What Is Tilt in Poker? Emotions and Playing Without Control

Many things can affect your game’s outcome, such as your skills, luck, and emotions. However, there is one pitfall that many professionals always warn beginners never to fall into—tilt. It’s the single, most significant factor contributing to many poker players’ downfall, even professionals and heavy grinders.

Tilt in poker refers to a state of mind where the player loses control of logical reasoning. It happens when a player lets his emotions control his actions, blocking any observation and knowledge about poker. A player in tilt plays too aggressively, which often leads to a drastic loss of chips.

Tilt is a crucial part of poker, and understanding it is one of the first things that every poker player should do. We’ll cover everything about it in great detail and share some tips to avoid or, at least, minimize your tendency to tilt while in the game. So, read on!

If you have enough of tilting and want to get rid of it forever, then books from Jared Tendler are a must-read for you. You can get the books on Amazon here.

person tilting at poker
You never want to let your emotions dictate what should be your move in poker.

Understanding Tilt in Poker

Players tend to blame too many things when they lose a game, but one of the most common reasons is tilt. It’s normal for anyone to bleed chips when playing because most players will lose most of the hands they play. It’s okay; it means you’re playing sound poker, and you’ll be fine as long as you offset your losses with big wins.

However, when a player tilts, every strategy that he worked hard to master becomes useless.

That’s because a sound poker is no longer an option for a player who tilts, and his emotions will be the basis of all his actions. Instead of gradually losing chips and waiting for a win to offset his losses, he won’t see small opportunities to save his entire game.

Poker is a very emotional game, and when there’s money involved, you can expect that it’ll amplify the tendency of a player to tilt. This state of mind happens in any game format, from casual games to MTTs and micro-stakes to high-stakes. More importantly, it can happen to anyone and is the most common reason why many players lose their games.

How Can Tilt Be So Devastating?

Winning in poker requires the right combination of skills and luck. However, in more competitive games, it always favors a more skilled player. It requires a keen observation, sound reasoning, and continuous calculation of poker maths and probabilities to make the most profitable plays possible.

When a player tilts, he loses everything that has helped him build or protect his stack. He’ll play too aggressively without considering anything that happens at the table. It’s even possible for him to bet all of his chips in one round, despite having a relatively weak hand. Without the intent to protect his chips, anyone can lose a lot from a single round.

It’s one of the most important things that a poker player should understand when playing. Tilt can happen to anyone, and it won’t warn you when it hits (although with the help of the books I linked to above, you can recognize when you are about to go into tilt).

As long as another player hits your triggers, you’ll tilt. What makes it even worse is that it can be difficult for a player to detect because it disguises itself as “balancing out” your game.

For example, if you’ve been successfully playing tight throughout the game, and a player hits your triggers, you’ll lose emotional control and start playing loose. Betting without careful consideration about your odds can be detrimental to all the strategies you’ve worked hard to master.

How Can You Avoid Tilt?

Tilt can happen to anyone at any time. The sooner you understand it, the easier it’ll be for you to avoid tilting. However, it requires a lot of practice to be successful, and even that won’t guarantee that you won’t tilt in-game. 

The best thing you can do is familiarize yourself with the following to minimize your tendency to be too emotional when playing:

Arguing before playing poker and tilting.
Having an argument just before you start a poker session is a great trigger to get you into tilt.

Understanding Your Tilt Triggers

Different players have different triggers. It can be losing a big pot, having a cooler or a bad beat, or, sometimes, even winning a considerable amount. 

Knowing what your triggers are will make it easier for you to play more games without tilting. Even if, for some reason, you get too emotional, it’ll still be easier to control because you know if an event triggers it or just because you’re running bad.

There’s a huge difference in running bad and tilt, but many players misunderstand the two. When you’re running bad, you’re either getting bad cards in a good table or good cards in a bad table for a certain period. It’s one of the most common tilt triggers, but it doesn’t mean that a player only tilts for running bad. If you know that it’ll have a massive impact on how you play games, it’ll be easier to control yourself and not fall prey to tilts.

