Tilting in Live Poker
Tilt is never a positive asset for any poker player to have. While it's most prevalent in online play, there's little doubt that it's one of the primary causes for losses in live poker as well. When you are sitting at a poker table, it will be almost immediately apparent when one of your opponents is tilting. Some will start cursing, making violent bets, or simply stay quiet, making it clear that they want to be left alone.
Though it's easy to identify when your opponents are on tilt, it's not nearly as easy to realize when you yourself are playing without emotional control. Needless to say, a lack of control over your emotions is enough to bleed any bankroll dry.
Before expanding into the causes of tilt in live poker, indications of tilt, and ways to solve it, first take a look at some of the best and most well-known live poker pros. Everyone knows who Phil Ivey and Patrik Antonius are. They are two of the mainstays and staples in live poker, especially when it comes to televised events. They are very big winners in just about every game that they participate in, and they carry many of the same characteristics.
Perhaps the most notable skill that these players possess has absolutely nothing to do with playing the game itself. Instead it's their ability to remain calm and collected at all times that truly sets them apart from the competition. It's no secret to top-level live poker players that emotional control is one of the primary reasons for their positive win rates. You can analyze other similar players, and you'll generally find the same results. Tom Dwan, John Juanda, and Jennifer Harman are all elite live poker players who always keep their emotions in check.
Expanding on these examples, take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Many poker fans know that Mike Matusow is one of the most irrational, wild, and out of control poker players in any game. It should come as no coincidence, then, that he is also a significant long term loser in high stakes cash games. In fact, he's more often broke than overflowing cash, barring a lucky run of big tournament wins.
He is hardly the only player with emotional control problems who also loses at the felt. Phil Hellmuth and Tony G. Both are poster children for outbursts, and they are both major losers in high stakes games. If you want to use real life examples as proof that tilt in live poker is extremely detrimental to your success, look no further than these three players.
Causes of Live Poker Tilt
There are many different causes of tilt in poker, with some being more obvious than others. The most common and recognizable cause of tilt in live poker is a bad result in a hand. This could either be because a player misplayed their hand, got unlucky, or a combination of the two. Some people will even tilt when they lose a hand that they weren't even in, wishing that they had been able to see the flop. Though these are the most apparent and widespread causes of tilt, they are hardly the only reason why players lose focus.
Subtle causes of tilt are perhaps the deadliest because players tend to disregard them. For example, a lack of sleep, proper diet, exercise, an illness, or anything along these lines can all create internal tilt. If you are not playing many hands and are hungry, you might start getting out of line by calling off bets that you otherwise would not have. If you are tired, you may very well pass up on spots where you would normally be aggressive and pro active.
Many players don't think about these different factors that can certainly throw off your game, but you should always have a clear mind that's prepared to play at its highest level. Otherwise, there will always be players waiting for your money with open arms.
Stopping Live Poker Tilt
Putting an end to a tilting spree is much easier said than done. When you are in the heat of the moment, it can be a great struggle to implement tactics that you learned about when you were completely calm. No matter how difficult it might be, regaining your composure is an absolute necessity if you want to walk away from the table with money in hand.
It's hard to stop tilting, but this is also one of the big reasons why there's money to be made in poker. If everyone always thought clearly and played under control, there wouldn't be nearly as much money, or at least easy money up for grabs. Don't make yourself an easy target by spewing off chips for no reason other than to burn off some steam.
One of the best ways to stop tilting in live poker is to simply walk away from the table. Not only is this very straightforward, but it will take the least effort. In fact, you may even instinctively want to quit the game altogether when you are in the midst of a bad run. While it's not advisable to rack up and leave, a short walk can be the perfect remedy to an otherwise frustrating day of poker.
If you don't have the desire to go for a walk in order to escape the game for a bit, simply sitting out for an orbit will help your mind state tremendously. The only trouble with this approach to ending tilt is that you will be tempted to get back in the game and may not be able to forget about what put you on tilt in the first place. If sitting out is enough for you to gather your thoughts, this is an equally viable option to stepping away, but it's not for everyone.
The most extreme, but also the most effective way of stopping tilt is to stop playing altogether. This doesn't mean that you should quit poker, but there's nothing wrong with cutting a session short for the sake of your bankroll. Some people simply can't recover from tilt in a short period of time no matter what they do. If you fit into this category and know that you are going to be very prone to donating multiple stacks while you mull over your misfortune at the table, calling it a day may very well be in your best interest.
Spotting Tilt in Opponents
If you want to make money from your opponents that are tilting, you'll first need to determine which players are ready to explode. Any time someone loses a big hand, you should automatically assume that they are prone to going on tilt. This doesn't mean that they will go on tilt, but it does mean that there's an increased likelihood. A loss of a big hand is the easiest way to prepare for a tilting player, but it's not the only way.
Some players will become visibly frustrated when they are card dead. They may even bemoan their luck out loud to the table. Either way, these are the types of players who are chomping at the bit to get into a pot at any cost. When they finally enter a hand, they are definitely not looking to fold.
Profiting from Tilt
Using the two primary types of tilting players in the section above, consider the ways that you can now profit. With a player who just lost a big pot and is on tilt, you should be prepared for a lot of raises and/or erratic play. They want to let out their frustration and make their lost money back all at once.
The optimal strategy for combating these tilting players is to get into lots of pots, but only with hands that can flop hard. It's a great strategy to call off larger bets than you normally would pre-flop with suited connectors, pocket pairs, and other similar hands. You can safely give up if you miss, and the tilting player may very well donate their stack to you when you hit, regardless of whether or not they have any hand at all.
For players who are dying to get involved in some hands, you'll need to take a more passive approach, all the while being aggressive in the right spots. If you have a more speculative hand, simply call the bets ahead of you and see a flop. Since much of the value in raising or re-raising with these hands is found in the folds you expect to get, you'll be wasting money by raising against a player who has zero intentions of folding.
When you have a big hand, however, you should make very big raises. These can be a fair amount larger than usual if only for the fact that you know the other player is unlikely to fold for just about any price. Tilting players come in many different forms, so it's important to cater your strategy to their weaknesses.
Author: Jonathan Wanchalk
Updated: March 2015
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