The Grind

Stephen's Poker Blog

  1. 2008-01-15 02:43:41

    Superstitions, The Long Run, and Tilt

    First off, I would like to say that I think it's a shame the San Francisco Poker Meet-up Group was targeted by the police. What a waste of time and money. Aren't there any REAL gambling rings to break up? Here's a link to a thread on the 2+2 forums about it.


    The human brain is very good at picking out patterns and adjusting to them. "TOO" good in fact. I hear it all the time. People will make comments about how the cards are running and in turn make bad decisions based on small sample sizes . To compound matters they even have selective memory within that small sample. These decisions often border the line of superstitious. People who are normally smart, rational, and not apparently superstitious will often go to great lengths to justify their illogical actions at the poker table. It's amazing. Then you throw emotions into the mix and a genius IQ can become a chip spewing fish.

    But not me...right? That's something that donkeys do.


    We all do it. Even the most seasoned pro is sometimes off their A game. There are many manifestations. Someone who's running bad might become weak-tight and make unnecessarily large bets and raises with their made hands because they "always get sucked out on." They never bluff, and they miss the chance to value bet a marginal hand that's likely to be good. They just check it down instead. Other times someone will feel the need to "play the rush" and take chances they wouldn't normally because they've been running like a god. And some go on monkey tilt because "the worst hand always wins anyway." Now all this is a mix of incomplete information and emotion combining in ways that are often very subtle. It's not usually as neat and obvious as the examples I gave. But it's always there, that "primal common sense," incapable of understanding the counterintuitive nature of chance and probability. And it's always ready and waiting to rob you of your calculating and dispassionate intellect.

    Well, I've all but rid myself of superstitious reasoning. I will sometimes make an observation out of frustration that implies the odds are unfairly stacked against me, but no part of me actually believes it. It's just an outburst. Because of the time I've put into taming that "primal common sense" and the hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) hands of poker I've played, I have a very strong faith in the long run. It's simply a law of the universe. Don't misunderstand me. You might win millions in a multi-table tournament and still be a donk (Jamie Gold). But continue playing without the skills and you will lose it back (again, Jamie Gold :p ). All you have to do is compare the Poker Tracker results of several online pros who've played a million hands to see how the laws of math treat everyone fairly. There's no way Jamie Gold could have made the same amount of money grinding out cash games on the internet.

    So what about tilt? What about emotional control? Well, there I'm in dire need of improvement. I've told myself this before and have attempted to work on it, but today it became perfectly clear that it's a more serious issue than I thought. Let me clarify that tilt doesn't always mean donking off whole buy-ins because you're too pissed to care. It can creep in without you realizing it and hurt your cognitive processes just enough to drop your win rate considerably.

    It was after 9pm and I only had about two and a half hours before tables would start dying. I decided to put in a short session. I felt focused and ready to kick some donkey ass. (lol! accidental pun) My recently purchased burrito bol from Chipotle was steaming on the desk next to my keyboard. WOO! Bring it on! Before long I was sitting 5 tables. Two 3/6 NL ($600 max) and three 2/4 NL ($400 max) tables. Most were 6 player maximum tables, so the short handed play was generating the usual and necessary increased action relative to full ring play. Chips were flying; I was being aggressive and making good decisions. Within an hour I was up over $1400. Not uncommon at all for these stakes. One of my 2/4 NL tables died. I remained sitting alone in case someone wanted to play heads-up and hopefully fill the table up again. Then a short while later a guy sits with $135.85. Well, when someone sits with such an odd amount it almost always means two things. One, that amount is their entire account balance. And two, they are a donkey. Within just a few minutes of play the latter assumption was confirmed. It wasn't long before he was all in and flipping a coin for the rest of his money. He won the flip. Then everything went to poker hell. He was playing every hand and being very aggressive. He doubled again when I flopped two pair and he flopped better. I was annoyed but still focused. But the BS just got worse. Pretty soon he had turned that $135.85 into $1500. ALL FROM ME. Again, these kind of swings are normal, and if I had lost the money throughout all my tables I would have been annoyed but still on the ball. But to lose it to this donkey who was calling every reraise, making wild bluffs and getting lucky just sent me over the edge. It felt scripted and rigged. Heads-up play is very fast and high variance. I almost never get this tilted unless I'm playing heads-up.The table eventually filled up again. Mr. Donkey lost back down to $1000 when he was caught bluffing by one of the new comers, and he immediately left the table. My glorious plans for revenge were lost. After the heads-up trauma had lost me back to even I managed to win back about $700 on various tables before I quit for the night. But I was still annoyed, distracted, and hating poker. I knew I had missed opportunities and hadn't made full use of the information available to me during that session. And not just at the heads-up table, but at every other table as well. That's partially the reason I decided to quit. Who wins $700 and is too annoyed to play poker? Me I guess. I came to my senses and felt like an idiot for getting so wound up over this stupid donkey. I know this can happen. I'd seen this before. One time I had worked a 3/6 NL table up to 3k. Then some crazy maniac sat to play me heads up and within 25 minutes I was felted. $3000 worth of bad beats and coolers in 25 minutes at a $600 max buy in table. INSANITY! How is it possible? What are the odds? ....but remember the long run. I continue to win despite crazy variance and insane maniacs. It shouldn't bother me so much. But it does.

    Solutions? Well, I can work more on my emotional control. I can glance at my average hourly rate and remember the good days. I could learn to meditate and become a cold, emotionless poker machine before each session. But I'm not a Vulcan. Those ideas sound nice, and maybe they would help. But they are a small comfort when the donkey is wasting you for hundreds of big blinds. Honestly, if I can't calm down then the best thing to do is quit playing. Just quit. When you are losing not only do you play worse, but often your opponents will play better. Your bad run of cards gives you a bad image at the table and makes it much harder for you to bluff. It can also make it easier for your opponents to run over you. And those negative image dynamics exist no matter how well you continue to play. Even a world class player like Phil Ivey is known to quit when he is running bad. You've got to push every edge you have to maximize your wins in poker. Sometimes the best edge to push is quitting for a while. If I can apply this then I will be even more of a force to fear at the tables. Besides, what's the sense in prematurely generating gray hairs over some fish who's about to bust his account? ;)

    Posted by uzjedi at 2008-01-15 02:43:41

Comments on “Superstitions, The Long Run, and Tilt”

    • avatar for Jason M
    • Great post, Stephen, even for somebody who can lose that much money to a complete donkey! Hahaha.

      First thing I thought of while reading it - when I'm playing the "double-up" strategy, I buy in for odd amounts to make it appear I'm ready to go home. ;)

      The situation you describe is a tough break, though. It's good that you are aware enough to analyze it after the fact, even though it took a bit too long to get outta there. It's nice to hear somebody with hands-on experience reinforce the long run, the ridiculousness of superstition, and the usefulness of emotional control.

      And quitting definitely can be a positive EV play :)

    • anonymous
    • Agreed. Good point. Reflecting on the decisions of the session is very important. Check out the hand histories if the site you are playing on makes them available. And, regardless of tilt, note taking is always a must. :)

    • anonymous
    • I've been through and I still go through similar situations you mentioned above. And I agree the best thing to do is to QUIT. Chill for a little while, but think about what happened. Make sure you analyze the hands and see if you could've played any different if you were not on tilt. Playing online gives you the luxury of saving your hands for later analysis. Do it. Also make sure you write notes on some players you play regularly with. Some guys play the same day in and day out.

    • anonymous
    • LOL... chip spewing fish. Great post.