Picture this. You step out of the door, feeling great, ready to go about your day in a positive and upbeat way. Then a bird, soaring high above you in the sky, drops a dump on your head. Your blood boils. You curse the bird for its disrespect, for ruining your whole day. Maybe you want to take revenge, but the bird has already flown away. Suddenly, nothing is going your way. The world of potential that you opened your window to this morning is now a foreboding place, full only of possible disaster and mucky occurrences. You’re on life tilt.
The same can happen at the poker tables. You’re chipping away, enjoying the flow of the tournament, when BAM! You’re sucked out on by a player who shouldn’t have even been in the pot, a player who has just taken a metaphorical dump on your chances. You feel angry. Your efforts wasted. Your emotions take over. Your rationality takes a back seat. Rage.
On tilt is not where you want to be, in life or in poker.
Tilt and emotions in poker
Before we discuss the types of tilt and how to avoid them, it’s important that we have a shared definition of what tilt is.
The broadest definition of tilt can pretty much mean playing badly for any reason at all. This isn’t very useful, and it won’t teach you much about your poker game. Take the example below:
“I was in a pot, my opponent raised, but then I tilted and lost the pot.”
This tells us nothing. Nothing about the hand, the decision, or the reasons behind the bad play.
It’s easy enough to make errors because of a gap in your knowledge, or simply because you are tired and lose focus, but this doesn’t really qualify as tilt. It’s just bad play. When we say a player is on tilt, we’re nearly always talking about an emotional reaction.
Tilt is what happens when our emotions negatively impact our decisions. This definition can include emotions like elation and boredom, both of which can lead to mistakes and bad play. But there’s one particular emotion that nearly always precedes a state of tilt.
Tilt is a state of anger
More often than not, tilt refers to a state of anger. This can be anything from a mild yet prolonged sense of frustration, to an outright smash-the-keyboard in anger moment.
The most well established and useful definition of tilt is that:
TILT = ANGER + BAD PLAY
This tilt poker definition is lifted from the brilliant book “The Mental Game of Poker”, by Jarred Tendler and Barry Cartar. Have a read of the book if you really want to get to the heart of tilt and how you can overcome it.
With this definition, we can dig a little deeper into what causes tilt.
An important point to note is that anger is a reaction, not the root cause. Something happens that makes us angry, whether that be a hand or just a thought. This anger leads to bad play. Identifying your own somethings, your triggers that set you off on tilt, will be very helpful when it comes to bettering your emotions at the poker table.
7 types of tilt
In order to break down the types of tilt, we’ve once again gone with those used in “The Mental Game of Poker”, at times with our own spin. We’ve no affiliation with the book. It simply offers well thought out guidance and solid concepts, so there’s little point going against the grain.
Here are the seven types of poker tilt:
This is when your anger arises from a sense of injustice. This is usually a bad beat, or two or three bad beats in a row. Worse still is a river suckout, or any other instance when you think you “should have” won the pot. Important coinflips and coolers can also trigger your sense of injustice – “if only you weren’t dealt KQ in that hand… you’d have been on the final table.”
Players who understand statistical variance already know that this sense of injustice is uncalled for. But for any player, remaining and restoring calm in that crucial bad beat moment is easier said than done.
Knowingly making a mistake can have an even worse effect on your poker emotions than bad beats. In this case, there’s nothing to blame but yourself. You blew your shot with a silly move. It’s a frustrating feeling when a momentary lapse in focus causes a mistake, or when hindsight reveals a less devastating or more effective betting line.
If your mistakes trigger an anger response, then you could quickly go on tilt. More mistakes follow, and the cycle continues.
It’s important to recognize that mistakes are part of the journey of learning and improving. Developing a routine of analyzing your decisions when you’re away from the tables can help you to feel less angry and more in control – or at least makes your mistakes useful.
Every now and then a player will really get to you. Maybe they’ve rivered one too many straights. Stolen your blinds one too many times. Or thrown too many offensive objects. Or maybe you just don’t like their avatar.
Whatever the case, it’s never wise to hunt down your nemesis out of anger and frustration. Look for profitable spots – Yes. Make stupid moves and get crazy about it – No.
Pick your moments for counter attack, and definitely don’t let your feelings towards another player spill over into your decisions.
Every player wants to win, yet every player should also be prepared to lose. There’s a fine art to this balance. You want to be playing poker games with a fighting spirit, not an attitude of self defeat. But even top poker pros lose more games than they win – it’s just that when they do win they more than recover their losses. In any case, losing a game is an obvious trigger for tilt in poker.
A few factors could make the hate-losing tilt more severe, such as if the game is seen as very important, if you are running deep, if you bubble the tourney (either the money bubble or a prize jump), or if you’ve lost lots of games in a row. It’s also easy to see how this form of tilt would mix with others, such as entitlement tilt, covered below.
One way to counter this form of tilt is to always play games within your bankroll and psychological limit. If you aren’t prepared to lose the game, then you can’t be in it to win it. You have to be able to handle short term losses in order to focus on long term gains.
