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Managing Poker Tilt

Top 10 Poker Tips on Tilt

Don’t let tilt kill your win-rate and rob your roll. Here are my top 10 poker tips on winning the mental game and achieving poker nirvana.

1. Detachment from Money

Your ultimate poker strategy for overcoming tilt is to relinquish all attachments to your monetary results. Your goal is to reach a zen-like state, poker nirvana, where you are playing purely for the joy of the game with your focus on making the best decisions you can. When you make mistakes they are simply data points for you to incorporate into the learning process. When you take bad beats or face coolers, you are observing the fascinating randomness of nature.

Detachment from money is no easy to ask, especially for Westerners. We say money can’t buy happiness, but it can definitely buy some cool shit and nice vacations. As a starting point, try not to check your poker balance while you play. Don’t look at the cashier. Hide the mentions of results in your database reports including your graph. While deep down you may still strongly desire to make lots of money, removing the visual triggers and redirecting that attention to skill development will reduce the stress caused by losing.

2. Note and Forget the Beats and Mistakes

There can be a tendency to dwell on your mistakes. You try so hard to get better at this game, and yet you still make those same damn mistakes. Hopefully you’re taking notes while you play that you can review later. Do this with your mistakes. Jot them down or flag the hand and move on. Let them go and focus on the next hand.

Also, after you’ve played a particularly tilted session, realize that this is a great time for new ideas and big strides forward! Look closely at the things that didn’t work. Were you acting very quickly? Did your opponents figure out you were tilted? What were the indicators? Could you take the same lines or use the same sizes/timings with value hands instead of bluffs?

3. Use Mantras

Letting the stress go is easier said than done. Try using mantras. These are words or phrases that you repeat to yourself to help you relax. They can pierce the emotional fog and revive your logical brain. It might help to post a few of these around your desk or on your monitor.

These are some examples that I have used:

  • The short term is insignificant.
  • I cannot change the past.
  • I’m doing the best I can.
  • It’s just a game.

Try to repeat the phrase slowly and gently a few times out loud.

4. Exercise

This one is huge. And by exercise I mean aerobic: getting your heart-rate elevated. Not just beefing up with weights. Try jogging, biking, swimming, the stair-master, or just walking the dog (uphill). Do something that gets your blood pumping and makes you breathe a bit harder. If you’re doing little now, then try just 5 minutes at first. Eventually try to reach at least 20 minutes for at least three times per week. This is a good minimum standard for being aerobically fit.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do. It will have an overall, long-lasting, calming effect on your entire life. It will energize you. It will clear your mind and improve your ability to concentrate and ignore distractions. It will increase your will power. It can even help you reduce your smoking, drinking and caffeine intake!

5. Minimize alcohol, drugs, caffeine, sugar.

These things have the opposite effect as exercise. These body “pollutants” will cloud or corrupt the mind. They are habit-forming and will lead you deeper into destructive cycles where your poker game will deteriorate.

Even on a small scale, something as seemingly harmless as a single cookie or chocolate bar can subtly speed up the pace of your thoughts so that you then act to quickly at the poker table. If you’d taken a few extra seconds, you might have been able to find that essential river fold and saved your stack.

6. Sleep

It’s safe to say that the majority of serious poker players struggle with getting enough sleep, yet it is vital to reaching peak performance. You need at least 7 hours each night, and you need to be going to bed at approximately the same time every night. Also, studies have proven that we have a sleep “bank”. The more days, weeks, and months you continue to deprive yourself of sleep, the more damage you will do to yourself. And the longer it will take to recover. For example if you have 3 nights with poor sleep, it could take you 2 or 3 nights of good quality sleep to recover.

This is my personal recipe for a good sleep that works EVERY time:

  1. Some hard exercise during the day.
  2. No caffeine after noon.
  3. No fluids after 7pm (hydrate during the day) to avoid the middle of the night pee.
  4. No meat for dinner. It’s hard to digest.
  5. Bonus: meditation right before bed.

Waking up in the morning after a fantastic sleep is one of my favorite pleasures in life. The day ahead is full of promise and potential. Anything seems possible!

7. Meditation

I consider this my secret weapon. While exercise is the magic bullet of the body, meditation elevates the mind. An easy and noticeable achievable benefit is a reduction in stress, but there is so much more to it.

You can cultivate your awareness. You start to notice more and more and more things EVERYWHERE in your life. You notice how all the little things add up to affect you and how you affect others. You notice more at the poker table. Especially with concentration-specific meditation exercises, you can develop a laser-like focus.

Meditation can make you less susceptible to tilt. The beats don’t phase you as much, and the stresses of life slide off more easily. If you’re interested, here is a simple, easy technique you can try.

