Dealing with Tilt at the Poker Table

Posted by Charles, April 8, 2013


poker tilt

Whether you're playing poker on the Internet or in the card room of a brick-and-mortar casino, you will inevitably taste the sting of defeat. Even the cleverest and most observant player will make a mistake at some point, and sometimes luck just won't swing your way. In situations like these, it can be very easy to lose one's cool and fly off the handle, something avid players refer to as "going on tilt." Tilting can be exceedingly dangerous at the live or Internet poker table, as it tends to cloud one's judgment and make people act in a rash manner. As such, most successful players have developed means of coping with the frustration and outright anger that can result from a disappointing turn of the cards.

There are several ways to avoid going on poker tilt, but to better address the problem, we must first understand it.

Why Do We Go on Tilt?

"I guess if luck wasn't involved, I'd win every one."
Phil Hellmuth, 13-time World Series of Poker Bracelet Winner

Though poker is widely considered a game of skill, with the majority of hands at the professional level being decided without all cards being revealed, there is no denying the role that luck plays in the game. This means that sometimes, even making the best decision doesn't mean you will win a hand.

In a poker forum post on CardsChat, user "Twizzbop", a poker teacher, describes live and Internet poker as a game where "gains come slowly [but] losses come quickly," and claims that tilt is the emotional response to the latter point. When we lose a lot of the chips that we've spent the last few hours acquiring, our natural inclination is to try and win them back as quickly as possible. Yet that drive actually works against us, making us more likely to bluff, chase weak draws, or make questionable calls that a calmer mind might not have.

Keeping Calm Is Key

"The strong point in poker is never to lose your temper, either with those you are playing with or, more particularly, with the cards. There is no sympathy in poker. Always keep cool. If you lose your headyou will lose all your chips."
Playwright and Actor William J Florence

Though it's easier said than done, staying calm when you run into a bad hand is of the utmost importance. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help deal with the disappointment and stress and stay calm. One technique that has long helped people cope with mounting frustration is taking deep breaths. It may sound silly, but a rush of oxygen to the brain will help stimulate certain chemical receptors and produce a sort of serenity that can help you refocus your attention. Similarly, something as simple as sipping a glass of water can help calm the mind and keep you on track.

Take a Break from the Table

"Your best chance to get a Royal Flush in a casino is in the bathroom"
Online poker player

Whether the bad beat comes in a card room or an internet poker site like Titan Poker, it's never a bad idea to take a short break from the action when your luck runs out. Take the time to take a walk and clear your head, go the bathroom, speak to a friend or loved one away from the table, or maybe just run a quick lap around your street to get the stress out. Stepping away from the table will allow you to work through your frustrations away from your opponents - something that is a great idea when sitting across from serious players. Card sharks and professionals know that an opponent on tilt is likely to make rash decisions, and you won't want to fritter away your bankroll every time the cards don't run your way.

Set Yourself up to Win

"The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be."
Gaming writer Mark Pilarski

Ultimately, the best way to deal with tilt is to avoid it altogether. The best way to do this is to play smart and keep your head in the game. This means avoiding long-shot draws, reading your opponents to learn their playing habits, and picking your spots rather than bluffing recklessly. It's also not a bad idea to steer clear of caffeine and sugary foods, as these dietary choices will affect your energy levels and, in turn, your decision making.

Other tips to avoid tilt, poker players can try these at the live or Internet poker tables:

  • Start early - A fresh mind focuses easier.
  • Don't play when angry - It will only end in defeat.
  • Know when it's time to go - Sometimes the best way to avoid tilt is to cash out.
  • Accept that you can't win them all - As bracelet winner Scotty Nguyen says, "That's poker."

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