White light goin' messin' up my mind was a Velvet Underground lyric stuck in my head that had been playing on an endless loop after a horrendous online session at the $1-$2 and $2-$4 nolimit tables. Some days you play atrociously. Other days you don't catch any breaks. A recipe for disaster is when both of those scenarios happen simultaneously.
I automatically became a magnet for bad beats. Big Slick succumbed to weak aces on two different instances when my opponents caught their threeouters and paired their kickers. I was adrift in a storm of nasty beats and I quickly lost my vision. Every couple of minutes I screamed obscenities at my laptop because the onslaught was relentless.
I sucked up the beats and reloaded. My opponents were inferior and there was plenty of money left on the table-the majority of which was mine. I can withstand a bad beat, even two or three in any given session. I shake them off and focus on the next hand. But once that fourth and fifth beat sinks in, it's tough to shake it off. The white heat lingers and a burning sensation rockets through my entire body.
The white heat? Tilt. White light goin' messin' up my brain. White light driving me insane. Tilt lurks around behind every corner. You never know it's there until you're knee deep in it. I never should have made the third rebuy. I should have logged off my computer and done something else, like listen to music or watch a movie. Alas, I didn't listen to my gut. I'm stubborn. And I was on slight-tilt. I usually have control of my actions at the tables, but there are times when I lose complete control due to temporary insanity. Slight-tilt is a gateway drug to mega-tilt which is difficult to avoid when you don't have perspective on things.
It's far easier for me to critique my play several hours after the fact than in the heat of the moment. But that's the point ... that when the stakes matters the most, I sometimes make terrible choices when I'm on tilt. In order to avoid that costly mistake in the future, I have to do a better job determining when I'm not playing optimally.
My gut initially told me to bail, but I talked myself out of it. I continued to play through the maelstrom of beats. Despite my sloppy play, I won a couple of pots including a coin flip and thought that I was back on track. That's when disaster struck. I got felted with pocket queens when my opponent couldn't lay down Big Slick on an uncoordinated board, despite two pot-sized bets from your hero on both the flop and the turn. We got in all-in on the turn and when that king spiked on the river ... I lost all semblance of cool. My sanity slipped out the back door and ran down the alley past the homeless guy making a ruckus digging through the dumpster for cans.
I found myself at a dead end of emotions. I was convinced that I could get unstuck, or at the least, win back half of my losses. But I also knew that my decision- making abilities were less than optimal. If I continued, I was exposing more of my bankroll and could easily be down a couple of more buy-ins within the hour. The only way out was to say goodbye, retreat, and return to fight another day.
I'm still amazed that I can play solid poker for several weeks straight and then surreptitiously play like a complete fool. At this stage in my poker life, those outbursts happen less and less frequently ... but they still happen. Someday, I'll plug that leak. For now, I'll throw on a few pieces of duct tape and hope it holds. Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire is a writer, poker player, and avid traveler from New York City. He's the author of the Tao of Poker blog which can be found at http://taopoker.blogspot.com.