Tilt In Poker: What It Is And How To Avoid It
Poker is an exciting game primarily based on skill, math, and luck. This is what makes it fun.
However, it’s also a game of people, which leads to a full spectrum of emotions, both good and bad ones alike. The worst part is that emotion tends to get out of hand at the poker table and can easily cloud your judgment.
In poker, this is known as tilting, and it’s one of the most dangerous things a player can experience.
“Tilt happens when you let your emotions come to the surface, and you start making decisions based on your feelings instead of your observations and knowledge of the game.”
The number one reason why tilt can be so devastating isn’t just that you’ll make a bad decision based on your emotions. Those decisions will often result in a less than favorable outcome, which will further your tilt, making you play even worse.
It can quickly become a dangerous rabbit hole without an easy way out, so you should try to avoid it.
Don’t Worry, Everybody Tilts
As dangerous as tilt may be, there is no simple recipe you can follow to avoid it completely.
Even the best players in the game you may have seen on TV playing in ridiculously high stakes cash games are subject to tilting.
“One thing that separates top players from the rest is the ability to concentrate on making decisions, rather than short-term outcome, and that makes the whole difference in the world.”
However, if you concentrate on your short term results, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you will be tilting a lot. In fact, the better you play, the more likely you are to tilt when things don’t go your way.
This sensation is caused primarily by a sense of injustice. You did everything right and still lost the pot or busted the tournament. How can you not feel bad about it?
You can be mad about it all you want, but it won’t change a thing. As I said earlier, poker is a game of all these different factors, and it’s because of them that the game is so popular with so many people.
But by understanding the harsh reality of the game, you can make things much easier for you.
What is a bad beat? If you had AA against 22 and lost a preflop all-in, is it just very unlucky?
In reality, your opponent had around an 18% chance to win, and that is going to happen almost 1 out of 5 times. In the long run, you’re still going to win 82% of the time, so getting mad because now was your time to lose is ridiculous, to say the least.
Of course, this is just one example, and many different things can trigger tilting for you.
But if you concentrate only on making the best possible decision with all available information and leave short term results aside, you’ll avoid a big part of negative emotions.
While you probably won’t be able to avoid tilting in all of its forms, it’s what you do when this happens and how you handle your tilt that makes the difference.
Understanding Your Tilt Triggers
The above example is just one of many causes of tilt at a poker table. Not everyone gets triggered by the same things.
“What puts one player on a crazy tilt can be completely irrelevant or even amusing to another player.”
Some of the most common tilt triggers are:
- Bad beats
- Table banter
- The overall atmosphere in a room
- Your own mistakes
- Playing when tired
These and other factors can trigger negative emotions, which can and will influence your play if you don’t keep them in check.
Depending on what type of personality you are, you might get annoyed more easily than some other players.
While this isn’t the best trait to have if you want to make money in poker, it’s not the end of the world, either, as long as you understand the problem and approach it the right way.
Bad Beats And Coolers? It’s Normal To Tilt
While some of the tilt triggers vary from one person to another, most players are prone to tilt after an ugly bad beat or series of coolers.
Basically, an extended run of bad luck can put many players off of their A-game, even if they have good technical knowledge.
As I’ve already explained, this is just being human.
In a scenario where you did nothing wrong and still lost, simply due to another player getting very lucky, it’s normal to get upset.
But you need to learn how to recognise it and consciously choose to not let your emotions control you. And as I already mentioned, concentrating on your decisions instead of results can bring you very far.
The thing is, bad beats will happen time and time again for as long as you play poker. It’s just how variance works.
Sometimes you can do the right thing over and over again and still lose. Eventually, things will even out, but this only applies if you continue making the right choices moving forward.
You can’t afford to stay focused on the results of past hands as if these are somehow indicators of what will happen in the future.
If your pocket aces got cracked three times in a row, you shouldn’t play them any differently the next time you get them (provided you didn’t make any mistakes the previous three times).
Of course, this is easier said than done. Once that sinking feeling starts creeping in that no matter what you do, you’ll lose, it’s tough.
The hardest part is recognizing and admitting that you’re on tilt.
If things aren’t going your way and variance is smacking you in the face, you should be extra careful and take time with your decisions.
Once you find yourself on a losing side of things, you might start throwing good money after bad, playing hands you’d never play, either chasing your losses or adopting the “it doesn’t matter what I do anyway” mentality.
The moment you notice this happening, it’s time to act.
Most people struggle to regain their composure at the table, so take a short break. Go for a brief walk, grab a snack, meditate for five minutes, or do whatever it is that can help calm you down.
“Losing out on a few hands probably won’t break your chances of winning. Playing those few hands on a tilt quite possibly could.”
And if you come back and still can’t play without emotions getting in the way, call it a night if it’s a cash game. You’ll be much better off coming back fresh another time.
Don’t Be Too Harsh On Yourself
Let’s get one thing out of the way right at the start – you’ll never play perfect poker.
“There is no one in the world playing perfect poker, and everybody makes mistakes.”
So, you’ll be making a few here and there, and yes, these will cost you money.
However, dwelling on these mistakes while you’re still playing can be very dangerous and lead to a completely different type of tilt.
If you make a mistake that causes you to lose a significant pot, that’s that. That opportunity is gone, that pot is lost, and the best you can do is focus on the next hand and try to play it the best you can.
