What tilt looks like (or, how I turned $1 into $20,000)

What tilt looks like

There are a couple factors at work here.

First, my 2nd-place finish at the $4.40 180-man SNG triggered a textbook case of the Peter Principle; I promoted myself from my level of competence ($6.50 SNGs) to my level of incompetence ($16 SNGs and $20 180-man SNGs). There were a few ITM finishes, so these weren’t total disasters. But they were net negative and took a huge chunk from my $200 bankroll that I’ve been nursing since 2003.

Second, after exhaustion from 4-tabling for a couple weeks, I wanted to try thinking a bit deeper about my plays, going beyond the ABC strategy that generally ekes out a reasonable profit in SNGs. That’s a good goal, and it’s obviously crucial to becoming a better poker player, but (a) I’m not very good at it yet, (b) I used it as an excuse to stay longer in second-place hands, and © I applied it even to turbo SNGs, which doesn’t make any sense because the answer to the question “What is my opponent thinking?” is almost always “absolutely nothing.” A mechanical, tight-preflop, aggressive post-flop strategy continues to be optimal in turbos, and any second-guessing disguised as deep thought simply doesn’t help.

So what to do? Well, notice the little red smudge in the bottom right of the graph that points upward if you squint. That’s me after listening to a podcast from Chris Ferguson. A couple years ago, as a personal challenge, Ferguson started with $1 in an online account and worked it up to over $20,000. The specific numbers aren’t particularly interesting; anyone who can afford $1 can probably afford $100, and $20,000 isn’t enough to quit your day job. What is interesting is Ferguson’s discussion of his bankroll management during the challenge. He never risked more than 5% of his bankroll on any single table. For example, if he had a $20 bankroll, he would play only $1-buyin ring games, and $1 tournaments. (Obviously, he had to make exceptions at the very beginning, because there isn’t much you can do with 5 cents even on an online poker site.)

Besides limiting downside risk – you won’t go broke unless you hit a 20-event dry spell at the lowest buyins – Chris’s approach creates a nonmonetary incentive to succeed at individual events based on the assumption that higher- buyin events are more fun to play. Suppose my bankroll is $120. I can’t enter $6.50 tournaments anymore because that would risk more than 5%. That sucks! But I do have enough to enter $3.40 tournaments, and if I come in first place, I now have $132 – just enough to play one $6.50 tourney.

Applying a new bankroll management strategy, as well as attempting to use the right basic strategy for SNGs, seems to have stopped the downward slide. I’ll no doubt keep bumping up against incompetence as I build my bankroll and move up in buyin levels. But if I tilt again, at least it’ll be at a lower price.