Defining Tilt

This post is the first part of a series of my guide for dealing with tilt. For those of you who have read The Mental Game of Poker 1, most of this material will be familiar to you. However there is some new stuff coming up to which you might find useful, at the very least as a refresher.

Before we go into the guide, let us make a very important distinction in how we are going to define poker tilt. One of the reasons why you may have struggled to solve a tilt problem previously is because you have been given bad advice on what it really is:

Tilt = Anger + Bad Play

angry-at-computer-e1339510290428The definition of tilt as defined by conventional poker wisdom is too broad. Sometimes tilt just means playing badly; but it also can mean playing badly because of winning, playing too loose, playing drunk, or playing too conservatively. Tilt is hard to eliminate because the definition is so broad it basically includes everything except playing great poker.

To fix tilt you have to know why you played badly. Only when you know the cause of your poor play can you devise a specific strategy to fix it.

A strategy can only be as specific as the problem is defined. There are hundreds of things that cause you to play poorly, and the solution for each one requires a unique strategy. If you think being specific isn’t that important, consider the following comparison.

You might hear something along the lines of this from a player:

“I was doing fine, making some good reads and was up a buy-in; then I went on tilt and spewed off all my chips.”

In general, poker players don’t analyze tilt in the same way they would a poker hand. Instead, their analysis of tilt is the mental game equivalent of analyzing a hand like this:

“I’m in the small blind, it’s folded to the cut off who raises to $10, I have ace queen suited, then I make a technical mistake and lose my stack.”

You may as well say, “I sat down at the table, yada yada yada, I lost.” All the relevant information you need to analyze the hand properly and find out why you lost a stack is left out. Without that information, there’s no way to actually improve your poker skill. Tilt is no different.

Spend enough time observing poker players and it becomes clear that the majority of references to tilt refer to players being frustrated, angry, or enraged. It’s for that reason this resource defines tilt as an anger issue. That doesn’t mean the solution is to just “not be angry.” Thinking you can permanently flick tilt off like a switch is a fantasy. Plus, you’re assuming anger is the problem. Anger is the symptom—not the real problem.

So from this point on: Tilt = Anger + Bad Play

Stay tuned for the next post, which is all about understanding what happens to your brain when you go on tilt.

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