I know that a lot of people have probably gone into great detail about this topic in the past. People who are likely way better at this game than I am, or just better at whatever game they play in general, but I wanted to take some time today to talk a little bit about how two different sides of something that is very common in our community.
In an effort to make this article as reader friendly as possible, I think it’s prudent to explain what tilt is and how it can effect a person on fundamental levels. I think the easiest summary to reference is Wikipedia, which has a surprisingly accurate definition of the term.
Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive. This term is closely associated with steam and some consider the terms equivalent, but ‘steam’ typically carries more anger and intensity.
Placing an opponent on tilt or dealing with being on tilt oneself is an important aspect of poker. It is a relatively frequent occurrence due to frustration, animosity against other players, or simply bad luck. Experienced players recommend learning to recognize that one is experiencing tilt and avoid allowing it to influence one’s play.
This weekend during Starcitygames States I had a prime example of something that would tilt a Magic player out of a tournament. I had just beat my round 2 opponent in a very narrow set of games to put my record at 2-0, and after our match was done, one of the judges came up to the table and asked to deck check us. I thought this was pretty weird since normally they do this either before a set or in between rounds, but considering I was playing Affinity and my opponent was on Burn, our matches were done in under 15 minutes and the table judges simply may have not been paying close enough attention when we went to sideboard to stop us. We were first and second seed at this point, deck checks are to be expected anyway, so I thought nothing of it.
They informed us that we didn’t have to stay at the table or anything, so I got up and went to the restroom and got something to drink. When I came back, the judges grabbed me and informed me that I had misregistered my Memnites in my deck, (I registered 1 Memnite, had 2 in my deck) and that I would be heading into the next round with a game 1 loss. This kind of news would be enough to upset most people.
As a little background on me, I have struggled with pretty severe social disorders since I was very young. I’m reluctant to call it “Asperger’s” because a lot of people don’t believe that Asperger’s exists, but what I can say is that I have a very difficult time picking up on a lot of social queues, and sometimes I have a hard time fully grasping situations as they’re playing out. I very much felt that way when I got this news. I simply could not understand how I had made that mistake, so rather than having the natural reaction that most people would have where they get upset with themselves and carry that weight into their next game, my immediate response was simply to dismiss it and look forward with the notion of “Oh, so I just have to 2-0 my next round opponent I guess.” And I did exactly that.
On the flip side of that coin, Salty Dog, another player for Mage Ring, is prone to going on pretty severe tilt when even very small things happen. I think he’s the opposite of me in a lot of ways, he reads TOO FAR into peoples’ actions and tends to let even the most minute, unintentional things get to him. If he makes mistakes he’s incredibly hard on himself to the point of basically breaking down his entire mentality. If his opponent rips answers off of the top of their deck for the whole game and he can read that on their face, it upsets him and drags him down. If his opponent offers a hand shake after a game that he feels wasn’t a “good game,” he’ll get upset and refuse to shake their hand, and stay pissy about it for hours.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand where this stems from, because I’m clearly not qualified to do so. All I can do is try and process the information I’m given and work with it to the best of my ability, which is why I think that I, as a player, am personally so resistant to tilt. We’ve been trying to convince our friend that tilt is inhibiting him as a player, and although he acknowledges that we may be right, he is having a pretty difficult time overcoming it. Tilt is tricky because it sneaks up on you when your shields are down, and you’re just in general feeling down.
Last night I was pretty far in the tank trying to think of ways to help him out. I’ve been reading The Theory of Poker by David Slansky and there was a line that really stuck with me. He didn’t talk about psychology too terribly much in the book, but the small points that he touched on were incredibly resonant. I feel that it’s so important that it needs to be on it’s own line, bolded.
“The best way to avoid tilt is to be your own Devil’s Advocate.”
After this line he goes on to explain that every interaction you have with a game is a piece of a puzzle, and although you can only truly understand YOUR piece of that puzzle, you have to do your best to understand all of the other sides to the best of your ability as well because the unknowns are where your best pieces of educational material come from. In his context he was speaking more on the topic of bluffs, but I think this advice is also solid for shaking off tilt in all aspects. If you can understand how your opponent may have felt, perhaps it makes you feel a little better because you would have had the same reaction that they would have. If you make a mistake, instead of being hard on yourself you take it as a learning experience and get better because you’re likely to not make the same mistake twice. If you simply get angry about these types of things, you miss out on the parts that make you grow as a player.
I know I just spent about 1,000 words leading into this point, but I feel like it’s so important that it’s worth it. Whether you’re the type of player who identifies with me and is more or less tiltproof, or the type of player who identifies with our friend Salty Dog, hopefully you take this advice and keep it in your mental locker for when you start feeling down during a tournament.