The Covid Megatilt

Playing poker online is far more addictive than gambling in a casino. Online poker, and other online gambling that involves a lot of skill, is engineered for addiction. Online poker allows multiple simultaneous tables. Laptops, tablets, and mobile phones provide faster play than in casinos. Setup time, for an efficient addict, can be seconds per game. Better still, you can rapidly switch between different online games to get just enough variety to eliminate any opportunity for boredom that has not been engineered out of the gaming experience. Completing a hand of Texas Holdem in 45 seconds online increases your chances of fast wins, fast losses, and addiction.

Tilt is what poker players call it when a particular run of bad luck, an opponent’s skill, or that same opponent’s obnoxious communications put you into a mental state where you’re playing emotionally and not rationally. Anger, disgust, frustration and distress is precipitated by bad beats, bluffs gone awry, a run of dead cards, losing to a lower ranked opponent, fatigue, or letting the opponent’s offensive demeanor get under your skin.

Tilt is so important to online poker that many products and commitment devices have emerged to deal with it. Tilt Breaker provides services like monitoring your performance to detect fatigue and automated stop-loss protection that restricts betting or table count after a run of losses.

A few years back, some friends and I demonstrated biometric tilt detection using inexpensive heart rate sensors. We used machine learning with principal dynamic modes (PDM) analysis running in a mobile app to predict sympathetic (stress-inducing, cortisol, epinephrine) and parasympathetic (relaxation, oxytocin) nervous system activity. We then differentiated mental and physical stress using the mobile phone’s accelerometer and location functions. We could ring an alarm to force a player to face being at risk of tilt or ragequit, even if he was ignoring the obvious physical cues. Maybe it’s time to repurpose this technology.

In past crises, the flow of bad news and peer communications were limited by technology. You could not scroll through radio programs or scan through TV shows. You could click between the three news stations, and then you were stuck. Now you can consume all of what could be home work and family time with up to the minute Covid death tolls while blasting your former friends on Twitter and Facebook for their appalling politicization of the crisis.

You yourself are of course innocent of that sort of politicizing. As a seasoned poker player, you know that the more you let emotions take control your game, the farther your judgments will stray from rational ones.

Still yet, what kind of utter moron could think that the whole response to Covid is a media hoax? Or that none of it is.



  1. #1 by Anonymous on April 3, 2020 - 11:11 am

    Great post, as always.

  2. #2 by mannyrayner on April 3, 2020 - 5:26 pm

    I am astonished that I didn’t know the term “tilt”. Distressingly familiar with this phenomenon from online chess and Go, but now that I can name it I will be better equipped to avoid it. Thank you.

  3. #3 by Ken Pascoe on April 7, 2020 - 4:26 pm

    Bill, you didn’t define ‘ragequit’. Is it as simple as it sounds? It sounds like walking away in fury or disgust, which seems like a better path than continuing to pour money into unwise bets due to tilt.

    Also, agreed very much on the larger point about COVI-19. The folks who get sickk may become very sick indeed, but the numbers aren’t adding up to justify the media hype or government actions. It’s real and it’s overblown, and we (and our political officeholders) are subject to tilt.

  4. #4 by Bill Storage on April 16, 2020 - 10:49 pm

    Hi Ken. I’ve heard “ragequit” used in two ways. One meant quitting in rage (as I used it), the other meant preventing rage from occurring by quitting the irritating activity. Confusing. If you’re interested in this topic you might like Natasha Schull’s book, Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. She’s researched this stuff for years and is very entertaining.

  5. #5 by on May 3, 2020 - 3:36 pm

    We read with oour mind and uuse our imagination to paint the setting off
    thee detective thriller we are reading. Fortunately, once the negative routine is recognized,
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