However, it’s not uncommon to get into a frame of mind where you’re stuck on that one mistake, and all your future actions are somehow dictated by it.
I screwed up already, so what does it matter?
But it does matter, of course.
You lost one hand, but there are many, many more ahead.
As long as you have chips in front of you, you have a chance to turn things around. Even if you’re in a tournament left with just five big blinds, make the best possible decisions you have with those few chips.
There were plenty of times I recovered and even won tournaments after only having a couple of big blinds, and that’s not as rare as you probably think. If you concentrate only on making the best possible decisions, you’ll surprise yourself with the results.
One tip is to make a note of any hand you think you played badly and mentally file it for later revision. So, you’re not really “forgiving” yourself, but you’re not letting it affect your play, either.
Once you’re back home and ready for it, you can go through any questionable hands and see what you could have done differently.
Once you adopt this strategy, it will be much easier to move on from poorly played hands and avoid compounding your losses by making more bad decisions just because of that one that got away.
Physical Readiness Is Key For Tilt Management
Poker may not seem like a particularly hard activity in a physical sense, but you can’t separate your mental and physical readiness.
When it comes to tilting, playing rested, well-fed, and leaving your other problems aside for the duration of the sessions is very important. You’ll become much more susceptible to tilt if you’re playing tired or have a million different things on your mind already.
Take Care Of Your Needs
Taking good care of yourself is probably one of the most basic but essential things you need to do to be a successful poker player.
It’s much easier to deal with bad beats when you’re playing a session after a good night’s sleep than trying to power through it, having slept only for a few hours. I have tried the latter approach many times over my poker career and can confirm that there is a vast difference between these options.
The same could be said about food. If you’re hungry, it will be much easier to get annoyed, even at things that wouldn’t usually bother you. So, tilt prevention starts long before you sit down to play.
I’m not going to try and give you an exact plan of what you should be eating to improve your efficiency, but following a balanced diet and avoiding overly salty and sweet stuff can take you a long way. There are many great guides out there that can help with that.
It’s also worth mentioning that you definitely want to eat before you start playing, especially if you’re planning for a long session. Either that or have a dinner scheduled at some point and make sure not to skip it.
Leave Your Problems Behind
You also don’t want to have all your other problems bothering you while playing. Of course, it’s hard to distance yourself from other parts of your life, but you have to do your best.
Whatever problems or issues you’re dealing with, put them on hold for a while until you’re done playing. You won’t be able to sort them out at the table, and they’ll still be there when you’re done, so focus on playing your best poker.
I know it’s a lot easier said than done but if you want to play seriously, you need to learn how to do it. One thing that helped me the most was devoting some time to prepare before every session you sit down to play.
It can be as little as 5-10 minutes to review some hands, read strategy articles, or discuss poker theory with a friend to warm up your brains and get into the state of playing poker.
It really helped me leave other issues behind, and hopefully, it can do the same for you.
The thing is, if you come into a session burdened with a ton of other problems, it won’t take much to put you on tilt.
Someone’s snag comment or a dealer putting out the river card early could put you in a tilt mode for the rest of the session, and that’s not what you want happening.
On top of that, when you get used to doing a warm-up, you’ll be able to recognize your emotions and notice when you shouldn’t be playing at all.
Skipping a session when you’re feeling bad could be the best decision you can make.
Don’t Fall Victim To The Winner’s Tilt
Not all forms of tilting are caused by negative emotions.
In fact, you can go on what’s known as “winner’s tilt” just because you are feeling too good, as ridiculous as it sounds.
You’ve probably experienced the feeling when you seem to soul-read your opponents and drag one pot after another your way.
While it’s a great feeling, it can quickly lead to playing sub-optimally because of the irrational belief that you can take everyone down.
The problem is, you never know when your “good run” will end, and if you start deviating from a solid strategy by playing too many hands, your session is very likely to end in a disaster.
The second problem that many players face in this situation is chasing too many draws.
You could lose everything you’ve been accumulating the whole night in a single hand, chasing your flush draw against the odds in the huge pot, simply because you feel it’s your night.
After you lose that hand, you’ll then go on a different type of tilt, similar to that caused by bad beats.
Although you may not have experienced a classic bad beat, you’ll feel that your luck has let you down, and such thinking can cost you a lot.
So even if you are winning and things going great, never deviate from your solid play and don’t play hands, you shouldn’t just because you’re “running hot.”
“The only job you have is to make the best possible decision in every given situation, leaving all of the emotions behind and concentrating on what matters.”
Once again, past hands are not indicators of things to come in the future, even if it may feel so at times.
Accept That Tilt Happens
Tilt is a part of poker, just like bluffing, bad beats, and everything else, so you need to accept this reality of the game if you want to succeed.
You shouldn’t feel bad when occasionally experiencing tilting at the tables because everyone does it, and it doesn’t have to be a big problem if you’re aware of it and tackle it correctly. Quite the contrary, it can even help you improve and notice your mistakes.
If things do get out of hand now and then, don’t feel too bad about it. Just try to understand the reasons behind it once you’re cool-headed and come up with strategies to try and prevent it from happening in the future.
While you’ll probably never become a tilt-free machine that plays the best poker all the time, you can minimize the impact tilt has on your results, which is the goal you should be striving towards.
Now you’re aware of what tilt is in poker, head to our list of the best online poker sites to put these tips into practice.