One of my best friends father was a chronic alcoholic. It was a serious and debilitating disease which ultimately took his family away from him, and then later him from them. I start this post with a slightly downbeat tone because it ties in with one of the morals of the story, namely that no matter how bad things can be, they could always be worse, and a frame of reference can help give us perspective. Ok…enough serious stuff.

So how does my mate’s dad liking a mid morning nip relate to poker I hear you say? Well, on a much smaller scale and on the frame of reference of poker alone, there is an equally debilitating disease which, much like an addiction, can be an unwanted influence on our health. By health I mean the size of our bankroll, and I am of course talking about tilt.

I used to tilt. I used to tilt a lot.

I don’t mean steaming. I don’t mean glaring down our opponent and delivering a back handed compliment like ‘nice catch’. I’m talking about that gut wrenching, lost to all reason, let me vault this poker table and commit murder using nothing but my opponents heart and a tea-spoon type tilt. I like to think of it as tilt rage.

Ok…a couple of proviso’s. Normally it took a series of bad beats, frustrating results and horrible but ultimately successful play on the part of my opponents to generate this level of tilt. It was the cumulative effect of many circumstances which ultimately convinced me that the poker gods were taking a royal dump from on high…and I alone was the target.

Interestingly, I found it difficult to attain this sort of tilt rage playing live poker. Perhaps it was the social constraint of not wanting to be seen to be unsportmanlike at the table. Perhaps it was just because I didn’t want to get dragged off a half pulverised donkey by a dozen thick-set security staff and banned from the local casino.

Whatever the reason, it certainly didn’t translate to online poker. There, from the shelter of anonimity, it was open season. The worst part is, I didn’t even do anything as neanderthal as punch walls, scream, or kick the neighbours cat. Nope…the way I dealt with tilt rage was to keep playing poker, and play BADLY.

I mean horrible bad. I mean shove every hand whilst cursing all and sundry and wishing to all the Gods old and new that the mother of the man who invented the game had been born sterile. Yep…pretty heavy stuff.

How did that work out for me? Yeah…awesome. Here’s what I’d do. I’d make a deposit, play my guts out for a month, grind up my bankroll 1000%, and then have one howling session where the rule of not having more than 5% of by BR on the table at any given time was lost to the urge to blindly decimate whichever mongrel had last done me wrong. I’d promptly donk off my stack, be filled with self laothing at having made what I knew to be a horrible decision, and then get depressed at how badly I played poker. Pathetic!

Now, despite how it sounds, I’m generally not a person prone to self destructive behavior or general lagubriousness. I don’t smoke, never did drugs, and usually managed to get any pent up aggression out through a good honest contact sport. Yet this scenario must have repeated itself over a dozen times. Eventually though, reason won out to rage, and I took a step back and had a good look at why I seemed determined to repeat this vicious cycle.

The cold hard reality was that I was making two fundamental mistakes. Firstly, I was playing at limits outside by bankroll. Loosing 1% of your roll to a bad beat just doesn’t hurt as much as loosing 10%. Having a run of bad beats which suddenly decimates your roll by 6% is nothing compared to a similar streak cutting it in half. I was losing the mind game which is so prevalent behind poker, and it had to stop.

The second mistake was that I could never walk away. Even loosing 10% of your BR doesn’t feel nearly as bad an hour after the fact as it did when you watched some ambit fool catch runner runner flush against your made set. Time lends perspective, and time was something I wasn’t giving myself. I’d saddle up, try to fight my way back, and even resort to going to HIGHER limits to chase fast. Talk about salt in the wound.

That stark realization (or I should say, self confrontation, since it didn’t take much introspection to really know what the problem was) happened many months ago. Since then, I’ve made progress. I’ve kept within my limits, I’ve played when I felt good about playing, and I’ve been winning both online and live. I’ve been at peace with the poker Gods.

That was until this week. I fell off the wagon, and I tilted hard.

I’ll spare you the sordid details lest this degenerate into yet another tired bad beat montage, but there was only so many times I could run high pairs into aces, sets into straights, and straights into flushes before the composure snapped. I’ll freely admit that two measly hours was all it took to put another huge dent in what was starting to resemble a promising roll.

So where has this horrible demise of my self restraint left me? That’s an interesting question. It’s a little scary when you come to understand that unless you make a significant and fundamental change to your poker playing tendencies that your bankroll, no matter how big, is never quite safe in your own hands. It’s also a little demoralizing to discover that it just might not be worth developing the skills to grind a profit in poker if all it takes to wipe the slate clean is the occasional freakish run of bad cards…which by the way, is almost certain to happen. Were I a pro…last week I would have had to seriously contend with the big B…broke.

I’ve read stories about poker players who have only deposited once, or even never deposited at all, hauling their way up from the humble free roll to poker greatness. I’m not in that camp, and I know why. Whilst there was probably a number of things those players had that I might not, the one very clear attribute which forged their success was discipline.

Simple…honest…discipline (freakish poker ability aside).

How do I plan to overcome this little problem of mine? You’ll forgive me if I keep asking questions in this post, because that’s actually how I’m going to try and beat the issue. I need to ask myself the question ‘do I really want to be a long term profitable poker player?’. If the answer is yes, then I need to start treating poker like the long term proposition that it is. This of course means keeping control of my emotions when that inevitable run of cold cards comes my way, and avoiding the tilt rage at all costs.

What I hope to attain is a little perspective…and to remember the simply fact that badly beaten is better than broke.

Wish me luck.

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