Whether you’re playing online poker or you’re at a land-based casino, winning a tournament is about a whole lot more than being skilled at cards. If you want to know how to win poker tournaments, then you’re going to have to have a good grasp of three main areas: fundamental skills, mathematics, and discipline.
There’s a lot that can go wrong in a poker game, and no matter how skilled you are or what your mathematics capabilities are, if you can’t control your emotions, you aren’t going to have success. This is what is known as controlling “tilt.” In this article, we are going to go into more detail about what tilt is, how to recognize and prevent it, and how to mitigate its effects should you experience tilt at the table.
What Is Tilt?
Tilt isn’t just confined to poker tournaments but can also be experienced in games such as golf, where your mindset also needs to be at optimal levels to compete. The term tilt is used to describe a scenario where players start to struggle due to emotional distress. Tilting can cause you to lose your temper and make poor playing decisions, which inevitably lead to bigger losses. Tilt in poker relates to a number of events, including bluffs gone awry, several long stretches of being “card dead” (not being dealt decent cards), and losing to a perceived lesser player.
As a poker player, you should make it a priority to avoid tilt. Whether you’re playing poker online or at a land-based casino, this is a game of decisions. You will need to have your wits about you when playing online poker for real money, especially when you’re participating in a poker tournament. Impaired thinking will certainly affect your performance at the table.
The Tilt Spectrum
Let’s look at tilt as a spectrum of behaviors. The best mindset that you could have is peace and happiness. At the other end of the spectrum of behaviors is uncontrollable rage. Along this spectrum are various levels of emotions, such as sadness, disappointment, irritation, frustration, annoyance, anger, and finally, rage. The closer you reach a state of rage, the more your “A” game will suffer, and you begin to think irrationally. Of course, this is not the ideal situation for playing poker.
What Causes Tilt?
Tilt can be caused by a number of different factors; the first and most common cause of tilt is in-game issues. The other cause stems from issues that are not related to the game, but that can still have an impact on players’ moods and decision-making. Let’s look at these in more detail.
Issues that are often not directly related to the cards can have a massive impact on the mindset of players and how they manage their game. These issues are often called pre-triggers as they usually precede the game. Issues that may affect a player’s mind include problems like break-ups and divorce, financial stress, lack of sleep, drugs, and alcohol. All of these issues cause players to run hot emotionally and mentally before the game has even started and could leave them all the more susceptible to tilt.
Although these pre-triggers may not cause in-game tilt, they do share a large portion of the blame. Rather than being the final tilt catalyst, these situations are putting together the perfect set of circumstances to make it incredibly hard to avoid tilt the moment that things stop going your way in the game. If your mind was in a good place and things started to slip somewhat, chances are that you would be able to keep your cool and make it through tilt without too much of an issue.
You’re playing a game, and you’re playing it well. You feel like you are having to do a little bit of emotional management when things don’t go your way, but overall, you’re feeling in control. Then something goes very wrong. Although triggers for tilt are different depending on the individual, one thing that happens across the board is that it always occurs when the game starts to change course in a way the player did not expect. This twist of fate often leads to your rational side packing its bags for a couple of hours of vacation and letting your emotions and pride take over and house-sit while it’s away.
The first and most common trigger for in-game tilt is a bad beat. Every player, whether beginner or pro, is going to experience bad beats. This could be a minor “oh shucks” bad beat or a complete soul-sucking crunch of a bad beat that takes every bit of wind out of your sails. Bad beats are an inherent part of any poker tournament, and as such, they are a common tilt trigger. This is why one of the most useful poker tips is to learn how to deal with bad beats without getting emotional.
Another common tilt trigger in poker that has nothing to do with your skillset and everything to do with luck is simply having bad cards. It’s easy to get upset when you’ve got a terrible starting hand, and you have been card-dead for a long period of time. This causes pure frustration, and even the most emotionally controlled players have a hard time keeping themselves in check when they are in this situation.
When playing online, it’s a bit more difficult to endure a long streak of bad cards. This is simply due to multi-tabling options that allow you to play on other, more productive tables at the same time. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that you could have to deal with more bad beats when multi-tabling due to the sheer number of games and hands you are playing.
One of the key ways to beat tilt is by putting in a management process that prevents it from happening in the first place. Remember that prevention is always better than cure. First things first, you’re going to want to leave your baggage at the door on the way in. There’s nothing wrong with having a beer or a whiskey during the game, but if you are having emotional troubles and stress away from the game, then drinking before or during it is just going to make it that much easier to let your emotions get the best of you. If you’re aware that you’re not in the greatest moods before playing, take a minute to find a state of peace. Perhaps watch some funny videos, take a walk, or exercise to get those endorphins pumping.
Remember that a good hand can be sucked out at any moment, and you have to be prepared for that. Poker players are notorious for overestimating how good their cards are, which means that there’s a bigger emotional fall when their cards fail. Be realistic about the game, and don’t let yourself fall into the trap of picturing how the game should go instead of focusing on how it is going. In theory, you should be able to see a loss coming before it happens, which will allow you to prepare yourself for it rather than flying off the handle when it does happen.
If you haven’t managed to prevent tilt and you can feel yourself going into a full-blown tilt spiral, then there are a number of different things that you can do that will help you get back on the right level.
Set a Stop-Loss
This is an especially useful tool to use if you aren’t great at controlling your emotions yet, or if you’re just beginning to play poker online. A stop-loss sets a limit on the number of times that you can lose before you have to walk away. As a beginner, three buy-ins is about the right number. This can always be changed to more as you learn to become more in control of your emotions with practice. When you set a stop-loss on a game, you have to ensure that you honor it and stop playing when you are meant to.
Take a Break
If you’re in the midst of a poker tournament, it’s going to be impossible to take a longer break, but short breaks are imperative. Get up from the table, go to the bathroom, wash your face, and listen to a calming song. Or watch your favorite video – whatever is going to get your head level again.
If you’ve had bad beat after bad beat and you keep buying in to try to chase your losses, it’s only going to end one way, and that’s not a positive. By this stage, you’ve lost your cool, and you’re making bad decisions that will lead to other players noticing that you’re on tilt and exploiting you, which will only worsen it for you. Move away from the table or computer, and don’t go back in a few minutes or a few hours. Try to take at least a day to get your head right and your emotions in check before trying your hand again.
These are just some of the ways that you can manage tilt in poker. At BetMGM, we encourage all of our players to be in the best emotional and mental state that they can be in order to enjoy their best online poker on our site.
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