The Math Behind 7 Tilting Situations and How to Respond | Poker Podcast #210

I discuss 7 tilting situations, the math behind each and what you can do to respond effectively to them.  It takes lots of work to get beyond tilt, and this one’s going to help you immensely.

In episode 209, I answered 3 questions about playing 3bet pots, improved cbetting and set mining.

Improving Our Reaction to Tilting Situations (2:50)

Tilt is a bankroll and win rate killer, and you must get beyond the things that tilt you most often.

Poker is one big math problem and by knowing that, you’d think that we could look at poker totally rationally and logically, and emotions should never be an issue. But of course, that’s not the case.

There are so many things that happen on a session by session basis (and multiple times per session) that can cause us to get angry, frustrated or upset. These negative emotions can lead to what all poker players fear the most: TILT.

Sometimes we’re able to get beyond the anger or the frustration and move on to the next hand with clear rational thought and +EV decision making. But, other times these things set us off and we begin spewing chips with bad calls and bad bluffs.

The goal of this podcast is to help you train your brain to be less reactive. We need to become aware of our emotional responses and learn to control them. With each tilting experience we face, we have an opportunity to improve our reactions. We can take a deep breath, calm our emotions and respond with a +EV decision.

We don’t have any power over what happens at the table or how our opponents act. But, we do have 100% power in how we choose to respond.

As we practice being calm and controlling our reactions, over time we’ll get better at it. The goal is to eventually not allow anger or frustration to cloud our judgment and to be able to respond thoughtfully 100% of the time.

For the 7 situations today, I will discuss the math behind each to help you understand or at least to look at the situation from a logical, rational perspective. These mathematical insights may help us to get beyond the emotions that the situations nationally bring forth.

After discussing the math, I’ll give you some tips on how to appropriately respond to each.

1. Missing the flop over and over (4:55)

Do you know how often an average preflop 2betting range misses the flop?

It’s surprisingly often. Your average opening range is probably around 25% or so (less in the EP and higher in the later positions), but, we’ll use 25% as an average.

25% range and Flopzilla

Given this range, how often do you think it hits top pair or better on the flop or an open-ended straight draw or better? The answer is only 34%!  If you only hit the flop 34%, you’re missing 66% of the time. That’s 2 out of every 3 flops you see as the preflop raiser.

With something that happens more than half of the time, why does this cause our frustration to rise? If something happens more than half of the time, we should come to expect it and learn how to deal with it.

If 66% of the time you came home and your kids didn’t have their homework done yet, what would you do about it? Would you just yell at them every single time that they need to get their homework done? Or, would you try to design a system and create a plan for every day after school that will help them do it before you get home? Yep, I’m right there with you; create a system.

Tips to Respond:

1. Expect to miss every single flop, and be happy when you actually do hit it. If you expect to miss it, you won’t be as upset when it actually does happen.

2. Choose the right sizing for your bluff cbet. Just because you miss the flop doesn’t mean you can’t still cbet. Against most opponents, cbetting can convince them to fold a majority of their hands. Just choose the right size that will accomplish this.

3. Consider your opponent and their stats before you decide to bluff. Take a look at their Fold to Cbet, their Check-Raise stat and their Raise Cbet stat before you make that bluff. And if you feel really uncomfortable with bluff cbetting, drop down in stakes and do some cheaper bluff cbetting practice. Cbet bluffing in a 2NL game is much less stressful than your normal 25NL game.

2. Overcards to your pair on the flop (7:40)

This is a very common situation. You raise preflop with QQ, you get 2 loose-passive callers, and then the flop comes A54. “Dammit! Things were looking so good until that flop. FML.”

Let’s look at the math behind the situation. How often does your strong pair become an underpair on the flop?

  • KK, according to Flopzilla, will be an underpair on the flop 21% of the time
  • QQ: 34%
  • JJ: 42%
  • TT: 44%

The lower your pocket pair, the greater the chances there will be at least one overcard on the flop. Now that you know how often this is going to happen to you, you should just come to expect. Hopefully, this expectation of an unfavorable flop will help to lessen the pain of it.

