Avoid Tilt – Definitive Guide (2024)

  • 13 mins read

We explore some practical ways to avoid tilt, that you can start doing immediately. Plus, we look at variance and downswings.

  • Tilt, in a poker hand, can be defined as any negative deviation from the way a player would have played that hand had he been thinking rationally to the best of their current ability, without letting any emotions cloud their thought process.
  • Tilt will likely affect almost every player who plays poker, and can occur for an endless amount of reasons.
  • We also explain why variance is great (even though it may not seem that way at first). Plus, how to cope with downswings (which are almost certainly inevitable if you play long enough).
  • Dive into our comprehensive guide to avoiding tilt.

How do I avoid tilt?

poker tilting

Step 1: Identify YOUR triggers

What exactly is causing you to play irrationally?

Before you can work out how to avoid tilt, anytime you find yourself doing anything irrational in a poker hand or series of hands, identify what triggered this tilt.

Before you can work out how to avoid tilt, anytime you find yourself doing anything irrational in a poker hand or series of hands, identify what triggered this tilt. Here are some examples of tilt triggers:

  • Bad beat tilt might be triggered if you suffer a (or multiple) perceived bad beat or perceived injustice.
  • Tiredness tilt might be triggered after you have been playing for longer than your average session.
  • Perhaps, a surprising one. Winning tilt might be triggered after you are up a certain amount of buy-ins for the session.

You can make notes of any tilt triggers whilst you are at the table. Or, afterwards when you are reviewing your sessions.

Step 2: Identify the manifestations

Exactly how are you playing irrationally, after each tilt trigger?

Once you have identified the type of tilt, you will have to understand how the tilt manifests itself. This will vary from player to player. At the table, you can make notes of any how each form of tilt is manifesting itself for you. Or, do it afterwards when you are reviewing your sessions.

Bad beat tilt

  • Some players will start to see monsters under the bed.
    • They will not try and get maximal value from the strong hands.
    • They prefer to keep pots small, in case they receive another bad beat.
  • Some players fold strong hands altogether in situations where they shouldn’t.
    • They fear one or two particular even stronger hands that are a tiny part of an opponent’s overall range.
  • Some players will try and get their money back asap.
    • This is even if it means playing in a suboptimal way by creating unnecessary volatility.

Tiredness tilt

  • Some players may auto-pilot when tired.
    • They may not bother making all the calculations needed.
    • They may not use all available information when making decisions.
    • They may start making glaring mistakes due to not being able to concentrate.

Winning tilt

  • Yes, this exists too!
    • Some players may feel invincible, and start taking unjustified gambles when winning.
    • Some players will try and protect what they have instead of taking the best strategic line.

Step 3: Think through the logical fallacies

  • Identifying the types of tilt that affect you, and how each manifests itself for you, are the initial steps.
  • You then have to start finding the logical fallacies of your thoughts.
    • This step takes a lot of thought, and is best to do away from the table. Preferably, at a time when you are able to think fully rationally (i.e. are not under any form of tilt).
  • Let’s us look at the logical fallacies of the thought process of getting upset by perceived bad beats. These usually cause suboptimal deviations in a player’s game:

Your opponent usually has some equity (and sometimes will realise it, however small)!

  • In any given poker hand, you usually have some equity and your opponent’s have some equity.
  • When you win a hand, you usually win the whole pot (except in the case of a tie).
    • For example if you get AA in versus QQ preflop, and win you win 100% of the pot, not 80%.
      • When you lose, a poker hand (even if you are favourite), think of it this way. You are paying back all those times you got more than your fair share of equity in the pot.
    • In this example, you are meant to lose 1 in 5 times.
      • In any one given hand, you will either lose or win.
      • Losing 1 in 5 times, is not the same as losing 0 out of 5 times.
      • Whilst this may seem obvious, many beginner poker players (and some not so beginner) don’t get this. They seem to think they have some right to win every time they are ahead.

