My mom used to tell me, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” This is such a profound and righteous philosophy. And I’ve stuck to it. For example, when I eat popcorn, I think it’s worth doing, so I do it well. With the fingertips of one hand, I can pick up a surprisingly large amount of popcorn and put all of it in my mouth, without dropping a single piece, in the dark. Another activity I give my best to is folding. I can fold poker hands at high velocity with crosshair precision and the cards vanish into the muck.
And when it comes to tilting, well, I hate to brag, but I do believe that I might be the greatest tilter of all time. Yes, I know, that’s an unfalsifiable claim. Just because I happen to tower above everyone in my player pool as the unquestioned champion tilter doesn’t mean there isn’t some tilter I’ve never met who is better than me. All I can say is, bring him on! I’ll take on anyone anywhere anytime in a globally televised heads-up tilt-off if need be, to find out if I am indeed the world’s greatest.
And because I am a generous man, I am now going to share with you some of my tilt wisdom, and yes, a few of my secrets. Let’s start with that well-worn question that has generated so many classic arguments: Is tilting a science or an art?
My answer is: Yes. I believe that easy tilting is a science, and that difficult tilting is an art. By applying the scientific approach, one can manipulate the tilt-inducing variables, such as playing twenty hours in a row after hardly any sleep, to bring out one’s best tilt. But can you be unexplainably angry at everyone and hate yourself and your money when you are winning every pot? That’s something only a tilt artist can do.
Okay, enough with the highfalutin intellectualism. I’m going to dummy down to your plebian level. (Did that sentence tilt you? Then there’s hope for you yet.)
People ask me all the time, “Tommy, sometimes I’m playing poker, and I feel great, even after I lose a few big pots. It doesn’t even bother me. I know I am missing out on some great opportunities to justifiably tilt like crazy. But I can’t. I just sit there and I keep making really good folds and raises and everything else. Can you help?”
Oh yes, I most definitely can, in several ways.
Try this. Reverse the order of cause and effect. One of the effects of tilt is that it makes us play bad, so to initiate tilt, make some really bad plays on purpose. Call when you should fold. Fold when you should call. The act of playing bad will agitate you, and that in itself will bring on some tilt.
Here’s another simple way to backdoor some tilt. Start with one of the other main effects of tilt, namely, that it makes us unhappy. What you do is, wait until you are naturally unhappy—such as after a heated argument with your best friend—and then go play poker! I guarantee you this will increase your probability of tilting, and the tilt will then compound your unhappiness which will nourish your tilt even more. Give it a try. This is a lock.
So far I’ve been talking to you on the level of How to Tilt 101. Now I’m going to share a concept about tilt that only the Grand Tiltmasters truly understand.
When it comes to fixing your tiltlessness, you have to realize that there are band-aids, and there are cures. Everything so far has been band-aids. Some other excellent, effective band-aids you can use are to make sure that you don’t take breaks, and that your body is sleep-deprived and malnourished.
As to cures, what you have to realize is that tiltlessness is what happens when you are in control of your mind. So, to become a master tilter, you must let your mind be your master. You must fill your mind with worry, and regret, and anxiety, and fear.
When you are sitting contentedly playing poker, the problem is that you are living in the present. If only you could unshackle your mind from the bonds of reality. If only you could pry yourself away from what is. Then you would be liberated. Then your mind would be set free—free to drift into the past and dwell on your bad luck and your bad playing and your bad streaks—free to gallop into the future so that it can languish in the land of worry. Then, and only then, your mind would be empowered by imaginary madness to do that thing that it does so well—make you tilt.
It is extremely difficult to willfully wrench yourself free from happiness while it is going on. Learning how to do it is a long, slow process. That’s why, if you’re really serious about curing your tiltlessness, you have to practice doing it away from the poker table.
You probably never thought of the act of waiting for something as an opportunity to practice your poker. Well, it is. It’s one of the best. Think about it. Doesn’t poker involve a lot of waiting? When it comes to working on your tilting while you wait, it doesn’t matter what you are waiting for. You could be waiting in line, or waiting for a plane, or waiting for someone who is late. The only requirement is that you have empty time that you can’t speed up.
Let’s say you’re in a big hurry, and you’re in line at the grocery store, and the old woman in front of you finally gets her huge order all rung up, and just when you think she’s about to finish, she says to the cashier, “Honey, look at my ice cream. It’s already melting. And it’s going to be very hot in my car. Would you please run this back to the cooler and trade it for a colder one? Thanks!”
Then she hands the ice cream to the cashier, and off he goes to the frozen food cooler.
This is the key moment for you. Even though you know that it would be totally illogical and absurd to get upset right now because you have no control over the situation, it is absolutely imperative, for the purpose of curing your tiltlessness, that you do. For poker’s sake, you must summon the strength to be agitated at the woman, and at the cashier, and at the whole universe if need be. You must not remain calm. I know, it’s tough. I never said this was going to be easy. But I have faith you can do it. I believe anyone can.
Eons later, the cashier comes back with a rock hard brick of ice cream, and even though the final total of her bill has been staring her in the face the entire time, the woman now pulls out her checkbook to start to write a check. Be strong! This is not the time for compassion! This is not the time to let the evil witch remind you of your adorably forgetful grandmother. Be angrily annoyed! Be frantically frustrated! Now is the time to dig deep into the depths of the darkest part of your soul and feel extreme bitterness toward this feeble stranger who you will never see again.
Another great way to practice your poker tilt is to get mad at your opponents for doing things you do. Well here’s some good news. You don’t have to wait for your next poker game to do that. You can practice while driving. You can drive yourself to tilt! For example, let’s say you are in a crowded parking lot, looking for a place to park. You see someone getting in their car, so you stop and wait for them to pull out of their spot, and you pull in. It so happens that there was not enough room to drive around you while you lurked, and a line of cars backed up behind you. After you finish shopping, you get in your car and you back out of your parking spot and you aim for the exit. Just one problem. You aren’t moving. And the reason you aren’t moving, for like, forever, is that the guy in the car in front of you is stubbornly waiting for the slowest person in the universe to pull out of a parking space so that he can pull in.
Waiting … what an A-hole … waiting … what a selfish, rude A-hole … waiting … waiting … aaarrrggGGHHH!!
Good. That’s good. Well done. Once you get into the habit of refining the essential tilting skill of being able to get upset when total strangers do routine things that you do too, it’s possible to maintain a state of near-constant agitation when you are behind the wheel, interspersed with fits of rage. That combination is perfect tilting form at poker. Which is why driving is a bountiful opportunity to practice tilting.
Okay. I’ve done my best. I have taught you everything you need to know to become a world-class tilter like me. You had better follow up on this. I don’t want to hear any stories about you being tranquil and concentrated and accumulating a fat bankroll. That would totally tilt me. And then you’d be responsible for what I say to that old woman at the store.
2018 Coaching Update: I’m doing video coaching now on whatever ails you — from betting problems and tilt issues to bad quitting and no patience. For more details and to schedule a call, click here.