Tilt in poker can get you in a loop of making poor decisions because you are getting unlucky, and then losing more money than you normally would because you are making poor decisions.
You could be a winning player but you need to learn how to avoid tilt in poker if you want to maintain your winning ways. Why? Because poker downswings will happen. When they do inevitably happen, you need to be able to compose yourself and keep yourself calm in the face of stress.
I've tried many different ways how to avoid tilt in poker, and it seems that I consistently go back to my old ways and get tilted.
So how do we do this?
I've found one effective way through the work of someone named Byron Katie. I discuss how you can use her work to help you through downswings, but this version will apply specifically while you are at the table.
Let's use a specific situation in real-time usually AFTER it happens at the poker table, and how going through these 8 simple steps can help you. This type of work usually works best when you are dealing with emotions about another player and how you feel about them or what they did to make you feel a certain type of way.
You can also do the work on a situation, for example, why did I have to get so unlucky, etc? You can refer to my post about Poker Downswings for more situational help on the mental game of poker even while you're at the table.
After you do this a few times, you can skip over the whole process and go right to the questions and the turnarounds. You will unconsciously start understanding how when you believe your thoughts they stress you out and put you on tilt in poker.
Run Through The Judgements
You are going to pick a specific stressful situation you want to overcome at the table while you are playing. Judging another person is the best way to do this but you can use it toward a situation as well. I provide two examples of how this can be applied in-game to help with tilt in poker.
I know it's a process but there is a worksheet and an app from Byron Katie that walks through the whole process. Read below if you want to see how this applies to poker though.
1. In this situation name the emotion you feel towards the certain player that angers, confuses, or frustrates you, and why.
I am (emotion) with (name) because (reason)
Example 1: “I am angry with the big blind because this donkey called my all-in with J4 offsuit and beat me when I had AA deep in a multi-table tournament.”
Example 2: “I am frustrated with poker because I'm super unlucky all the time”
2. In This Situation, how do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
I want (name) to (blank)
Example 1: “I want the big blind to fold his garbage j4 offsuit because it is a trash hand and they're putting their tournament life at risk by making a negative EV call. I want them to fold that so I can take the blinds.”
Example 2: “I want poker to be luckier for me, I want to win when I'm supposed to win”
3. In This Situation, What Advice Would You Offer Them?
(name) Should/Shouldn't (blank)
Example 1: “The big blind should fold if they want to be a winning tournament player in the future. The big blind shouldn't call with that because it is a losing play over the long run.”
Example 2: “The game of poker shouldn't always give me bad beats when I need to win. Poker should reward me for my good play”
4. In order for you to be happy in this situation, what do you need them to think, say, feel, or do?
I need (name) to (blank)
Example 1: “I need the big blind them to say they're a donkey for making that call and they don't deserve to win this tournament and to feel like a bad poker player and that I'm a superior player and should have the chips they currently have.”
Example 2: “Poker needs to stop making me lose when I should win. The game of poker should recognize I'm a good player and reward me as such.”
5. What do you think of them in this situation? Make a list. (It’s okay to be petty and judgmental.)
(Name) is (blank)
Example 1: “The big blind is stupid, donkey, horrible at poker, loser, idiot.”
Example 2: “Poker is unfair, a stupid game that rewards bad players, poker sucks, why is just me? Why does poker always pick on me?”
6. What is it about this person and situation that you don’t ever want to experience again?
I don't ever want (blank)
Example 1: “I don't ever want to deal with this person again, they are horrible at poker and they shouldn't be playing at these stakes with us, I don't want to get sucked out on by that garbage play in such a critical time in a tournament”
Example 2: “I don't ever want to get super unlucky in big situations ever again. Especially when I'm about to make some big money”
7. Ask Yourself The Four Questions
Use your original statement and ask yourself the four questions.
Example 2 : “I am frustrated with poker because I'm super unlucky all the time”
- Is it true? (Yes or no, if yes move on to the next question)
- Can you absolutely know that it's true?
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who or what would you be without the thought?
Let's go through the questions for the second example.
- Yes, I am always unlucky it feels like.
- Well, no. I got all-in earlier in the tournament with KQ and beat AA to keep my tournament alive. But that was only one time. Technically I'm not unlucky ALL the time.
- I feel tilted, I feel sad and angry and frustrated, I feel shame, rage.
- I would be free to play the game as it is meant to be played. I would be happier without that thought. I would not care about the luck aspect, because I know it's a factor in the game.
8. Turn the Thoughts Around
There can be multiple turnarounds for a situation or a specific statement or thought.
I also like to break larger statements and situations into smaller chunks to help you gain even more insight. This helps so much more than you think. Just try it, it relieves the tilt in poker almost immediately.
For example, “I am angry with the big blind because he called with J4 offsuit”
The turnaround would be, “I am happy with the big blind because they called with j4 offsuit”
You should be happy because the majority of the time you will win this pot over the long run. You want to play against players that make mistakes so that you can win more often down the road.
Another turnaround would be, “I am happy with ME because they called with j4 offsuit”
You can be happy with yourself because you induced this player to make a big mistake against you. Something you did during the course of the game could have possibly influenced them to make this mistake.
You can also go through all your other statements and start turning those around.
For the second example, we say, “Poker is unfair” – A turnaround for that is “Poker is fair”. And it is. The game is rooted in reality and math. You cannot argue that poker is unfair. It is completely fair. When you have a 95% chance of winning on the river that still means you lose 5% of the time. 5 out of 100 times. 50 out of 1,000 times. 500 out of 10,000 times.
This has helped me so much with how to avoid tilt in poker that it's not even funny. Whenever I get into a stressful situation in poker I run through the worksheet or the app and I feel better immediately. Eventually, I stopped having to do it at all.