The Tilt Phenomenon
June 12, 2012 Leave a Comment
Poker is a game which requires a cold, calculating mind, and an unerring ability to calculate the odds and then act upon them. However, it’s also a game of luck and when the variables of luck tangle with the emotions of a player all too often the result is that most fascinating of poker phenomenon’s: tilt.
Tilt is something which affects all poker players at some stage in their life. It’s when emotions, anger, excitement, frustration or any other factor causes a player to stop playing their natural game, but instead to act on emotion. The bigger the stakes, the greater the likelihood is that a player will “tilt” if things go against them.
Most poker players agree that tilt is more common amongst beginners, although some WSOP players happily admit that they still struggle with it. It’s not restricted to physical games either, watch carefully on popular sites like Sky Poker and you’ll quickly spot people “tilting”.
So what causes this most damaging of poker phenomenons? Most commonly it will come as a result of a bad beat, of having the best hand on the table and losing to an outrageous, or highly unlikely piece of luck. This can cause players to doubt their strategy, doubt their ability, or just to get massively frustrated. Of course, the problem is that once a successful player abandons their strategy, they’re then likely to lose more hands, exacerbating the problem. Another common reason is someone else’s bad behaviour or table etiquette that can grate away on the nerves to such an extent that a player stops concentrating on the issue in hand.
The most common way of dealing with tilt is simply to walk away from the table, which is easily done in an online game. Take a few moments away, take a deep breath and re-assess what happened. Was there anything you could have done differently? Did you miscalculate the odds? If the answer is yes, then you should take it as a learning opportunity, if the answer is no, it’s not worth worrying about.
Poker will always retain an element of luck, and players have to remember that sometimes they will benefit from that luck, and sometimes they will suffer from it. Experienced pros say that they avoid tilt by simply keeping the odds in their minds at all times, you can have the odds massively in your favour, but they will never be 100%, and by remembering this simple fact, they can control their emotions and avoid tilt.
Of course, sometimes you simply can’t step away from the table and get your emotions under control, so what to do if you tilt whilst in the middle of a high stakes game? You could try and kill a few pots and get your emotions back under control, but the first thing you have to do is be able to acknowledge when you’re tilting, if you don’t know that you’re on tilt, there’s nothing you can do and you will get cleaned out.
So, the key is to refocus on your game, make sure that you count the odds of the next round carefully and focus on them, as impossible as it is, try and just play your natural game. Every player loses heavily from time to time and you should be able to treat any loss the same, rather than looking at each one specifically.
That said, tilt doesn’t always have to be a weakness, and at the highest level of the game you may see people using it to their own advantage. Beginners, often drawn to the game by films like The Sting, sometimes think that inducing tilt is a good tactic, when, in reality it’s not if you have to modify your game to try to induce tilt, or behave badly. The best players may, for example, try to induce tilt more subtly, for example, by showing your winning hand if you’ve successfully bluffed or relied on a massive peace of luck.
A better way to take advantage of tilt is for your opponent to think that you’re on a tilt when you’re not, this can sometimes lure them out of their strategy and lead to mistakes that you can take advantage of. This is also a good tactic because it teaches you to be aware of how you act when you’re tilting and teach you to focus on your tactic even if you outwardly appear to be losing it.
Finally, tilt isn’t always a bad thing, some players believe in the idea of positive tilt, that a good run of luck or form can cause a naturally conservative player to play with more confidence and force than usual and end up winning much bigger as a result. In reality, though, positive tilt is more about a player stepping up to a better level of play and playing the cards in front of them better. Only bad players win and don’t calculate the level of luck involved in winning.