Gambling Tilt | The Slow Burn that Sets Fire to Your Money

Are you old enough to remember playing pinball as a child, down the street at your local arcade? If so, then you already know the score about the severe effects of tilt. It’s game over, goodbye metallic balls, goodbye points and goodbye quarter. We’ve all seen it happen. Seemingly on a roll, like a pinball wizard, all of your momentum is gone out in an instant thanks to a momentary lapse in judgement. Let’s be clear, the machine doesn’t tilt itself, it is a mistake by the player. Disgruntled, flustered and angry, the losing player reaches down into their pocket to dig for more change, all the while muttering expletives under their breath.

Designed to prevent cheating, manufacturers built in special ‘tilt’ switches on the underside of the playing field, the coin door and in the lower and upper cabinets. There are two kinds of pinball tilt, ‘Slam’ and ‘Incline,’ and they are equally harsh. Slam tilt is when a player shakes, kicks or pounds the machine violently, trying to guide the ball and keep it in play. Incline tilt is when a player lifts the front of the cabinet in an effort to send the ball back up the playing field. In both cases, the tilt sign flashes, the game is over, and you need more coins.

Pinball machines are not as prevalent as they once were but the term tilt certainly is. In fact, tilt has become a very popular slang phrase in poker rooms around the world. We use it to describe an opponent’s anger or frustration, or even worse, yours and it transcends poker. Tilt happens in all forms of gambling and, unlike pinball, it’ll cost you much more than 25 cents. In some cases, tilt has wiped people clean. Don’t let it happen to you. Think of it as the slow burn that sets fire to your money.

Gambling Tilt – A Common Occurrence

People playing slot machines at the casino

Your typical example of gambling tilt starts with you playing the slots and losing. You’ve been on the same machine for hours and you just can’t hit a win. The drink you ordered 30 minutes ago still hasn’t arrived and the couple beside you are screaming so loud it’s giving you a headache.  You’re getting annoyed. To make matters worse, a guy comes passing by, slams a dollar in a nearby machine and wins the jackpot on his first pull. Past your limit of $100, instead of leaving as planned you decide to stay. The thought being, “I’ll win it back!” You switch to blackjack, which is not your game. You play anyway and lose for an hour. Now, you’re down $200. Your drink finally arrives but the server got your order wrong and now you’re fuming. On a whim, as you exit the building, you put the remainder of your cash down on red and one spin of roulette. The ball lands on black.

In a flash, $400 has vanished, the house has won again and you’re left with that sinking feeling, “What have I done?” Instead of playing within your budget, enjoying the action and reflecting on a great night of entertainment, you are filled with guilt, remorse & financial horror. That’s tilt in action.

The Mental Game

“If you think about how you’re playing and divide it into a pie chart, next to strategy, psychology is the most important piece of the puzzle,” says Jared Tendler, a licensed mental health counsellor and performance coach. He works closely with professional poker players to help them eliminate tilt, improve focus, excel under pressure and play in the zone more often. His client base includes close to 500 players, some of whom are the best in the world. He advises them on the dangers of tilt and how it can be destructive to their bankroll. His lessons include topics like fear, which can cause the mind to freeze, motivation and confidence, which players need to move forward and not be held back.

Is your mind shutting down because your mind is so blindly raging that you can’t even think straight? Are you feeling the pressure because the game you’re playing in is too big for your bankroll? In these instances, you can make costly, snap decisions, that in hindsight you say to yourself, ‘what the hell were you thinking?’

Tendler is the author of The Mental Game of Poker, which outlines his approach to helping people play their best, no matter how bad they’re running in terms of luck, with simple step-by-sep instructions and techniques to permanently fix problems like tilt, variance and emotional unrest.

Various types of Tilt

In his book, Tendler outlines a number of different kinds of tilt and emphasizes the importance of spotting all the warning signs. Are you bored? Do you hate losing? Feel entitled to win? Or do you have trouble getting over a mistake? Or, maybe you haven’t been sleeping. If you answer yes to any one of these questions while you’re playing, chances are it’s time to stop. They are all sure fire indicators of tilt. While there are several kinds of gambling tilt, Tendler says the worst form happens when you are running bad.

The reason it’s such a severe type of tilt is not because it’s unique, it’s that it exposes all the other forms of tilt, which are getting triggered because you are running badly and losing a lot of money in short succession.  If you have very poor knowledge of variance you’re going to get pissed off because you’re running bad. You just don’t understand the dynamics of the game. You can’t control the outcomes, so you have to become more adaptive and good at identifying variance.

Who’s in Control?

In gambling, it’s quite simple; once your money is down it is no longer yours. It’s in play. You have no say on where the ball stops, how the dice roll, or what card is next off the deck. You cannot influence chance. The only control you have in making wagers is over your own strategy, decision making and emotional state. The choice to let results bother you or not is on you.

At a deep level, you’ve got goals, you’ve got money to make, you’ve got things you’re tying to accomplish in the game, and you’re losing. It’s all about control. It can create a lot of tilt. Essentially, in that state, you’re giving up control of your own game in an attempt to gain control winning.

The first and most important step in fighting tilt is to recognize it. Once you’ve done that, you can regain control of your emotions by taking the proper steps to alleviate the tilt. Whether it be taking a break, going for a walk, or calling it quits for the evening altogether. Remember, the odds are already against you, don’t make it worse. Treat gambling tilt like pinball, where it’ll only cost you pennies.

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver

Derrick Oliver Dewan is the founder of High Roller Radio and has interviewed a number of the world's top poker players and gamblers. A former radio and television broadcaster, Derrick was brand manager for Poker Pro Canada magazine and has written for a variety of publications, including the Toronto Star & Windsor Life.

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