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Old 09-19-2014, 11:36 AM   #57
Jared Tendler
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Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: New York
Posts: 303
Re: positive poker vs mental game of poker

Originally Posted by Mason Malmuth View Post

A Mathematical Model of “Tilt” — Cause and Cure

by Mason Malmuth

While I agree with you that a gap in logic, or a logical discontinuity, is part of the equation for what causes tilt, what’s missing in your analysis is a clear identification of the byproduct of a logical discontinuity within poker. You identify humor as the byproduct of a joke, so naturally there would be a byproduct for poker too. I think it can be seen from the description you give of players who are tilting: getting upset, playing in aggressive manner, demanding, yelling, and steaming. In other words, they’re angry. Anger is the byproduct of a logical discontinuity in poker.

Being angry doesn’t automatically mean a player will play suboptimally. For example, a player who gets pissed off for having made a few mistakes early into a session/tournament and uses that anger as motivation to perform at a high level thereafter. Most often, however, anger leads to suboptimal play. Why anger sometimes leads to bad play can be explained by the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which shows the relationship between emotion and performance.

When any emotion rise too high —anger, fear, excitement, etc—higher brain functions, like thinking, are compromised. The brain “shorts out” as you say. As emotions continue to rise on the right side of the curve, performance drops because a greater degree of thinking is lost. (On the other side of the curve performance suffers when a player is lacking enough energy to think—tired, bored, depressed.) This shutting down of higher level thinking when the emotional system is overactive is often called the “fight or flight mechanism.” I think you take this term too literally; it’s doesn’t have to mean a physical fight. A player who becomes much more aggressive with their play while on tilt, is fighting, just with chips not fists. No matter what the mechanism is called, the organization of the brain dictates that the emotional system has the power to shut down thinking. If it didn’t, a player could be rage tilting and they would retain the ability to think and thus they wouldn’t play suboptimally. The loss of thinking is what causes poor decision making, and excessive emotions is what causes the loss of thinking.

A logical discontinuity is what causes anger in the first place. So I agree with you that understanding the reality of poker is critical. However, I disagree that all of the causes of tilt can be cured with this one solution. Players tilt for a variety of reasons: They hate making mistakes, they hate other players (for reasons such as being arrogant, talking too much, their playing style, and how they treat the dealer), they’re super competitive and hate to lose, they think their better than everyone else and that entitles them to win (ex. Phil Hellmuth). These reasons to tilt are far more personal in nature, but they influence the way many players approach and play the game. The discontinuity in logic that leads to these types of tilt need to be fixed, just as it does for tilt caused by gaps in knowledge of poker. Through a deeper analysis of a player’s reasons for tilt, we can identify and break down flaws and gaps in their logic, and correcting that logic over time cures their tilt.

I don’t think we’re far apart on our analysis of the cause and cure of tilt. The role of emotion was missing from your analysis, and in my view that factor is too critical to omit. Correcting tilt, just like acquiring knowledge, doesn’t happen instantaneously. While a player is in the process of learning the correct logic they need to take steps to prevent their emotions from getting too high. Otherwise the loss of thinking prevents them from consciously applying logic that could be used to correct their tilt while playing. This active application of logic dramatically increases the pace of learning and the pace in which a player can cure their tilt problem. Plus it can also save them a lot of money.

There are more details and theory surrounding my points here—including theories about learning that are in my book. If you’re interested, I’m happy to send you a copy with sections highlighted for you that most pertain to this discussion.

All the best,
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