more and more of your money away, in a bid to recoup your increasing losses.

After it's over, you hate yourself for it. Everyone else around the table, of course, loves it. This is what 'going on tilt' means, manifested in its most self-destructive form by playing for much higher stakes.

One way of preventing 'going on tilt' is to leave the table. Players can always pick up early warning signals when things are going wrong. The other way is to work on your emotions, as in a mental gym, to regain control.

It is not a matter of suppressing the emotion. The point is to make the effort to work on it, the aim being to return to your normal mode of play as quickly as possible.

The consistent winner may 'go on tilt' for a couple of hands or so. The consistent loser, say the psychologists, will remain 'on tilt' for hours, days, or even months.

Here is an example of 'going on tilt' which I went through. It was high-stakes Hold 'em. I had been losing and winning back a little bit, and then just losing all night, and then went through a two-hour lean spell, as can happen, when no good cards came to hand. Finally I got down to my last pile of chips. If that last ditch was breached, I vowed, it was definitely time for bed.

Comes a hand when everyone calls a hefty raise before the flop. I had 10-9 suited. Of course I called. And the flop comes 9-5-3. At last] Everyone checked around to me and I let them have it.

Whereupon some diabolical fellow at the other end of the table check-raised me. I know he has me beat, I know he must have trip 5s or 3s. But at that point a sort of red mist of frustration occludes sensible judgement. So in it all goes, to the last chip. Thank you, and goodnight.