Updated on 09/17/2011 10:51PM

Take a deep breath and stop playing on tilt


You're sitting in a no-limit game when a tight player raises, a loose player re-raises, and when the action comes to you, holding a 5-7 offsuit, you raise it up again. Not possible, right? You can't play that bad, can you?

But you're not playing bad.

Bad players simply call in that spot. They don't know any better. You do. You know that the loose player, in for a bet already, is going to take the bad price on the pot and absolutely call, and that the tight player wouldn't be in there if he didn't have a hand in the first place. Your 5-7 is worthless, and you know it. But you do it anyway, deliberately.

You're playing on tilt.

Imagine for a second that you went to the racetrack one weekend and were a little short of funds. You blow two grand on Saturday, then borrow a thousand from the missus and two off the shylocks on Sunday trying to get out. For anybody who's ever taken this month's rent to the track to turn it into next month's rent, trying to get out is a bad way to go to the races. That positive attitude just isn't there, and usually by the last race neither is the money.

You can't play with scared money. Scared money leads to poor decisions, and poor decisions lead to disastrous results, as when you don't have the heart to use all the horses you should in the last-race super at Aqueduct - and that super hits. Going into the race, you're just playing scared. Coming out, you're on tilt.

After taking that beat in the super, you're angry and want revenge. The super paid $5,000; exactly the number you needed to get even. If you were to play the next race - say the 10th at Calder - and there was a suspect favorite, you would play it like a normal person: Toss the favorite, and box the next two likely horses in exactas.

But not when playing on tilt. On tilt, not only do you toss the favorite, you bet only triples using the next two likely horses and throw the favorite out completely. That's re-re-raising with 5-7 offsuit against two opponents when you know both will call.

You lose your sense of judgment, just like you do when you kick the pinball machine after making a mistake.

But you never start off on tilt. You have to work your way up to it. Even the drunkest of drunks won't come to a poker table and push all-in with a 5-7 on the first hand. A series of events needs to occur to get you to that special place, like missing the super you should have had or getting sucked-out repeatedly by weaker players.

Wherever there are weak players in the poker world, the good players like to recite to themselves how these suck-outs are good for the game, how they know that the cards will break even in the end and that losing on the river to a suck-out once in a while keeps the suckers coming back for more.

Great - except when it happens 14 times in a row. At one time or another, even the best of players will go on tilt. Your confidence is shot. You think that no matter what happens, you're going to get sucked out again. You're losing with aces. You're getting called by K-9 offsuit and losing. You have a 17-card chance to make your hand on the river, and the 2 of clubs falls to make the other guy a set.

Acting rationally is always an option - like waiting for the next hand, maybe. But why play smartly when you have the opportunity to play badly? It gets geometrically worse; you even start limping with kings. Sheer lunacy! Who would think that KK could possibly get cracked by a 6-8 after a K-5-2 flop. When you're playing on tilt, that 4 and 7 will come runner, runner every time.

It's not the suck-outs that are killing you. You're the one playing bad, not them. These are players who routinely call with these hands. That's why we're sitting at this game in the first place. It's not their fault. It's yours - for stubbornly and continually raising with hands that aren't worth it.

Try sitting in a game with nine players who are better than you. There's no such thing as going on tilt. When you play in that game, they have a different word for going on tilt. They call it losing.

When better players do it to you, it's all good. Get better and get back in there; someday you'll beat them. But doing it to yourself by playing 5-7 because you're mad is like tossing the favorite in the 10th at Calder for no good reason and then telling the story to an angry loan shark about how you should've had the $273 exacta but didn't 'cause you were playing on tilt.

Kurt Paseka, a former turf writer, is a regular at New York City tracks and has cashed in the main event at the World Series of Poker.