Thursday, December 20, 2018

5 On and Off Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

I recently wrote this for one of my students having emotional issues at the table and thought it could be of use.  There are 5 on table and 5 off table tips/areas that can help prevent tilt.  All of these can and should be applied to everyday life.

On-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

Stay involved in the process without focusing on money won or lost

A great way to do this is replay hands that went to showdown whether won or lost.  At each decision point, determine whether we accounted for our opponents shown hand as being in their hand range.  If so, great.  If not, make a mental note of where our hand reading broke down and why.  We've learned something not only about our opponent but where our thought process broke down.  Taking the time to do this carries the benefits of remaining unemotional and solely focused on the game.  The process is analogous to making a slam dunk or throwing the ball out of bounds and then immediately having to run back on defense.

Mike Krzyzewski, longtime head coach of Duke basketball has a great saying he's often shouting from the sidelines to his players, "Next play!".

Mastery is in the moment

It's all too easy to get caught up ruminating about the past or future and to experience anxiety as a consequence.  We're striving to stay in the moment each time a potentially stressful event at the table occurs: missing a value bet, getting bluffed, having a bluff fail, etc.  Maintaining composure and staying in the moment is a victory in itself and part of being a master of the game, and more importantly ourselves.  Every time we're able to accomplish this, it subsequently becomes easier to repeat.

I had a technique for this long before I had heard the word "mindfulness".  I frequently played pool with one of the best players in New England, also one of my mentors.  He'd often yell out, "Take me out coach!" after several consecutive bad "innings" or turns at the table.  He didn't actually have a coach but was stepping outside of his chattering conscious mind to judge his mental state.  Although he was doing this in a humorous way, it's something I adopted with poker.

When I felt emotions creeping into my game or was unsatisfied with my game for any reason, I'd think back to this and pretend I was the coach of myself.  I'd step outside of myself and try to look objectively at my mental state, my emotional state, my fatigue level, etc.  After doing this, I'd try to make an unbiased judgement as to whether I should continue playing.  It was almost as if I'd split into two people.

This not only served to make a good decision as to whether to continue playing, but took me away from the anxiety and stress.

If we do decide to keep playing, we're frequently back in the moment without the stress and anxiety.  There's a certain level of comfort gained in knowing that we've objectively assessed a situation and arrived at a rational decision.  The result of this is regained focus and composure.

Staying in the moment is a constant journey with no end, embrace the journey itself.

Identify things that take us out of the moment or put us on tilt

If we can identify these things, we can plan ahead for them.  Planning ahead facilitates quick recognition, which allows us to momentarily step back and control our emotions.

Victor Frankl, a well known Holocaust survivor, has a famous quote, "Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom."

Detach ourselves from outcomes

The only thing under our control is making the best decision with all the information we have available.  This includes our hand in the context of our typical range in the situation (balance), our opponent(s) range of hands, the position of our opponents, the actions of our opponents, the size of the pot, how we'd expect our opponents to play certain hands within their range, how we'd expect our opponents would expect us to play certain hands in our range (this can be taken to a 4th or 5th level), a plan for the hand including how future turn and river cards can potentially alter that plan, and lastly any past opponent dynamics that could lead to an opportunity to exploit them.

If this seems like a lot to think about in a matter of seconds, it unquestionably is.  All the more reason to keep our emotions at bay and prevent our much needed judgement from being clouded.

Lose our ego

This may be the single most important quality to have as a poker player and relates to the previous four topics.  It's also one of the most difficult things to achieve.

We are trying to make the best decisions which entails strategically outmaneuvering our opponents.  In order to do this we need to understand their thought processes and at times be able to sense or feel their emotions.

Losing our ego when we get outmaneuvered, or when we get caught up in our opponent's emotions after being outmaneuvered, is a very difficult thing.  We're trying to put ourselves in place of our opponents to better understand their mindset and emotional state.  In a sense we're trying to empathize with our opponent.  This can result in difficulty separating our own mind state and emotional state from our opponents.  This can be especially true when we're getting outplayed or taking bad beats.  This is sometimes referred to as emotional mirroring in psychology and is a human behavior that's evolved over millions of years to increase our chances of survival.

All of the aforementioned suggestions aid in losing ego.  We need to stay in the moment, stay detached, and come prepared for situations that can pull our egos into the game.  

Additionally, we need to remain neutral under all circumstances, whether we win or lose.  Imagine someone berating us at the table and giving us bad beats.  The next hand, we cooler them with full house over full house.  It would be very tempting to say something like, "There's justice!".  But to remain ego less, we should say or show nothing.

