Overcoming Tilt When Playing Online Poker

by Jeff Harris
on March 4, 2018

Imagine yourself playing multiple hands of online poker over a short period of time. In a way, it’s like boxing. No matter how good you are, you will take a hard punch to the face every now and then.

The main reason for that is the variance in poker. You can make all the correct decisions and still end up losing. In fact, you could end up losing repeatedly for days, weeks, or even months. And when that happens, you really need to be mentally tough to endure it.

The reality is, most people aren’t. They go in tilt mode, which has busted so many bankrolls that it’s not even funny. Many believe that the ability to cope with downswings is as important as your pure poker skills. This is especially true in online poker, where your edge is much smaller and the bad streaks are more common.

Some people naturally have a level of mental strength that allows them to manage frustrating situations at the poker tables. Most are not blessed with such superpowers and often struggle. However, there are some ways to handle tilt and I will be talking about the best six of them in this article:

Monitor Yourself

Similarly to health issues, the earlier you catch the problem the easier it is to fix it. This is why you should always try to stay self-aware on the poker tables. Monitor your emotions and be proactive, not reactive.

Evaluate your mental condition regularly, so you know when your frustration starts to grow. It’s easy to spot this, as you will get annoyed with things that don’t bother you otherwise. Standard stuff like missing a couple of draws in a row or not getting premium hands for a while will seem unusually disappointing.

This is a good sign that things aren’t going well. You are probably a bad beat or two from going into tilt mode and losing a ton of money. It’s time to do something about it before it’s too late.

Stop or at Least Take a Break

One of the most obvious solutions is to stop playing as soon as you are on tilt or at least take a solid break. It’s easier said than done, of course, but you should be prepared to do it.

For that purpose, accept and even assume that you are prone to tilt as any other player online. Poker breaks everyone, it’s a matter of when not if. You should truly understand that and be prepared to simply leave the table, close the poker client, and not play a single hand until you feel calm.

Obviously, the big issue with this is the typical tilt mindset that you will make up for the losses and even go out in a profit. You might even be thinking that someone is sitting there waiting for you to take his money: a good hand or two will be enough to take him down.

While this might be true, you shouldn’t focus on it. Instead, accept the fact you are not in a condition to play your A game and this can lead to even bigger trouble.

Don’t Obsess with Short-Term Results

Results are the most important thing in poker. However, I’m talking about long-term results here. Your gains or losses in a single session, day, even a week shouldn’t matter whatsoever if you have a proper bankroll management.

The variation in the game is such that you will inevitably lose tons of hands when you’re ahead. Also, sometimes you will be on the wrong end of an abnormal number of coolers in a short period of time. When this happens, even the best poker players lose money.

This is the reason you should never focus on your results over the short term. You should always spend your time and energy looking at your plays instead. Try to find leaks, situations when you lose value, and so on.

Such a mature and constructive approach will not only help you handle tilt properly, it will improve your game. You will inevitably see a reflection on your results sooner rather than later.

Find a Poker Buddy That Understands

As in many other bad situations in life, sharing your anger with someone is a constructive way to cope with it. However, being an asshole to your wife, a family member, or someone else doesn’t fall into this category.

Ideally, you should find a poker buddy that knows how the whole thing works. When you feel super frustrated, simply talk to him. Pour your negative emotions, tell him how unlucky you were and how the fish is protected by all the online poker gods.

He will understand and patiently listen to you. Sometimes, letting it all out is enough to make you feel much better. All poker players know that and will know how to act when you’re in such a condition. Most of them will listen and say the right things at the right time.

Of course, you should be prepared to be on the receiving side too. This will not only help your friend feel better, it will show you a different perspective. Seeing how angry and careless your poker buddy is will open your eyes on your own tilt state. Sometimes, this will actually encourage you to change your own behaviors.

Discover an Activity That Calms You Down

Some people manically squeeze stress balls, others pet their animals, and some just play stupid computer games. Everybody has a different mechanism of coping with anger, but one thing is certain. If you engage your brain with a certain suitable activity, you will calm down much faster.

Try and find the one that works for you. I already mentioned a couple of examples. They usually are simple and repetitive actions that make you forget about the source of your anger.

I recommend you experiment until you find the option that suits you best. For example, I like to play Tetris. It sounds ridiculous, but all of my focus goes into fitting each part as best as possible. It relieves all the stress and makes me feel much better after only a couple of minutes.

Change Your General Mindset

The other points in this article are rather practical tips that will help you deal with tilt when it happens. This particular tip is the one I find the most important. It should drastically improve your general mental strength when playing poker online.

Let’s start by saying one of the biggest reasons that tilt occurs is deeply related to how our whole society works. From a young child, you are told that doing the right things will bring you the results you are looking for.

Work hard and you will make a lot of money. Be kind and you will be happy. Put the effort and things will work out. This creates a certain mindset. Your whole understanding of the world is such that you always connect a correct action with a profitable result.

When there is a disparity, it shakes your whole perception of the world. Bad results simply shouldn’t happen when you’ve done everything right.

Well, that’s not really the case in online poker (and in life for that matter, but let’s not dive that deep). You will often see bad plays rewarded and good plays punished on a basis of sheer luck.

This seems unjust according to your mindset and to an extent, it really is. However, this is the only reason bad players actually stay long enough in the game for good players to take advantage of them and make money.

If the better play always won, the donks would either bust in a heartbeat or quickly improve. This is not something you want, right? You want them to win every now and then, feel happy about themselves, and keep spilling money. As ridiculous as it may sound, you should cherish the bad beats that happen in poker, as they are good for you in the long run.

Final Worlds

Everybody has a boiling point and even the most patient person could get frustrated under the right circumstances. Still, knowing yourself and taking precautionary measures always helps.

I certainly hope you learned something from this article. If you manage to use my advice and work with a proper bankroll management, you have a good chance of avoiding tilt while playing online poker. Even if it does happen, you should be able to cope with it and move on without disastrous consequences.

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