Tilting is something that all poker players have to deal with at some point, and is something that all players learning how to play poker should take note of. There has yet to be a poker player entirely immune from tilt, though some of us have a much higher threshold than others. So if you’ve been looking for answers about what tilt is, why people tilt, and how to deal with it, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Tilt?
Tilt is an emotional state of mind where you no longer make logical decisions and let your emotions cloud your judgment. While tilt is often associated with negative emotions, there is a form of tilt called “Winner’s Tilt,” where a player becomes overconfident after a string of success and adopts an “invincible” mindset which also leads to them making poor decisions.
Regardless of how you get there, being on tilt is one of the worst things that can happen to you when you’re at the tables. In a game as analytical as poker, you cannot afford to think emotionally, even for a short amount of time. When you start to think emotionally, it influences your play, and you begin to make decisions for several reasons that aren’t poker-related. For example, you could be trying to put a bad beat on the person who’s just done the same to you; you could be gambling to try and win your money back after losing a flip; you could be frustrated at not getting any playable hands, so you play bad hands in the hope getting lucky. These reasons are not logical and will cost you money if you do them at the poker table.
Why Do People Tilt?
Every player, at one time or another, has been affected by tilt because, as humans, we’re emotional beings. It’s hard to turn that off when we’re playing a game, especially when we’re playing that game for money. We’re trained from an early age to associate results with actions–if you do well, you’ll get good outcomes; if you do poorly, you get bad outcomes. However, poker doesn’t work like that, and you can do all the right things hand after hand and still end up losing.
Tilt often occurs due to prolonged losing, with players getting frustrated/upset at their bad luck. Eventually, those emotions overwhelm them, and they are no longer able to make logical decisions. Even if a player has been playing well, everyone has a certain threshold where they can’t take it anymore and begin to tilt.
While prolonged losing is the most common reason people tilt, anything that makes you think emotionally rather than logically could be considered a tilt trigger. For example, it could be that you’re going through a rough time at home, you could be sitting at the table next to someone you don’t like, or you could be angry at yourself for making a mistake–these are all triggers that can start you tilting, and once you’ve begun tilting it’s tough to stop.
Types of Tilt
It’s important to be aware of all the different types of tilt you may encounter when you’re at the tables. Most are only aware of the tilt they get from losing, but there are much more subtle versions of tilt that can undermine your game and lead to you losing money:
Starting with the most common form of tilt, Losing Tilt occurs when you keep losing hand after hand, after hand, after hand. Aces cracked by 76s, losing QQ to AK, then AK to QQ, flopped straight lost to a rivered boat–the world seems to be against you! You start to think that it’s inevitable you’re going to lose no matter what you do, so you begin to make suboptimal decisions:
- “There’s no point calling that 3bet with 77; I’m never flopping a set anyway.”
- “This guy has to have sucked out on me by the river; I’ll just check behind my two pair so I don’t get raised.”
- “I’ll just flat AK because if I get it all in I know I’m going to lose.”
These are all common thoughts someone going through losers tilt will have, and they’re the kind of thoughts that cost you money.
Have you found yourself at a table where one person just seems to get the better of you no matter what? Whenever you open light, they 3bet; when you have aces, they fold; you flop a strong hand, they flop a monster. They seem to have your number in every spot, and you feel yourself getting more and more frustrated at this one player!
With Revenge Tilt, one particular player is constantly beating us, and we’d like nothing more than to win a massive pot off of them and rub it in their face. So you might start playing a lot looser against this player, hoping to put a bad beat on them and wipe that smug look off their face.
You can see how this kind of thinking leads to suboptimal decision-making. Sometimes people get a run of hands against you where they beat you. That’s just poker. You shouldn’t have a vendetta against them and start playing trash to try and bust them because if you do, they’ll be the ones laughing in the end.
This one might seem strange to some people, as when you’re winning, you’re experiencing the exact opposite emotions you usually do when you tilt. However, for some people, winning can trigger a form of tilt. Poker is a game where confidence is vital. As it’s purely a mental game, being confident in your decisions is what allows you to play correctly and not second guess yourself–look at Losing Tilt for an example of what happens when confidence is low.
When you’re winning, poker is the most fun game you can play. Everything works out, you see your stack getting bigger and bigger, and you’re confident in every decision you make. The problem comes when you experience overconfidence. When you think that no matter what you do, you’re going to win, you start to make some very poor decisions:
“I’ll call this 3bet with 75o; I’m sure I’ll just flop trips.”
“I know I’m going to make my flush on the river, so I’ll call this overbet on the turn.”
“I can’t lose against this guy! I’ll call his all-in with 72, so I can laugh in his face when I bust him.”
If you think the Poker Gods are benevolent, you’re wrong. They may smile on us from time to time, but they will quickly bring you back down to Earth if you get too cocky.