One problem (of many) with allowing our egos to be baited into this (however satisfying it may be), is that we have little control over future hands.  Chances are we'll take a bad beat or get coolered by this player at some point.  We're setting ourselves up to exacerbate the situation when our egos and emotions get tempted into the game.  Everyone at the table benefits from this except the two people caught up in their egos.

Remaining neutral is victory.  Eventually everyone is put in the same difficult situations.  Even dealing with a belligerent player giving bad beats is something everyone will ultimately encounter.  If we adopt a long-term view, this is an opportunity to separate ourselves from other players.  It's very difficult for anyone to remain neutral in this type of situation, and few people can.  If we can, we win and pick up expected value.

There is a good quote by Buddha that speaks to this, "Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind.  If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow."

Off-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention

1. Nutrition

Starting here because it's what I have the most knowledge of.

Disclaimer:  What works for one person isn't necessarily optimal for the next person.  I can offer general recommendations, which on average work best for a group of people, but not necessarily any particular person within the group.  This is referred to as bio-individuality and relates to genetics and epigenetics (environment).

If you don't feel like reading through this lengthy section, there are three things everyone can do to drastically improve their health without reading further:

1.  Eat whole foods whenever possible
2.  Remove as much refined sugar from your diet as possible (doesn't include fruit)
3.  Remove as many processed carbs as possible.  Processed carbs include things like sodas, fruit juices, donuts, cake, canned fruit, etc.

Animals or Plants?

There's a lot of debate in this area but one thing nearly everyone agrees upon is that we should have lots of fruits and vegetables in our diets.  I don't believe in going to the extremes of being a vegetarian or carnivore.  Though for some people with extreme health issues, the ends of the spectrum can literally be life saving.

A whole food diet centered around vegetables and fruits with some fish and meat seems to be the happy middle ground where the majority of people are on board.  Ethical considerations aside, I'm in this camp as well, as humans evolved over millions of years eating both plants and animals.  There are beneficial and even essential nutrients that can only come from plants or animals, so supplementation is likely needed if you do opt for an extreme.

Worth noting that the evidence behind red meat (not processed meats like salami, pepperoni, etc.) causing cancer is shoddy at best.  For more on this, there's a good recent debate between two well respected doctors in the field, Chris Kresser and Joel Kahn, that took place on the Joe Rogan podcast:

Grass-Fed Beef?

Although more expensive, grass-fed beef is healthier than traditional grain-fed beef.  It contains more nutrients including Omega 3, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), beta-carotene, and alpha-tocopherol (precursors to vitamins A and E).  It's unclear which type of beef has the greater environmental impact.

Recommendation: Go grass-fed if you can afford it

Wild Caught Salmon or Farmed?

The jury is out on this one despite all the claims of wild caught being healthier.

Farmed salmon, on average, has been found to have higher concentrations of Omega 3 (DHA and EPA) due to its higher fat content from farm feed.  The is also true of trout, bass, and cod.  However the farm feed can vary from farm to farm as can the fat content of wild salmon depending on when and where in their life cycle they were caught in the wild.

Wild caught fish have been found to have higher concentrations of vitamins A, B12, Iron, Zinc, and Calcium.

There are environmental concerns on both sides I won't get into.

Recommendation: Eat either one.  They are both great sources of Omega 3 which are lacking in the rest of our diets in relation to Omega 6.  In fact, salmon along with mackerel have the highest source of Omega 3 across all foods.

Organic or Conventional?

Again it may surprise you that the answer isn't so clear.

First, there's little to no difference in the nutritional content between the two despite the many claims organic foods contain more nutrients.

Second, both use pesticides.  The difference being that organic pesticides are naturally derived, with little known health ramifications, whereas conventional are synthetically derived.  Additionally, there was a study in 2009 across 25 countries that found 8 different prohibited pesticides being used across "organic farms".  The bottom line is you never know quite what you're getting.

Third, even though pesticide residues, on average, are found in greater quantities in conventional food, they're still well below the allowable limits.  And given the relatively low amounts found, there isn't convincing evidence to date that they are associated with greater health risk.

Recommendation: Buy organic if you can afford it, otherwise go conventional.  More important to get enough fruits and vegetables in our diets.

Vitamin Supplements?

A resounding yes here.  The benefits of vitamins are numerous.  In particular, Vitamin C, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), and Vitamin D have tremendous health benefits.  All the B vitamins are particularly good for cognition and mental health.  For more on this:

Despite numerous erroneous articles and television reports (thanks Big Pharma), nearly all vitamins are safe even taken in large quantities.  According to the poison control center, there were 10 reported deaths due to vitamins over a 23 year period and none in 2017.  The exact cause of those 10 deaths is even questionable.

Compare this with prescription drugs, where over 100,000 people die each year from properly prescribed drugs.

