Playing winning poker is about a couple of things. Firstly it’s about playing your best, or as good as you can, for as long as you can play. And it’s also about playing your worst as infrequently as you can. It is a bit misleading to use the word tilt as if there are two levels to play poker on – normal poker and tilt poker. In fact, there is a huge variety in what poker game people bring to the table. Most people very rarely bring a 100% effort to the table. Most people play aver‐ age, middling poker for most of the time with little periods of rela‐ tive brilliance and stupidity thrown in.
When you start playing you should come into the game with the mindset that you want to crush your opponents. If you start out sloppy and lose from the outset you will spend your entire session trying to get even and your play will suffer. Start out by playing precise, winning poker and try to continue in that mindset through‐ out the game.
As we have already said, to play the best poker you can, having a passion for the game is essential. One thing that could help is to watch better people play, remind yourself what you are striving to achieve, how much you want achieve it, see how great they play and remember you want to achieve the same. And remember to do what they do, and what you need to do, which is to play as best you can for as high a percentage of the time as you can.
Playing your best poker is also constructive in terms of learning and getting better. When your mind is focused 100% on trying to play your best and thinking everything over you will learn a lot more than when you play average poker (this works in the reverse too). When your main focus in poker is learning and getting better it forces you to put in maximum effort at the table, which will help you learn and as a side effect you’ll play better and win more money. In poker you should always keep the mindset that you are at the ta‐ ble playing poker to learn, to become even better and to move up in stakes – this is crucially important.
Poker can be difficult on the psyche at times. Sometimes you will be playing good poker and you will still lose. Don’t compound these situations by tilting and playing worse, and as a result losing more money. When you tilt because of bad luck it usually means that the money you are playing for means too much to you. There are a cou‐ ple of explanations for this. One is that you only think about poker as a job and in terms of the money you make. You might be con‐ stantly worried about how much money you have won or lost in a session, always counting your chips or checking your bankroll. This is a bad habit that should be stopped. Look at poker as a game that you can try to master, not as a means to make money. When you are less concerned with wins and losses and more concerned with play‐ ing well, you will be less inclined to tilt.
Another explanation for why the money means too much to you is if you are playing higher stakes than you are used to. Higher stakes will increase the stress of playing because the potential win or loss will be greater than you are used to. If you are a player who has trouble playing under stressful conditions then it might not be a good idea to take shots at higher stakes. But, if you practice mental discipline then taking shots can help your game and your bankroll.
Another factor that may cause you to tilt is when you make a bad play. Poker is a long journey that will never be completed – you will always be changing your game and improving. Also, you will make many mistakes along the way, as all players do. So if you lose money by making a mistake you need to realize that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter. You are constantly learning to get better and one of the ways to learn is by evaluating your mistakes. If you see the reason you made a mistake and correct it then in the fu‐ ture than your game will benefit. Don’t make the mistake worse by tilting afterwards.