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How can you protect your money from tilt?

How can you avoid losing your money on tilt?

In this article
  • Watch out for the "stop signs"
  • Set realistic goals and limits
  • Never forget, poker is just a game

Television does a good job of depicting the perfect poker player. He is cool, relaxed and in his element. He isn't sweating or moving about nervously in his chair. The loser, on the other hand, is overweight and going bald and about to bet his house and life savings on a single card.

The average online player is somewhere between these two extremes. Sometimes he is completely focused on the game and aware of everything going on at the table; at other times he loses control and will try anything to win a big pot.

This is when we begin to speak of "tilt." Tilt can basically be described as a psychological phenomenon in which:

A player falls into a mental state, in which he is no longer capable of making rational decisions, but instead acts on emotion (usually anger, despair or resignation). He begins ignoring his own rules and his play becomes less and less controlled, which leads to considerable losses in his bankroll, if not to total bankruptcy.

The 11th man at the table

Tilt is the 11th man at the table. He doesn't play, but he's always waiting for a chance to rob you of your money.

You won't have any fun playing poker on tilt. You really won't. You will only end up burning a hole in your bankroll. And to add insult to injury: you usually end up paying off weaker players who you would normally beat on any given day. In the end you have less money and more emotional damage.

Once you start taking your poker game seriously there will be no way to avoid the subject of tilt. It's not something that just happens. There are causes and, more importantly, warning signs.

There are standard situations that cause players to go on tilt. Losing several large pots in a row will frustrate you, and frustration is a gateway emotion to tilt, as are anger and hatred for your fellow players.

In fact, every negative emotion provides fertile ground for a tilt phase to come your way. Taking a bad mood to the table puts you at an even higher risk. Good manners aren't the only reason you don't play poker after a funeral.

Easy going, man

Think of the 70s. You should be relaxed and in a relatively good mood when you play poker. If you start getting bored or ignoring your own rules, if you start thinking, "Eh, what the hell...", please, STOP!

Learning when to play and when to call it quits is what keeps you, the hunter, from becoming the hunted. You don't want to play on tilt any more than you want to take your entire bankroll to the table to face off against a pro.

Well, you might want to do that if you were drunk. Taking on Phil Ivey with your entire bankroll may seem like a lucrative idea when you've had several litres of beer, but even then, deep down you know it isn't. And playing on tilt is like having Phil Ivey at the table.

Limit yourself

Most players don't learn the importance of preparing themselves for a session until late in their careers. Storming the field and screaming out war cries went out of style a long time ago. Write a checklist of the things to do before you start a session.

Is Elephant / Pokertracker running? Do you have all charts handy? Have you already gone to the bathroom?

Set a "stop loss limit". If things get out of control and you've reached your loss limit, end the session immediately.

You can have a pile of 5 poker chips (or coins or whatever else) to your left. Move one to your right side for each buy-in or 20 Big Bets you lose. Then end your session as soon as the entire pile has moved to your right.

Ask yourself if you are playing to win and making progress, or if you are bored and just looking for some fun before you start a session. You can have fun on the lower limits. But even then, only play if you really are having fun.

Take the time to make a list of all the signs that lead up to a tilt phase before you head to the tables.

I start commenting on the game and how bad my opponents are.
The game is moving too slowly.
I'm playing too aggressively.
It seems like I haven't had a decent hand in ages.
I just lost a big pot.
I think my opponents are total idiots.
I show my bluffs for no particular reason at all.
etcetera ...

These are your "stop signs." Keep this list handy when playing and end your session when you've seen too many of them. Recognizing the stop signs and hitting the breaks is the best prevention.

It's just a game

And remember not to take poker too seriously, it's just a game after all! Respect your opponents. You don't have to think all too highly of them, but trying to take one to school can mean learning a lesson yourself. Things are also sure to go wrong if you start taking the game personally. And remember, you don't have to play. If you're not having fun or if you're bored, angry or frustrated, go do something else.

Set realistic goals. Don't expect things to be the way they are on TV. You're not going to be a millionaire tomorrow morning. Think about where you want to be at the end of this month and the next. Be realistic!

You will find a lot of players who have mastered your limit in the forums (unless you're a Black Member). Ask them how long they needed. You can do it, just don't try to force things. Things can't go too wrong as long as you stay cool, stick to your game and manage your bankroll.

