AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 10.02.2021 · last updated 10.02.2021

We often read about ways to cope with Tilt, but it’s also prudent to acquaint ourselves in advance with what causes it in order to deal with the triggers when they appear. The more we consider the issue of tilt, and what factors are more likely to bring it about, the less likely we are to experience it and the potentially serious implications that can result. But we can do even more than that…

Pre-Poker Tilt

There are many things that can put us on tilt. Crucially, the problem doesn’t necessarily begin at the poker table. To take this point further we need to step away from poker and return to normal, everyday life, which presents us, day after day, with problems and events and so on that bring with them the risk of putting us on our own version of real life tilt.

As well as the usual, serious subjects such as health, relationships, money and whatever else affects how we feel emotionally, there are countless others – often ostensibly ‘little’ things – that can disturb our hitherto calm waters and leave us so unsettled by finding ourselves in a proverbial stormy sea that we can no longer think straight or function properly.

It’s a fact of life that we experience such periods now and then, and we deal with such matters quite differently, with varying degrees of success, from person to person.

In relation to our playing poker, negative emotions are going to have the same impact on our ability to perform that they do on anything else. Moreover, given that poker requires us to be focused, on an emotional even keel, positive (or, at least, not negative), thinking clearly, alert and generally feeling good about ourselves, it follows that we simply shouldn’t sit down to play unless all of the above (and more) boxes are ticked. Just as we wouldn’t (I hope) attempt something dangerous or potentially harmful to ourselves or others unless we were 100% confident that we were 100% prepared (both mentally and physically), nor should it be any different with poker!

Yet we have all made the ultimate poker blunder of sitting down to play when circumstances strongly suggest we shouldn’t. There is, after all, money at stake. And herein lies something quite unusual and distinctive about online poker in that the positive aspects of the set-up – notably the convenience and general practical ease with which we can play, at any point of the day – in itself makes it so easy to indulge ourselves.

We’re always a mere minute or so from being dealt in! It’s so effortless that, at those times when whatever problems life is throwing at us render playing poker a negative exercise, we’ve logged on and are contemplating whether to call with JT without having given ourselves time to take stock and come to the right decision not to play.

Note that we’re far more prone to putting ourselves in this potentially hazardous situation with online poker than ‘live’. Compared with the ultimate convenience that online poker provides us, playing in a casino/ bricks & mortar poker room requires planning and actual travel. Moreover, we need to physically hand over actual cash or a bank card in exchange for real, physical chips – an action which tends to make us more aware of the fact it’s real money we’re putting at risk. This can also help us recognise tilt or being in the wrong frame of mind because, if everything goes wrong at the table, the fact that we need to go through the process again can prompt us into waking up, putting things into perspective and stop playing. Online poker, on the other hand, allows us – while still firmly in ‘playing’ mode – to simply reload with a click of a virtual button, with no physical contact with money or a bank card to prompt us into asking ourselves if we should keep playing.

As is so often the case, one mistake can so easily lead to a second and, if circumstances make continuing down the wrong path easy, the problem that arose because we decided to play even though our mind was too troubled will be compounded the longer we continue.


While we would of course think it ridiculous to play tennis with a damaged racket, drive down the road in a car with a flat tyre or – perhaps simplest of all – take a few crisp, shiny new £20 notes and, one by one, tear them into tiny pieces and throw them into the wind like confetti, why do we so easily allow ourselves to sit down to play poker (however much we might have been looking forward to it, whatever our plans were) when life has so clearly got in the way and deemed such an exercise out of the question?

Discipline is a word that is often thrown around as one of the key words that online poker players should be constantly reminding themselves of, and it’s imperative that we appreciate it’s significance not only while we’re playing, but in how we determine whether we should even sit down to play in the first place.

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