You may have heard of the Five Stages of Grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This theory was first espoused by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969 (coincidentally, the same year as what is now known as the World Series of Poker begun.
The 1969 tournament was called the Texas Gambling Reunion and was held in Reno. The event moved to Las Vegas the next year, where it was rechristened the World Series of Poker. Kübler-Ross came up with her five stages of grief after studying how people reacted to the loss of a loved one.
I believe you can apply a similar concept to the poker phenomenon of tilting. After playing poker for more than a decade, I have identified the Teepack’s Five Stages of Tilt: anger, castigation, paranoia, meltdown and acceptance.
Warning: The links in the text are to YouTube videos that provide illustrations of the various stages of tilt. Some of the videos contain inappropriate language for the workplace!
It Starts with a Bad Beat or Two
Stage 1: Going on tilt is usually preceded by a trigger event. For the Five Stages of Tilt, the trigger event is usually a bad beat.
Most players can handle a bad beat or two. You can’t expect your hand to hold up every time. It usually takes more than one bad beat to set a player off. If you feel yourself starting to lose it, it’s probably time to get up from the table and take a self-induced break.
Put a Muzzle on It
Stage 2: The next sure sign that you are starting to go on tilt is when you feel the need to start berating the play of the person who just sucked out on you. Even poker pros like Phil Hellmuth are not immune to this.
If you feel this urge coming on, put a muzzle on yourself. Sure, you might feel temporarily better by calling your opponent a freaking moron, but it’ll only make you look worse than you already feel. Type out what you want to say in the chat box, but then delete it before you hit the send button.Then, just type in ‘Nice hand.’
I wouldn’t be Paranoid if Everybody Weren’t out to Get Me
Stage 3: After you have successfully completed the second stage, the Tilt Express has officially left the station and there is no turning back. The next stop is Paranoia.
“The cards are against me.” “I can’t catch a flop.” “Every time I get AA, everybody else folds!” Raise your hand if you’ve thought this before.
Of course, this isn’t true. The universe hasn’t singled you out for a lifetime of gloom and despair. There is no mystical force that ensures your opponents will constantly hit runner-runner flush to knock out your flopped set. It just happens. The more you play poker, the more it’s going to happen.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Stage 4: After a series of bad beats, missed flops and monster hands that only win small spots, the inevitable meltdown ensues. The Tilt Express is on autopilot by this point. Signs of this stage include playing bad hands in early position, C-betting every flop, and shoving the river with nothing more than a King high. Of course, the strategy ultimately fails, and the meltdown ensues.
It’s Just Poker
Stage 5: The final stage is acceptance. This occurs after you have lost all your chips. You must convince yourself that you played well and that the other players were just luckier than you. This stage is crucial. If you can’t get past this stage, then you will find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle of bad beats and blow-ups.
I wrote in an earlier blog post about steps you can take to try to avoid climbing on the Tilt Express. Recognizing the Five Stages of Tilt early is key, because once that train leaves the station, it doesn’t come back until it reaches its destination, a little place known as “Losertown.”