If you're looking for a quality multivitamin, Thorne Research has them.  They've consistently been rated one of the best supplement manufacturers in terms of quality and healthiest additives (fillers).  They are a bit pricey however.

2.  Time Restricted Eating

I gave this a category of its own because there is a mountain of evidence pouring in, seemingly daily, that points to tremendous health benefits including improved energy and cognition.

Time restricted eating (TRE) is limiting our food intake to a window of 12 hours or less per day.  Ideally we'd like to eat within an 8 hour window as we'll reap the most benefits but there are even benefits being shown in studies restricting the window to 12 hours.  Ideally, we'd like to eat in line with our circadian rhythm, our first meal within a few hours of waking up and our last meal at least a few hours before going to sleep.

In a well known study, Satchin Panda fed mice the standard American diet (SAD) of high sugar and processed carbs.  He split the mice into two groups, one that could eat the diet around the clock and the other was restricted to an 8 hour window.  The mice eating around the clock predictably had a host of diseases including metabolic and fatty liver, and were obese.  The mice eating the same unhealthy diet within an 8 hour window didn't gain weight and had almost no incidence of disease.

There are a number of new studies taking place that involve humans.  The results are mirroring the results found in mice.  People are eating whatever they want, within a small time frame (8-12 hours a day), and are losing weight in addition to reversing chronic conditions.  It's shocking to say the least.

There is a good article on TRE here:

Both of these podcasts on TRE with Satchin Panda are excellent:

And if you really want to go deep on this topic:

3.  Exercise

Not much to say here.  The benefits of exercise are numerous and well documented.

Lift weights and do cardio.  Ideally, 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week of moderate to high intensity exercise.  High intensity interval training (HIIT) is best.

If you hate cardio at the gym, take a walk outside in the sunshine for 45 minutes.

4.  Sleep (Rest and Recovery)

This is an area nearly all poker players struggle in, along with the vast majority of Americans.

We should shoot for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep, ideally 8 or 9 per night.  The negative effects of lack of sleep can't be understated.  It impacts nearly every cognitive ability negatively.

Americans average about 6 hours of sleep.  Worse, they're unable to recognize they're functioning sub-optimally.  They've become so accustomed to sleep deprivation that it feels like their base mind and body state.

Some tips for sleeping better:

-Reduce the temperature in your room prior to sleeping.  Our body temperature needs to drop a few degrees before falling asleep.  The ideal temperature for sleeping is 65 degrees (not a misprint).

-Shut of as many lights as possible at least one hour prior to going to sleep.  If you need lights on, try turning half the lights off.

-Reduce exposure to blue light a few hours before going to bed.  IPhone has a screen setting that will do this.  There are also programs you can download for your desktop/laptop that will do the same.  If you really want to get serious, try blue light blocking glasses:

-Don't consume coffee within 8 hours of going to sleep (the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours).  This means that even after 10-12 hours, 25% is still circulating our systems.

-Get sunlight during the day.

-Eliminate all noise.  A sound machine or fan works great for this.  There are also apps or even YouTube videos with white noise.

-Try to fall asleep and wake up at similar times each day.  For more on this, read the Circadian Code that's linked above.

-If you're having trouble sleeping, leave your normal sleeping place and try somewhere different.

-Don't do anything in your bed other than sleep.  We want our subconscious to only associate the bed with sleeping.

This is a fantastic podcast on sleep:

I recommend any podcast with Matthew Walker in it.  He's a professor of neuroscience at Berkeley and founder of the Center for Human Sleep Science.  Incredibly knowledgeable and has lots of interesting insights on sleep.

5.  Meditation

Not much to say here as I think everyone is aware of the benefits of meditation at this point.  In particular, meditation is an amazing aid for all the "On-Table Essentials for Tilt Prevention" listed at the beginning of this post.  It creates that space between stimulus and response that Victor Frankl alluded to.

In terms of Podcasts, Sam Harris has some excellent ones with well known meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein:

Dan Harris (CBS news co-anchor) has a good Podcast series devoted to meditation:

Some apps you can use:

Calm, Headspace, The Mindfulness App, Buddhify


  1. "Take me out, coach!" I could envision Billy the kid saying this comically, but seems unlikely one would refer to him as a mentor... maybe Tony R.?

  2. Do you recommend getting both the am and the pm multivitamin?

  3. I do, that's what I take. I believe they are formulated for maximum bio availability. In other words some vitamins are absorbed better during the morning and some at night.

  4. is there a big difference between the am/pm vs the 2/day? the ingredients look largely the same, overall higher dosage in the am/pm, wondering if worth the convenience and cost of just popping 2 a day vs 6.

    1. Not sure on that. I actually listened to a Podcast the other day where someone from Thorne was discussing the multivitamin formulation but I can't find it now. If I come across it again I'll post a link here.

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