Though it’s rarely talked about, tilt is one of the most
costly mistakes Texas holdem poker players make at the table.
The good news is you can learn how to recognize it in your
play and in your opponent’s play. Once you can see it starting
you can quickly take steps to keep it from costing you money.
You can even learn how to make money from tilt. Once you see
another player starting to tilt you can use it against them.
Also, you can learn how tilt can affect your own decisions
and how you can avoid it, and even learn from it.
Recognizing It in Your Play
Before you can deal with a problem like tilt you have to be
able to recognize it in your play. Sometimes tilt happens
instantly but many players are able to feel it coming on over
Tilt almost always starts with a bad beat or poor run of
short term variance, or luck, at the table.
You might miss your flush draw three times in a row or your
opponent might hit their two out draw or it could be as simple
as the drunken loudmouth at the table has finally crossed the
line and you’re starting to fantasize about wrapping your hands
around his neck.
Try to think about the last time you started getting angry
playing holdem. How did you feel? What did it feel like?
The odds are this is how you’ll be feeling when you’re in
danger of going on tilt.
In order to recognize when you’re in danger of tilt you need
to recognize the different situations that may interfere with
your logical poker play and quickly recognize the feelings of
anger or frustration that can turn into poor decision making.
The best way to avoid tilt in your play is by understanding
the possibilities and odds and how the mathematical concepts of
Texas holdem work.
If you understand how often your good hands hold up, how
often they get drawn out on, how often you hit your draws, and
the overall odds of certain things happening you won’t get as
upset when things don’t go your way.
After the turn you have a dominant hand of a full house
against your opponent’s set and you’re all in. She has to hit
four of a kind to beat you on the river, giving her exactly one
out. This seems like a sure thing, but the truth is that your
opponent will hit the card she needs for quads exactly 1 out of
every 44 times. She has one card that can help her and between
your hand, her hand, and the board you’ve seen 8 cards, leaving
44 unseen cards.
I know that sometimes the card she needs has been folded or
burned, but it doesn’t change the odds.
When you lose in this situation it seems like a bad beat and
it’s enough to send many players on tilt, but the truth is that
you can’t change the math. 43 out of 44 times that you’re in
this situation you win and one time you don’t. You should
rejoice to be in this situation and strive to get into it as
often as possible.
It’s hard to be happy when your opponent hits a 1 in 44 shot,
but the truth is you’ve simply got a bad result out of the way.
Another thing you can do is try to visualize the entire hand
before it happens and every way it can play out. Many top
players do this for every hand they play and it’s a great way to
improve your poker game. If you see a possibility for things to
go against you before it happens, you can mentally prepare for
it and lessen the sting.
Once you recognize that you may be going on tilt, immediately
stop playing. Simply walk away from the table if you’re playing
live or walk away from the computer or mobile device if you’re
I find it refreshing to take a short walk, but whatever you
do you must stop playing. Don’t play another hand because it’ll
cost you money in the long run.
When you play poker while you’re on tilt you don’t make
decisions based on the things you should. Too often you let
emotions get involved and this leads to poor play and lost
This also has the added problem of making your tilt worse. If
you make a poor decision and lose another pot it simply makes
you angrier and makes you do other things that lead to more lost
money from bad decisions.
If you make a decision to never play a hand while on tilt
you’ll instantly be a more profitable poker player.
Once you learn to recognize tilt and deal with it in your own
play you can start looking for it in your opponent’s play. Then
you can learn how to use it against them to improve your overall
Some poker players use meditation techniques to help them
stay on an even keel while playing poker. Many of these players
try to reach a Zen like state where they take everything in a
calm and collected manner.
While I don’t know a great deal about Zen and meditation, I
know that if you can accept everything at the poker table in a
calm way and use a calm and correct thought process before
making decisions you’ll be a better poker player.
I want to give you one more possible solution to going on
tilt before moving to the next section. Any time I start getting
frustrated at the poker table but haven’t reached the point
where I need to take a walk I consciously decide to tighten my
starting hand requirements up. If I get dealt a high pair or
other premium hand I’ll play the hand aggressively, but I fold
everything else until I get back on track.
This keeps me from making poor plays, increase the chances of
a win when I do enter a pot, and usually gives me a few hands to
watch my opponents while I get my mind in the right place.
Recognizing Tilt in Your Opponent’s Play
When you play live Texas holdem at your local casino or poker
room it’s often easy to see players who go on tilt.
They may start acting differently, showing visible signs of
anger, or start playing every hand in a hyper aggressive manner.
I’ve seen players so angry they couldn’t stop shaking. But they
refused to quit playing.
They’re decisions kept getting worse, but they were
determined to force their will on the cards.
Of course, we know that simple mathematics control the cards
and outcomes at the table, so no matter how mad a player gets or
how much he thinks he can change the cards through sheer mental
force, any time he makes a play that isn’t the best one because
of tilt he costs himself money.
It’s more difficult to see when an opponent is going on tilt
when you’re playing online, but it’s not impossible.
Remember the situations that put players in danger
of going on tilt. Watch how players react when they get drawn
out on or lose a big pot. Do they instantly fire a raise into
the next pot or start playing every hand?
Though I rarely participate in the chat at the table while
playing online, I pay attention when a player gets drawn out on
to see if they type anything in the chat window. Sometimes you
can see from their conversation when a player is getting angry.