Knowing your triggers may sound simple, but it’ll require you to play more games. Like mastering any skill in poker, the more hands you play, the better you get. You may even lose a lot of chips in the process, but it’s one of the first things that you need to determine if you want to be a more competitive poker player. 

Tilt triggers depend on a player, but what separates a professional from beginners is the ability to determine and control these triggers.

Bad Beats and Coolers Are Okay

Bad beats and coolers can happen to anyone, but don’t be affected by it. In fact, we suggest not to focus too much on it because it’s irrelevant when studying poker. Any player with a strong hand will do anything to try and extract value from it. However, there are times when your opponent gets an even better hand, which is another common tilt trigger.

What you need to understand, though, is that coolers and bad beats are irrelevant and don’t have an EV that makes your moves wrong. One of the most crucial things you need to understand in poker is that when you have a strong hand that loses to an even stronger hand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your play is bad.

It takes the right combination of skills, foresight, and intuition to get away from a cooler. Even professionals experience bad beats and coolers, but what makes them excellent players is they don’t let it affect their emotions. Emotions make you a weak player, and thinking about an irrelevant hand won’t bring anything to the table other than being a burden throughout your game.

No One Can Play the Perfect Poker

The biggest misconception that many players make when they’re starting to learn poker is that they need to play the perfect poker to win in tournaments. It’s definitely not the case, and in fact, professionals do the opposite when they’re playing poker.

When you’re at the poker table, you’ll lose a lot of games. In a professional game, the only thing that separates winners from losers is the ability to protect their stack. They seize the opportunity to offset their losses by extracting value when possible

Professionals know that playing the perfect poker is impossible. Instead, they try to commit fewer mistakes than the other players and ensure that they take advantage of premium hands.

If you’re sitting at a table, always trying to play the perfect poker, you’ll tilt in almost every game you play. Always remember that even though winning in poker heavily relies on your skills, luck will still play a role in whether you win a game or not. When luck is in play, it’s impossible for anyone to win every hand or never lose many chips.

Be Ready Physically and Mentally

Relaxed and focused poker player.
When you are relaxed and focused it is a great time to play poker.

Poker may be a game where the players sit at the table for hours, but it requires massive physical and mental preparedness.

It’s okay to play casual games when you’re tired, but never play money games when you don’t feel prepared physically and mentally.

It’s easier to fall prey to your emotions if you’re tired. Since your mind is constantly analyzing everything that happens at the table, it’ll be easier for you to lose control of your strategies. So before you start a game, be sure that you have enough rest and leave all the problems you have off the table.

These are simple factors that can affect how you play games, ultimately influencing how easy you tilt. Remember, every player at the table is playing against you, and they will do everything to take you down. The player who can keep focused longer wins more games and takes home the pot.

Stay Cool Even if You’re Winning

Tilts aren’t always related to the negative things that happened while playing. Sometimes, players can tilt right after winning a massive pot or when they’re running good. You know how that feels, right? It feels like it’s your lucky night, and you can never lose a game. The more hands you win, the more invincible you feel.

Unfortunately, as you let this feeling surface and take control of your game, the closer you get to tilting. The more you feel unbeatable, the more aggressive you get. Even if you think you can’t lose a single hand, one wrong table could make you lose all of your chips.

Remember, tilts can happen to anyone, and it’s not always related to negativity. Be wary of anything you feel while you’re at the table because these can cause uncontrollable emotion. Whether you’re running good or bad, keep yourself in check and never let anything, other than sound reasoning and keen observation, dictate how you play your games.

Accept That Tilt Is a Part of Poker

Even professionals experience tilt when they’re at the table, especially when they’re at tournaments. However, what separates professionals from beginners is understanding that it’s only a part of poker and doesn’t really determine their overall skills.

