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Tilting in poker: how to deal with players on tilt

What do you think is the number one reason poker players lose large percentages of their bankrolls? Playing too many hands? Adopting a playing style that is too aggressive? What if we told you the true answer is a player's mental game skills or lack thereof?

A player that is said to be on tilt is in a bad place. Tilt is a poker term for when a player begins playing sub-optimally due to frustration or emotional confusion. Often, a tilting player becomes too aggressive, resulting in them playing too many hands and handing their stacks to anyone willing to take them on.

Nobody likes losing, especially when losing involves money, like at the poker tables. Some players have a difficult time accepting the inevitable losses if they lose to a bad beat. We have all been there. We have seen our aces cracked late in a tournament or faced an opponent that continually hits runner-runner straights and flushes. It can be infuriating, but you must keep your emotions in check if you want to succeed in the poker world.

Why do poker players go on tilt?

Tilt happens to poker players when they combine anger with lousy play. It is a vicious circle once you are tilting because you play worse, which makes you angrier, which makes you play even worse, and so on.

Everyone tilts in different ways and for various reasons. Some play too aggressively, and others become ultra-passive. Enduring a bad beat is sometimes enough for one person to explode, while a period of running poorly can be the catalyst to tilting for another.

Regardless of why or how a poker player tilts, they share a common trait: they all begin playing a suboptimal strategy that makes winning difficult, even virtually impossible. With that last sentence fresh in your mind, it should be evident that you should avoid going on tilt at all costs. If you can't stop yourself from tilting, at the very least, you need to be able to spot the warning signs and take evasive action.

What causes you to tilt?

Having a solid mental game to go with your technical ability gives you an advantage at the tables. Part of a good mental game is to be able to recognise when you are starting to play a less-than-optimal style caused by your emotions getting the better of you.

Ask yourself what it is that causes you to tilt. Is it bad beats? Is it losing to lesser-skilled opponents? It could be anything, but only you know what it is that results in you losing control.

Another question is, how do you know when you are tilting? What are the signs the tilt monster has reared its head and is about to ruin your poker session? Do you find yourself swearing? Do you start playing trash hands or three-betting out of the blinds too frequently? Which parts of your game start deteriorating before you are in full-blown tilt mode?

Recognising that you are en route to Tilt Town before you arrive there is a powerful thing to have in your corner.

Common forms of poker tilt

Tilting when running bad at the tables is one of the most common forms of poker tilt. Every player has endured long spells where they can seemingly do nothing right. You always find yourself on the wrong side of a set-over-set scenario. You miss draws at an alarming rate, and your three-bets with aces get called by four players before the flop falls Ts-9s-8s!

How do you deal with running bad tilt? The best way is to concentrate on playing well and realising that every hand is independent of another. Accept that bad runs are part of the game, just as much as running good is. Go through your hands and session on MyGame Whiz and see the times you got lucky, and you'll soon realise that you don't run poorly all the time.

Some people tilt because they hate losing. Wanting to win is great, but you must learn to handle the losses. Losing is part and parcel of playing poker because it is impossible to win all the time. Study the hands you lost, and you may find that you made a mistake that resulted in that loss. Above all, you must learn to accept losing; there is no way around it.

It is also common for people to tilt when they have made a mistake, mainly if it costs them a large pot in a tournament of a stack of chips in a cash game. Everyone makes mistakes, even the legends that are Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu. What separates them from the rest is they take those mistakes and turn them into a positive learning experience.

Believing you are better than everyone else is often called entitlement tilt. You only have to look at Phil Hellmuth for a living, breathing example. You are not entitled to win, regardless of how much time and effort you put into improving your skills. You pay your money, and you take your chance.

How to deal with tilting

Preventing going on tilt in the first place is the best thing you can do for your poker career. Learn the signs that you are slipping down the tilt-related slope, and take action.

For some people, this may be as simple as taking a few deep breaths and returning to the action. Others may become so angry that they must log out of their account and return a few hours later. The following tips are proven to help prevent you from tilting.

  • Follow proper bankroll management – Playing a game you cannot afford to play can lead to tilting because you can't play your favoured style, and any losses seem costlier.

  • Consider moving down stakes – We all run badly at some point in our poker careers. Moving down a level or two can help you regain confidence and protect your bankroll.

  • Use each loss as a learning experience – Use the tools available to you at PartyPoker to study your game. Could you have played a hand differently that would have resulted in a different outcome? Learning from losses and mistakes is something the very best poker players do.

  • Don't take things personally – The cards are not out to get you, and your opponents are only trying to win like you are. It is not a personal vendetta against you why you lost; it is simply part of this fantastic game.

  • Take a break if needed – If you feel like you are on tilt, immediately take a break until you regain your composure. This may only take a minute or two, or it may take a couple of days. You know yourself best.

  • Stopping tilting does not happen overnight – You did not improve your technical skills overnight, so don't expect to make immediate sweeping improvements to your mental game.