The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting (Poker Brat Edition!)

The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting
Phil Hellmuth is perhaps best known for his famous rants and blowups at the poker table whenever he takes a bad beat.

This is why he even earned the nickname "The Poker Brat."

In fact, some of the most popular poker videos on YouTube have titles like "Phil Hellmuth loses it once again." Or "You won't believe what Phil Hellmuth did after this bad beat!"

And while we all get a good chuckle out of these famous Phil Hellmuth blowups is this really the best way to handle adversity in this game? Should you react to bad beats just like this?

Now don't get me wrong, Phil Hellmuth is a legendary poker player. In fact, he will be the first one to tell you about that! (with his 15 WSOP bracelets is it?).

Bottom line is, there is absolutely no denying the man's incredible talent at the poker tables.

But imagine just how great he might be without this tilt problem? Without his propensity to fly off the handle and go on a tirade after every bad beat?

Or perhaps I am just the totally clueless one here and these tirades are actually a part of his grand overall strategy to help him play great poker?

Perhaps we will never know!

In any case, I know that tilt really is a major problem for most poker players in my experience, and it adversely affects their game is a very negative manner.

In fact, having coached hundreds of students at the lower limits in particular, I can say without a doubt that tilt is the #1 reason why they have failed to succeed in poker thus far.

This madness has to stop.

So without further ado, here is The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting!

Step #1 - Take a Deep Breath

If you want to stop going on monkey tilt like Phil Hellmuth every time your aces get cracked, the first thing you are going to have to do is take a deep breath.

Yes, just forget about the cards completely for a moment and take a few deep breaths, the type that go deep into the pit of your stomach.

The reason why this is so important is because learning how to control your physical and emotional reaction when you take a bad beat is always going to be the first step towards handling it better.

If you have ever taken a particularly brutal beat, perhaps right before the final table, then you know exactly what I mean.

You patiently waited, for what seemed like hours, for those pocket aces and finally the aggro fish who has been pushing you out of pots all day, goes all-in.

You proudly snap call him and table your pocket aces: AA

The board runs out: J9427

And of course the donkey sheepishly flips over his T8 scooping the entire pot and sending you to the rail!

The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting

Now, the first thing you may want to do is throw your computer out the window or perhaps fling your chair across the room if you are playing live.

Believe me, I get it.

I have been there!

After some particularly vicious bad beats online, I have destroyed several computer mice, hockey sticks, cookbooks and many other things that I am too embarrassed to even admit here.

But what good does this actually accomplish?

Nothing of course.

In fact, you will probably just end up feeling even worse afterwards (and have a considerably lighter wallet if you broke something really expensive!)

The bottom line is that bad beats (and even brutal bad beats right before the final table), are bound to happen in this game, and you must control your reaction to them better, if you want to succeed.

And the first step towards controlling your emotions better is to simply breath deep a few times and learn to relax yourself and calm your mind in the moment.

If you are particularly disturbed by a brutal bad beat, then I would suggest just walking away from the tables for awhile or even for the rest of the day.

This truly is more important than anything.

Because if you can't learn to control your reaction better to the constant ups and downs that will come your way in poker, then there is no winning poker strategy on earth that can help you win.

That's why this is step #1 in the Phil Hellmuth guide to finally stop tilting!

Step #2 - Ask Yourself If You Played the Hand to the Best of Your Ability

So now that you have successfully calmed yourself down, and taken control of your immediate emotional response, the next step is to ask yourself if you could have played the hand any better.

By the way, please continue to ignore your opponent through this step as well. This isn't even about them at all.

Don't pay any attention to them. Just turn the chat off if you play online. Put on your headphones if you play live and ignore them.

In fact, we will get to them, and how you will choose to react to them, in the next step.

For now, this is still just all about you, and learning how to improve your response to a tough poker hand.

So you need to ask yourself, did you play this hand to the absolute best of your ability given all the information that you had at each stage of the hand?

And ultimately, did you get all the money into the middle as the mathematical favorite?

Because remember, this is the only thing that we actually control at the poker table.

If you got the money in good, you win. End of story.

So for example:

In our imaginary hand above where we had pocket aces and the bad player shoved preflop with his T8 we can see that we had a huge edge in equity:

The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting

By the way, if you don't know how to quickly figure out your equity in many common spots like this, you can just use the equity calculator in a HUD program like PokerTracker.

Now as alluded to above, the one thing that we don't control in poker is the outcome of individual hands.

The other cardinal rule about No Limit Hold'em in particular is that they almost always have some sort of equity, no matter how small.

Even if you get all the money in the middle with a 95% chance to win, that 5% chance that they have is still going to come through sometimes.

And believe me, the "poker gods" do not care if you are right before the final table of a million dollar tournament!

I am sorry to tell you but poker is cold hard math, statistics and odds.

Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

But honestly, the same thing could really be said for life. Sometimes really bad things happen to really good people.

All we can do therefore is learn to control our reaction to this negative stimuli better.

And with regards to poker, all you can do is consistently get your chips in the middle with a mathematical edge and the rest will sort itself out over the long run.

This is something that many other big name poker pros like Daniel Negreanu teach as well.

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The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting
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Step #3 - Sincerely Congratulate Your Opponent on a Hand Well Played!

The final step in the Phil Hellmuth guide to stop tilting is to congratulate your opponent on their fine play.

There is probably nobody in the history of poker who has played a T8 this well.

That was a brilliant decision to shove all the money in the middle and put a man to a decision for all of his chips!

Alright seriously, you don't actually have to say any of this, and you probably shouldn't, because it may just rile you up even more.

The best thing to do (*at most*) is to just quietly and sincerely offer a "nice hand" or just type "nh" if you play online.

The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting

There is no need to go any deeper into it than that.

We already know that we had way the best of it when all the money went in the middle.

Therefore, we already know that if we run this exact same hand 10 times, 100 times or 1000 times, we are going to destroy this player.

Because the one thing you can't do in poker is fight the math.

You can buck the odds in one hand like this (or even several times in a row), but as the sample size increases their odds of winning go down considerably.

And once we get to the real long run in poker, they literally have no chance at all.

So the best thing you can do is just quietly (and like I said, sincerely) offer the player congratulations on a job well done.

Don't Tap the Glass

Because here's the other thing.

Most poker players who shove all-in preflop with a hand like T8 are recreational poker players.

There can be a time and a place where a good player will have a killer read and shove a hand like this against somebody (because they know their opponent will fold).

But for the most part, good poker players will usually have a much better hand than this when they decide to go all-in.

So, you already know that the guy (or girl) who just took all your chips is probably the table "fish" and you will see them again later on down the line.

These are also the types of players, as I have discussed many times on this blog, who quite literally bankroll the entire industry.

So the absolute worst thing that you can do is berate a bad player like this or "tap the glass" as the old saying goes.

Because let's think for a moment about what this will accomplish:

1. The bad player realizes how bad they play and decides to study and improve their game.

2. The bad player is demoralized by getting berated and quits the game.

I hope you can see that BOTH of these outcomes are absolutely terrible for you.

This is why you should never berate the recreational players and instead either say nothing at all, or give them a simple compliment.

And this is because you need to realize that these players are in fact your best customers.

Like I said, the recreational players literally bankroll the entire industry and I have personally made an entire career out of taking their money.

Because these are the players who ultimately end up providing all of the fat profits in the long run for the poker sites and the pros.

And so it is absolutely crucial that we as a poker community be good hosts for them and make them feel comfortable at the poker table at all times.

Because we want them coming back again and again, and making the same bad plays.

Let them get lucky once in awhile. In fact we need them to get lucky so that they can continue to blame all their poor results on "bad luck."

As they say "denial runs the entire industry" and I never want to take away their ability to keep denying why they get the results that they do.

This is the brilliant part about poker, that very few other games have.

So you don't need to take it so personally when they get lucky against you sometimes. Because believe me, they end up paying dearly for all this bad play in the end.

Don't tap the glass.

Final Thoughts

So what can we learn from this Phil Hellmuth guide to stop tilting?

Well, first of all, it is really important to control your physical and emotional reaction to a bad beat before anything else.

Take a few deep breaths.

Heck, even leave the table completely for awhile as Phil Hellmuth himself has been known to do himself.

Control your immediate knee-jerk reaction to a poker hand that you feel you lost "unfairly."

Next, check the math.

Did you play the hand to the absolute best of your ability given all of the information that you had at the time?

And furthermore, did you get all of your chips in the middle with a statistical advantage?

If you can honestly say yes to these two questions, then there is absolutely nothing for you to worry about, because you did your job.

And the math will take care of the rest over the long run.

Lastly, if you choose to interact with your opponent at all, just offer them a sincere "nice hand." You are of course free to say absolutely nothing to them at all as well.

This is usually what I do (chat is always turned off when I play online anyways), and it is probably the best reaction for most people as well.

But if you do choose to interact with them, do not resort to berating them about their bad play because this will never lead to a good outcome for you.

When you say nothing at all (or compliment them), you achieve the best long term positive results because this will keep them coming back again and again to make the same bad plays.

And eventually, their "luck" will run out and reality will set in.

Or hey let's face, you could just forget everything that I said in this article and call them a "goddamn stupid donkey" and ask them "what the hell they were even doing in the hand?!?"

I think we both know that they probably can't even spell poker!

Anyways, your call.

This has been the Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting.

Thanks for reading!

I am a huge fan of Phil by the way. He's a living legend.

You can go follow him on Twitter, right here.


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The Phil Hellmuth Guide to Stop Tilting