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How to Handle Poker Tilt

Tilt is defined as playing poor poker as a result of emotions. For example, if you catch an unlucky break and then get mad and go all-in every hand for the next 20 hands, you would be said to have “gone on tilt.” Tilt is not a pretty sight and it is easily one of the most expensive habits poker players can develop.

If you want to increase your win rate in poker, it is absolutely necessary that you avoid tilt at all times. Tilt is the biggest bankroll killer in poker other than poor play. In fact, some of the best poker players in the world have gone broke due to good old-fashioned tilt. The sad thing about tilt is that it’s so avoidable. Losing money to tilt is not due to a lack of knowledge or bad luck; it’s a simple lack of self control.

I’m sure you already know this, but the elimination of tilt will significantly increase your poker win rate. Even if you only suffer from tilt once a month, it can easily set you way behind people who avoid tilt. Not only does tilt make you lose money, but it gets in the way of you winning money. That lost money also makes it take that much longer to move up in stakes, which is a major opportunity cost.

How to Avoid Tilt

Removing tilt from your game is a two-step process. First, you should learn how to stop playing every time you feel frustrated, annoyed or desperate. Eventually, you will want to learn how to control your emotions at the table so that you don’t ever have to stop playing.

But first, let’s talk about stopping. This is the biggest hurdle most poker players have. They suffer from a bad beat, catch a bad run of cards or something and then have trouble stopping even though they know they should. There are three things you can do to make it easier to stop:

  1. Take a five minute break every time you lose a big pot – even if you don’t feel angry yet.
  2. Quit playing poker for the day if you still feel angry after that five minute break.
  3. Be strong, control yourself and resist the urge to continue playing when you know you shouldn’t. Don’t whine and complain, don’t replay the hand over in your head, just deal with it and move on, soldier!

The first two above recommendations are fairly easy to follow. If you get in the habit of taking a break after losing big pots, you’ll be taking the first step in controlling your behavior and your reactions to negative outcomes. This is a great way to train your mind and your sense of self control.

Number three on the list is a little easier said than done. For some reason, we all have a strong urge to continue playing when we are angry. It’s almost always due to some sense of getting revenge or getting the money back. Remember that no matter what happens, your bankroll is what it is. There is no going back in time; the only thing you can control is what you do from here on. Are you going to dig the hole deeper or practice smart tilt avoidance?

Learning to Control Your Emotions

I do not recommend that you worry about this until you have the above concepts mastered. Learning how to control your emotions at the table is a time-consuming process. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Plus, it’s dangerous to attempt to continue playing even after suffering bad beats. The temptation to go on full-blast tilt is strong.

At some point, though, you will be ready to practice playing no matter how many unlucky breaks you catch. Some of the greatest poker players in the world are masters at this. I’ve seen poker players like Barry Greenstein and Patrick Antonius lose $500,000 pots and not blink an eye. These are the stone-faced poker players that you should try to emulate some day. They are always in control and they know how to continue forward in the face of adversity.

Any time you catch a bad beat or lose a big pot, think about what one of the above poker players would do. Think about how much you admire their wills of steel and try to do the same thing. Think about your self-respect and your pride and stomp on those fiery emotions like you would stomp on a small grass fire.

It requires great effort but it is possible for anyone to get to a point of complete emotional control. You may feel frustrated at times, but you will no longer be a slave to passing emotions. It is a great feeling to play poker free from a cluttered, angry mind. When you get to this point in your poker career, you will be on the verge of greatness.

Hopefully this article will help you learn to avoid tilt completely, but often-times situations arise where it is virtually impossible not to be affected. When this happens, use these tips for controlling poker tilt.

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