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What Is Tilt?
Tilt is a poker term for a poor state of mind that leads a player to make costly mistakes—usually born out of frustration. Symptoms of tilt include playing hands that you shouldn’t and bluffing too much. In a cash game you can quit and play another day, but in a tournament you are stuck and must make the best of the situation. In order to overcome tilt, it is crucial that you focus on the moment, rather than letting yourself become preoccupied with the past.
When you are starting to tilt, remind yourself to focus on the fundamentals of the game. Tilt impairs your ability to think clearly (remember, poker is a game of decisions), but if you still make good fundamental decisions, you can minimize the damage.
Daniel Negreanu’s Tips for Avoiding Tilt
Daniel recommends a four-stage process to avoid tilt after a bad beat.
- Vent your frustration internally. This allows you to let go of that emotional reaction and release tension.
- Check your mental and emotional state and become present in the moment.
- Check your physical state. If there is still a feeling of tension, you can return to the first stage.
- Determine how you wish to feel from that moment forward. This process allows you to move on from what happened and to adapt your poker strategy for the future, not based on the past.
Another way to avoid tilt is to analyze your mistakes and learn something from them. Each mistake is an opportunity to increase your skill level and strengthen your poker game.
Daniel says: “You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. Learning nothing from those mistakes is the mistake. The mistakes are opportunities for a breakthrough.”
Inject Logic to Avoid Emotional Decision-Making
No player is immune from tilt, and it can take years to break through the triggers that cause you to tilt. Emotional decision-making is also a common trigger for tilt. One example of this behavior is when a player folds a junk hand only for it to make a monster on the flop. They then start to play that same hand in situations that they know they shouldn’t. Emotion gets in the way of good logic, especially if you are results-oriented.
The first step to reducing tilt is to analyze your emotions during play to find out when you feel most frustrated. Use a notebook to keep a record of the circumstances or game events that affect your performance over a long period of time.
When you’ve reached a level of self-awareness in which you can recognize that your emotions are about to affect your performance, use a process called “injecting logic” to prevent yourself from passing the pain threshold. For example, during a bad run you can remind yourself that
variance is a normal part of poker. This simple process can relax your subconscious mind enough to prevent tilt. Fear, motivation, and confidence are factors which affect your mental game. Assess your own relationship with each of these to begin the process of reducing tilt in your game.
3 Ways to Use Tilt to Your Advantage
You can also attempt to tilt your opponents in order to impair their thought processes.
- Observe players with bad strategy. A change in a player’s demeanor—accelerated breathing or drinking too much at the table, for example—can give you clues that they might be going on tilt before it becomes obvious. They might also change their game—for example, they might play too many hands. It’s important to keep an eye on your opponents so you can pick up on the subtle indicators that they may be in a tilted mental state.
- Capitalize on the pain threshold. Tilt will manifest in different ways in each individual. Understanding how each of your opponents is affected can give you important information to exploit them. For example, if you observe an opponent bluffing more frequently, you must call them down more often. Knowing when your opponent is at their pain threshold can give you an opportunity to make extra profit or to avoid making a bluff that won’t work. Every time your opponent encounters a piece of bad luck, it increases their frustration level. This accumulates until they reach their pain threshold, when the character of their game will change considerably.
- Show a bluff on the river in a big pot. Daniel doesn’t recommend this if you’re a beginner because you might give away too much information. But if you’re an experienced poker player, you can try.