Tilt is defined as making decisions that you know are not EV-maximizing.
Tilt is one of the most costly leaks in many players' game, and so it is absolutely critical to avoid playing while on tilt. You must do whatever is necessary to avoid this.
There are 3 basic steps to managing tilt.
- Identifying when you are on Tilt
- Take action to get off of Tilt when it hits you
- Avoiding going on Tilt to begin with.
Let's have a closer look.
Identifying Tilt. You obviously can't solve a problem if you can't correctly identify it, so the first step is to determine if you are on tilt. If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you are likely Tilting:
- Do you feel frustrated or impatient or bored while playing?
- Do you feel like you want to "get even" with an opponent, or does it "feel good" when you beat someone in particular?
- Do you want to start yelling at other players or 'educating' them on how badly they are playing?
- If you had to explain why you are playing a particular hand to a poker-knowledgeable friend, could you give it good justification?
- Are you playing significantly more hands than you normally do?
- Getting Off Tilt. There are a number of steps you can take. Some or all might work for you, so keep trying them until you find what helps you.
- Reframe the situation. Think about the money as a loan to a good friend who will pay you back with interest. In fact, that is what the fish really is to you - if he plays long enough he will be certain to lose everything. You just hope he keeps playing and loses it back to you.
- Take a break. Sometimes sitting out an orbit and getting a drink is all you need to cool down and refocus.
- Look at it from his point of view. Use Pokertracker and play back the hand while viewing his hole cards. Ask yourself if you'd have played any differently if you were him, or how bad his mistakes were. Often you'll find he had lots of outs or had pot odds to call.
- Focus on the big picture. If you always won, or the best hand always held up, then your fishy opponents wouldn't return. Often you can look back and say, I've just lost this big pot, but I'm still up XX amount over the last YY time period, so this is just part of that.
- Try switching levels. Leave your current game and move down a notch. Sometimes just mixing things up with new opponents can help.
- Try switching games. Sometimes playing O8 and getting no cards gets frustrating and boring. Get up and go play some lower stakes Omaha High or shorthanded NLHE, which requires a slightly different skillset. And one where impatience and aggression are less likely to hurt you.
- Quit for the day. Sometimes nothing works, you keep playing badly. You need to be able to get and and leave and start fresh the next day.
- Avoid Going on Tilt. The key to avoiding going on Tilt is understanding yourself. If you know what makes yourself tick, and why you play to begin with, you are much better able to implement strategies to counter this.
- Understand why you play. Some play for the intellectual challenge, some play for fun, some play purely for the money, some play for the social interaction. Figure out why you play and you'll know why you're unhappy when playing.
- Have a set routine that gets you in a good place to start with. Some athletes imagine themselves playing their A-game before they actually begin their contest. Some people at work always have a cup of coffee and check email before starting their day. Basically, the set routine gets you mentally prepared and in a consistent place before starting.
- Develop a check-list of "risk factors" that are prone to putting you on tilt. Some people go on tilt after they've lost a couple of big pots to bad beats. Some tilt after they've made some bad plays. Some start off on tilt because of non-poker issues that are interfering. Some go on tilt after having played for a couple hours and are bored. You need to identify the leading causes of tilt for you personally.
- Create "action solutions" to your your own personal risk factors. If you go on tilt after taking several bad beats, then institute a personal rule that you'll sit out 3 hands and walk away from the computer if it happens. If you tilt after long sessions at the key board then institute a "lose 10% and quit" rule, where if you drop 10% from your daily high then you exit that table. It doesn't matter so much what you decide to implement - just use trial and error to find something that works for you and stick to it.
Here's what I do:
- Understand why you play. I play for the intellectual challenge. I grew up playing strategy games and take some personal pride in playing well. So I am prone to several tilt factors: a) My biggest leak is that I like to play and will play for long periods of time, but that my patience and judgment declines; also, b) I don't handle multiple bad beats well. If I'm smarter and I've thought things through better then I feel I "should" be rewarded and win. On the other hand, money doesn't motivate me that much in poker. I have a professional job, so if I'm playing well and making good decision then losing lots of money doesn't bother me. I'm also not interested in the social interactions at my tables, so I tend to disregard the chat and certainly having someone else taunt me at the table makes no difference to me.
- Have a routine. I do a quick mental check before I start playing. I used to be a semi-professional athlete and have found the dynamics of "listening to your body/emotions", and "getting into flow state" as being very relevant to poker. So I've identified my own personal "homerun" mental state for poker, and I ask myself how close I am to that mentally before I start playing. I also ask, "what kind of poker game do i feel like playing", and I let that guide me to the tables.
- Create a vision of how you want to play. I envision myself as being very calm, relaxed and centered, and standing with a big bag in the middle of an old narrow street in Italy. I must run up and down the street with my bag catching gold coins that people randomly drop out of their windows from up above. Pretty strange, huh?! But it is the right metaphor for poker for me: a) you can't rush the situation, you need to let it come to you, b) aggression (running faster to catch more coins) pays off, but you can't take it too far - you need to know when to let them just drop away, c) it isn't personal with any one opponent, d) the more time you spend playing, the more you'll make, but e) sometimes people will drop lots of coins near you and sometimes not many at all, and f) it's work - you need to keep practicing and staying in shape, but g) it's fun at the same time - and if its not fun, then you need to change something.
- Have a check-list and action steps. I set personal limits to how far below my daily high I'll let myself slip before quitting - I tend to play longer sessions and tend to hit a point where i will start losing quickly due to lack of concentration/patience. So if I drop more than about 8BB after I've been going for 3 hours or more, that's a big red flag to stop. I also will quit if I lose more than 75% of my buy-in on any given table, except under unusual circumstances. Usually, if I've sat at a $10-20 table with $500 and I drop below $150 or so, it is almost certainly because I've been playing badly or are on tilt. And painful experience has taught me its best to get up. I will periodically do a "gut check" on how impatient I'm feeling, and if it seems pretty high, I try and sit out.
- Try to get off tilt while playing. I will actively review opponents hands in twodimes or Pokertracker, and often I find they played the hand correctly or even had a better hand than I did - this personally helps me quite a bit in avoiding tilt. And if I take a bad beat from a particularly bad player, I'll try and imagine him making that mistake again in the future while I'm sitting there waiting - almost like I'm out deer hunting for him and I just need to be patient until he walks into the open.
Well, that's it. This page is one of the longer ones in this website because I feel so strongly about it. Tilt in the form of lost patience at the end of long, late-night sessions has cost me literally thousands of dollars, and is the biggest leak I have. If you can plug your own Tilting leaks, its probably worth more than hours spent reviewing hands. Good Luck!