Knowing that tilt is a part of poker will make it easier for you to avoid being too emotional. Although it’s a skill that anyone can learn, no one can guarantee 100% control when at the table. Not knowing about tilt or denying it when you start to play using your emotions is very risky.

If you’re playing poker and not expecting tilt to happen in your games, it’ll be easier for you to get carried away by your emotions. Being the best player at the table is the most significant factor that affects your chances of winning. However, anyone who tilts, regardless of how good they are, will always be the sucker.

Ignore What Others Say or Do at the Table

One of the biggest tilt triggers is allowing words and actions to affect you.

When playing poker, everyone at the table intends to take your chips away from you. They will do everything they can to make this task easier, including any attempts to tilt you. It’s not against the rules to talk to other players, and trash talk won’t cost them anything.

Expect that the other players will tell you anything that can be an emotional trigger to distract and make your strategies less effective. Letting these things get through you will only be detrimental to your game. When you’re at the poker table, none of the players in front of you is your friend; they won’t play nice, and they won’t do anything to help you defend your chips.

Not listening to others when playing poker.
If words get to you, then simply not hearing what others have to say will help you prevent tilt. This is also one of the reasons why poker players often wear headphones.

Whatever they say or do when at the table stays at the table. Although poker shouldn’t be personal, some players will take too seriously. If you’ve been watching televised tournaments, we’re sure that you’ve seen countless players who are using these techniques to tilt their opponents. Allowing other players to let it surface speaks more about your skills than your opponent’s personality.

Follow Your Guts When It Tells You to Fold

Another massive tilt trigger is regret. Poker may be a game of skill, but there are times when intuition plays a significant role. Many players claim, after losing a massive pot, that they knew they should’ve folded. Of course, there’s no way to verify these claims, but we’ve been through similar situations. Losing a massive pot because we didn’t follow our guts is a powerful tilt trigger.

When you have doubts, or there’s something that makes you want to fold your cards, it would be best to follow it. It’ll save you from the frustration of losing chips and from a potentially devastating tilt trigger. 

Remember, you don’t have to play all the hands you draw. You only need a handful of big wins to offset your losses and win the game. Folding one hand, even if it has playable odds, won’t affect your chances of winning, but making one huge call on the river, when you should have clearly make a fold, will have a great impact on your end result.

Learning how to control your emotions is one of the skills you need to be a competitive player. However, putting yourself in a position that prevents you from being in an emotional situation is the epitome of professionalism. It’s the skill that separates the best players from those who lose more chips than they earn.

Knowing When to Quit the Game

Now that you have a deeper understanding of tilt, how it happens, and how it can affect your games, the last time that you need to understand is knowing when to quit your games.

Leaving a poker game was never a sign of weakness. In fact, it displays self-awareness and self-control, which are two of the best traits that an excellent player has.

It’s not easy to quit games, especially when you’re at the extremes—winning or losing too many games. It forces you to keep playing, always going for that one final game where you can get back everything you lost or to win more chips. Remember, each round you stay at the table could be the game where you tilt and potentially lose everything you have.

Of course, you can’t just leave any game whenever you want. So if you’re still trying to master how you can control your emotions, it would be best to practice at casual games and SNGs. This game format will allow you to leave tables whenever you want, which comes in handy whenever you feel that you’re closing to tilt. But you can’t just simply leave a poker tournament.

Tilt happens to anyone, and you can never escape it when you’re at the table. But if you want to be a competitive player or a heavy grinder trying to build your bankroll, controlling tilt is one of the best skills you can develop.

Even some of the best poker players can tilt.


Tilt is the most dangerous state of mind that a poker player can get into because it makes them play too aggressively. It eliminates most forms of logical reasoning and observation, making it possible to lose most of his chips in one game. Aside from that, players who tilt make their decisions emotion-based, making them the weakest player on the table.

These are the reasons why most professionals consider tilt as the single most destructive factor in poker. Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to eliminate or, at least, minimize your tendency to tilt. Doing so can increase your chances of performing better than most of your opponents.