Ahh, tilt. The most “fun” topic for poker players to talk about. The game tends to attract smart and driven people who like to win. The problem? Sometimes, the emotion and stress of that push to win can get the best of us, especially when money is on the line.
You’ve probably heard a million and one strategies and tips for managing poker tilt. And while I think these one-off blogs and “what works for me” articles are great, they always seem to fall short.
Today, I want to address that and put tilt to bed for good. Additionally, those articles are usually geared towards people who flip tables, eat cards, and set the felt on fire. Yes, these are all things that really happen.
What about the rest of the players who tilt in more subtle ways? The effects on your bankroll can be just as bad, but it can be harder to diagnose and treat the problem.
All of that changes today. I present to you—the definitive guide to managing poker tilt, no matter how crazy you get.
So We’re All on the Same Page—What Is Tilt?
Tilt has a lot of definitions, and while many of them are correct, I’d like to use my own today for purposes of this discussion. When we talk about tilt today, we’re talking about an emotional response to something that happens at the poker table that results in sub-optimal play.
Different Ways That People Tilt
People tilt in all different ways, shapes, and forms. I think it’s important to identify these because some are more subtle than others. If you’re not doing some of the more extreme forms of tilt, you might not even know that you’re making mistakes. Here’s a list of some of the more common ways that people tilt.
- The Teacher – Lecturing other players on how to play properly (e.g. “How could you call that?” “You know that x, y, and z.”)
- The Tantrum – Complaining about someone else’s bad play, cursing, and yelling
- The Totaler – Destroying things and bringing total destruction to your property, punching holes in walls, punching holes in people, punching your ticket to jail by punching property, and any other form of physical damage or violence
- The Trailer – Chasing your losses like a trailer chases a car (chasing draws when you should be folding, jumping up to stakes that are outside your bankroll, playing too many hands, and just being “spewy”
How Tilt Costs Us Money
It’s imperative that you understand the different ways that tilt can cost you money. Sure, we all know the obvious ways of spewing money, but it’s more than that.
- We push away less-skilled opponents. Even if you’re not directly losing money on the table, your actions could be pushing away profitable opponents. Ever heard of the phrase, “don’t tap the tank?” Well, it’s a real thing. If you find yourself berating bad players when they make a mistake, you’re killing the poker ecosystem. Remember, you want these bad players around, and you want them to make these mistakes.
- You can lose game invites. Fish love to play with people who are enjoyable to be around. If you’re someone who loses their cool or even just gets super quiet when you lose, it takes away from the experience. You might find yourself getting left off the list for invites to juicy home and private games.
- You make mistakes. This is the most common way that people lose money in poker when they go on tilt. Your mind gets cluttered, you’re more focused on “making your point,” and you start to make mistakes on the felt. These are the mistakes that are easy to spot when you’re playing poker for real money.
- You put your longevity in the game in jeopardy. Being a tilt monkey might make you feel better in the moment, but it can really do damage to your longevity in the game. It will start to make you tired, bitter, angry, and ultimately push you closer to burnout. Not to mention, there’s coupling all of this with losing money from the other reasons listed here.
It’s Okay to Be Upset When You Lose
Before I go any further into explaining how to deal with tilt, I want to make one thing clear. It is 100% okay for you to be upset when you lose. It’s completely fine to get mad when you get sucked out on or when things don’t go your way.
What’s NOT okay is how you react to getting upset. Being mad is not considered tilting in my book. It’s when you start to do things externally that affect the bottom line that clicks you over into tilt territory.
Strategies to Beat Tilt – What You Came Here For
Alright, now that we’ve gotten all of the logistics and paperwork out of the way, it’s time to talk about addressing poker tilt. I’ve included some great tips and strategies here to help you get control of your emotions at the table.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and getting a handle on this part of your game isn’t going to be either. But if you’re dedicated to getting your emotions in check and aren’t scared of putting in a little work, the results will be incredible.
