How you handle tilt makes the difference in poker



Tilt is short-hand for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less-than-optimal strategy. This results in poor play.

Writers have long been attempting to oversimplify this complex process and have created a disservice to the poker community.
The fact is we have tilt. How we get there and how we react are personal issues is probably more a part of how we react to negative situations in general than just related to poker.

The same set of circumstances may lead to different reactions in people. For some, when faced with crisis, they develop a calm mind-set; they almost go into a zone. Others get frantic and some withdraw into themselves. These reactions are personalized.

So the real issue is how one reacts to bad circumstances in poker. The ideal antidote to tilt is to accept the inevitability of “bad” stuff (as the book says) happening to good people and react in a way that increases your performance. Some players become hyper-aggressive while others turn incredibly passive.

The other side of dealing with tilt is placing an opponent on tilt. Don’t make assumptions about the way others go on tilt. Just because someone is on tilt doesn’t mean they’re going to lose; indeed sometimes the deck just hits them in the head.

The paradox to tilt is you put someone on tilt; they react badly; they get hyper-aggressive and the deck hits them; and you get felted. It’s only variance. More often than not the tilting player is making bad decisions, so you lose when you’re on tilt and win when your opponent is tilting.

People attribute all sorts of variables to creating tilt: running bad, inequity, good or bad luck, revenge, mistakes, chasing losses, etc.
Others attribute all sorts of emotions to creating tilt: anger, depression, fear and contempt.

My advice is to work on yourself. Figure out what makes you tilt and then learn how to deal with it. Also, don’t broadly make assumptions when opponents are on tilt. There are so many forms of tilt and so many emotions. The advice you often get, however, is “Don’t feel the emotion.” But it’s impossible to not feel an emotion, which would be a paradox. You can’t act out negative behavior, but you will “feel” the emotion.

Experience the feeling, understand it, be aware of what the feeling arouses and understand the negative behavior that might follow (tilt). Learn to regulate the behavior, even to channel it into positive and profitable behavior.

How? Work on yourself; get a coach. Feel, recognize, understand, regulate and keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. His column will give insight on how to achieve peak performance using poker psychology. Email him at

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine