The 8000 pound elephant in the room. Tilt is a major component of this game but I wanted this book to be mostly concerned with strategy. But I would be remiss to write a poker book and not mention it at all. The reason why tilt is such a hard subject to approach however is because stopping it from happening is something that is really hard to teach. So much of it is real psychology. And I am by no means an expert in that area.
But it is something that anyone who plays poker seriously must work to overcome. I have been around this game a long time and I have seen so many otherwise really talented poker players just wreck themselves in brief moments of insanity. They usually do this by throwing away a bunch of buyins at their regular stakes. But often even more destructively by jumping stakes and playing heads up against a far superior clear thinking opponent.
The jumping stakes type of tilt will completely ruin your poker career. If this is a major problem for you, you are really going to have to take a step back and examine your goals in this game and develop a game plan for how to prevent this from happening. Many online poker rooms now allow you to restrict your play even down to specific limits. It would probably be a good idea to have a look at this before anything.
A more practical way for most people however is to implement what is called a stop loss. Basically what this means is that once you lose a certain amount of buyins at your regular stakes (maybe 3, 4 or 5) you must quit immediately. And I recommend just hitting the “X” on the poker lobby and closing all of your tables at once, even if you are in the middle of some hands somewhere. Then you must get up from the computer, leave the room and not play again that day.
You have to be prepared for this game and what will happen from time to time. When you sit down to play poker you have to remind yourself that you signed up for this. You signed up to play a game that can have very, very crazy and completely nonsensical swings in the short term. With the good also comes the bad. And it will be simply unbelievably at times. There is no point in trying to understand it. Because you won’t. I have played well over 5 million hands of poker. Trust me, I don’t get it yet either. I stopped trying to get it a long time ago.
We play this game because we win in the long term. You must always remind yourself of that. I like to put a graph of mine and set it as my desktop background. Or I will just load a graph in HEM while playing. No matter how bad it gets during a session I can always look at that pretty line going up and to the right and remind myself that those results are what is real, not this session. Always remember that you can never play a statistically significant amount of hands in one session of poker. No matter how good or bad it gets, it is almost entirely meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
There is another way to reduce tilt. This involves giving up a little bit of immediate EV in order to lower your overall variance. This statement may sound absurd at first to some people but hear me out.
Imagine a hypothetical situation where you know that you are a slight favorite as the cards lie (say 55%) but your opponent wants to play for stacks right now and has gone all in. But further imagine that you have had a bad day and you know that if you lose this pot that it will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and you will go on monkey tilt and spew off 3 stacks. The best play here then is obviously to fold.
Now this is kind of a silly example especially since we can rarely ever be 100% certain with some of these variables but I think you catch my drift. Tilt is a real thing that affects a lot of people in a big way. And you should be willing to go the extra mile to keep yourself off of it.
I will often play huge draws for instance in a more passive way at the micros for this very reason.
In MP you have,
You raise and get called by an SLP in the SB. The flop comes,
You cbet and he check/raises. You should call.
Now if we assume that when this opponent raises us here that he has some sort of top pair type hand a lot of the time, we can see that we are a slight favorite in Pokerstove.
But let’s further imagine that this player is never going to fold his KJ for any amount. This isn’t a stretch at these limits. Most of the time they won’t be willing to fold in a spot like this. If that is the case, then we have no fold equity.
So in a spot like this, instead of putting in a big raise here and playing a monstrous pot as a virtual coin flip, I will often just call and play a huge pot when I hit my draw. This keeps my variance low which in turn keeps my level of tilt low. I will happily pass up on that 1% edge in order to keep myself in a better state of mind.
This idea was also in mind when I suggested that you play a more passive game preflop in certain spots and not 3bet quite so much at these stakes. It is perfectly fine to pass up on a little bit of immediate EV in order to keep yourself as far away from tilt as possible. People vastly underestimate the impact of tilt and how damaging it can be to someone’s poker career. This is a game played by people. It isn’t all about odds and ratios and EV.
Some Final Words on Tilt
Ultimately there is no magic solution for tilt. As long as you are human, you are going to take this game personally at times and probably let it affect your play. I think that one of the biggest differences between the big winners and the breakeven or losing players however is that the former don’t allow tilt to affect their game to anywhere near the same extent. You have to develop a certain level of discipline to be successful in this game.
If you really want to take this game seriously, and I absolutely believe that you do, or else you wouldn’t have bought this book, then you are going to have to look long and hard at your tilt issues and find ways to minimize them.
You are going to have to learn to bite the bullet and make that fold, even though it feels like you have been folding for days on end. As I said near the beginning of this book, winning poker is largely just an exercise in
pain tolerance much of the time. Winning spurts are so infrequent and rare and they feel amazing. But the vast majority of the time when you play poker, all you will be doing is treading water. That is, you are trying not to give away what you made during that brief winning stretch.
A fold is fold no matter the circumstances. If you truly want to be successful in this game, look deep down and find a way to make the correct decision on a more consistent basis. Do not allow yourself to flip out and make silly plays.
You will never be perfect though. I certainly am not even though some people seem to think that I don’t tilt or something. Truthfully I do. But I have become very good at not allowing it to have any noticeable impact on my play. Scream and curse, throw things (not the computer). Do whatever you have to do. Just make sure that you click the right button. And then quit playing for the day. Tomorrow is a new day, I promise!
