The Tilt Chronicles – Little Man Syndrome

I think if you have the opportunity to bully your opponent, you have to take it – Venus Williams

We were stepping sideways in a circular motion and a circle of kids surrounded us.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I was shitting myself and I gripped the compass in my hand so hard I thought I could melt it. My opponent didn’t look as scared as me; I assumed his constant grinning meant he was actually enjoying himself. His cricket bat dwarfed my compass. I started to regret hitting him in the first place. Stupid Dad, why did I have to listen to him? Next time someone calls me a Chink I think I am just going to take it.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!”

Ten years later and I am walking outside of a nightclub after a good night out with my mate. I am stopped by the entrance of the club by a bloke who asks me if I have a fag? Not wanting to give my fags away to a complete stranger I tell him that I don’t have any.

“I’ll take that one then!” and he reached forward and grabbed it from my mouth.

I started to waffle about how he would be swallowing it in a minute; and before I knew it I was on the floor getting my head kicked in by him and a group of his friends. After a while they stopped kicking but I wanted more. The thought of being beaten by anyone, at anything, was very difficult for me to accept. My mate, who was with me at the time, thought I was nuts. Here I was in front of ten blokes, who were hungry for blood, shouting.

“Come and have a go if you think you are hard enough!”

This is how I used to deal with matters when I was younger. I believe the phenomenon is known as little man syndrome and I blame my Dad. Incidentally my Dad’s nickname when he was younger was Titch Davy so I assume he also suffered from little man syndrome hence the advice. The advice was simple – if someone was applying pressure to you or your life then apply it back with ten times the ferocity.

“Sooner or later they will find someone else to pick a fight with – someone who won’t hit them back. It doesn’t matter how big you are; nobody likes a punch in the nose.” Said my Dad.

I have a routine before I start my online grinding session. Part of this routine involves me reading some affirmations aloud to myself. I have been fortunate enough to be a student of, poker mental game coach, Jared Tendler. Tendler wedged open my eyes, which allowed me to see that I had triggers and tendencies that would show up in my game and create flaws. Some of these flaws were wide enough to take an elephant for a walk in. So I have created some affirmations to remind my mind that I have certain problems.

One of the things that Tendler gets you to understand is the difference between being aware that a problem exists, understanding what to do to rectify the problem and then eventually being a master of it. Some people, like me, jump ahead of themselves – right into mastery. I guess after last night’s display I still have a long way to go before I can call myself a master. In fact I think the only moniker that I can hold with the title master in it is the world champion masturbator.

So I read my affirmations out aloud. My wife thinks I am talking to her.

“What?” she shouts from the bathroom.

I decide it’s better not to get her involved in my voodoo magic so I reply.

“Nothing.” Before whispering to myself.

I hope my mind can hear me when I am whispering?

I start playing and decide that I am going to play six tables tonight because for the past few nights my concentration levels have been high. This is my treat for holding my concentration. A few hours into the grind and I am playing and feeling good but there is one opponent who has caught my eye. His name is MrStarch and he is on all of my tables and is pretty deep on them all; this gives me the indication that he must be doing something right. I know he is a regular in the game but I don’t have any recordable notes against him. He is raising me with impunity and I force myself not to three-bet him light because of my lack of stats on his play. So I decide to take it. I take some deep diaphragmatic breaths and remember my coach’s words of wisdom. I reframe the situation and remind myself that it is just part of the game and just wait patiently for a hands and then use his aggression against himself.

He raises me again.

And again.

And again.

MrStarch! The name starts to wind me up. I look at his avatar and I am sure it winks at me. The avatar he has chosen suits his name and they are both stupid looking.

He raises me again.

I cannot keep my eyes of him. I cannot allow him to continue to pound on me and take it. I need to show him that I am capable of fighting back. Maybe he will pick on someone else if I fight back? Doesn’t he know that I am good? Why is he this guy picking a fight with me? I’ll give him a fight. I’ll show him who he is messing with.

I pick up AQs on the button and open to $5 (The game is $1/2) and MrStarch raises me again making it $20 to play. I decide to call thinking that he will continue with his blind aggression. I’ll show him. This is time for me to stand my ground and fight back. The flop is 852r and he fires and I call instantly. The turn is a 9 and again he fires and again I call instantly. The river is a 4 and he moves all-in and I call instantly. MrStarch turns over KK and takes all of the money from my Ace high three street call down. I look at his avatar and this time it is not winking but laughing uncontrollably. There are tears streaming down its face. This in turn makes me even angrier. MrStarch then disappears and my anger rises another notch. In quick succession I lose two more stacks against equally aggressive opponents I have notes on telling me that they have a propensity to bluff.

So what happened?

Little man syndrome kicked in – that is what happened. It was like being in the playground again – a battle of Ego’s. I am the person in charge at this table and if you want to start picking a fight with me I am up for it. The instant calls on all three streets tell you all you need to know. I was not thinking at anytime during this hand. Rage and ego had taken over. Little man syndrome had kicked in and yet again I ended up holding the compass while MrStarch scored a six with his cricket bat. Although he was being aggressive, and taking advantage of the fact that I was not defending my blinds, he was still completely in control of his actions. I had lost control and there is only one winner in a battle when that happens. These moments of Tilt no matter what form they manifest themselves in have a true cost attached to them. I lost $250 in this hand but then lost a further $430 in two other hands after this. The true cost of little man syndrome in this instance was $680. I finished the session $158 down so you can see the huge difference these three hands would have made if I had maintained control.

So if you suffer from a form of tilt I have just christened little man syndrome – the next time you can feel yourself trying to pick a fight with an Avatar – make sure you are the one holding the cricket bat and not the idiot stood in the circle with a compass in his hand.

This article appeared in Bluff magazine.