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Smart poker players avoid going on tilt – “Steaming.” The consequences can be drastic.

Playing $3-$6 limit, I observed a profound example of a player on tilt. He was STEAMING with a capital S.

He was a middle-aged man seated across the table from me. He called to see the flop almost every hand, suggesting that he was playing hands that should have been mucked … a Poker Pigeon!

As he bought more and more chips, I thought how much my Hold’em Algorithm could help him; but it wasn’t for me to be his Good Samaritan and tell him about it.

On tilt, it got worse as the game progressed. At first, he folded a fair number of hands on the flop, presumably when it didn’t help his hand. But as the time passed, he played almost every hand to the river, calling with ace-high or a small pair. His face and his words expressed anger.

At one point, I became the target of his venom: He was in the big blind. Three players folded to me; I raised with pocket jacks. The players behind me folded to him. He had the option to call my raise or re-raise. He folded and then glared at me: “Why did you raise me?!” he screamed aloud. He was STEAMING!

‘On Tilt’ Defined

According to Wiesenberg’s The Official Dictionary of Poker: “On tilt – playing poorly and irrationally due to emotional upset, often caused by the player . . . having had a good hand beat by a freak draw from another player . . . or the player having lost a pot because of his own bad play.”

I don’t recall seeing anyone “suck out” on our steamer; the cause was his own bad play – especially calling to see almost every flop. On one hand, I saw him show down 9-6 off-suit, which he had played from an early position. He flopped a pair of sixes and called the rest of the way. It did seem that luck was not with him; even so, he did little to help his cause.

On tilt, he played wildly, almost with abandon, as if the chips had no meaning to him – except he never raised. He played much too passively. He was relying on good luck to help him win a pot; and he did indeed win a few small pots when his hand connected. Apparently, he never heard of “value betting” to try to build the size of the pot when you expect to win it. (The students in my Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen poker class/lab have learned that there are 13 reasons for raising, one of which is to bet for value.)

It Can Happen to Anyone

 Going on tilt isn’t limited to poor players. Even a good player can find himself going down that steam-laden path after a series of bad beats or frustration over never improving on the flop, or getting rivered hand after hand. It happens – even to the best of us.

 A smart player will sense this and try to gain control – rather than start to play with reckless abandon. He might take a break from the game. Have dinner. Go outside for a walk; breath the fresh air. Think about his mistakes; about his opponents: Should he play differently against any of them? Walking back into the casino, resolve to play his “A Game.” Alternatively, it might be a good time to call it a night. Go home; get a decent night’s sleep. Plan to play another day when he is more relaxed and alert.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected]

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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