I said at the beginning of this book that my goal was to impart the playbook in my head to the virtual ink here so that you could replicate my success. I guess how well I did in achieving that goal can only be determined after you go out and play a lot of hands of poker now.
Microstakes poker on the internet is a crazy game. Most people think that it is really easy and that everyone should breeze through it. And they aren’t completely wrong. A lot of people do breeze through it. A lot don’t though. And it’s not the end of the world if you are in the latter category right now. Because these stakes offer a very cheap lesson in letting you know that you need to get better in certain areas. The microstakes are really just about developing the solid fundamentals that will take your game to the next level anyways.
I would actually prefer the guy who is struggling a bit out of the gate to the one who breezes through this. Because learning to really think about the logic behind this game is what will really help you succeed later on. There is an answer to everything in poker. That is one of the biggest reasons why this is such a great game.
There are two main ways to get better at poker and neither of them are particularly easy or fast unfortunately. But such is life. First, you need to play a lot of hands. And I really do mean a lot. Hours upon hours every day and multi-tabling if at all possible. If there is one thing that you consistently find in all the best players out there, it is that they have seemingly played more hands than everybody else. It seems like they are always playing!
But there are a lot of people out there who have played millions of hands as well and are still breakeven or “rakeback pros.” This is where the second most important component for your improvement comes in; ruthless study. Now that you have a big sample size you need to pour over the data in HEM or PT3, mess with filters and find out where you are having problems. You need to study the elite players at your limit, figure out the good things that they are doing and incorporate that into your own game.
You might want to hire a coach or join a training site as well. But you can’t approach either of these as a passive spectator. If you really want to get the best out of either of these learning tools, then you will need to put in some effort yourself. And really, this means taking notes and studying them later. Don’t just watch a video, jot down 3 or 4 main points that were covered. After a coaching session do the same thing. Keep them in a file on your computer or pinned to your wall and look over them on a regular basis.
Finally, you need to develop your own strategy and play style in response to what you have seen at the tables. The best players are constantly developing the cutting edge strategies that keep changing how this game is played. Then everybody else eventually copies what they do. But it is always the proactive ones, the ones who came up with the idea in the first place that profit the most. You see this in so many other areas of life as well. You don’t become highly successful at anything by completely following somebody else’s path.
Hopefully a lot of the suggestions in this book will be useful to compliment or help you build your own game. But if there is one thing that I hope you take away from this book more than anything it is that you need to learn to
think through this game for yourself. Most of the strategies offered in this book, especially the NL2 ones, I created. And I used them with great success for a long time while getting laughed at. Eventually they stopped laughing at me and started copying me.
And that is why I stressed the importance of learning the logic behind some of my crazy bet size recommendations. It wasn’t so that you will have the best winrate ever at NL2. That’s great if that happens, but really the point was to get you thinking about the game on a deeper level. There are no cookie cutter solutions in poker. Every opponent and every hand offers a new challenge.
Listen to good players, read books, join training sites etc. But at the end of the day, decide for yourself what works and what doesn’t. If what works happens to be the same as the advice that you got, then so be it. If it is different then don’t be afraid to disagree with them and play it your way.
Listen, but don’t listen too much. You’ve got to always remember that 80% or more of the people who play this game lose money in the long run after the rake. But every one of them will be more than willing to offer you their opinion. Not all opinions are created equal!
And lastly, again, just play a lot. When you think you have played a lot, play some more. Then open up your database program and look over your session, especially your big losing hands. Then go play some more. Bookmark some time for some overall study of your game in HEM or PT3 at least once a week for an hour or so once you have played a lot of hands. Mess with filters relentlessly. Find out where you are spewing the money and where you can improve.
Give up that TV show. Make the time. This is the only way to success in this game. Like anything in life you have to want it more than the next guy. As I said at the beginning of this book this game isn’t the heart pounding, adrenaline filled non-stop excitement that they try and make people believe it is on TV. Those are heavily edited main event final tables where they will show 10 hands out of about 10 hours of play.
A real professional or even a good semi-pro knows that in order to have success in this game you need to think about it like any other job. In a way it is kind of like running a small business. It comes with a lot of benefits such as control over your own results and the freedom to set your own hours. But it doesn’t give you a free pass to just goof around at the tables whenever you want and hope things will turn out your way.
You are going to have to put in the hours, really put them in. You are going to have to make time to study and study hard. You are going to have to learn how to be disciplined at the tables. You are going to have to learn how to make a lot of folds even when it seems like you have been folding forever. You are going to have to put up with a lot of really ugly days and sometimes weeks and months. You are going to have to become a machine at the tables. This is a job and that is how the big money is made in online poker.
I did say big money though. And I did mention freedom and control as well. Beyond all the drawbacks to professional or semi-professional poker there are a couple enormous positives. Positives so big that they make all the other stuff seem inconsequential for a lot of people. Big time success in this game is not for everybody and it has to be that way. But for a select few who want it bad enough, they will get it.
Whatever your goals are in this game your road to success starts here at the micros. I hope I have made that path a little bit more clear for you.