Bad beats, from bad opponents, are great in the long term

  • Let’s imagine your opponent does something not in his own best interests, and this causes you a bad beat.
  • Imagine he was calling with a hand he shouldn’t, and then getting lucky by hitting an one outer.
  • If you think about it this is great news.
  • Would you rather your opponent called you correctly (and needed less luck). Or, incorrectly (and needed a lot of luck to win)? Clearly, if it’s the latter you are in a great game.

Variance, causing bad beats, makes the game profitable for better players!

  • The variance built into the rules of poker, which causes so called bad beats, is great.
  • This is what makes the game profitable for studied players over unstudied players in the first place.
    • The unstudied players would not have any incentive to play, if their was no variance.
    • They will receive punishment for all their incorrect plays immediately.
    • Instead the variance of the game often rewards them in the short term for incorrect plays.
    • It solidifies their incorrect beliefs ,and keeping them playing for longer.
  • Have a proper bankroll for the games you play, will lessen your risk of ruin due to variance. As such, unavoidable variance will likely cause you less worries.

How to avoid tilt whilst playing

  • Spot a known tilt trigger that has affected you in the past whilst you are playing?
    • It is important to STOP what you are doing and acknowledge it.
    • For example, you have just suffered a bad beat, or are starting to feel tired.
    • This does not mean you have to necessarily stop playing.
    • If it works for you, you could take a certain number of deep breaths every time.
    • It may however help to take a short break, if you are playing a cash game.
  • After that, what you do to avoid tilt depends on how much work you have done away from the table.
    • Have you had a chance to identify the logical fallacy of your thoughts for a particular type of tilt? And, have you fully accepted these fallacies? Then, you may be able to ensure you can avoid tilt of this type. This is even though it has affected you in the past.
    • If you begin to spot manifestations of the tilt, in your game, think.
      • You should seriously consider stopping playing (if it’s a cash game). Do this if you think this you cannot avoid this type of tilt in affect future hands.
      • Spot a new tilt trigger? And, you have not had a chance to work through the logical fallacies of this form of tilt? Stop playing if you can, until you can work out how best to avoid tilt of this new kind.
    • Think about whether or not you may be giving away any poker tells to your opponents, whilst you are tilting. This is particularly important, in live situations.

All about variance

poker variance

Variance, in terms of poker results, is how much the results differ from expected results if the same plays were done over a sufficiently large sample size.

Variance can be positive (in your favour), or negative.

An example of variance

  • Let us imagine you got 10,000 people to toss a fair coin 10 times each.
  • Imagine you also note down whether the coin came down heads or tails.
    • You would have 100,000 results, and the combined results will likely be extremely close to 50% heads and 50% tails.
  • However, imagine you looked at the data of each individual (each of which only made 10 tosses).
    • The most popular outcome in the results would be 50% tails and 50% heads.
    • But, you will find all sorts of other results. For example 20% heads/80% tails, or 100% heads/0% tails etc.

In the massive combined sample, the effects of variance are so low as to have to no real effect. In the tiny individual samples, variance will cause all sorts of results.

Sample size

  • In the above example, you can see how the effects of variance can be massive in small sample sizes.
  • It is important that you don’t overestimate your ability, when you have a small sample size of results.
    • Imagine you are winning a lot of money per hour in cash game poker. If this is not over a sufficient sample size, you are not necessarily a winning player.
    • Just because you are losing over a insufficient sample size does not mean you are playing incorrectly.
  • Players often underestimate exactly how much of a sample size they need, so that variance has little effect. This is especially true of live part time players. They may think they are putting in a lot of their spare time into poker. At 25-35 hands/hour, even over a year or two playing part time that’s not enough of a sample size to know if you are truly a winning player.

Minimising the effects of (negative) variance

  • Managing your bankroll correctly
    You want to have a sufficient bankroll for the stakes you are playing. This is so as to minimise the chances of going broke due to negative variance.
  • Putting in sufficient volume
    The larger the sample size, the less the effects of any variance (including negative). You increase your poker sample size, by playing more hands. This can be by playing longer, and/or playing more tables simultaneously (the latter is only possible online).

