Many people think they have their tilt under control for the most part. They point to a guy who is open shoving or going crazy in the chat box. Now that is tilt they will say! True, it is. But what they don't realize is that there are many minor forms of tilt which are just as destructive in the long run.
Here are just a few of them:
- The bad call on the river when you know you are beat
- The hopeless feeling which makes you play less aggressively than you should
- The frustration triple barrel against a reg who you know "has it again"
A New Way of Looking at Downswings and Tilt
There is a different way of looking at downswings and tilt though which has helped me improve my reaction to them in recent years. But before I begin here let me be clear:
Everybody tilts to some degree.
As long as you are human you are going to get frustrated with this game to some extent at times. So I don't believe in the idea that we can ever "cure" our tilt. You have to accept it as a natural part of this game and as a part of who you are. My goal then has always been about minimizing it's impact on my results.
So what is this new way of looking at downswings and tilt? Well it isn't really a new way of thinking but I would say that it is not well known. All of the credit goes to the poker mental game theorist and coach Tommy Angelo.
Many years ago he created a video series called "The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment" which as the title suggests is a sort of Buddhist take on the mental game. One idea that stuck out to me in particular, and consequently had a deep impact on how I view the entire game of poker (not just the mental game), is something that Tommy called "Reciprocality."
In his own words:
"In the world of reciprocality, it's not what you do that matters most, and it's not what they do. It's both. Reciprocality is any difference between you and your opponents that affects your bottom line. Reciprocality says that when you and your opponents would do the same thing in a given situation, no money moves, and when you do something different, it does."You see, we all get frustrated with this game in the short run at times but there is a long term pure mathematical nature to poker which is the great equalizer. That is, everybody will eventually get dealt all of the same hands (both good and bad) in equal frequencies. Therefore, everybody will eventually experience all of the same downswings and short term "bad luck."
Nobody gets a free pass in this game.
So therefore, the only difference between me, you and the next guy is how each of us reacts to the adversity that we will face. If we all react the same then we will all get the same results.
But as Tommy would say, you are "mining for reciprocal gold" when you seek to make better decisions than your opponents in a particular situation. In the case of downswings and tilt, if you can handle them better than your opponents, then you will profit in the long run.
I Will Handle Downswings and Tilt Better Than My Opponents Will
So building off of this idea I now take downswings, and the tilt that inevitably comes with them, as a personal challenge. Rather than take the "woe is me" attitude (or worse yet go complain about my bad luck to somebody else) I challenge myself to handle it better than my opponents will. When I have one of those really bad days where absolutely nothing works and I lose stack after stack I think about how my fellow regs will handle this situation when it happens to them.
I know they won't handle it as well as me and I take pride in that.
This "reciprocal gold" that I create eventually shows up in my win rate. Every time I handle one of these bad days for instance better than my opponents, I separate myself from them and profit in the long run. How do I handle downswings and tilt better?
I do everything in my power to make sure that my losses are only those which I deem necessary. That is, they are situations where I think that I made the right play and the short term luck simply was not on my side.
In order to do this:
- I am constantly on the lookout for minor forms of tilt (such as those highlighted above)
- I constantly remind myself that this game does not owe me anything, I have to work for the results that I want
- I constantly remind myself that anything can happen in a day, a week or even a month
- I constantly remind myself that I have seen far, far worse than this before
- I constantly remind myself that I am a long term winner bringing up graphs if necessary
- I will practice breathing exercises while playing to keep my mind calm and focused
- I will take short breaks to regain my composure and think logically about the situation if necessary
- I will quit altogether for the day if I believe that tilt (major or minor) is affecting my decision making in any significant way
I know that each time I quit when most regs would have lost another stack or two because of tilt, I win. I know that each time I remain focused and play a hand optimally when another reg would have lost value or failed to get away, I win.
More importantly than anything though, I know that this is a long term game and no matter how hard this day, week or month has been, all of my opponents are eventually going to have to go through the exact same thing. I know they won't handle it as well as I will. Therefore, I win.
Poker Downswings are a Blessing in Disguise
Dealing with the kind of adversity that poker can bring (especially online poker where the beats and coolers can come at super-sonic speed) is something that most people at the micros in particular are terrible at. And there are no easy answers out there because this is the mental part of the game. There are no mathematical calculations, odds or software tools to help solve this problem. There is no clearly defined +EV line to take.
So therefore, it is during these times when you are facing the most adversity in this game that you can mine the most reciprocal gold. This is when you can truly separate yourself from the masses.
Almost everybody at the micros knows how to play their aces these days. Most people know how to value-bet a set. Many even know how to get away from an over pair when it is obvious that their opponent has them beat. But very few people at these stakes are good at dealing with a really bad day, week or month at the tables.
You need only look at all of the endless complaining in places like poker forums and the like. You have people literally writing novels about their bad luck! It is as if they think that all of their bitching and moaning (which nobody cares about) will somehow change the mathematical certainty that they will run bad in this game sometimes. This is the kind of truly bizarre behavior which this game can drive some people to.
And this is why I think that you should actually celebrate short term bad luck and downswings when they occur. Next time your aces get cracked 3 times in a row try jumping for joy instead. Go ahead and pop a bottle of champagne if you want!
The reason why is that many of your opponents will react very poorly when something completely routine like this happens to them. So this is actually your time to shine! This is your opportunity to distance yourself in a big way from most players at the micros.
The only difference between us though is how we react to these situations. Some people see these things as merely small obstacles or even opportunities to grow. Many other people though view them as debilitating disasters that end up ruining their day, week, year or even life.
Poker is a highly emotional game filled with ego. We all want to win. And it is this competitive fire that drives the best poker players forward on the technical side of the game. But success on the mental side of the game requires a lot of the opposite reactions. We need to take a more serene, detached and objective viewpoint. The ability to "let it go and move on" and keep getting up after you have been knocked down are the hallmarks of success in this facet of the game.
The best way that I have ever found to flip this switch is through the simple understanding that everybody else will eventually go through the exact same situations as me in this game. No matter how bad things get I know that all of my opponents will have to deal with this some day too.
I take a deep breath and smile because once again:
I know that they will not handle it as well as I will.
Let me know in the comments below what you think of looking at downswings and tilt in the manner. Do you agree with it? Is there a better way? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!