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In 2011 Jared Tendler coined the term Entitlement Tilt to describe Phil Hellmuth’s antics this week.
In 2011 Mental Game coach Jared Tendler desribed seven types of tilt in his book The Mental Game of Poker, one of which he literally named after seeing Phil Hellmuth’s blowups. Ten years on and Phil is still doing them, so today we have the excerpt from that book to describe what Phil was doing.
At the root of entitlement tilt is the belief that you have the right or deserve to win for such reasons as working harder, being smarter, and having a longer career than your opponents. It’s classic Phil Hellmuth tilt. He often reacts in ways that suggest he believes his previous accomplishments have earned him the right to win, regardless of how he currently plays.
Entitlement tilt happens when something you believe to be rightfully yours has been taken. Winning is a possession that you already own and when inevitable losses mount, it’s as if you’ve been robbed by someone not deserving of winning—either a regular or a fish.7 Often the first signs after losing are disbelief, shock, or even laughter because you can’t believe what just happened.
Soon after, or as losses pile up, tilt sets in and players have thoughts or make statements such as:
“The cards shouldn’t matter. I can outplay them.”
“This guy sucks. How can I possibly lose to him!?”
“I’m too good to allow that to happen.”
“This guy doesn’t even belong at the same table as me.”
“Other players don’t work as hard as I do.”
“I’m supposed to win against fish.”
Losing to Fish
It seems illogical to be pissed off about losing to fish. You know they have to win in the short term, yet for some reason it still tilts you. As a player with a huge edge against fish, it makes sense why you would expect to win and consequently tilt when you lose. The problem is you’re equating the level of variance in poker with the level of variance in sports. In major pro sports, such as golf, soccer, baseball, and basketball, when there are large differences in skill between players or teams, variance has little to no effect on the outcome.
A professional sports team never loses to an opponent with the level of skill that’s analogous to the fish in poker (unless they’re competing in a charity event). There isn’t enough variance in those sports for it to happen. In baseball, numerous bad calls by umpires will not help a high school team beat the New York Yankees. In golf, the weather and course terrain contribute a lot of variance, but Tiger Woods would never lose to an average country club golfer—not even if Tiger had to use three clubs and hit every shot from his knees.
Examples like this are true in every major sport, including mental sports, but they stop with poker. Nowhere else do vastly superior players lose at a higher rate in the short term. As a player with superior skill, you may not realize that entitlement tilt happens when you make the same mistake that a weaker player would make. Poker is partially a battle of the perception of skill.
A big part of your profit comes from your opponents miscalculating their actual skill and sitting in games where they are insurmountable underdogs. Winning against you and other regulars helps fuel misconceptions in how they view their skill. They think they’re good enough to have a chance against you, while you think your edge is so big that you should win all the time. You and the fish both make errors in calculating your respective skill level. Your errors cause tilt when you lose.
Losing to Regulars
When losing against other regulars, you might think, say, or feel something like this:
“I hate when they think they’re better than me.”
“They do things so blatantly bad. I have no respect for their game.”
“I know I’ve worked harder than this guy.”
“I know I’m better.”
“They must have gotten lucky.”
“I hate when the terrible plays they make cost me money.”
The central reason why you tilt losing to regulars is the same as why you tilt losing to fish: miscalculating your skill. It’s just in a slightly more complex way.
Among regulars, the edges are small and more difficult to clearly define. Players often rely on a feeling or a sense that they have about their edge against other regulars. This sense is something that’s indefinable in practical, real, or objective terms, but they’re convinced it’s true. Not having actual proof of your edge doesn’t mean that your gut feeling is wrong. However, if you are relying on a feeling to define your edge, you must take into account the underlying flaws that cause entitlement tilt.
If you believe you have an edge but can’t prove it, you’re relying on a feeling or sense to define it. Remember, though, that your opinion is biased by the underlying cause of why you tilt when losing to a regular. You want to believe you’re the better player, and this flaw makes your opinion unreliable. It very well may be true that you are a better player, but without proof to back up this feeling, you’re gambling. Knowing how you stack up against your opponents is a huge part of poker, and it’s a skill you need to improve along with your technical skills.
Rather than feeling as if you’re a better player, prove it. Do this by improving your ability to determine who has more skill between you and the other regulars. It may seem impossible, but as with any other skill, it becomes stronger the more you work on it. Plus, just by working on it, you’re already thinking in a way that prevents entitlement tilt from showing up.
Avoid getting caught believing your opponents don’t improve. Often there are two hidden beliefs within entitlement tilt that cause even more anger:
You will always be better.
They will always suck.
Poker players make shitty psychics. Most likely, other regulars are going to improve. If you’re a better player right now that doesn’t mean you always will be. Assume they’ll improve, and put in the necessary work to stay ahead of them.
This is an excerpt from The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler and yours truly.