The importance of not tilting

As we have seen, tilt is a major factor in poker, and if you learn not to tilt you will be able to progress as a player at a much faster rate. Of course, if you play $1/$2 NLH and eliminate tilt from your game you won’t be able to jump right up to $5/$10. But, you won’t have to spend hours and hours grinding away to try to make up for money you lose on tilt and you will progress faster.

Many people underestimate just how high a win rate is possible, and how much tilting can impact this. When playing heads‐up online you can play 100 to 400 hands per hour, compared to full‐ring live play where you are fortunate to get 20 to 30 hands per hour. You get so many more hands online that if you tilt for a short time you could cost yourself a great deal of money. Conversely, when you are playing well your win rate will be magnified because you are playing more hands.

If you are tilting and happen to lose a buy‐in, think about how long it will take you to make it back. If you make ten big blinds an hour on average, it might take you ten hours of playing to make it up. Also, when you calculate your win rate of ten big blinds per hour that accounts for all the times you tilt away money. So if you play your best poker all the time your win rate would be significantly higher.

It is impossible to fully eradicate tilt. Even some of the best players in the world have massive tilt problems. They may have huge win rates, but sometimes tilt away five $10,000 dollar buy‐ins in a session. If you can learn to play poker as well as some of the top players but not tilt imagine what kind of money you could be making!

When playing heads‐up everything is also magnified – both your skill and tilt problems. Sometimes you may not be on tilt per se, but you may be not playing as well as normal. Maybe you’re not con‐ centrating sufficiently, are a little off your game, or playing listlessly because of boredom. But these mistakes will wreak similar havoc to tilt. When you are playing poorly or tilting it might be a good idea to quit the game.

This is an interesting point, because it’s what most people advocate when you are tilting. However the decision is a little more compli‐ cated in the moment and it depends how good your mental disci‐ pline is. If you have good mental discipline it can pay off big‐time to stay in the game assuming you have a good edge. The reason is that if you have been tilting and making crazy plays, your opponent will have noticed this and you will be in a good position to “change gears” and start playing solid poker to take advantage of a great ta‐ ble image.

How to avoid tilting

To be a successful player it is clearly imperative that you minimize tilt. Your winnings come from your opponents and this might be be‐ cause you are an amazing player, or an amazingly disciplined player. Of course the best thing to be is both; however, if you had to choose one the correct answer would be disciplined. You won’t have to deal with the enormous variance associated with huge wins and huge losses which will make poker much less stressful.

Take a step back and look where the money you are tilting away is going. It doesn’t just disappear, it doesn’t go to help a friend, buy a product, or to a deserving charity. It goes to your opponent – the en‐ emy, the villain of the hands you play, the person you need to beat to be successful. When you think about losses in this way it might help you avoid tilt. And when you get the urge to make a bad play because you are frustrated or bored, think about how unhappy it will make you later on. There is no need to rush important deci‐ sions – take your time and really think it through. Be methodical about playing poker.

Another way to avoid tilt on downswings is not to get hung up on your current stack or bankroll and not worry about how much big‐ ger they were previously. This train of thought will force you to play too aggressively in hopes of regaining what you once had. Some‐ times your bankroll or stack will fluctuate downward but you must avoid giving in to greed when you are in one of these downswings since forcing the action will likely cause you to lose more money.

The journey of learning to play poker can often seem to take you two steps forward and one step back, but everyone who plays the game goes through long periods of losing at some point. This is of‐ ten a combination of bad luck and bad play, since when people start losing they invariably begin to play worse. However, it is important to try to avoid long‐term tilt in order to minimize your losses.

Sometimes when you are on a bad streak of cards you start making thinner value bets and more bluffs in an attempt to recoup your losses. Other times your opponents might be on a good run of cards and when you play aggressively they keep showing up with big hands and this causes you to play scared. Long losing streaks are like fog in the distance – they cause you to lose your way on the journey.

There are generally two remedies for long‐term tilt. For some players, taking an extended break from the game might be a good idea. After long breaks the fog will subside and your mind will become clearer. Poker isn’t a steady climb upwards – there are frequently valleys and plateaus encountered on the way.

For other players a better remedy might be to just refocus your ef‐ forts and force yourself to play your best poker. This will work bet‐ ter for players with stronger willpower. If you are playing good poker you will eventually win, so just ride out the losing streaks as there are greener pastures ahead.

Conversely there exists the problem of playing below your normal skill level, and note that such issues can compound themselves. When you play well, you will continue to play better and better and your opponent may play worse and worse. But when you play bad the opponent will play better and you will play worse yourself. This is why when you start playing badly and tilting it’s hard to reverse the trend and it is usually better to just quit.

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