There's a lot that could be said about tilt, but we prefer to keep it brief. Accept the fact that tilt is real and that you will have to deal with it. Know that you can't play well when you are on tilt and that you will only throw what you've worked so hard for out the window.

Whatever you do to stay off tilt, remember: Poker is a game. There's no point in playing any game with a detrimental attitude that will keep you from winning.


You can learn more about setting stop loss limits in the following article:

Stop Loss Limits - Pulling the ripcord

You can turn to the PokerStrategy Psychology Forum with questions on tilt, self management and other psychological aspects of poker.

Click here to go to the Psychology Forum


Comments (24)

#1 bbogdanmircea, 29 Jun 09 15:24

very nice article.
On the other hand I think that I suffer from scare on high big blinds than of tilt...

#2 theboydave, 22 Jul 09 17:15

Dont take it personal is rather good advice do the right things most of the time and it should pay off more often than not.

#3 Jwizz, 06 Aug 09 14:13

Very good article.

#4 mrgayuk10, 25 Apr 10 01:36

Great article...Hopefully I can adapt my game and avoid the tilt signs. "But trying to take one to school can mean learning a lesson yourself." I have learnt that lesson a few times, where I have criticized a player for poor play and he comes back to bite me on the bum lol.

#5 MancaMulas, 26 Apr 10 22:39


#6 zebadie, 01 Jun 10 17:33

Great, thanks for the warning signs i will keep a look out. Any advice on what to do if you're on tilt in an MTT about mid-late stages?

#7 StefanBranzoi, 29 Nov 10 16:01

lots of imoprtant info...just great!

#8 foolboydesire, 10 Dec 10 19:53

@ #6 - watch how cheong plays candio this year wsop at final table :) dude remained cool even after very very bad beat.

nice read, btw, very helpful article, i dig this psychology section :)

#9 36bullets, 10 Jan 11 06:12

I have read this article several times and still a good read... :)

nice job!

#10 ExpertsLV, 07 Jun 11 10:10

This article was just what i wanted =]

#11 Pouserly2, 12 Aug 11 09:00

This article was just i wanted

#12 Gunn56, 14 Aug 11 16:37

Gonna try n start cash at the lowest of limits. Gonna try n do what someoen wrote in a post. Before moving up try n get 250 buy ins till i move up to the next level but think to them as 250 points mark it down till i get to that points . Then when I get there I know I have beating that part of the game . Kinda like nintendo n etc you beat levels you move up to harder stages ...

#13 Huckebein, 17 Aug 11 09:15

@12: Good Luck!

#14 ttetti90, 23 Aug 11 15:30

it sounds so easy but it is so hard to do it. I need to be more disciplined. god article.

#15 PapiChampu, 29 Oct 11 09:42

good article

I would add another stop sign: you are playing a longer session than usually

#16 ummyousuck, 16 Nov 11 09:35

Very sound article. Mostly my problem with stop losses, is that I want to learn to control tilt, not just avoid it and leave. I do this with high stakes play money though, which is still frustrating sometimes. I go on raging monkey tilt, and lose millions in play money. The idea is I can just NOT go on tilt, maybe learn some discipline..How will I ever win any major tournament if I can't stop tilting like crazy after 2 bad hands?

#17 tmannie, 08 Jul 12 10:13

I have learnt to look forward to my periods of tilt.
This is when I have a much needed break from Poker . When I have lost 2 or 3 buyins or had 2 or 3 bad beats in a row in ring games or tournies. I stop ,for a day or two,and play the odd freeroll thereafter and when I see the cards are positive for me again, that is when I use my cash to buyin and play real poker again.

#18 ellamcc, 01 Jan 13 23:05


#19 kspades52, 30 Jan 13 14:29

True article. I will practice this more

#20 cedhabs, 14 Jan 14 03:08

I had already won a 700 $ pot and continue to play because someone want I keep playing and lose a 200$ and became tilting and lose the rest after. Now when I read this I see my mistake

#21 WpIoNker, 07 Jul 14 19:26


#22 JLBsot92, 12 Jan 15 13:21

I think that it is important to understand that bad beats and bad hands come as part of the game. The sooner you can learn to accept them and carry on with the game-plan you set out prior, the easier it is to protect your bankroll.

#23 WhiteWalker, 23 Jul 15 00:59

Reading through this has definitely helped after some awkward zoom sessions. Hard work and some reading up is needed in the next couple of days

#24 marinko, 31 Jan 18 02:29

nice article