This one is very similar to hate-losing. With entitlement tilt, your poker mindset is calibrated towards a sense of deserving to win. Perhaps you think you’re better than the rest of the field – maybe on paper you are. Or maybe you just have a bit of a complex. Who am I to judge?
Very often, this type of tilt will show itself very subtly in decent players who consider themselves to have beaten a certain game. If you expect a particular win-rate in the SNGs or MTTs that you reg for, then you could potentially get angry if you don’t achieve this.
This is a mindset that sees winning as something that belongs to you. When you don’t win, you feel like something has been taken away. There’s no quick fix other than coming to terms with the realities of poker.
The urge to win back your money (or pride) can cause you to make all kinds of mistakes and can lead to a negative emotional state known as desperation tilt. It’s a place you don’t want to be. If you were playing roulette, it’s the thought that says “one more spin”.
In poker this can translate to forcing the action, making huge bets, angrily shoving all in with nothing, playing for too long when you know you should stop, or moving up in stakes or to faster games in the hope that you can claw back a quick win.
Always game responsibly, and never try to win back money in this way. Playing with money you can afford to lose and establishing solid bankroll management principles can help you avoid this.
Running bad tilt
This is caused by a run of bad cards over a long period of time. It could be that you’re not getting any hands to play, losing all your flips, or not winning for weeks or months at a time.
Running bad is not actually a type of tilt in itself. It’s more a combination of other forms of tilt happening in quick succession, or for a sustained period of time. Your mind can’t handle it and can’t reset itself before the next game or session that you play, leading to a long term state of tilt that can be difficult to drag yourself out of.
This form of poker tilt is most common among pros and long term poker grinders, rather than recreational players who are looking for fun. Pros can experience downswings of weeks or months, and must develop the mental strength to deal with it.
Affects of tilt
All of the types of tilt above address root causes of the emotions and anger that leads to bad poker play. How this effects players can vary. Working out how you react and how your play changes when you’re angry is a good step towards improving the emotional aspects of your game and avoiding tilt.
Here are possible effects of tilt:
Playing too loose
Given that tilt is most commonly associated with anger in poker, spewing chips and playing way too loose is one of the affects.
In a game of poker, moving all-in is the equivalent of throwing a punch. Better still, it won’t land you in hospital or prison. You get angry and launch your chips like they’re physically going to hit your opponent in the eye. A moment later you’re staring down at an empty stack… good move.
It may sound counter-intuitive to those players who are in the “spew tilt” sort of camp, but losing a bad beat or making a mistake can cause a fear of putting more chips in the middle.
You’re stewing away with rage inside, but you’re not going to let the players (or the cards) get the better of you again… Instead you’re going to miss spots, scrimp on value, passively call away your chips, or simply let the blinds eat your stack.
Passive poker is not good poker. It might be (a tad) better than spewing, and could serve as a defense against negative poker emotions for a round or two of action, but you’ve got to switch on again and be willing to put chips in the middle when it’s the correct move.
Fancy play syndrome
Fancy play syndrome is where you start to overthink, overcomplicate and overplay poker hands. Whatever has triggered your anger has led to you wanting to prove yourself, and you’ll take every fancy betting line in the book to do so.
The problem is you’re no longer making moves that you usually wouldn’t make. Instead, you are on tilt reacting to anger. A moment ago you were solid and well timed. Now you’re making running bluffs against a player who can’t fold. And that’s all it takes to lose a tourney.
If you feel really angry, like your play could be being influenced by your emotions, a temporary solution to fancy play syndrome is to strip it down to the basics for a few hands until you regain your composure.
How to avoid tilt in poker?
Avoiding tilt is very much about taming the anger and not letting it influence your decisions. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and it’s not going to happen overnight.
Slowing down or quitting your session can reduce anger and limit the damage that tilt can cause. It’s a wise strategy until you can control the emotions, but quitting is not the cure and even the idea of a “fresh start” is a myth. Taking breaks or quitting is a very good idea if your emotions get on top of you, but in the long term you’ll need to identify and control your anger.
It all starts with becoming more conscious of your “tilt” profile. Identify what causes you to tilt, how your body and mind reacts, the point at which you lose control and your emotions take over, and how you currently take action to deal with it. This allows you to understand tilt as it relates to you as a person and player. It’s a much better approach than quick fixes that don’t tackle the root causes.
Knowledge is also important for the process of overcoming tilt in poker. Knowledge of the game. Knowledge of statistical variance. Knowledge that not everything unfolds as you expect, even when the odds are in your favor. It is this knowledge that will lessen your chances of going on tilt in the first place.
Ultimately, building your mental strength is just as challenging as learning different strategies in poker. You’ll have to work on it over time. We recommend reading, watching videos, checking out forums, and combining all of this knowledge with a decent understanding of your own tilt triggers and reactions. This will be a decent start when it comes to avoiding tilt.