You are your own worst enemy – The Poker Tilt and how to stop it

Though we are all encouraged to maintain our ‘poker face’, poker can be far from a dispassionate game. If we allow our emotions to get the better of us – either in poker or in any aspect of life – things can very quickly go awry. One of the most important emotional disturbances to pay attention to here is poker tilt. Once we notice the dreaded tilt happening, we need to be able to stop it in its tracks.

What is poker tilt?

Poker tilt is the name for the buildup of frustration that can occur during a game of poker, and which leaves us feeling confused and unable to make the best decisions for ourselves. This might happen because the game is not going our way, or because the other players are doing their best to wind us up, or simply because of something upsetting or frustrating that is occurring in our personal life which we have been unable to leave behind us as we play. Poker ’tilt’ happens when this frustration gets the better of us and starts to affect our poker strategy. In other words, poker tilt means playing badly (and probably losing money unnecessarily) due to feelings of annoyance and frustration.

The difference between tilt and steam

Poker tilt and poker steam are often conflated, however they are in fact two different things. Poker steam is similar to poker tilt, but rather than revolving around feelings of frustration it involves feelings of anger and aggression. Someone suffering from poker tilt might get annoyed and feel stuck in a rut, losing their focus and making bad decisions as a result. A gambler afflicted by poker steam, however, will become angry and aggressive and could even get verbally abusive and violent.

How to stop poker tilt: a three point guide

Have you been suffering from poker tilt? You can stop it if you want to, by bearing the following three points in mind.

1. Recognise when tilt is happening

Poker tilt can sneak up on us unawares. It is natural to feel annoyed if we were not dealt the optimum hand or if we wagered a little too much on a given round. Ideally, these emotions will be transient and we will be able to control them when we want to. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be able to recognise when these emotions are building up and becoming a problem. Check in with yourself regularly during a game – how do you feel? Are your emotions making you confused? Are you trapped in a frustration-motivated ‘brain fog’? Or, is everything ok at the moment?

2. Learn your trigger points

Stopping tilting in poker will be so much easier if you know what triggers it in the first place. Is it related to the irritating behaviour of a particular player, for instance? Or, does it usually occur when you feel tempted to fold? When one of these identifiable’trigger situations’ happens, you will be prepared to stop tilt before it has even begun.

3. Have a cool down strategy

It can be hard to think about how to cool down when you are feeling flustered. The best way to halt tilting in poker is to have a strategy already thought out, so that when you feel the tilt starting to take hold of you, you can just apply your strategy and regain focus and tranquility. There is no one size fits all approach: everyone is different, so find out what works for you! Some useful strategies for calming down include breathing slowly and deeply, counting to 10 and back down to 1 again in your head, grabbing a drink of cold water or alternatively a comforting hot drink, and telling yourself ‘stay calm’ several times in your mind.

Recognise when you have a real problem

Has tilt really got you in its grip? Has your tilt even turned into steam? Many people have anger management issues, and if you are having a real problem controlling your emotions as you gamble it is definitely worth while talking to someone (such as a friend, your partner, or a counsellor) and perhaps even taking an anger management course. Why lose money and spoil what should be a fun game of poker due to poker tilt when you could start solving the problem today?