Mike Caro poker word is Time

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.

When you make bad poker decisions, you lose money. That’s obvious. But the concept is so vague in players’ minds that it sometimes isn’t enough to prompt them to improve. I’ve found a better way to motivate you to play better. And I’m going to share it with you today.

Sure, it’s just a psychological trick. Whenever you condition yourself mentally to play well, that’s really what’s happening – you’re tricking your mind. But you’re tricking it in a good way. Today I want you to forget about losing money. I want you think about losing time. It’s a distinction that’s important only because losing time will scare you more than losing money. Are you doubtful? Well, you won’t be once you’re done “listening” to this lecture that I delivered shortly after launching Mike Caro University of Poker in the late 1990’s.

Please pay particular attention to this one…

Time after time

This is one of my most powerful lessons, assuming you’re interested in playing your best game all the time and making the most money possible. Almost everybody who is playing poker for a living or seeking to be a professional player someday truly believes they can control themselves in a poker game. It’s just a matter of making the right decision time after time and not yielding to emotional stresses that might cause us to play a substandard game.

Let’s talk about “tilt.” In Las Vegas and some other areas, when a player starts to play poorly, because he’s taken too many bad beats or is otherwise emotionally distressed, they call it “steaming.” They say you can see the steam coming out of a player’s ears as he plays ridiculously in an attempt to chase the money he’s already lost.

But, I don’t use the word steaming. I use a word that’s more common today. You know the word I’m talking about. It’s “tilt.” If you’ve ever played pinball, you know that the word “tilt” perfectly describes what happens to many poker players when they’ve taken one too many bad beats or are otherwise emotionally out of tune with their best game.

Tilt comes from the game of pinball. If you shake the machine too strongly, the lights go out, the flippers don’t work, and a sign flashes that says, “Tilt, tilt, tilt!” Well, that’s what happens to poker players who lose too many pots and get shaken too badly. Their lights go out, their flippers don’t work, and the word “Tilt” practically flashes on their foreheads.

Dreaded disease

They say this happens to everyone quite regularly, but it doesn’t have to.

In just a few short minutes today, I’m going to cure you once and for all of this dreaded disease called Tilt. Yes, I’m going to play with your mind and use a psychological trick, but let me do it. You’ll be glad.

There are several reasons for tilt. But they all have one thing in common – the player on tilt doesn’t really care about money at that moment as much as he previously did. Maybe he’s passed what I’ve previously defined as Caro’s Threshold of Misery, beyond which the loss is so substantial that adding to it doesn’t increase the pain – the pain is already maximized. Or maybe he’s suffered one or more bad beats and he’s trying to recover quickly. Whatever the reason, a player on tilt is playing substandard poker, chasing too many pots, making too many calls, and often raising unwisely.

Here’s the psychological trick I promised you. Money is not as much of a motivator as it should be at those times. You feel you can get it back somehow. But, I’ve found that at periods like this when emotions rule over logic, time penalties are much more threatening than money penalties.

That’s why I’m asking you to start thinking of Tilt as wasting time, instead of money. Let’s say you’re a $20 limit player of fairly strong skills, making $25 an hour when you play well. That’s not nearly world-class profit, but at least your making a living. Let’s say you go on tilt for two hours and throw away $550 needlessly. Sure, that’s just money and maybe your bankroll can afford the luxury – at least that’s how you relate to it emotionally. Maybe you’ll get lucky in the next few minutes by chasing pots and you’ll get it all back. That’s how people on tilt think.

A deeper hole

But that’s destructive, because by chasing, you have the expectation of losing more money, whether you actually get lucky or not. You’re digging a deeper theoretical hole by taking the worst of it, no matter what happens. You should avoid this by thinking that you make so much money per hour (which is true, on average). In this case, it’s $25 for the hours you play your best game – so the more hours you play well, the more $25 you’ll win.

But now, you’ve needlessly gone on tilt, played badly, and surrendered $550. Don’t think about the $550 – that’s probably a number you can tolerate. Think about the hours it will take you to earn this money back at $25 an hour!

Now it’s a catastrophe. It will take you 22 hours, on average, just to get that money back, plus the couple hours you’ve just wasted by playing bad. That’s 24 hours of actual play. If you average six hours a day, that’s four days – 80 percent of your work week.

A whole week in two hours

All that time gone. Yes, if you’re a regular professional player, you’re now going to have to play for almost a whole week just to pay for the luxury of being on tilt for two hours. And for what? Did you enjoy it?

All I’m asking you to do is, before you allow yourself to go on tilt the next time, forget about the cost in money – just think of the time you’re wasting. All that time that could be used to push you ahead in life completely wasted. Most of the next week completely shot down – a virtual jail sentence waiting to punish what you’re about to do. If you think about it that way – that lots of valuable time, not just money, is about to be wasted – I’m betting you won’t go on tilt very often.

This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


10 thoughts on “Mike Caro poker word is Time”

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  1. Time is money and I agree with you Mike,
    However Steve Zag has a excellent point,
    this is my first visit to your site and I think it is great !
    Grey and full of matter.


    Kelvin Kiewiet

    1. Hi, Kelvin —

      Thanks for making your first post and joining our Poker1 family.

      I hadn’t seen Steve’s comment (above) until you mentioned it. Usually, I’m alerted to every comment by administrative e-mail, but that one seems to have slipped past me. I’m going to reply to it now.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  2. I’m not one to argue with the master — Well, yes I am.

    If you’re going to calculate based on your expectation when playing well, then you have to do the same when playing poorly. If you are on tilt and you lose $550, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your expectation was that bad. If you are a +$25/hour player when playing your best, then, when you are playing on tilt, you might be a -$50/hour player, or even -$100/hour, but probably not a lot more than that. Sure, you might lose $550 in a couple of hours (Who is really on tilt for two whole hours?), but you might get stupid lucky and win a couple of hundred, too.

    My point is that if you are using expected value rather than short-term results for one side of the equation, then you should be using it for both sides. After all, the reason you went on tilt is probably because you were playing your solid +$25/hour game but then lost a bunch anyway.

    1. Hi, Steve —

      Excellent points.

      Let’s assume that the $550 lost in those two make-believe hours was actually what was expected, based on terrible play.

      I might later revisit this entry and clarify that point. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether you measure hours lost in accordance with results or projections, though. It will equal out over time.

      But you’re right in saying that the the hours lost should be based on the expected dollar cost of the bad plays. Otherwise, you might get lucky and win for the two hours and have cost yourself nothing. But, as you’re pointing out, if that happens, you still have lost time and, theoretically, money.

      Actually, I had that concept in mind when I wrote (in the entry): “But that’s destructive, because by chasing, you have the expectation of losing more money, whether you actually get lucky or not.”

      Let’s assume the $550 lost was a true measurement of bad play while on tilt (as I intended it to be). Then the rest will be clear.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  3. EXCELLENT! Time is money….and we seem to forget that sometimes
    in the heat of a game. What’s the old saying, “money saved is money earned”. Keep it up Mike…I love your “stuff”

    1. Thanks, Pappyjack. Now that you’ve made your first comment, you’re officially a member of our growing Poker1 family.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. so you’re saying if we take more than three bad beats in an hour we should go to the bowling alley and play pinball. i’m believe i get it. i think i’m finally starting to understand you.

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