Thursday, September 17, 2009

Worth a Listen

Tiltless chipYesterday I listened to this week’s Two Plus Two Pokercast. Another good show (as usual), with the second half devoted to a lengthy interview with poker coach, player, and author Tommy Angelo.

I’ve written about Angelo here before, having reviewed his book and even getting the chance to meet and have dinner with him last summer. Smart, funny, friendly guy who has a lot of insight into the psychology of poker.

When I met him last summer, I’d neglected to carry my copy of his book, Elements of Poker, to Vegas with me, and so missed the chance to get him to sign it. But he had a souvenir for me, a “tiltless” poker chip which I subsequently used as a card protector during the weeks I was there.

Not gonna rehearse the whole hour-long interview here, but I did want to share a reaction I had while listening. It was during the first part of the interview when the topic of conversation was tilt and how to avoid it. Co-host Mike Johnson started talking about those great players who seem able to avoid tilt altogether, and that led to Johnson asking Angelo a two-part question.

“The one thing I find fascinating when I sit at a live table is the player who can take a bad beat and just let it roll off them,” Johnson began. “Those are the players you always look at as the premium players -- the ones that just never get bothered by anything.” Then came the two-part question: “Can you tell the difference from somebody who it actually doesn’t bother versus somebody who it is bothering and is stewing on the inside, but they’re just not showing it outwardly and are able to control their image to the rest of the table, but inside they are actually letting it affect their game? And what’s worse, admitting it and actually having outward tilt or keeping it bottled up inside and not having it show to the other players?”

Two Plus Two PokercastAs I listened, I imagined my own responses to the questions. Then, like a poker player waiting for an opponent to act, I found myself anticipating what Angelo would say. I’ll admit to feeling a little overconfident about being able to guess Angelo’s answers. Having read his book, as well as having met him and gotten to know him a bit, I thought I knew what he’d say.

To the first question (I thought) he’d express humility and say, well, of course he couldn’t tell the difference if the player was successfully controlling his or her image. To the second question, I thought he’d say it was better to hide tilt, if you could, given the practical benefits of doing so.

As it happens, that’s how I’d have answered both questions. And as it happens, that’s not how Angelo answered ’em. Not at all.

“The answer to the first question,” said Angelo, “is I do believe I can tell... now.” He went on to explain that while he couldn’t do so before, these days he often (not always) can tell the difference between someone who is not tilting and someone who is tilting but hiding it because he himself is able to remain calm enough at the table to observe his opponents more closely. “I’m able to quiet myself to a degree that I think I can pick up on feelings that are buzzing around the table that I didn’t use to be able to pick up on when my own feelings were more dramatic,” he explained.

Angelo went on to use an analogy involving being seated next to a noisy generator pumping out 60 decibels of sound. Sitting there makes it impossible to hear something nearby that is less than 60 decibels. So, says Angelo, if you’re there at the table generating 50 “decibels” of “mental noise,” it makes it hard for you to notice the guy across the table who is tilting but hiding it and thus only transmitting 20 “decibels” of “negative energy.”

To the second question, Angelo also had a different answer than mine, and different from the one I’d guessed he’d have. But in this case, I think we were hearing the question differently. Rather than say it was best not to “admit it” and have “outward tilt,” Angelo replied that “accepting it is always the best thing.” He went on to talk about how “it is always best to be able to stop and to say ‘I am on tilt now’ -- in fact, that is the cure.”

Like I say, here I believe I was thinking of the question in terms of trying to get along at the table without giving your opponents free information, while Angelo was looking at the notion of “admitting” one was on tilt in a less literal way -- i.e., admitting it to yourself, not necessarily to others.

'Elements of Poker' by Tommy Angelo (2007)Anyhow, check out the show for more. And again, let me recommend Elements of Poker as an entertaining and informative compilation of Angelo’s many ideas. Angelo has built on those ideas in a new series of videos over on Deuces Cracked, titled “The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment.” (I remember him speaking about working on the series when we met back in late May.) I don’t have an account over there, but the series sounds worth checking out, so I may have to get me a trial membership or something. ’Cos reading or listening to Angelo always seems to have a positive effect for me and my play.

Indeed, after listening to the show, I played some online and as I did I very consciously avoided checking email, surfing the web, or doing anything other than try to focus on the game. Was in fact able to open up three tables as a result -- whereas normally I’ll only play one or two -- as I found myself with enough available mental capacity to handle ’em. In fact, the only extraneous activity I did at all was to riffle a few chips here beside the keyboard, including that “tiltless” one.

And the session went well. I played competently, but benefited a lot from a couple of very bad plays by opponents. Dunno if they were tilting or not -- indeed, now that I think about it, they probably were. I think I still had too much of my own mental noise whirring to be able to tell who was tilting and who wasn’t.

Was listening well enough to know I wasn’t, though.

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Blogger Sean G said...

I agree, it was a great interview. He's an interesting subject, and like you I am tempted to try out Deuces Cracked just on the strength of his demeanor alone. The idea of tiltlessness is very appealing...

9/17/2009 11:20 AM  
Anonymous rakeback said...

I had a subscription to Deuces Cracked last year and was really pleased with the site. Watching top players explain their thought processes is invaluable and it pays for itself pretty quickly.

10/14/2009 6:44 PM  

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