You need to be aware that some of the better players know
about tilt and can give false tells about it. Just because a
player starts spouting off in the chat, or at a live table,
doesn’t mean she’s really on tilt. See if her play matches a
person on tilt or not.
Other players make it more difficult to detect tilt in their
online play. They might go through periods where they play more
hands but don’t go so far overboard that they play every hand.
These players are harder to read, but they can be just as
The smartest thing to do is stay focused on the game and
watch for signs of tilt from all of your opponents.
Using Tilt Against Your Opponents
I’m going to get into some specific ways to use it against
your opponents when they go on tilt shortly, but I want to give
you a few options when it comes to helping push your opponents
over the edge first.
It’s entirely up to you if you feel comfortable using these
tactics or not, but you can do certain things to put players on
tilt. If you decide to use these tactics, realize that
occasionally poker players get so mad that they resort to
violence. I’ve seen real fights break out, so be warned.
The first tactic is to be a general pain to play against and
then making sure to point out in a loud and obnoxious manner any
time a player takes a bad beat or does something stupid.
Think about holdem players Phil Hellmuth or Mike Matusow for
a minute. Many people who watch poker on television greatly
dislike these guys. They don’t seem like nice people and they
often do something at the table that irritates other players.
This can cause other players to play differently against them
than they normally would.
Any time a player can get another player to make a decision
based on anything except the best play for the current situation
the first player has an advantage and the second player loses
money in the long run.
Phil Hellmuth is fully aware of how he gets under other player’s skin and tries to use it to his advantage at every turn.
I’ve seen players yell something like “Ship it!” when they
win a big pot, especially after drawing out on a better hand.
This type of behavior can quickly make an opponent mad.
Often if you hit a set to beat a pair of aces or kings and
stack someone they’ll get angry, especially if they’ve been
running a little rough. This is a good opportunity to turn the
screws a bit by making a smart remark.
I’ll be honest, I rarely needle anyone at the table by being
a jerk, but I’ve practiced the next tip a few times.
You can kill some people with kindness and irritate them more
than any other tactic. No matter what happens at the table or
what your opponent says or does, simply act as nice and kind and
happy as possible.
Here’s a true story I was involved with in a poker room
inside a casino playing Texas holdem. This casino was on a
riverboat that was attached to the shore, but you had to go
through security and supposedly metal detectors to get on board.
I was seated to the left of a young guy who looked like he
was a construction worker of some kind. He was friendly enough
and we chatted some throughout the playing session.
He started running bad, missing draws, and basically having
none of his hands hit. He raised a hand and I called with a
middle pair. I hit a set on the flop and he moved all in. I won
the pot over his pocket aces and he was immediately angry enough
that he cursed; shoved his chair back, and stormed off.
He came back, bought back in and played for quite a while
longer once he settled down.
I realize that this story isn’t very interesting yet, but
what happened later made me think about consciously irritating
another player. During his bad streak I hadn’t done anything to
irritate him or anyone else, but there were ample opportunities.
I could have wound him up quite a bit.
After he came back to play and had been seated for quite a
while the following happened. At each seat there was built in
cup holders and they were held in place by screws. The cup
holder in front of this guy was loose and it was obvious the
screws were worked out a bit.
Without even thinking about it this guy whipped out a big
knife and started screwing the screws back in on the cup holder.
No one said a word about it, probably because most people at the
poker table are brain dead and don’t pay attention.
But my first thought was “I’m sure glad I didn’t tick this
guy off. He could’ve killed me.”
It was clearly marked that no one was supposed to have
weapons on board, and I’m pretty sure the knife would’ve
qualified, but the guy probably didn’t even think about it when
he came to the casino.
If you’ve ever worked construction or done carpentry work
you’ve probably carried a knife around too. They’re handy to
have on the job.
The only reason I included this story was so you don’t
blindly assume the poker room or casino personnel are going to
protect you. If this guy had decided to use the knife for bad
things no one could have saved me unless I saved myself.
Taking Advantage of Tilt
Once you see an opponent who’s on tilt you can use this to
give yourself an advantage against them.
They usually play too many hands, which mean their average
hand strength is lower than normal, and they usually overplay
their hands. When they overplay their hands they bet too much.
One problem with this is sometimes they still get a big hand
and can win a big pot.
If they have a deep stack you can usually afford to play a
few more speculative hands than normal against them, because
when you hit, your odds of stacking them are high.
You also need to play aggressively before the flop against
them with your best hands. Any high pair; usually jacks or
higher, is often good to re-raise them with. They’ll often raise
back and / or push all in when you show aggression.
Don’t make the mistake of forgetting everyone else at the
table though. If an early player raised and the player on tilt
re-raised you need a great hand like aces or kings to stay in
the pot. Just because the player on tilt might not have a hand,
it doesn’t mean the other players at the table are weak.
Tilt can be costly to any Texas holdem player if they don’t
walk away from the game at the first sign of it in their play,
but it can also be profitable when they learn how to use it
against their opponents when they start playing poorly.
Avoid making decisions about poker in anything but a logical
and calm state and force your opponents to make more decisions
when they’re in danger of tilt.
Every time an opponent is forced to make a decision it’s an
opportunity for them to make a mistake. Mistakes by your
opponents lead to more profit for you in the long run. They tend
to make more mistakes when they’re on tilt, so never miss an
opportunity to take advantage of their poor play.
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