If you grew up playing pinball you probably know what tilt is. You remember shaking the machine too much in an effort to influence the path of the ball. The machine was set up with a device that measured the level of shaking and would register a tilt killing all the controls, stopping scoring and letting the ball in play leave the playing field. From this usage of the word tilt came the poker term tilt. Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.

A player who goes on tilt typically loses a large amount of money which adds to the frustration and makes a bad situation even worse. I am here to share my experiences and offer a few helpful suggestions on how to deal with tilt.

The first and foremost thing a player must do is admit that they are on tilt. I am in denial and so are most of my friends. We would be well served to confess to going on tilt and be able to recognize the onset of tilt. Tilt is simply not being in the optimum frame of mind for playing poker.

The Victor Shaw method for identifying tilt is very simple. During every session identify moments or hands that could have easily put a lesser player on tilt. When I started this, I took a notebook to the table and actually made notes of the hand. I would immediately sit out the next hand and make my notes and include my reaction and judge myself on how affected I was on a scale of one to ten. Next I would note the remedy for the situation. Sat out one hand became my standard answer. In any eight hour session I would usually note between five and 20 instances where I had some sort of stress that could have tilted the boy wonder.

I admit that I went on tilt way too much when I was younger. There I said it. I even believe it to be true. We all do it. Most of us lie about it. Tilt is a reality.

Second you need to be honest with yourself. Writing it down in the notebook can just be an exercise in delusional thinking if you are not trying to be honest with yourself. I used to sit down with one of my best friends and discuss the session and my notes about the hands. I encouraged him to be honest with me and assess the truthfulness of my notes. My one to ten scale was obviously a little bit off because I see several 10+ notations.

The third thing you need to do is figure out how you are going to recover from tilt so that you do not lose money while you are on tilt. Taking a break is the easiest and best way to avoid letting your mental state affect your poker results. The art is to learn how long the break needs to be. For some people it is going to be the rest of your life. Others may need a year off to recover from a sick beat. Most can just take the rest of the night off and come back tomorrow fresh. This is the easy solution. Recognize tilt, be honest about it and take the rest of the night off.

I call it a reset when you are able to take a short break gather yourself and return to action unaffected by a close brush with tilt. We would all love to reset. The truth is that some people will never be able to reset. I walk and I usually go outside and get fresh air. I go by myself and I spend time looking deep into space and realizing how truly big the world is and how utterly insignificant one hand of poker is in the grand scheme of things. I find myself smiling and acknowledging how little control I have over my emotions and I make a deal with myself to do the right thing and I sheepishly return to the table as a new man. If I find myself walking too often I usually call it a night and try to ask myself if I am truly admitting what is bothering me. Do I have sort of stress in my life that is keeping me from playing my A game?

I still fight off the urge to tilt in most of the sessions I play. I am growing older and my 10+ fits of rage are no longer manifesting themselves at the poker table. I haven’t thrown cards or tore a deck up in years. I have taken breaks and even admit to going home because I wasn’t able to reset. I smile because I did not take it out on my bankroll.

I hope this helps all of you.


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