Five ways to deal with tilt in poker

Tilt is a very dangerous state of mind when playing poker and happens to the best of us. It can wipe out months of hard work in one session if you lose the plot and spew away your bankroll at higher limits than you should be playing, for example.

The key to dealing with tilt is to recognise it when it starts to happen to you. For every player the triggers may be slightly different but may well include being frustrated by a run of bad hands, taking bad beats, playing against a player who won't fold a hand, etc. After a while these get to us and we 'tilt' and our play is affected - for example, we start playing way too many hands, we start chasing weak draws, or go all in too much.

What you must do is to catch yourself early before it blows up. Once you're really into the 'tilt' state of mind it's incredibly hard to come out of, thus the sooner you notice, the less damage you'll do to your game (and therefore bankroll). In the tilt mindset, we do things that we know afterwards were crazy, but a dangerous momentum is there which is hard to stop.

So if you can notice the warning signs (perhaps feeling physically tense, frustrated with bad beat after bad beat), here's five things you can do to nip things in the bud and stop the tilt spiralling out of control - 

1) Stop playing

If you're not playing your 'A' game, and you're tilting, the best thing you can do is stop playing. Close down the poker site, and ideally shut your computer down. Go and do something instead and don't play for at least an hour. If after that hour you still feel the same, still don't play. This can be hard to do because you want to 'win it back' and the frustrated part of you wants to continue playing in some vain attempt to start winning again; however in this mindset you simply will not play good quality poker. You need to remind yourself that in this frame of mind you are risking spewing away your entire bankroll that you've worked hard to build up.

2) Play at lower limits

If you really don't feel able to stop playing, the next-best thing you can do is to reduce the risk, and you can do this to an extent by playing at lower limits/stakes. Whilst this isn't ideal, as you're still risking damaging your bankroll, obviously you will do less harm at a lower stake. The added benefit to doing this is that you'll be up against worst players so it's easier to get your confidence back. Carry on at the lower stakes until you feel your state of mind is back to normal.

3) Go for a run or workout

If you've managed to stop yourself playing, I recommend you do something physical away from the computer. This takes the frustrated, negative energy out of you and channels it in a positive way. I've always found going for a run very therapeutic for tilt - you can guarantee it will drastically change your psychological state as well as making you feel a lot better physically. Plus, physically distancing yourself from the computer takes away the temptation to play more.

Weight-training is also a great way of converting that crappy energy and sense of frustration into something good.

4) Go over your hand histories

If you really don't feel like doing something physical, at least do something constructive. When you're tilting it's easy to convince yourself that you're suffering the worst luck ever, that you're not doing anything wrong, and so on. In reality, as soon as tilt sets in, you're likely to start playing badly, or at least not as well as you can. Take some time to objectively go over some hand histories - have you really had bad luck (quite possible) or has it been bad luck and bad play? Use PokerStove to look at all in situations - were they really 'bad' beats or were you only a slight favourite to begin with? If you're a sit n go player, use SNG Wiz to analyse your game - perhaps you've been calling or shoving in the wrong spots with the wrong hands.

5) Talk to a poker friend or coach

Get on the phone/Skype and talk to someone - every poker player has been through spells of bad luck and been on tilt - if you've got a poker coach perhaps schedule a session with them. It's great if you're tilting for someone to be totally objective and analyse your play or talk you out of playing more games.

And finally - remember it's just a game! There are far more serious things in life than having our pocket aces cracked four times in a row, or having a full house beaten by quads. Take a step back and have some perspective about your situation.