The more experienced you become with poker, the more you internalize the concept that sometimes you can play the hand perfectly and still lose. You should only worry about things that are within your control. This is why for some players, tilting doesn’t come from losing a hand but from realizing they made a mistake in how they played it – especially if it was costly.
We have to recognize that as humans, we’re going to make mistakes. No one can play perfect poker; it’s such a complicated game that computers haven’t even fully solved it yet! You have to accept that sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision, and that’s ok! A mistake is only truly a mistake if you don’t learn from it, so analyze the hand, see what you did wrong, and make an effort not to make that same mistake again.
How to Exploit a Tilting Opponent
Having an opponent at your table who is tilting can be like having an ATM at your table–you just need to know the right combination to access their money. People react to tilt in many ways, so you must figure out how your opponent reacts to their tilt to best exploit them.
Some people will tilt by playing far too many hands in an attempt to get their money back. This is a common trait of people on Losing Tilt, though it can be seen in other types of tilt, too. If your opponent starts playing a lot of hands, pay attention to how they’re playing them. Are they now being very aggressive, firing off wild bluffs to try and win their money back that way? Or are they playing very passive, trying to see the flop with a lot of hands in the hopes they flop a big hand?
If it’s the former, the best way to exploit them is to get some showdown value and hold on for dear life. When they’re playing too many hands and running all of them as bluffs, their range will be so unbalanced towards bluffs that you could profitably call down any pair. However, if it’s the latter and they’re just trying to make a big hand, you need to be the bully. When a player is calling almost every hand preflop to try and hit it big, they’re going to flop nothing a lot of the time, so a c-bet on the flop will take the pot down the majority of the time.
However, not all people tilt by playing too many hands. Instead, some people will start to nit up when they tilt so they don’t lose even more money than they already have. This is a common trait of people on Mistake Tilt–they’ve already made a mistake that’s cost them money, and they’re afraid of making another one.
Against these players, we need to take advantage of them folding too many hands by playing against them aggressively. If they’re in the blinds, we want to raise a wider preflop range, and we want to be aggressive on flops that are better for our range than theirs.
People think that anyone on tilt is easy money, and while that’s true to a certain degree, you need to pay close attention if you want to maximally exploit your opponent and maximize your winnings.
How To Manage Your Own Tilt
The first thing to remember is that tilt happens to everyone. There’s no shame in tilting at the poker table; we’re all emotional beings, and sometimes those emotions get out of our control. That’s fine. What we can’t do is let it affect how we play poker, so we need to recognize the signs of tilt to combat it.
The first thing we need to do is to train ourselves to recognize when we’re tilting. Some people don’t even realize they’ve been tilting until it’s too late and the red mist has already descended. Spotting the early warning signs is very useful in this regard, so try to take note when your mindset is turning negative, as you may be in the early stages of tilt.
One method that is useful in tilt prevention is to stop every 10/15 minutes and ask yourself how you are. It may seem silly, but taking a step back and viewing your emotions as if you were someone else can allow you to see the bigger picture, which is hard to do when you’re focused on playing poker.
If you think you might be starting to tilt, try to think back to exactly what caused it–was it a bad beat against a recreational player, was it a mistake you made, was it losing to the same player three times in a row, etc., and ask yourself why it’s making you upset/angry. Talking through your emotions to yourself or even just in your head can help you realize that what you’re thinking is illogical and that there’s no reason to get angry or upset over a game. Reminding yourself that poker has variance and that you can’t always win or have things go your way is critical to keeping on top of tilt.
However, sometimes you cannot prevent yourself from tilting and find yourself in that emotional state at the table. What should you do? The first thing you should do is stop playing and take a break. You cannot play well if you’re on tilt; chances are that if you continue to play, the worse you’ll play and the more you’ll tilt. It’s a vicious cycle, and it needs to be broken if you want to get on top of it.
Taking a break and taking a short walk, even getting some fresh air if possible, removes you from the situation that made you upset/angry and gives you a chance to think through what’s happened. Tilting is all about emotion, so the way you combat that emotion is by taking a step back and processing those emotions allows you to mentally reset and go back to the table with a clear head. Sometimes you’ll think about it and realize you were being irrational; sometimes, you’ll think about it and realize you had every right to be angry and upset. The important thing is that whatever the outcome, you recognize it, process it, and move on. Once you’ve done that, you can continue playing.
If you do this and find that, for whatever reason, you can’t process your emotions or move on from what made you tilt, the best thing to do is to stop playing for the day and go through it another time. There is nothing to be gained from trying to force yourself to be calm or lie to yourself and say you’re over it when you’re clearly not. It’s only yourself that you’ll be hurting by doing that, so do yourself a favor and give yourself a chance to come back stronger the next day.
If you want to play poker, you will have to deal with tilt. We’ve learned that there are many different ways your emotions can affect you at the table, so if you want to maximize your winnings, you need to recognize these traits in yourself and follow our guide to manage your tilt.