Tips to Respond:

1. Look on the bright side… this might just save you money. The other day I was dealt QQ and I 3bet preflop. The open raiser just called and the flop came A54. I figured this opponent has AK, AQ and AJ in their open/calling range. So, I didn’t make the cbet and my opponent didn’t like the Ace-high board either because we both checked it down. At SD Villain had KK to beat my QQ. Thank goodness he was a passive player in general and wanted to slow-play those KK preflop. And, I saved a lot of money thanks to that Ace on the flop. Sure, looking back at the situation, maybe I should’ve made a bluff cbet. But I didn’t, and I ended up saving myself some money.

2. Try to remember that just because the overcard comes on the flop doesn’t mean your opponent hit that card. If they fold often enough to cbets, like 60% or greater, you should generally throw out that bluff cbet. If they decide to call, bummer. Just give up the hand unless you turn or river something good.

3. Loose aggressive players on your left constantly 3betting you (10:05)

At any table, take a look at the players who are on your left and gauge how often they 3bet. For any player whose 3bet is greater than 10% by position and versus your position, expect a 3bet. If you expect the 3bet, then once again, you won’t be so angered by it when it does happen. And because you expect that 3bet, you’re going to be just fine opening and then folding your hands, or you may even choose to adjust your preflop ranges because you’re expecting that 3bet.

Tips to Respond:

1. Tighten your open-raising range. Your opponents won’t realize too quickly that you tightened up. This is your opportunity to have more hands within your open-raising range that you’re willing to defend with. Now who’s taking advantage of their opponent’s style of play?

2. Leave the table. If these players are making it too difficult on you, and you do not want to try to fight fire with fire nor narrow your ranges, leave and find a better table to play on.

Life’s too short to play on unprofitable and un-fun tables.

3. Open raise with hands that you’re willing to 4bet with. These might be outside of your normal ranges, but you want to punish them and take down their bluff 3bets. Suited Aces make for very good 4bet bluffing hands, as do KQs and maybe even KJs. All of these hands have pretty good blocking power to AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK and AQ.

4. Being targeted by strong players (12:00)

This is related to the prior tilting situation. Sometimes you come across who you suspect is targeting you with aggression. Maybe it’s both preflop and post-flop. When you suspect this, make a note of it and think about the situation you’re in. Why are they targeting you? Are you opening-raising too frequently? Do you fold to 3bets or cbets or check-raises too often?

Your answers to these questions will help you determine the proper strategy to use against the player. Utilize their stats to gauge how they may be displaying too much aggression, and devise strategies to exploit their exploit of you.

Tips to Respond:

1. Play against them in position. This only happens once per round if they’re on your direct left. But, if they’re two or three seats over, you have more opportunities. They may choose to ignore a positional disadvantage and still aggress against you, but that makes their aggression a bit more risky and they may be less inclined to do so. And with your positional advantage, you may be able to turn the tables on them.

2. You can leave the table and find another more profitable one.

3. Pull them up in your PokerTracker 4 database and dissect their play. Now that you’re off the felt, you have more time to look at their showdown hands and find patterns you can exploit in their play. Do they size their bluffs smaller than value bets? Are they honest on any specific street? Do they get aggressive with draws but slow play their made hands?


Check these out:

The featured song in today’s episode was called “I Tilted” by Luigi Cappel.

I was interviewed by Rahul Singh of Pokernews India.  Check out the article.


Start your audiobook learning by picking up ‘Preflop Online Poker’ through Audible.com. Click the pic above to begin your free 30-day trial or to purchase the audiobook version if you’re already a member.

5. Suck-outs (15:20)

Suck outs used to set me on tilt until I learned a bit more about them. Here are some things I learned:

1. We remember the bad suck outs that hurt us, and we tend to forget the good ones that helped us. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone back through my database during a study session and found a hand that I completely forgot about. Like times when my T9s sucked out against AA. Or hands when my gut shot sucked out against top set.

2. I don’t have the best short-term memory, so I don’t remember bad beats the next day. Since I realized this, I’ve decided to just get over them quicker. So, now I often don’t remember them even an hour later.

3. I understand that just because your hand is ahead now, that doesn’t mean you will win at showdown. This is about understanding probabilities and sometimes an unlikely event is still going to happen.

