What Tilt Means and How to Avoid it in Poker

Tilting at a Poker Table Can Destroy Your Bankroll – Here is How to Overcome Tilt

There are many different ways a player can lose at the poker table. Tilting is one of the most common. We’ll tell you what it means to tilt in poker and how to avoid the trap.

What does tilt mean in poker?

It is rare to find a poker player who is completely immune from the effects of tilt. The classic scenario is a bad beat – followed by the ‘red mist’ falling. That player’s solid strategy now goes to pieces. Loose opens, crazy bluffs and hero calls follow. The effects are easy to predict, more losses – followed by even more crazy plays!

There is more to tilt than this classic case. This page outlines three major forms of poker tilt, and many ways you can beat them. As with everything in poker, practice makes perfect. The key factor is to have a plan – and to make sure that when tilt strikes, you are prepared for it.

Here is what you will find below:

The Three Main Categories of Tilt

Most people associate getting angry and playing crazy as tilt. When you break this down you will find that it can take more subtle forms too. Sure, anger is the most dangerous – though awareness of the signs of the other types is also important. Here are the 3 most common forms of poker tilt.

  • Anger: This often occurs after one or more bad beats. You get the money in as a huge favourite, and your lucky opponent sucks out. Some players can shrug off a single beat, though start to lose it when it happens repeatedly in the same session. An urge to get back to even, or to show the table who is boss can take over. This form is very dangerous and left unchecked can lead to big losses.
  • Player Specific Tilt: Sometimes, you’ll be overcome with an urge to get back at an individual player at your table. This can be due to a bad beat as above, or a comment that the player made after winning a hand. You might get frustrated by being constantly 3-bet by the same player. If you find yourself gunning for an individual at your table – especially if this involves loose raises or crazy bluffs, then you might be suffering from player specific tilt.
  • Despondent Tilt: There are times when nothing goes right at the poker table. You miss every flop, get beaten by aces when you hold kings and your draws never get there by the river. This can cause tilt that takes the form of resignation. You know you’ll miss the flop, and so start playing passively, calling instead of raising. When you do finally hit, you raise, and everyone folds. This form of tilt is subtler than the angry versions, though can be equally damaging to your bankroll.

Know Your Personal Tilt Triggers

As you will see below, self-awareness is an important aspect of overcoming tilt. This starts with knowing what your triggers are.

The most common trigger is a series of bad beats. You get all-in with aces on the flop, only for your opponent to make a lucky flush by the river. You raise kings, only for an ace to flop (again!) and a raise + re-raise ahead of you means you have to fold.

If you do tilt after a single bad beat, then you have a problem which needs to be addressed right away. Mental toughness is a key attribute of winning high stakes poker. Without this you are unlikely to succeed. Even the best players will start to feel it when there are multiple bad-beats in a row.

Another trigger is failing to get action with your big hands. For example, you have been card-dead for hours at the table, slowly leaking chips as you raise and then fold to action on the flop. You finally pick up aces. You raise, and everyone instantly folds – so you take only the blinds. This can be combined with bad-beats and will sometimes be the straw which breaks the camel’s back!

Players acting rudely at the table can also be a cause of tilt. In live games this is harder to avoid. It could be a slow-roll, someone who deliberately needles you – or even someone who over-celebrates when taking down a large pot that you should have won. Online this can be via a chat window. Poker attracts some awful people, and you’ll inevitably come across them. If someone starts to get under your skin, tilt (in the form of wanting to ‘teach them a lesson’) can take over.

5 Ways to Beat Tilt

If you are aware of tilt and the need to overcome it – you already have an edge over most players. This section shows you the 5 strategies you can employ when that red mist strikes. Some of them are preventative, others are things you can employ in advance to reduce the likelihood of being affected.

Take a Break

This is the most common strategy when you are trying to beat tilt. It is also the most effective. The length of your break can be as short at 10 minutes. If you are really suffering (from any of the 3 formats outlined above), then you can go as far as ending your play for the day.

Don’t just get away from the table – get outside where possible. A few minutes to put that bad beat or annoying player in perspective is often all you’ll need. Use that time to remind yourself that the chance element in poker is what keeps bad players coming back to the tables. Don’t be too hard on yourself while you calm down. Remembering that even the top poker players occasionally get tilted, and that it is perfectly normal reaction, is a great way to overcome any residual anger.

Embrace Bankroll Management

Bankroll management is the opposite of emotions at the table in many ways. You’ll find the two are linked. If you are adhering to strict bankroll management principles, then you can focus on finding the correct plays without thinking about the money.

When you play with 5% of your bankroll in any one cash game, those bad beats might still hurt. What you will find is that they don’t have a significant effect on your long-term profitability. You have plenty enough cash to ride out the swings, and to remain profitable. This is what allows you to reload, be thankful that you got the money into the pot with huge equity – and keep on playing your best game.

Make a Plan in Advance

Letting tilt go unchecked is the single most dangerous thing you can do as a poker player. Key to overcoming the effects is to understand the signs that you are becoming angry – and to make a plan in advance. This can involve dropping down to the micro-stakes (online) and taking your frustration out by having some fun for a couple of dollars. It can involve taking a break, grabbing a coffee and taking a look at your long-term profit chart. It might also involve listening to your favourite songs to get you focused and back to playing your best poker. Whatever you do, make a plan in advance – and then stick to it when the red mist starts to descend.

Tune Out the Annoying Players

If someone is getting under your skin while playing at a safe online poker room, it is easy to turn the chat off. Many people think they are losing valuable reads by doing this. Most of the time, there is no real information that you can’t get from assigning hand ranges and identifying the fish through their bet sizing.

Live, this is more difficult. You can listen to some music. You will miss out on some of the social aspects of live play this way. As well as creating a calm detachment from any annoying players, this demonstrates to them that their needling is pointless against you. Another alternative is to request a table change (where this is possible).

Embrace the Variance

This final way of avoiding the negative effects of tilt in poker is easy on paper, and difficult in practice. You need to focus on the fact that chance bad outcomes are a positive for your game overall. If skill were the only component to poker, and you won every time, there would be no fish to take money from at all.

It is the way that bad plays can be rewarded with a big pot which keeps recreational players returning to the games. This is what keeps your bankroll growing. Variance can be a double-edge sword, especially when the bad beats (or missed draws) come in clusters. By reminding yourself that the game of poker exists only because this can happen – you can regain control of your emotions and focus on the long-run.

Poker Tilt: A Note for Tournament Players

With cash games, you have the option to stop playing whenever you want. In tournaments (both online and live) you are stuck. This can make tilt even more dangerous for tournament poker players. That big stack that you patiently accumulated for hours can be decimated by a bad player – and there is nothing you can do to get away.

Tournament play involves huge variance. Even the best poker players only reach the final table on rare occasions. In many ways you need to be in better control of your tilt before you get involved in the tournament format.

Once again, bankroll management and an awareness of how variance keeps the games alive is the bedrock of avoiding the negative effects of tilt. Since you can’t move tables, make a backup plan which includes music, relaxation exercises (breathing) and – if you are online – messing around at the micro stakes. Whatever you do, don’t punt off the remainder of your stack the very next hand. Players are aware of this and will call you down light. A couple of blinds might be enough to stage a comeback – as long as you keep your composure and wait for the best spot.