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by Basil Nestor

Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

Itís slipping awayÖ You can see it, and everyone else can see it, too. Embarrassing. The big tall stack of chips you had an hour ago is blunted and quickly shriveling. You have a beautiful pair of queens, but they go down in foul regicide when the dealer has a 6-5 that draws a jack for 21. Then you get another 20 but it pushes. Next comes a promising 7-4. You double down and draw an anemic 2; the dealer wins the hand with a 17.

Nasty. And then the coup de grace. On the next hand you split 8-8 against a dealerís 6, draw a couple of 3s, double down on both to make 19 and 20, then lose everything when the dealer draws to a 16 and gets a 5 for a stunning 21.


How often does a rolling catastrophe like that happen? Sad to say, pretty often. In a typical hour of play, you have about 15% chance of losing at least 36 or more hands out of 60. Thatís a 3-to-2 ratio of losses to wins or worseÖ for a whole hour!

Of course, youíll also have lucky streaks, but bad beats and bad streaks donít necessarily come in nice predictable chunks to gently offset positive streaks. Sometimes losing is long, mean, and profoundly disturbing.

Itís a dangerous situation when almost anyone may be tempted to go on tilt and off strategy. Some players lose the count or begin using progressions. Others mangle basic strategy, doubling on a 9 against a 7, or similar ill-advised moves. And when all else fails, those in the fiery grip of a full-blown mega-tilt may yell at the dealer or push all remaining chips in on one Hail Mary hand.

If youíre one of the fortunate few who never tilt, then youíre blessed because even world-class players sometimes lose it. My favorite notorious example comes from the world of tennis.

Sometimes Even Champions Lose It

Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. But in 2009 she blew a chance to win $1.6 million at the U.S. Open simply because she went on tilt.

The tennis star reached the semifinals against Kim Clijsters, but Kim was ahead in the match. Obviously, a game isnít over until itís over. In this case, Kim had to beat Serena by two points to finish the match and advance.

Serena lost a point on a foot fault. If youíre unfamiliar with tennis and donít know what a foot fault is, no worries, because what happened next was the fatal move. Serena got hostile with the umpire who made the call. According to CBS Sports, she screamed at the lineswoman, "Iím going to shove this f*** ball down your f*** throat!" That resulted in a one-point penalty, just enough to push Kim ahead and end the competition.

Bammo! Serena lost her chance to win $1.6 million. Blown on a tantrum.

SoÖ Regardless of how luck turns in awful ways, the real damage to a personís chances of winning happens when that person goes on tilt and compounds bad luck with poor strategic choices.

Five Tactics to Avoid a Tilt

Donít let a tilt happen to you. Even if youíre cool like frost in most situations, even if youíre a world champ, it always helps to be prepared, just in case. Here are some practical tips.

1. Know the warning signs. Self-awareness can help you pull back. Signs of a tilt include deviating from strategy, being distracted or confused, shame, anger, fear, paranoia (that the game is rigged), or deep unhappiness. Extreme cases include outburst against dealers or fellow players. These items seem obvious when you read them in an article, but in the heat of the game itís sometimes difficult to see that emotions reflect the frustration of losing. Yelling at a dealer is a sure sign that a tilt is in progress.

2. Once you know that a tilt is happening, or is on the way, then you should stop play immediately if possible. Obviously, stopping is difficult in a tournament. But generally, you should step away from the table to collect your thoughts. And donít rush back. Quit the session entirely if youíre seething. Before you step back to the table, go through items 3-5.

3. Evaluate your play. Be honest. Did you make a mistake, or was it bad luck? If you made a mistake, then deal with it and fix your strategy. But if you played correctly yet still lost, donít take it personally. If you have shame about losing, keep in mind that the other players hardly know you, and frankly, they donít care if you win or lose (except in a tournament). Your skills and chip stack are of no importance to them. Ditto for the dealer (unless youíre counting in a cash game). So release the drama of shame.

4. Remember that the object of your frustration, the loss, is an event that happened in the past. Even if it was just two minutes ago, itís over. The next hand is entirely new and unconnected to the previous trial. If you play again in one minute or one year, the cards have absolutely no knowledge of the time difference. So donít rush. Take it easy and cool off. Take a walk, get a cup of coffee. Relax and get some perspective.

5. Donít be greedy. Letís say you win $1,500, and then lose $750 back. Yeah, that sucks, but youíre a net winner. Donít lose it all by going on tilt.

These items assume that you havenít hit the loss-limit of your session bankroll. Of course, it you nuke to the limit, then youíre done for the night. Period.

Even with a short stack, any player has a legitimate chance of coming back. But he has no chance when his bankroll is gone, or he has been ejected from the game.

So your job is to stop a tilt before the really bad stuff happens. That will give you more chances to play, and more ways to win.

By the way, to Serenaís credit, she regained her composure, and two days later she came back to win the womenís doubles with her sister Venus.


© copyright 2012 Basil Nestor

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