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Understanding Poker Tilt And Top Tips To Reduce Its Effects

Dominic Field

Nov 10, 2022

Man Angry At Poker Table

Tilt is a problem all poker players face, even the very best in the world. This article will take a look at the psychology of tilting, how to recognise it, and what you can do to minimise its effects.

What is Tilting?

The origins of tilt in pokerThe term tilt comes from old-fashioned pinball games. If you moved the machine too aggressively, you’d be punished by having the flippers temporarily deactivated. In poker, if your emotions are out of control, you suffer similar consequences. Your decision-making and critical thinking skills will be hampered, just like your ability to play pinball.

Tilt is a term used in the poker world to describe a state of emotional and mental frustration. Tilt is typically triggered by a bad beat, a losing streak, or any other event that causes a player to become angry or upset.

When a player goes into their tilt mode, they may begin to play more aggressively, make larger bets, and take unnecessary risks in an attempt to recoup their losses. They may also become more emotional and start berating other players or the dealer, which can lead to further tilt and even a complete meltdown.

Tilt can be extremely damaging to a player's bankroll and overall success in poker. It can cause a player to make poor decisions and lose money, which, in turn, leads to even more tilt and further losses. In addition, tilt can be contagious, and a player who is on tilt can easily spread their negative emotions and behaviour to other players at the table.

To avoid tilt, it's important for players to remain calm and focused at all times, even in the face of adversity. This means taking breaks when needed, managing emotions, and maintaining a disciplined approach to bankroll management and game strategy.

By staying in control and avoiding tilt, players can improve their chances of success and achieve long-term profitability in the world of poker.

How to Recognise When You Are On A Tilt?

It’s important to acknowledge straight off the bat that everyone is different. Not only do people have a variety of triggers when it comes to tilting, but they also react differently and for varying lengths of time. The most important thing to master is self-awareness.

A good way to help you learn about yourself and your tilt triggers is to keep a diary. Record notes on your phone when you are playing. Review them after the session. Doing so will help you understand your emotions even after the feelings have been forgotten.

Here are some signs that you may be on tilt:

  • Thinking about a previous hand when you should be focused on this one

  • Blaming other people for your results or actions

  • Raising your voice or typing more into the online chat

  • Doubting your strategies and decision-making abilities

  • Acting far quicker than usual

Common Causes of Tilt

Common Causes of Tilt in PokerAlthough all poker players are unique when it comes to steaming, there are some situations that can cause almost every player to tilt. The two most obvious are bad beats and a long run of bad cards.

However, external factors can play a role too. Perhaps you’re having difficulty in a personal relationship. Maybe you’re struggling financially or in a full-time job. Lack of sleep, excess alcohol, and even hunger can all contribute to ending up on tilt.

Any successful poker player knows their triggers and limits, and it's an important part of their poker strategy. The good news is that this knowledge comes with experience, so the more you play, the better you get at recognising the first signs of poker tilt and managing your emotions at the poker table.

Those who are inexperienced,  hasty, or don't treat poker games seriously fall victim to this effect more frequently.

Strategies to Keep Tilt Under Control

When you recognise that you might be tilting, that’s only half of the battle. What can you do to overcome tilt? Here are some top tips for dealing with a tilt at the poker table. 

Positive Attitude

Keep a positive attitude when playing pokerIt’s a statistical certainty that you’re going to experience some outrageous beats. If your opponent has a 1% chance to win, then once every 100 situations, you’re going to be on the wrong end of it. You are going to endure bad beats. End of discussion.

The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge this fact. Be mature. You cannot have everything your own way, all of the time. A great way to cement this mindset is to simply laugh when such things occur.

Sulking, moaning, and complaining not only makes life miserable for the rest of the table, but it will also weigh you down. Poker is ultimately just a game and a social one at that. If you’re not having fun, you need to reassess your attitude and choices.

Hand Analysis

All good poker players should be tracking and studying their play, but it can be surprisingly effective in helping you deal with tilt. If you suffer a bad beat, put the details straight into a hand calculator or whichever tracking tool you use.

This has two benefits. First of all, in the heat of the moment, you may have felt hard done by. However, when you see the numbers, perhaps you’ll realise that, actually, it wasn’t even that bad of a beat.

Secondly, it helps you to quickly put things into context. By looking over your past play, you’ll realise how often you won in this exact same spot. It’s just variance. It’s a natural part of playing poker.

Take Short Breaks

Regardless of whether you play online or in a physical poker room, you need to get out of your seat from time to time. If you’re card dead or even enduring a run of bad luck, don’t feel obliged to sit and grind.

Get up and take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Grab a snack or a drink. Step outside for some fresh air. If you’re into that kind of thing, take a few minutes to meditate. You don’t need to pack up completely, but frequent mini-breaks help you remain focused and can provide a boost.

Phil HellmuthPhil Hellmuth is among the many advocates of this anti-tilt technique. And he’s not exactly doing badly for himself, is he? 

Let Yourself Feel The Frustration

Poker is a mental game, and that's one of the most crucial things to keep in mind when you play poker. Just like it matters what your opponents are thinking and doing, it's also crucial to keep under control your own thoughts and feelings.

