Poker Poker Strategy — 27 November 2004

Last night I was playing $100 Buy-In NL at Hawaiian Gardens and in just a few hours had built up a nice little castle of yellow chips. Then I got bad beat in one of those hands you aren’t supposed to lose. Flopped a set and had my full house by the turn only to get sucked out by a bigger full house on the river. In some ways, you can’t blame the other guy for calling $50 raises to his $50 bets because his hand didn’t suck (top pair on the flop and trips on the turn) and I don’t think he had any real clue as to what my hand was (I’m pretty sure he had me on a flush draw) but the pain of giving away a huge chunk of your profits in one hand still stings.

However, my point isn’t to tell the kazillionth blogger bad bet story. I sat there for a second after the hand and I thought about it and realized that if I continued to play I would bleed off chips while I was still steaming. I stood up, told everyone “Well, when you get your boat cracked it’s time to call it an evening.” I congratulated the winner, shook his hand, shook hands with a few of the guys who I had been at the table with for a few hours and went and got something to eat in the restaurant. I still walked away up over $60 on a $100 buy-in table even after the meal.

After I ate I went back to watch my buddy Zengy go from being up $300 to busting out. His last two hands were two bad beats in a row and as we approached the valet he turned to me and said “Hey, it’s still kind of early. I could go on playing if you want to.” I said that it was better if we just headed home. I’m sure Z would have dumped a few more hundred had we stuck around because even after the ride home he was still fuming over those hands.

Bottom line is that like the old Kenny Roger song, sometimes you gotta know when to walk away. There’s no way that I could have played my A-game immediately after that beat. The textbook answer is that you should be able to shake it off but the reality is that it changes your state and if you don’t think you can play solidly after taking a massive pounding, walk away and get your head clear. In this particular instance, I probably would have been ok to keep playing after I took some time to go through the hand a few times in my head during my dinner break but by that point I was so tired I was looking forward to getting to bed more than I was getting back at the tables. Perhaps that�s both the blessing and curse of online poker and living so close to so many casinos here in So. Cal. One is never in want of a good loose game with lots of really poor players 

This incident got me to thinking though. There are obviously some sort of psychological and physiological reaction that causes illogical adaptations like steaming and tilt. One of the things you learn when you become a Rescue Diver is that a very large percentage of dive accidents occur due to diver panic. How else can you explain people drowning on the surface with a fully functional buoyancy device on? They panic, forget to inflate the buoyancy device and start down a psychological spiral that ends in death unless someone can interrupt the pattern. And the key to panic is that it is not one event that triggers it. It’s a series of events that culminates in some seemingly minor issue becoming far too much for the diver to handle. You can take a diver who has made hundreds of dives and he loses his job or is having family problems and then while in the water a piece of equipment malfunctions and instead of a logical and reasoned response to this new stress factor they go into complete panic. Obviously not everyone who loses their job and goes diving panics but the idea is that it�s usually a series of stressors all chained together which can combine with other stressors during the dive and cause someone to abandon logical responses and revert to the most primal instincts in regards to problem solving. Underwater that can be very dangerous because the primal response is usually the worst possible response.

I think tilt works much the same way. You never hear of people going on tilt when they’re winning. It’s a bad beat and then maybe a few hands that go poorly and you have a perfectly good player who is now calling Q6o UTG. It even happens to the pros. Watch some WPT or WSOP events and there are plenty of examples of world class players making beginner mistakes after a bad beat. I’m no psychologist (though I’ve played one for many friends) but I don’t think the psychological and physiological reactions between panic and tilt are much different. They both put people into an almost primal state in terms of how they react to situations. Logic and reasoning become quick victims to panic and tilt. At the poker table a bad beat can cause you to steam and you start playing your B-game which produces poor results which induces more steaming which causes you to slip into your C-game, and so on and so on until you�re making absolutely insane plays even though you absolutely know that you�re doing the wrong thing. The interesting thing about both tilt and panic is that the cycle feeds itself. Your reactions produce increasingly poorer and poorer results which cause you to use increasingly less and less effective methods.

So if we�re to apply standard medical treatment, the key is to interrupt the pattern and end the spiral which leads one into the extreme states of panic or tilt. Clear your head. At the final table in a tournament that might be hard to do but in most cash games you always have the option of getting up and taking a break. Give yourself the opportunity to reset before a few more questionable hands put you over the edge. Obviously it sounds easier than it really is but perhaps just recognizing the pattern that leads you to tilt can cause you to deal with it differently.

Ship It Holla Ballas!

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About Author

Bill Rini has been working in the online poker industry since 2004. He was a product manager for poker at Full Tilt and was the poker room manager at PartyPoker. Currently, Bill is the Head of Online Poker for WSOP.   Bill has been blogging about online poker since 2003 and is considered one of the leading authorities on the online poker industry.   "I like What Bill Rini said in his blog" - Doyle Brunson   "In other news, we had Bill Rini write an absolutely home run blog." Daniel Negreanu   "Industry insider Bill Rini has one of the most popular blogs in poker, with thousands of subscribers and fans regularly coming back for his universally respected insight into the industry" - Barry Carter (News editor for PokerStrategy, Co-Author: The Mental Game of Poker)

(0) Readers Comments

  1. Worst bad beat story. Playing in two separate tourneys at Doyle’s room on 12/8/06 I got beat by the same suckout draw twice within hours. Flopped a straight and played it to get my opponent all in. Both times they had A7 and A8. Both times sucked out with A7 and A8 on the turn and river to beat my straight all in with a pair only catching a boat on the river. In my view there has to be something very wrong with the way cards are dealt in these tourneys. Ods against it are way too low…

  2. Very good read. I’ve been seeking solace today after two days of consistent losses at online no-limit. I don’t know if I’m on tilt or just having a run of bad luck, but it is really depressing me. Your analysis of the primal nature of our response to something “unfair” is absolutely correct, though.

    I’ve been cursing and repeating the words “Unbelieveable” myriad times the last two days because I just can’t buy luck and in my rage I am probably starting to play unconsciously poorer and poorer. Hope that today’s reading will help me tonight.

  3. Bill,

    I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t familiar with your blog until you signed up for the Holiday Classic. After reading this post, you’re going to become a regular read. Look forward to meeting you in Vegas.

    Otis

  4. Excellent post.