8. Scheduled Breaks

The longer your session goes, the greater the risk of tilt. This subconscious emotional baggage will grow and grow until it explodes on the table. Alleviate this stress, release the steam, by taking regular timed breaks every 30, 60 or 90 minutes depending on your experience level and game type.

Tommy Angelo calls this quitting practice. You build a habit of consistently pausing your game every day, between every session. Then when the time comes and you have to summon the will power to step away from the table when you’re tilted, it’s no big deal. You simply stand up for your next break.

9. Drop a Level

If you do find yourself suffering from a major bout of tilt, consider dropping down a level. You want to avoid going into an extended, downward spiral. You need to gain some confidence again. Drop down to an easier level, play your best, and try to rack up a win. While usually you shouldn’t quit just because you’re ahead, this might be the time to do so just for the sake of a mental boost.

10. Take a day or week off

If the “downswing” continues and you find yourself waking up still frustrated, then take a day off (or more). Don’t go into your next session in a bad mood or with compromised emotions. You’re just setting yourself up for -EV play. Instead spend a day away from poker doing something you really enjoy. Get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Remind yourself of what’s really important in life beyond just a game of cards!

Bonus Tip: Reach Out to Peers for Support

Sometimes you need to reach outside yourself in order to overcome those heavy emotions. This is where a peer group of other poker players can offer that much needed support. It’s also great to have other players with whom you can discuss poker strategy. Join one of our skype study groups.

Do you have some poker tips for managing tilt that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear them! Note the comment section below.

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7 Comments
  • Darren- Coach @ PokerInABox
    June 10, 2015 at 12:47 am

    Hi Mike,

    I think these 10 steps on controlling tilt is very useful information for anyone dealing with tilt. I also use some of these strategies to help better my own game. Something that I would like to add though as maybe a #11 to this list is having a stop loss. Someone that is guilty of having seemingly uncontrollable tilt at times will benefit immensely from a stop-loss because it immediately deals with spewing more chips. For example, if someone is prone to tilting and they often find themselves down -10buyins in 1 session while on tilt. If they were to implement a stop loss at -5buyins, they would have in fact saved 5 buyins that they likely would have otherwise loss. And if that person implements the stop loss over say 10 sessions, that could have potentially saved up to nearly 50 buyins! That’s a huge impact on one’s winrate 🙂

    • Mike "fooz" Gano
      June 10, 2015 at 3:51 pm

      @darrencoachpokerinabox:disqus GREAT suggestion Darren. Seriously. You may have just saved some people from busting out for good. How did I not think of that? Yes. Stop/loss. Very important to put in place if you KNOW you have a problem with SERIOUS MONKEY TILT.

  • B3lly
    June 10, 2015 at 8:53 am

    I don’t even know if I would want to implement 6.2, 6.3 and 6.4. The meat for diner and 8 o’clock cup of coffee are just very much enjoyable.

    • Mike "fooz" Gano
      June 10, 2015 at 3:52 pm

      @SamEast:disqus – I hear you. It can be hard. Last night for example, I couldn’t resist a delicious pulled pork sandwich for dinner. I usually aim for about 10 pm for bed (I know super early in poker time but I’m a morning person), and alas last night I was still up at 1 a.m. 🙁
      I’m functional today with a little less sleep. But I’m not super sharp like I am after a series of great sleeps. Consider your goals and how important they are. If you’re content to just improve slowly and be a little better than the other regs, that’s fine. If you want to be the best, then you have to approach it as an elite athlete. Do EVERYTHING you can to strive for peak performance EVERYDAY

  • Mike "fooz" Gano
    June 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    @SamEast:disqus – I hear you. It can be hard. Last night for example, I couldn’t resist a delicious pulled pork sandwich for dinner. I usually aim for about 10 pm for bed (I know super early in poker time but I’m a morning person), and alas last night I was still up at 1 a.m. 🙁
    I’m functional today with a little less sleep. But I’m not super sharp like I am after a series of great sleeps. Consider your goals and how important they are. If you’re content to just improve slowly and be a little better than the other regs, that’s fine. If you want to be the best, then you have to approach it as an elite athlete. Do EVERYTHING you can to strive for peak performance EVERYDAY!

  • brian- Coach @ PokerInABox
    June 12, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Overall note: Why are we doing all of these things? It’s good enough to know this improves our lives, happiness and state of body and mind.

    However, as poker players trying to strive for the highest level of profitability at our skill level one thing that is extraordinary is that doing this list above is away for us to have a clear edge, in every hand we play, against many of our opponents. This is mutually exclusive of skill or theory knowledge, if we’re in a better and healthier state than they are we have an edge, period.

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