Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Eight (Less than Great) Ways to Fall Off the Tilt Hill

Lots of poker authors and experts have attempted to categorize specific types of tilt.  Jared Tendler, for instance, has opined that are seven basic types of generic tilt players experience. Other writers have written that all types of tilt are nothing more than shades of anger (e.g., anger at others, at your own play, and the poker gods, at your luck, etc..). Still others talk about ill-defined things like "winners tilt" and "giving up mentally."

If we use Tommy Angelo's definition of tilt, we should also add in all the non-anger deviations from good play (e.g., boredom, distraction, playing scared above our bankroll, not concentrating, letting ego get in the way of good decisions, gambling vs. maximizing expected value, etc.). In other words, there are lots and lots and lots of types of tilt.

So... I started making a list of all these. And then I made more lists and sub-lists. And then I read more and made more lists. And then I combined and conflated and divided and re-sorted and made even more lists. And slowly things began to jell. In the end, I kept coming back to eight basic categories of tilt; everything else just seemed to be a permutation or subcategory of one of these big eight. My eight categories are:
  1. Anger. This is actually a pretty wide category, including anger at yourself, the other players, your luck, etc.. but it boils down to shades of classic "steaming" tilt at the tables.
  2. Desperation. This is a category that covers behaviors and emotions like trying to get unstuck by gambling it up, chasing hopeless draws, playing above your bankroll, trying to force the action, trying to get bad players to fold, hoping your hand is good instead of folding, etc.
  3. Arrogance. This is nothing more than a person's Ego at play. Winners tilt, pride, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, feeling like you deserve to win because the other players aren't as good as you...
  4. Distraction. Whenever you surf the web when playing online, or check your text messages or the football scores when playing live, you're distracted, and therefore not playing your A-game. Angelo says you're on Tilt. I agree.
  5. Fear. Playing scared or weak-tight are the classic manifestations of this type of tilt. As tournament pros like to say, you have to be willing to die in the game. You need heart to win at poker.
  6. Complacency. Call it laziness and an unwillingness to do things like put other players on hands, or put in that last bet on the river because "the pot is big enough."
  7. Self-Doubt. Self esteem and trusting one's abilities and instincts are paramount to playing well. Can you pull the trigger when the time comes? Do you believe in your read on the villain, or don't you? And if not, why not?
  8. Anguish. This one also covers a wide spectrum, including disgust at one's past mistakes on previous hands, frustration at your luck, grief over a big pot lost... these are all types of anguish tilt.
I will write a lot more about these eight primary tilts in a series of future posts, but first I want to discuss how these are related to each other. Enter our old friend Plutchik and his Wheel of Emotions (first mentioned here).

As I wrote previously, Plutchik charted on a color wheel what he considered to be the eight primary human emotional states:
Note that these states are arranged in so-called "bi-polar" pairs. For example, on the left side of the chart (in red) is the primary emotion of Anger. Opposite of this on the right side (in dark green) is Fear. [Even to laymen like me, it's obvious this particular pairing represents the classic primal choice between fight or flight when facing a threat.] Other primary pairings include Joy vs. Sadness, Disgust vs. Trust, and Anticipation vs. Surprise.

There are also a lot of varying "shades" of each emotion on Plutchik's wheel (e.g., Anger ranges from simple Annoyance to outright Rage). And there are also blendings between primary emotions, such as Anger + Disgust = Contempt. And so on.

Now, I'm not fully convinced that Plutchik captured all significant human emotions on his wheel (at least in terms of poker emotions). Nor do I think he got the ones he did capture necessarily located in the correct area of the wheel (e.g., "boredom" does not feel to me like a shade of disgust-- but then, my degree is in engineering, not psychology, so I could be all wet.) 

Okay, that said, I do believe laying out emotions like Plutchik did on a color wheel, arranged in bi-polar pairs, is genius. So, being a big believer in R-and-D (Rip-off and Duplicate!), I stole liberally from his approach, essentially superimposing my eight categories of tilt on a color wheel of emotions like Plutchik's wheel. Here's my resulting Tilt-a-Wheel of Emotions:

Note the eight primary tilt categories are arranged in bi-polar pairs. Anger vs. Fear, Anguish vs. Distraction, and so on. Are my pairings perfect? No. Are they aligned fully with Plutchik's emotions. Not quite, but overall this layout does seem to fit pretty well with his model. More importantly, mapping tilts like this gives us a fairly reasonable framework that we can use to cognitively work on to improve our resistance to tilt.

For example, if you can recognize that your primary emotional nemesis is one of getting angry at bad beats, then there are all manner of techniques and tactics to a) recognize the trigger stimuli; and b) combat those feeling and put them back into check. The same goes for the other seven tilt emotions; psychologists and psychiatrists have lots of tools in their kits for dealing with these all of these types of things. The trick is first identifying the problem, which I think a spoked color wheel approach lends itself to.

I'm out of time right now, but in future installments on this subject, I want to delve a little more deeply into each of the eight tilt categories, focusing on what stimuli pushes us in that particular emotional cliff direction, and what kinds of tilt resistance is available to combat those slides off the tilt hill. More to come...

 All-in for now...

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