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Going on tilt is dangerous to your poker health.

It’s not uncommon for a player to get so emotionally upset when he suffers one bad beat after another. At that point, he may start playing irrationally. And so he loses more and more chips.

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Some call this “steaming” — letting off steam by going wild at the poker table. It can also happen to a player when he makes a terrible decision — a very costly one; sometimes he knew it was a big mistake from the start. I call them “tilters.”

Be smart. Don’t let this happen to you. Realize that bad beats do occur and take it in stride. Always continue to play your A-game no matter the situation. If necessary, take a break from the table and go out for some fresh air. Think about it; and calm your anger. Don’t allow yourself to become a tilter.

It is not uncommon for an opponent to go on tilt. Having a tilter at your table can be much to your advantage as he almost randomly tosses his chips into the pot, while he has very few outs. We often refer to that action as chasing. Chasers are losers.

Quite likely, the player on tilt gives little thought to the number and quality of outs he holds. We love to play against tilters.

Aggressive players are likewise quite common. Some of the most skilled players use aggressive play when it is to their advantage. On the other hand, there may be an extremely aggressive player at your table. He raises and reraises almost with abandon.

On average, a player can expect a playable starting hand to be dealt to him about one out of four hands. It will vary over time. But if you have a player at your table who consistently stays to see the flop (a loose player) and then plays very aggressively, read him as a danger to your poker health. We call him a “maniac.”

It will be very costly to start with any hand lower than a made hand — A-A, K-K, and Q-Q, or premium drawing hand — A-K, A-Q, and K-Q.

We love to play against tilters. Prepare to accept all the chips they “donate” to you. Considering that your goal is to win as many chips as possible, could you ask for anything more?

On the other hand, it’s just the opposite with maniacs. Best advice in such cases: Play very cautiously; and try to get seated to the left of the maniac. Then you can muck borderline hands when he raises before you and stay to see the flop only with your better starting hands. In the long run, that would be to your advantage.

Alternatively, consider taking a break from the table, hoping he’ll be gone before you get back. If not, you can always change to a better table. Don’t hesitate when it is to your benefit to do so.

What if there are two maniacs at your table? That is an untenable situation unless they are seated next to one another, and you happen to be seated to their immediate left. Get out of that game as soon as you realize what is happening. Take a long break or change tables ASAP.

What if both a tilter and a maniac are at your table? It happened to me recently in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. Your racks of chips could get whipsawed into oblivion in no time at all. It’s never fun to go broke. Avoid it.

What’s your best course of action? It’s probably wise to take a break, hoping that the maniac will leave the game before you return; so, then you can compete against the tilter — without the maniac to complicate the matter. If that doesn’t work, then a table change is your best decision.

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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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