It Starts Before You Get to the Table
One of the best ways to combat tilt starts before you even take a seat. If you come to the table unrelaxed, stressed, or emotionally charged, you’re like a powder keg ready to explode. It’s imperative that you learn to relax before you start a session in person or when playing online poker.
You’ll need to find what works for you, but I do have some things that might help.
- Get out in nature regularly. Unplugging from technology and letting your mind relax can go a long way to keeping you sane at the table. If you think it’s silly, just try it a few times.
- Exercise. There are about a gajillion studies that prove exercising is great for stress, your body, and your mind. Start working a basic workout routine into your regular schedule.
- Eat right. If you’re living off a steady diet of McDonald’s and Burger King, it’s going to be really hard to control your stress. Healthy equals happy, and if you don’t believe me, give it a try for a month.
- Cut down on the caffeine. Caffeine is a known agitator of stress. If you’re having trouble keeping relaxed, why not give it up for a while? If your response is that you can’t live without caffeine, then you may need to look at how serious you are about your poker game vs. Monster Energy drinks.
- Sleep. Speaking of caffeine, part of the reason you’re probably tired and need the added pick me up is that you might not be sleeping enough. While I won’t get on my soapbox here, I can tell you from personal experience that sleeping six to eight hours a night on a good routine and in optimal conditions is incredible. There’s a reason why the military takes sleep away from people during training—it’s to induce stress.
- Limit your poker. There’s nothing wrong with being dedicated to the game. There’s also nothing wrong with playing a lot. But if your life is 100% poker 24/7, then you need to work in some balance. Get some other hobbies. Find things that can take your mind off the game. And just to be clear, watching poker on TV is not taking a break from poker.
The more of these habits you can work into your routine, the better off you’re going to be. And I can assure you that the benefits will carry over to the poker table. You have to ask yourself how serious you are about your game.
Stop Focusing on the Negatives
As poker players, there’s a tendency to get some of the worst tunnel vision I’ve ever seen in the world. When one bad thing happens, we “add it to the list” of all the terrible things that have happened to us. You could win five coin flips in a row, but as soon as you lose one, “Oh man, I always lose these. I literally never win coin flips.”
And to be fair, I am saying this from a place of experience. I’m not immune to this either. In fact, I used to do this all the time. And after one bad thing happened, I almost welcomed more bad stuff, just so I could run and tell people how awful I am.
Confirmation bias is a real thing. If you look for the bad qualities and you only focus on the negatives, it’s going to seem like they’re everywhere. And even if you are running awful in a session, what good does it do you to focus on the negatives? Absolutely nothing.
Create an Action Plan
This is arguably one of the most important things you can do, especially if you’re someone who experiences extreme poker tilt. You have to come up with an action plan that you can employ when you start to feel the tilt monster creeping (or rushing) in. It’s easy to know what to do when you’re not in the heat of the moment. Take advantage of that.
What would an action plan look like? It’s best if you frame it as “indicator and action.” In other words, what is the indicator that you want to target? Then, think, what is the action you’d like to take?
Should that be your entire plan? Probably not. You should have courses of action for all of the things you do. Heck, it’s probably even a good idea to write it out, and you can read it before you play if you need to.
Once you have a great plan, all that’s left is to follow it. This is where the discipline is going to come into play. However, your hard work and preparation (including everything else on this list) will make that a lot easier to accomplish.
Get an Accountabilibuddy
Made famous from the show South Park, an “accountabilibuddy” is someone who helps you stay accountable for your actions. And while I don’t typically use South Park as a source for high-quality advice, this is an exception. If you’re really struggling with tilt, find a friend you can talk to about it. If there’s someone you trust that plays when and where you do, that’s even better.
You don’t have to get all mushy gushy and tell them all your feelings.
The Bottom Line
No one likes losing, especially when money is involved. It’s completely okay to hate losing and not like when it happens. But it’s how you choose to react to losing and bad luck that defines who you’re going to be as a player. When you get your tilt under control, not only are you going to have more success at the table, but life is better, and you’re more enjoyable to be around.