Emotional control is extremely important for all top poker players. It can make the difference between a nifty play and a spewy bluff, and ultimately between winning and losing.
Nearly all players, new and refined, have heard of the term ‘Tilt’. It refers to a state of mental or emotional confusion that results in less than optimal play.
Why Is It Important To Avoid Tilt?
New players don’t find it too important to avoid tilt. In fact, a lot of recreational players will be embracing their emotions as a part of the enjoyment they get from the game. This is fine if you only want to play for fun, but you should be aware that sharks are waiting to exploit your emotional state.
In a play money poker game, there isn’t really any need to play optimally, as there is nothing to risk. As the stakes get higher and the prize money gets significant, players will be doing their best to maximize their strategy and to control their emotions in order to keep their gameplay at its best.
By the time you get to the level that the pros and regulars play at, many people are working with the same maths and knowledge of the game. Often, the defining factor is emotion. Who is able to play poker for long hours and remain in an optimal state without ever loosing their cool and going on tilt? Imagine participating and running deep in an event like the Poker Stars Panama Championship, and throwing away the opportunity just because you got angry.
If you want to be a great poker player, the first step is to understand all of the basic maths and theory behind the game, but beyond this you will need to work hard on your emotions. This article will help you to deepen your understanding of ’tilt’, and learn how to avoid it happening.
Tilt is most often associated with anger. A player loses their nerve, and pushes all of their chips into the middle in a moment of emotional outburst, only to be called off by a predatory player with a legitimate hand. The story is all too common, and it only takes one moment of stupidity to face elimination.
Yet, not so many players truly think about how far-reaching ’tilt’ can be. It is not only anger that can cause us to make bad decisions. There are also a whole array of other emotions that can affect your game. Avoiding these emotions will help you to make the best decisions based on your knowledge of the poker, and your understanding of your opponents.
Poker is a highly logical game. Players rely on a combination of math and statistics, as well as solid hand reading skills, in order to determine long term outcomes. There is an element of statistical variance, or course, but this is overcome by pros because they make consistently profitable decisions, much like stock market investors.
In order to make highly logical decisions, players must have a clear mind that is free from the shrouding influence of emotions. Any time you are not playing optimally, you can consider yourself to be ‘on tilt’.
Tilt In Its Many Forms
Here are just some of the ways that you might find yourself on tilt. Try to avoid these if you want to become a winning player:
Anger and Frustration
Anger can easily arise during a poker session. Anyone ever had their pair of aces cracked by a flush on the turn? Then you know how it feels to be angry. Over time, professional poker players develop thicker skin, and these single bad beats don’t even bother them anymore. It would take months for a pro to start getting angry with these everyday scenarios.
You need to be able to control your anger in order to play consistently well. The best philosophy is to always be happy as long as you know that you made the correct play. You can’t control every element of the game, and sometimes the cards just fall against you, so just work on making sure your decisions are profitable. Learn to enjoy bad beats as a sign that you are getting your money in good!
If you feel yourself getting angry while playing a game, either online or live, then simply avoid making any fancy plays for the next few hands. Play very basic poker and tighten up your hand ranges until homeostasis is restored. In the meantime, take deep breaths and aim to relax.
Fatigue and Boredom
Poker is a very long game. Once you start playing, you have to be committed to seeing it through to the end. If you are just playing cash games, or modern speed-style variations, this isn’t so much of an issue; just make sure you quit when you start to feel too tired to make the right decisions, or too bored to care.
If you are playing larger field tournaments, you are probably going to be engaged in the game for the next 6-8 hours at the very minimum. You should be comfortable with that fact before you even sit down to play. You have to be able to imagine getting to the final table, however long that will take. You shouldn’t be sitting at your desk clicking buttons or playing in the casino only to be thinking about finishing and going to bed.
If you do end up feeling fatigued or bored and you are committed to a large tournament, there are a few strategies you can employ to wake yourself up. First, take a short stroll. This might mean missing a couple of hands, but it’s better than throwing all of your chips away. Just get up from your seat or laptop and go outside for a moment. Go to the bathroom, splash your face, and get yourself a drink. Stay hydrated for better performance. Have a light snack.
When you return to the table, you should find that you are better able to perform again. It is difficult to focus on any task for longer than a few hours, even if you really enjoy it, so taking regular breaks is really important for your emotional control and helping you stay on your A-game.
Perhaps a by-product of boredom, distractions are readily available for any online poker player. You could be locked in a hand that could cost you your tournament life while simultaneously be browsing on Facebook. In order to make clear-cut logical decisions and performing at your best, you must be dedicating 100% of your focus to the game.
If you find yourself regularly distracted, take the advice above and enjoy a small break. The best way to avoid distractions is to develop a mindset in which you understand that you are directly costing yourself money every time your mind is away from the tables.
Of course, we are all human, so if you know you will be tempted you should create an environment in which you minimize distractions. No TV, a dedicated poker laptop with no tabs up (block your social media if you can’t help yourself). Music is okay for some people.
There are more distractions in an online poker session, but there are also more opportunities to control your environment. In a live game, you should still be careful to keep your mind on the cards and the other players, and not let yourself be distracted by the ramblings of the guy or girl playing slots nearby.
Playing for the Wrong Stakes
It’s easy to see why playing at too high a buy-in can cause you to go on tilt. Money sparks emotional reactions. If the prize money is way beyond what your mind can comprehend winning, or – even worse – if the buy-in of the tournament is too high for your bankroll, and means too much to you, it is highly unlikely that you will make entirely logical decisions.
It depends on your personality, but most of the time if someone is playing at a stake that is too high, they will take a protective risk-aversion stance, avoiding what they see as ‘unnecessary gambles’, and only playing when they feel more sure that they can win. This is not optimal poker.
On the other hand, playing at too low a buy-in can cause a lot of problems too, because the money is too meaningless. It is hard to put maximum effort in to something if the return doesn’t really matter to you. It is also more difficult to be patient, and boredom is likely to take over at some point, causing you to make stupid plays.
In order to avoid tilt, it is therefore important that you play at the right level and stake, according to your skill set and bankroll. Bankroll management is a huge part of the professional poker player’s long term strategy for success.
Keep learning the technical aspects of poker. Without them, you will never know how to make profitable decisions. Yet, take care to remain emotionally stable and always bring your best game to the table.