Avoiding and Dealing with ‘Tilt’

Post by:
30 Apr 15

Poker Tilt

Poker Tilt

I’ve often found that there are three major aspects of life that cause mankind to act irrationally – money, competition, and love. And when you combine the three together, it is a recipe for disaster; that is unless you are constantly calm, cool, and collected, acting with decorum.

There are a few reasons as to why you aren’t seated at the final table of a poker tournament being broadcast on ESPN. More than likely it isn’t your lack of passion, and it might not even be due to your lack of skill. The majority of time, the one element that keeps you and me from playing poker professionally is tilt.

If you are unfamiliar with tilt, it is the emotional response that triggers poor performance during gameplay. Whether you’re being jeered before shooting a potential game winning free throw or you realize that you’ve forgotten to wear your lucky tie before delivering your proposal in front of the board, emotional responses often cause us to lose our demeanor. It takes a seasoned, trained professional to not allow the outside elements to distract or deter them from coming away unscathed and triumphant in battle.

Top Triggers Leading to Tilt

When it comes to factors that make poker players tilt, they generally fall under two categories:  external factors (pre-triggers) and internal factors (in-game triggers).

Here are some of the top external factors to avoid when you sit down to play competitive poker (or any competitive scenario involving money):


Obviously there is some level of stress that comes with playing poker; however, don’t bring stress from outside the game with you. If you just received bad news, have gone through a life-altering experience, or got a flat tire on the way to the game, it is probably best to avoid this round. Give yourself a chance to remove yourself from the situation and prepare mentally for the task at hand.

Mood Altering Substances

Mood Altering Substances

Mood Altering Substances

I’m not saying to not have a good time during your poker game, but if you are too relaxed, whether it is from alcohol, drugs, or attractive members of the opposite sex, you might find yourself more susceptible than usual to making poor decisions. Try to block out all unnecessary distractions.

While external triggers aren’t usually what lead to tilt, they often create a perfect storm scenario for the internal factors that do cause tilt.

The in-game factors are what can bring a novice poker player to his knees. Here are two of the main reasons that poker players experience tilt during a game:

A Bad Beat

There is nothing worse than a bad beat. If you are unfamiliar with a bad beat, it is defined in the PokerStars glossary of terms and definitions as:

“Hav[ing] a hand that is a large underdog beat a heavily favored hand.”

There is time when statistically a hand has a 93 percent chance of winning, like the hand below, yet due to one card, the entire outcome of the hand changes significantly. The only way in which Carter Gill would lose was if the river was a Queen. Amazingly for his opponent, it was indeed a Queen, and unfortunately for Gill, he lost a 987,000 chip pot in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Getting Coolered

The other major internal factor resulting in tilt is getting coolered, which means that you make a big hand but your opponent’s hand is even bigger. This is also referred to as a “setup hand” and while it is rare, it does happen from time to time, even to professionals. Here is a video of professional poker player Phil Ivey losing his cool and getting frustrated after making a flush when his opponent made a full house.

While these are the two most common tilting factors, one’s poor performance, aggressively competitive opponents, and hitting and running are also common contributors to tilting.

Types of Tilt

Although tilts do occur, there are different levels of tilt–the two most common being hard tilt and soft tilt. Hard tilt, often referred to as mega-tilt, is apparent to everyone watching. It often involves extreme mood swings, including anger and misplaced aggression and poor decision-making, like playing a hand spastically when you should actually fold.

On the other hand, soft tilt generally leaves a player being defensive, making poor decisions such as being scared to increase the pot or folding too much. If you think that you might be exhibiting poor decisions when you play, check out this list to help you recognize the signs of tilt.

Dealing With Tilt

While learning the triggers of tilt and recognizing the signs that you’ve entered into tilt are extremely important for poker players, the most important part of tilt (and of this article) is learning how to deal with tilt once it occurs.

No poker player, or anyone for that matter, is immune from tilt. As human beings, the competitiveness combined with the potential to lose or acquire mass wealth, can be unnerving. However, by recognizing and avoiding your triggers, tilt can be manageable.

Depending on the type of game you are planning, I would seriously consider implementing some sort of stop loss if you struggle continuously with tilt. Taking a few small losses is a much better decision than playing several catastrophic hands on tilt. This time period will help you cool down from soft tilt – because, let’s face it; once you’ve gone mega-tilt, you’re likely not to recover. There is an old adage, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” It will only take once, but once you reach hard tilt, you’ll know for future reference when to get out of the kitchen, as it were.

Everyone tilts, but it is how the professionals handle themselves that make them constant winners.