Preflop Example:

Pocket aces versus 54s has about 80% equity. That means that if the money got all in preflop, the AA would win 4/5 times. This means 54s will win 1/5 times. I used to think to myself. “AA! I’m going to win this hand no matter what.” But that’s not the case. We all know the luck involved in poker, and the luck is there for you and for your opponents. This understanding should hopefully curtail the anger you sometimes feel for preflop suck-outs.

Post-flop Examples:

  • Your set versus a fd will win about 74% of the time. That means that 26% of the time, or ¼, your set will end up losing.
  • Your TP versus a bdfd has 94% equity. It’s almost a lock, but 1/15  times you’ll still lose the hand.
  • Your overpair AA versus a gut shot has 65% equity. So, the gs will catch a better hand 1/3 times.

Here’s the takeaway: Inferior hands still have some equity, but they cannot fight the math indefinitely. Most of the time the better hand will win. So, be understanding when things don’t go your way, and be thankful when you’re the one who sucks out.

Tips to Respond:

1. Be happy you were such a favorite and made great theoretical value. Your fishy opponents can’t escape the math forever.

2. Take a five-minute break. Just step away, go for a walk, use the restroom, drink some water or do some push-ups. If you’re feeling good, get back to the game. If not, end the session.

3. Keep in mind that you suck out just as often as your opponents do. What comes around goes around.

4. Be happy that suck outs exist because that’s what convinces the fish to make terrible plays. When your opponent calls with the gut shot knowing they are behind, they made a huge mistake and you just made tons of theoretical value from them. This is what makes poker profitable.

6. Fish building huge stacks (18:55)

This doesn’t put me on tilt, but I’ve heard it affects others. Some players get angry when the fish wins three or four big pots in a row and goes from 100 big blinds to a 400bb stack.  Suck outs happen and they can happen consecutively. I’ve seen fish build 500 big blind stacks before within 10 minutes at a table.

Tips to Respond:

1. Keep this logic statement in mind:

Every dog has their day, and every fish gets filleted… eventually.

2. Now the fish has more money to give you with their bad decisions. Be patient and wait for good opportunities to play against them.

3. Winner’s tilt is now a possibility. This fish is winning so much that they can begin to feel invincible. So, they start calling and betting in terrible situations. You can use these opportunities to bet and raise for extremely good value when you have your big valuable hands. Don’t try too hard to filet these fish. Let them jump into your boat, flop around a bit and land on your cutting table. You’ll be there waiting with knife in hand.

7. The fish won’t fold (20:10)

Even the weakest of players know about bluff cbetting. They’ve learned to not get blown off the hand so easily. So, how do you know you’re up against one of these non-folding fish? The first thing you’ll do is look at their Fold to Cbet stats on the flop and the turn. If it’s anything below 40%, they don’t like folding.  And if it’s as low as 10-15%, they absolutely hate folding. So, when an opponent is not folding, what should you be doing? You should only be betting for value. Remember my motto:

If they ain’t folding, we ain’t bluffing.

That’s the critical thing that too many good players sometimes forget. They’re so used to betting and getting their opponents to fold, that when they come up against somebody who is not folding, they forget about the option to check.

Tip to Respond:

1. When they ain’t folding, you ain’t bluffing. Value bet only against these non-folding players. If that means you must occasionally check and give up on a pot, so be it.  Just be patient and wait for the right hand to come along and get max value from these non-folding fish.

Challenge (21:30)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Choose the one situation out of these 7 that tilts you the most often and work on it in every session this week. You know it’s going to happen, so plan for it. Take the tips I gave you and put them on a sticky note on your computer. Add any other tactics you can think of to help you deal with the anger as well. Read the sticky note before your session to help you keep in mind what you’ll do when the inevitable tilting situation occurs.

Now it’s your turn to pull the trigger and do something positive for your poker game.

Support the Show

Chris Carney supported the show when he picked up PokerTracker through my affiliate link.  I sent him my Smart HUD in appreciation for his support.

Up Next…

In episode 211, Peter “Carroters” Clarke will be on the podcast again.  He’s the author of The Grinders Manual and he’s got some killer GTO-related strategy to share with us.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.

Sky Matsuhashi