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Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive. This term is closely associated with steam and some consider the terms equivalent, but 'steam' typically carries more anger and intensity.
Placing an opponent on tilt or dealing with being on tilt oneself is an important aspect of poker. It is a relatively frequent occurrence due to frustration, animosity against other players, or simply bad luck. Experienced players recommend learning to recognize that one is experiencing tilt and avoid allowing it to influence one’s play.
The most likely origin of the word "tilt" is as a reference to tilting a pinball machine. The frustration from seeing the ball follow a path towards the gap between the flippers can lead to the player physically tilting the machine in an attempt to guide the ball towards the flippers. However, in doing so, some games will flash the word "TILT" and freeze the flippers, causing the ball to be lost for certain. The metaphor here being over-aggression due to frustration leads to severely detrimental gameplay.
Being “on tilt”
The most common way to "tilt" is losing, often a recent victim of a bad beat, or being defeated in a particularly public and humiliating fashion.
- Folding to a large bet only to have your opponent turn over a poor hand (being shown a bluff).
- Being bluffed by a small bet (a post oak bluff).
- Having an opponent “suck out,” or catch a miracle card late in the hand (an unlikely out-draw).
- Having what you think is a dominating hand bested by an unexpected more powerful hand.
- Standing up to an overly aggressive player who plays nearly every pot but encountering a big hand.
- Having an all-in showdown with a strongly superior hand pre-flop and losing.
- In online Poker, putting a lot of money into the pot with the likely best hand, and being forced to fold the hand due to internet connection failure or software crash.
- Making a bad play and realizing it afterward
- Misclicking in online poker and losing a big pot as a result (like clicking call instead of fold to an all-in)
- Losing a few hands in a short period of time with hands that are statistically around 50% to win (often called a “race”, such as two high cards vs a lower pair.) The tilting player may complain that he or she “never wins races”.
These can upset the mental equilibrium essential for optimal poker judgment. Another common way to tilt is from bad behavior of the others at the poker table. Excessive rudeness (or lewdness), being heavily intoxicated at the table, and poor table etiquette are ways that players can wear on nerves.
Though not as commonly acknowledged or discussed, it is also quite possible to go on "winner's tilt" as a result of a positive trigger: such as winning a hand unexpectedly, being awarded a large pot, or making the money in a tournament. Strong positive emotions can be just as dizzying and detrimental to one's play as negative ones. "Winner's tilt" can be just as dangerous as the more traditional form.
Advice when tilted
For the beginning player, the elimination or minimization of tilt is considered an essential improvement that can be made in play (for instance in the strategic advice of Mike Caro and especially, Lou Krieger). Many advanced players (after logging thousands of table-hours) claim to have outgrown “tilt” and frustration, although other poker professionals admit it is still a “leak” in their game.
One commonly suggested way to fight tilt is to disregard the outcomes of pots, particularly those that are statistically uncommon. So-called “bad beats,” when one puts a lot of chips in the pot with the best hand and still loses, deserve little thought; they are the product of variance, not bad strategy. This mindset calls for the player to understand poker is a game of decisions and correct play in making the right bets over a long period of time.
Another method for avoiding tilt is to try lowering one’s variance, even if that means winning fewer chips overall. Therefore, one may play passively and fold marginal hands, even though that may mean folding the winning hand. This may also imply that one plays tightly— and looks for advantageous situations.
Once tilt begins, players are well-advised to leave the table and return when emotions have subsided. When away from the table, players are advised to take time to refresh themselves, eat and drink (non-alcoholic) if necessary, and take a break outside in the fresh air.
If none of these work in lessening tilt, players are advised to leave the game and not return to playing until they have shaken off the results that led to the tilt.
The intent of the advice is to prevent the upset person from letting negative emotions lead to bigger losses that can seriously hurt one’s bankroll.
Tilt has to be taken seriously and one must realize immediately when being on tilt. Taking a break from poker is the best option: tilt has already ended many poker careers. Some players can win 6 times a week but on the 7th day they lose more than what they won in the previous 6 days. The progression in poker for these kind of players will be hindered because their anger controls them and they are not able to play their best poker all the time. One way to avoid this is to pay close attention to your playing statistics because you might start playing more aggressively and more hands than you did before.
The act of putting an opponent on tilt may not pay off in the short run, but if some time is put into practicing it, a player can quickly become an expert at “tilting” other players (with or without using bad manners). In theory, the long-run payoff of this tactic is a monetarily positive expectation.
Common methods of putting a table on tilt include:
- Playing junk hands that have a lower chance of winning in the hope of either sucking out and delivering a bad beat (which can be an enjoyable occasional style which will make the table’s play “looser”) or bluffing the opponent off a better hand (with the option of showing the bluff for maximum tilting effect).
- Victimising individuals at the table, (which is often considered a more old-fashioned tactic, identified with 1970s “verbal” experts such as Amarillo Slim.)
- Pretending intoxication, i.e. hustling, excellently demonstrated by Paul Newman against Robert Shaw in The Sting (although his technique included cheating).
- Constant chattering, making weird noises and motions whenever you win a hand, or other erratic behavior is a “tilting” or “loosening” approach first discussed by Mike Caro.
- Taking an inordinate or otherwise inappropriate amount of time to announce and show your hand (also called "slow-rolling") at the showdown. (Such deliberate breaches of etiquette have the side effect of slowing play and risking barring, thereby limiting the earnings of the expert player. For this, and other social reasons, such tactics are mostly associated with novices.)
These antics can upset the other players at the table with the intention of getting them to play poorly.
- Steam definition
- "Tilt - Definition of Tilting in Poker". Retrieved 2014-03-18.
- Phillips, Larry (1999). Zen and the Art of Poker. Fram. p. 192. ISBN 978-0452281264.
- "HowToLearnPoker.net: Being on tilt can ruin your poker bankroll". howtolearnpoker.net. Retrieved 2011-08-24.