Still, we are only humans, and everybody has their breaking point. If you feel that you're approaching yours, sometimes the only productive thing you can do is let yourself feel the negative emotions before you start to lose control.

Of course, you need space for this to happen, so leaving the poker table and taking a break is the best way to deal with that. You can talk about your disappointment with your close friends or even yourself! A good chat with the mirror never hurt anybody.

It's okay to feel sadness or anger as long as it takes place outside of the casino or online poker room. When you can, it's better to step away and allow yourself to sulk, talk to a friend or therapist or fellow poker players instead of making a scene or completely ruining the game for yourself and everyone else.

Pay Attention To Your Physical And Emotional State

Playing poker, especially when larger sums are involved, can be addictive. If you're not careful, it's easy to let yourself feel the rush and lose control.

Observing mental and physical symptoms is crucial in the game of poker, as it can help players stay in control and prevent emotional outbursts that can lead to tilt. Mental symptoms such as irritability, frustration, and impatience are all signs that you may be losing focus or becoming overwhelmed by the game. Physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, sweating, and shallow breathing can also be indicators of stress and anxiety.

When these symptoms begin to arise, it's essential for players to recognise them and take steps to address them. It's also important to pay attention to the specific triggers that may be causing these symptoms, whether it's a losing streak or a difficult opponent, and adjust game strategy accordingly.

By staying aware of mental and physical symptoms and taking steps to manage them, players can maintain control over their emotions and prevent tilt from taking hold. This can lead to more successful and enjoyable experiences in the game of poker, as well as improved long-term profitability.

Decide What Your Game Plan Is Beforehand

As hard as it is, managing your emotional state is half of the success in any cash game, including poker. When you feel the building up tension, you can either let it ruin you or analyse your current emotional state and decide how you want to carry yourself going forward.

It's an incredibly difficult strategy to pull off because it requires an astonishing level of self-control and self-awareness, but it's not impossible. It helps to prepare this plan before you even sit at the poker table.

For example, you can decide before the game that when you feel a certain level of frustration, you're stepping away or starting to play conservatively for the rest of the poker session. Of course, it'll only work if you're consistent and stick to the strategy, which is rather challenging to do in a state of heightened emotions.

For this reason, we only recommend this strategy to really skilful players.

Know When to Quit

Know when to quit when playing pokerAlthough we advocate for taking lots of short breaks, sometimes things just don’t work out at all. It’s important to know when to quit.

Some people benefit from stop-loss limits. For example, you might say that you’ll walk away for the day if you lose a fixed number of buy-ins. This is not a strategy that will work for everyone.

Some online poker sites, such as Natural8, offer tools to restrict your gaming when you hit certain limits. It might be worth investigating those to prevent you from spewing money when on tilt.

Final Words

As you can see, staying focused and keeping yourself in check is so important. Still, there are some situations that may cause you to tilt and make reckless decisions based purely on how you feel in a moment.

Learning how to manage your emotional states and navigate the game when you feel a little bit out of control is going to help you become the greatest poker player this world has ever seen.

Know when to take a risk and when to step away. This way, you'll avoid tilt triggers and become a better poker player.

Poker Tilt Faqs

Q: What is a winner's tilt?

A winner's tilt is a phenomenon where a player who has experienced a prolonged winning streak becomes overconfident and begins to take unnecessary risks. This can lead to a situation where the player's decision-making abilities become clouded, and they start to make mistakes they might not have made otherwise.

While it's important for poker players to remain confident in their abilities, it's equally important to stay grounded and avoid becoming complacent. A player experiencing a winner's tilt may benefit from taking a step back and re-evaluating their approach to the game. This could involve reassessing their risk tolerance, analysing their opponents more closely, or seeking feedback from other players.

Ultimately, the key to success in poker is finding the right balance between confidence and caution. By staying aware of the risks of the winner's tilt and taking steps to manage it, players can maintain their winning momentum and continue to perform at their best in the game of poker.

Q: What to do when you are on tilt?

When you find yourself on tilt in a game of poker, there are several strategies you can use to get back in control and refocus on the game:

  • Take a break: Stepping away from the game, even for just a few minutes, can help you clear your mind and regain your composure.

  • Focus on your breathing: Taking deep breaths and practising mindfulness techniques can help you stay calm and centred during moments of frustration.

  • Review your play: Analysing your past hands and identifying areas where you might have made mistakes can help you learn from your errors and avoid repeating them in the future.

  • Adjust your strategy: If you feel like your current approach isn't working, try switching things up and experimenting with different tactics or betting patterns.

  • Talk to other players: Sometimes, just talking to other players, whether in-person or through online chat, can help you feel more connected to the game and reduce feelings of isolation or frustration.

  • Take care of yourself: Make sure to stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, and take care of your physical and mental health outside of the game. This can help you maintain your focus and energy levels during extended periods of play.

By using these strategies and staying mindful of your emotions and decision-making process, you can avoid falling into tilt and maintain a strong, consistent performance in the game of poker.