Avoiding Tilt in Poker

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Avoiding Tilt in Poker

Spotting a player on tilt is a glorious moment for a seasoned poker pro, but being that player is a newbie's worst nightmare. To avoid paying out like a faulty slot machine next time you hit the poker table, follow this simple guide.

What is Tilt?

The term is thought to originate from pinball, where angry players try to tip the table when the ball isn’t going their way. This trips a small switch, the machine shuts down and the screen displays the 'TILT' message – game over.

The poker equivalent is when a player gets frustrated and fails to make rational strategic decisions, allowing clear-minded players to take advantage. Although caricatures often depict angry players turning into the Hulk, the beginnings of tilt aren't always so obvious.

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Risk Factors

Professionals suggest learning the signs of tilt so that you can control it. Start by assessing your mindset prior to a game. You may be setting yourself up for a loss if:

  • You're stressed and want to “cut loose”
  • You've had one too many drinks
  • You're significantly less experienced than your rivals
  • You're complacent – strategies do get stale and even pros can be blind to strategic flaws sometimes

Common Triggers

Once a game begins, any player can suffer from creeping tilt; where their emotions take control without them realising. Knowing these common tilt triggers will help you to question your decisions before they go awry:

  • A Bad Loss: a narrow defeat, costly game or poor decision can make you think you need to win the hand back; this is a powerful precursor to tilt
  • A Losing Streak: keep getting bad cards? you're not due a win - that's not how probability works; it's just gambler's fallacy, and tilt's best friend
  • Disruptive Players: some players will try to wind you up, others are just rude;either way, getting angry just clouds your judgement
  • Friendly Players: some players try to lower your guard with friendly chatter; don't succumb, stay focused
  • Lucky Cards: numerology isn’t the way to go; base bets on statistical observation and probabilities, even on psychology, but not superstition

Know Your Enemy

Everyone joins a poker table prepared to assess their opponents. It’s more difficult, though, to accurately assess yourself.

Focusing on your opponent can help identify flaws in your own game. Look out for tell-tale signs that you're doing something different; a quirked eyebrow, a small smile, even a disapproving look can reveal that you're getting emotionally invested.

Don't obsess over micro-expressions, though – you’ll lose focus on your game. It's usually more important to beware the enemy within. There are certain physical signs that warn of stress you can watch out for, like sweaty hands and a dry mouth – combat these patterns of behaviour early and remember the red flags for next time.

Tilt Safeguards

As well as being vigilant against tilt, there are some strategic safeguards you can practise. It pays to have a safety net (or two, or three):

  • Set a “stop loss”: decide how much you can afford to lose and don't spend a penny more
  • Tiredness and stress impair your judgement, so take regular breaks
  • Keep a buy-in tally: making several in quick succession is a sign something's wrong
  • Don't talk when you're getting angry, opponents will seek to exploit signs of weakness
  • Stop playing when you stop having fun

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Matthew Glazier

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