From time to time even the most dispassionate player may lose his calm, disciplined approach to the game and instead start making decisions that are heavily guided by his emotions, in other words, go on tilt like a pinball machine. Some players with an extensive knowledge of poker fail to make the most of their talent, largely because they are unable to play their best game consistently – too often they allow their emotions to take over. Probably the most common scenario for tilt to manifest itself occurs when a player has just endured a bad beat (or series of bad beats) and succumbs to the natural urge to try and get even as quickly as possible, but it could just be that the player is enduring a poor session overall and suffering a deterioration in his play as a result.
With the enhanced speed of online play, relative to live play, everything is compounded and it is even easier to go on tilt – hand after hand is dealt in quick succession, and there is no time to calm down, take stock, properly rationalise the situation and regroup. In the online game your chips are only a number on the screen, and the fact that these ‘cyberchips’ have no physical presence makes it easier to lose sight of the fact that they represent real money and should not be treated lightly. Furthermore, in a live-action game, social convention dictates that you should not blow off steam in public, whereas online there are no constraints to prevent you from openly losing your temper and steaming your way through your bankroll. The risk of going on tilt is further magnified if you are playing two or more tables at once, where money can be won (or in this case lost) twice as fast.
One problem which players often face when they are enduring a losing session, is that the other players in the game see them struggling and try to take advantage of this, perhaps by playing draws more aggressively against them or running more bluffs. Not only does the player now have to face the emotional setback of a losing session, but also the reality that other players are now queuing up to take shots at him, forcing him to deal with a series of difficult decisions. Apart from the obvious course of action – to leave the table – one alternative way of avoiding this nightmare scenario is to discretely buy more chips, thereby disguising the fact that you are actually losing. As long as you retain broadly the same amount of chips throughout a game, most players won’t notice whether you are winning or losing, and therefore won’t play any differently against you. Of course, the very worst thing you can do when you are losing is to start criticising the other players for their play through chat messages – this will merely alert them to the fact that you may be on tilt and encourage them to play even better against you! Likewise, if you see someone else berating the other players through the chat box, then this may present a good opportunity since he could be about to go tilt and steam away some chips.
The nature of poker is such that from time to time every player will experience a large financial reverse, either from a disastrous single session or a series of losing sessions. Even top players can experience long sequences of poor results (although this does not mean that if you achieve bad results you must be a top player!). Different players have different ways of dealing with such setbacks: some go to watch the high-limit heads-up games at the poker room, where the thousands of dollars that can be won and lost on every hand make their losses seem small by comparison; others take a break for a few days or spend some time reviewing their play and reading books; others practise relaxation techniques to try to restore their equilibrium; others tryout a different site or switch to a different form of poker for a while; and others drop down in limit or try to log a few short winning sessions to restore their confidence. Any of these methods is likely to be preferable to playing on tilt, making plays that you know are incorrect in a vain attempt to get even, in a game that has long since turned sour. It is not enough to be a good player; you must also play well on a consistent basis.