What is Tilt?

April 19, 2008

In the last 10 days or so I’ve found myself on tilt (and by that I don’t mean Full Tilt, although that’s were I was playing at the time). Even Sharkscope said so. 🙂 .

Cash games were fine, but I use a different mentality when I still play the low buy in tubo Sit and Goes. There I assume that I am quite a bit of a better player than the rest of the competition. I expect suckouts (you can’t get sucked out on unless you get in with the best hand) but I still expect to be cashing at least half the time at the one table games.

But my game is patience, followed by aggression. When I get off my game I start getting too involved in hands early, and not making top priority of survival and chip retainage until the blinds become significant. I should fold if I’m putting my last 800 chips at risk without being pretty sure I’m ahead ’cause I used to say that if I could get to the point when the blinds get to 50/100 and I have 800 chips, I’m okay.

Recently the turbos seem to be slowing in pace up too. Players haven’t been donking out early quite so fast, and when the blinds go up and everyone gets really tight, I stack up with aggression, the other players note this and wait for big hands to play against me. Maybe I’m raising too often, or calling shoves over my raises too often or with hands that are too weak. Maybe not enough planning on my part as to which players I expect to call if shoved on.

This inability to fold to a shove when raising with more marginal hands, and not taking into account that these players often have big hands if they’re doing this is one form of tilt. Lack of patience early on is another form.


Being afraid to raise or bet or bet big enough is another form that occurs when you get bitten too often and get afraid of losing again.

In my previous entry I wrote about why we sometimes do not play aggressively even though we know that we should and tilt is definitely a factor. Tilt undermines our confidence and it’s very difficult to play patiently and aggressively when our confidence in our abilities is weakened. I mentioned stress and tension in that previous entry, and when our confidence is weak we react poorly to stress.

Another form of tilt is steaming, after a bad beat or a big loss or a stupid comment in the chat box. That steam fuels anger levels which makes aggression more difficult to control. Rather than playing too passively we go too far the other way and see our opponent’s bets/raises as intimidation attempts, responding with inappropriate levels of aggression and throwing more chips away.

In a longer and more dangerous time frame this anger can percolate under the surface and continue over the course of a week or longer, undermining our patience, causing us to overreact to aggression from the other players.

Any form of tilt can feed itself, as the tilt will cause us to play sub-optimally causing more and bigger losses which creates more frustration which feeds the tilt. It’s a cycle that sometimes only self-evaluation or outside review can point out to us.

Then comes the next question; how do we deal with it? “You’re raising with marginal hands from too early of position.” Stop and think every time you raise? “You’re re-raising too often when someone bets into you.” Stop and ponder whether you should give this person credit for the hand that they’re representing? “You’re limping into too many pots.” Call less, or raise more?

Sometimes if you were playing better before you need to evaluate why you’ve changed as there may be a source underlying the change that needs to be addressed first. Is there some source of frustration or anger, either poker related or from some other part of your life, that is sparking your sub-optimal reactions? Has your attention level or desire changed? Playing while tired, playing while drinking, playing while watching television? I’ve known players who tried to use poker as an escape during a difficult time in their personal lives but found that it only made it worse. They played poorly because of the distractions and baggage that they brought with them and the frustration from losing made them feel worse.


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