Combating 'tilt' [oh noes another long Dorkus post!]
'Tilt' is a word that's thrown around a lot in poker, but how much do you all really know about it, and about how to combat it?
First things first, in order to come up with an effective countermeasure to tilt, we need to establish exactly what it is. Unfortunately this is easier said than done. Tilt is a sprawling beast, and has many forms. We can generalise and say that a 'tilt trigger' is essentially 'an occurence that leads to sub-optimal play' and that 'tilt' is said sub-optimal play, but this is very vague. As far as I can see, we can split our definition of 'tilt' into four main categories.
1: Tilt resulting from bad beats
Probably the most widespread form of tilt, and probably the easiest for you to identify with. When you get it all in preflop with AA vs AK, and the river completes AKs straight, who can say they don't get a little mad?
To combat this form of tilt, as with the other forms, we need to establish what happens to us once the 'tilt trigger' has occured. Some people will loosen up, as being involved in (and losing) a big pot gets the adrenaline flowing, and thus said person will be craving action, leading to irrational play such as limping UTG with KJo. Others will actually tighten up. This is less common, but the 'logic' behind it is that the person is quite simply afraid of taking another bad beat, and thus will play vastly fewer hands.
On a side note, identifying the players at your table that are prone to tilt, and the way their game changes as a result gives you a huge edge. Observe the table carefully.
As for actually combating this, you need to remember one simple thing that I'm sure you've read before, but it bears reiterating. You want players to get all their chips in a pot against you when they are drawing slim. The results are irrelevant, because in the long run your return on such pots will get closer and closer to your expectancy, which of course will be a large positive value. When you get sucked out on, you must drill into your mind that it is actually a good thing in the long run. It is a sign that you have outplayed your opponent, and got him to commit his stack with a very small chance of winning. You must remember, however, that even the longest shots come through once in a while.
2: Tilt resulting from your own bad play
Now here's a tricky one. You play a hand truly horribly, and it's a habit to beat yourself up about it. This can lead to the typical symptoms of tilt as already detailed. I was actually close to posting a thread asking about how to deal with this kind of tilt until I really thought about it, and the answer became clear. You need to remember two things.
(a) Nobody, not even the best player in the world, plays perfect poker 100% of the time
Yeah, even Phil Ivey will at some point push from the BB with KQ or equivalent against a button he reads as weak and stealing, only to be shown AA. To suggest that anyone is capable of playing perfectly all of the time is ridiculous. Looking at things from this point of view helps put your mistake in some sort of perspective.
(b) If we make a mistake and are able to identify it subsequently, we are learning
This is an attempt to put a positive slant on a mistake, but it's perfectly valid. Poker is one big education, and one of the best ways of learning is through correcting mistakes. Of course, this doesn't mean we should aspire to make mistakes, but we should look at a mistake as a learning opportunity, rather than $50 (or whatever) down the drain. If you make a mistake and identify it, it's unlikely you're going to make that mistake again.
3: 'Positive' tilt
Now we enter the realms of much less blatant tilt. Earlier I (sort of) defined tilt as 'sub-optimal play that occurs as a result of a given event'. One thing you have to remember is that the 'tilt trigger' doesn't always have to be a 'negative' event. When you win a huge pot, adrenaline flows in much the same way as if you get sucked out on in a big pot. How many of you can honestly say you've never either (a) loosened up because you're way up in a session and you see yourself as 'not really playing with your own money', and/or (b) tightened up as a result of a big gain because you're 'scared' of losing your winnings and ending the session down?
If you really think neither of these has ever applied to you, I would purport that you are lying to yourself.
In combating this, the best solution I can come up with is a flawed one. If you are ahead in a session, surely it makes sense to continue playing as you were (barring opponents getting reads on you)? This is flawed because a session is a short-term event, and it's entirely possible for you to be up while playing badly, or down while playing well, but if we think in terms of "I am winning and cannot identify any huge leaks in my game this session - why should I change my game because I am ahead when it is playing in this fashion that has led to me actually being up for the session?", it helps.
4: Tilt as a result of occurences outside the poker table
So obvious. So many people have said you should not play poker while emotionally frail or unstable, it should be drilled into your minds by now. All I will say in addition to what many authors have said on the subject is that I would include avoiding playing poker because something hugely positive has happened to you in the 'real world'. It's easy to see you shouldn't be playing poker if you're split up with your girlfriend, if a relative falls ill etc etc, but it's somewhat less obvious that you shouldn't be playing poker if you've just been offered a lucrative new job, or you've just got engaged, and so on.
To play optimal poker, you need to distance yourself from your emotions at the poker table, whether those emotions be 'positive' or 'negative'. If you are in a heightened emotional state for any reason, the simple countermeasure to the sub-optimal poker play that will occur is just to not play.
This applies to the other forms of tilt too. If you still find yourself steaming after a bad beat despite knowing you want your opponent to push his chips in drawing to 3 outs, take a break. Go for a walk, and realise there's more to life than little bits of plastic with pictures on them. Take up meditation, have a hot drink, whatever makes you feel comfortable, just do not play again until you're 'over' it.
Take care at the tables!