Going on tilt – how to stay calm

In poker, emotional discipline is every bit as important as the technical aspect of your game, or the cards in your hands. In this section, we’ll go through:

Imagine the scenario. You had great starting cards, the flop was brilliant, the turn a gift, and – feeling pretty invincible – you go all-in. Your opponent follows. It’s in the bag. Then the river – by some horrible million-to-one chance – deals them a hand you never saw coming. They scoop the lot, and you’re left with nothing.

It’s fair to say this could throw you a little bit.

That’s fine. Normal, even. After all, no-one likes to lose. The problem comes when these emotions start to affect the next game, and the next, making you vulnerable to further losses. What we call ‘going on tilt’.

What tilt is, and how it can affect you

Often, you’ll find that your worst sessions aren't down to bad luck or 'not hitting the cards' (ahem), but irrational playing after letting a so-called ‘bad beat’ (losing with a statistically good hand) get to you.

Common tilt scenarios

  • After a loss, you feel you’re owed some luck and start playing hands you shouldn’t. Not only is this bad strategy, experienced players will see you’re in a tailspin and use it against you.
  • You lose confidence and start passing on perfectly good hands for no real reason. Sure, you want to protect yourself – but you’re just playing into your own fears, with little, if any, chance of winning.

What to do about it

Professional players accept tilt as part of the poker landscape. Rather than pretend it’s not happening, they identify it and find ways to limit the damage.

For example, you could:

  • Think of each losing hand as a lesson and put it down to experience
  • Take a break – whether for five minutes, or five days - so when you next sit down to play you've got a clear head
  • Play at lower limits, so if your bad run continues, you're losing less
  • Read a poker book to get your confidence back

Don’t take it personally

Even if you play perfectly, good hands will sometimes get beaten. It’s how you handle those losses that make you a winner in the long term. Most importantly, don’t let it ruin your game. Poker is meant to be fun, after all.

Dealing with mind games

In poker, it’s not enough to manage your own state of mind, you've got to figure out your opponents’ too. This will help you work out what they’re holding, pre-empt their tactics, pressure them into making mistakes, and basically confuse them so you keep the upper hand.

The flip side of this is that they can easily do the same to you. It’s not just about inscrutable, highly strategic play. A few choice words from an opponent at the wrong time could send you from Zen master to tilt monster in seconds.

Be aware of this, and if someone’s pushing your buttons, just ignore them or turn the chat feature off. And remember, although mind games are part of poker, abuse is not, so let us know if someone’s overstepped the mark.

Whether it's managing your emotions, mixing up your play or mastering the art of bluffing, get a handle on poker psychology and you’ll go a long way.