Recognize and Eliminate Poker Tilt

Jared Tendler in his incredible book on poker tilt, The Mental Game of Poker, defines tilt as anything that takes you away from playing great poker.  This is such a broad definition that we necessarily have to narrow this down for ourselves and define which particular type of tilt effects us the most.

I was once like many players in that I thought tilt was just getting angry at the table and spewing off chips by making unthinking, bad decisions.  Reading Jared’s book opened my eyes to the fact that there are many types of tilt.  The most common forms are:

  • Injustice Tilt – triggers for this from of poker tilt are suffering suck-outs (flopped straight sucked-out by a runner-runner flush), coolers (first KK you’ve seen in hours is beaten pre-flop by AA) or bad beats (your opponent flopped a set of 7’s and you’ve got QQ on a 742r board).
  • Hate-losing Tilt – not understanding variance and handling losses poorly results in anger, bad choices and more money lost.
  • Mistake Tilt – you spend many hours each month studying, and making a mid-session mistake that you’ve studied and prepared for sends you over the edge.
  • Entitlement Tilt – you believe that because you’re a student of the game and eat/breathe/live poker you have the right to win, and losing to an undeserving opponent drives you crazy.
  • Revenge Tilt – you go after specific opponents and want vengeance against them b/c of the way they play, talk, act towards you or have beaten you time after time.
  • Desperation Tilt – you need to win your money back, so you start making poor bankroll and poker decisions in an effort to win your money back.

The particular forms of poker tilt that I suffer from the most are Injustice Tilt and Entitlement Tilt.  I’ve been working on addressing and resolving each of these, and I’m proud to say that I suffer from either only about 25% as often as I used to.

Resolving poker tilt is always a work in progress, and there are some definite steps you need to take to address the form of poker tilt you suffer from.  The first step is recognition of the problem.

1. Recognition of Poker Tilt

Once you know what form of poker tilt you suffer from the most, you need to be able to recognize the circumstances that bring it on mid-session.  Recognizing these things will help you forestall the tilt that usually comes on.  For the Injustice Tilt I suffer from, my triggers are getting sucked out on by a caller who’s overpaying for his draw, and bad beats like a big pocket pair losing to a smaller pocket pair or a weak suited hand.

I know that when I encounter one of these circumstances, I can then state some of my prepared logic statements and think about how it’s just variance that I’m reacting to, and how it’s a necessary part of the game.  These two things are usually enough to keep tilt at bay so I can continue playing my best poker.

2. Session Preparation

Doing a proper warm-up that includes thinking about your tilt profile, reading your logic statements and getting in the correct poker mindset are key to being fully prepared for your session.  These are mandatory steps in gaining control of your mind and keeping tilt at bay permanently.

3. In-session Poker Tilt Awareness and Control

You need to constantly be wary of tilt-inducing scenarios occurring.  Now, this doesn’t mean to avoid hands that could lead to tilt (don’t muck JJ in the CO when folded to you and the BB always defends with ATC).  Being wary just means to be on the lookout and don’t let things lead to tilt.  As long as you pay attention, tilt has a much smaller chance of sneaking up on you.

The worst thing you could hear yourself say is, “I don’t know what happened… I was playing fine then BAM!  I suddenly lost 3 buy-ins on one table and broke my mouse against the wall.”  That’s a sure sign you weren’t fully focused on the game at hand, didn’t recognize a tilt-inducing scenario occurring and you let tilt take control.

4. Post-session Evaluation

After each session you should take notes in your poker journal (get my 21-page Poker Journal here) regarding any and all poker tilt you may have just experienced, even if it’s the last thing you want to do right then.  The tilt notes within your poker journal will be a guide to resolving your tilt issues for good.

Big or small, whatever occurred to send you on tilt and the severity of your tilt needs to be recorded so you can see the progress you’re making.  Recommendations on what you should record in your journal:

  • Severity of tilt on a scale of 1-10, 10 being computer punching, hole in the wall, window shattering tilt
  • Results of tilt (ex. lost 3 buy-ins, quite 1 hour early, played 3 hours longer to get it all back, etc.)
  • The circumstances that brought about the tilt (ex. AA lost to 22)
  • Version of tilt you suffered from (Injustice, Mistake, etc)
  • What you did to try and control tilt mid-session and how successful it was (ex. recognizing variance didn’t help buy my logic statements did)

Maybe when you start on your tilt-control journey, you tilt every other session and on a scale of 1-10, your average tilt is a level 8.  If after a few weeks of dedicated tilt resolution, you only tilt once every 5 sessions and it’s on average at a level 6, then you know you’re making progress.

Good luck with controlling tilt.  I know that poker tilt has lead me to spew off lots of buy-ins or just not play at all, thereby losing possible profits.  My tilt control is still an ongoing process and I’m looking forward to the day when I can be Ivey-esque in my reactions to what happens at the tables.

If you haven’t done so yet, I highly recommend that you read ‘The Mental Game of Poker.’  This has been one of the most influential poker books I’ve read to date, and is a must for all serious poker players.

Sky Matsuhashi
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