Control volatility (when appropriate)

Variance is built into the rules of poker. It is not something you can decide to control during any individual hand.

However, you can control your own volatility. The more the amount of chips you put on the line, and the less likely you are to win, the more volatile your play. For example regularly putting in a lot of chips in race (50%-50%) situations, is more volatile than only putting in a lot of chips in favourable situations (e.g. 65%-35% to you). Keeping pots small would be even less volatile.

Generally in a cash game you are not looking at controlling volatility. You should always be looking to maximising your chip EV. In a tournament you will certainly be looking to control your volatility, when your tournament incentives dictate that you should.

Good news! Variance keeps poker profitable for good players

  • Variance in poker is what makes the game profitable for good players. If there was less variance, results would better reflect the decisions the players make.
  • Changes to the rules could reduce variance, but this would be a bad idea!
    • Every time you are all in, normally one player wins the whole pot and the other nothing.
    • Imagine instead, you each shared the pot according to your equity at the time of the all-in. That would reduce variance.
      • However, if you are thinking that’s a great idea, we urge you to think again.

Reducing variance means the best players would defeat weaker players more often. Players would get better instant feedback on their play, in terms of whether they won or lost money. The weaker players would thus quit the game faster. Thus, the players willing to play you will be more likely to be those of better ability.


poker downswing

Downswings, in poker, are prolonged periods of losing sessions. Here are some tips that should help you cope with a downswing, and avoid tilt.

How to deal with downswings

Understand downswings & upswings in results are inevitable

Due to the variance involved, even a player doing everything correctly, can go on a long downswing. A skilled player may experience downswings that can last weeks or even months.

However, the same is true of upswings! Some players have a tendency to complain or get down about downswings. The same players are more than happy to accept the opposite. In your poker life, you will have downswings and upswings. This is inevitable due to the variance built into the game.

Thoroughly work through your hands off the table

  • You should, of course, be doing this at all times anyway.
    • If you play live you should be taking notes about all interesting spots.
    • Online players have the benefit of hand histories provided to them.
  • Look at the hand from a minimally exploitative/balanced perspective.
    • What deviations did you make, and were they the right ones to make?
    • Use software to help you out.
  • You should not only look at losing hands. Consider winning hands too. It could be the case the even though you won a hand you could have won more. Or, you get lucky this time (but usually you would lose).
  • You could have lost a hand, but perhaps you should have lost less or not at all. Or, perhaps you could have done nothing about it.
  • The idea is to work out if bad results are mainly due to you doing things wrong.
    • This is good to know, as you can improve on this in your following sessions.
    • Or, if it is mainly due to bad luck. This is also good to be sure of, as you won’t then make unnecessary adjustments to a winning strategy.

Don’t make the unnecessary or incorrect changes during downswings

Recreational players, and players who don’t understand poker strategy correctly, often play differently during a downswing. The may be trying to take less volatile lines. This is even when they are worse (in EV terms) than more volatile lines. Or, they may be chasing their losses (i.e. gambling) rather than playing a winning strategy. This is where the analysis suggested above pays off. If you are doing everything right, don’t change just because results aren’t going you way. Otherwise, your downswing will likely last longer (and it will be your fault).

Visually look at results

Are you a winning player, with a large sample size of results? Sometimes it helps to look through graphs of your results. You will visually see that you will likely get out of the downswing eventually, as you have many times before. This is as long as you are playing well (which is where the thorough analysis suggested above comes in).

Make sure you have a proper bankroll from the get go!

This is something to think about well before you go on a downswing. Infact, you should have thought about this from the time you started playing poker (but it’s never too late). The more buyins you have for your game, the more a downswing can go on without causing you undue pain. This helps you avoid tilt, or worse bankrupting your bankroll.