Texas Holdem Tilt
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 time.
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 playing online.
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 money.
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 profits more.
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.
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 profitable.
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.
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.
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.