Is Mindset Important When Playing Poker?

Poker is a game that is grounded in mathematics and probability. Players have a certain chance of making a particular starting hand, and any given starting hand has a certain chance of winning against other hands. The maths runs deep and understanding it is the foundation for every successfully player.

That said, the game involves much more than maths. Mindset is also incredibly important for long term results.


Poker wins and losses are the results of mistakes

When playing poker online, success can be summed up using this simple concept: long-term poker winnings are the sum of your opponent’s mistakes minus the sum of your own mistakes. In other words, you win by forcing opponents to make errors and by avoiding errors in your own gameplay.


There are at least two ways that these errors can occur. The first is due to a lack of or gap in knowledge. In this case, mistakes are made because you or your opponent do not technically know what to do. You don’t understand the mathematics of the game.


The second way a mistake can occur in poker is due to human error when it comes to applying knowledge. In this case, you technically “know” the correct play but fail to execute it in the moment due to being in some kind of emotional state.


It is this human error that happens as a result of mindset that we are interested in today.


The Poker Mindset

Imagine two players who have the same technical ability – both understand the maths of the game and have similar knowledge of poker. Both know how to three-bet and four-bet. What is it that separates these players?


The answer is mindset and emotional control. Whoever can consistently apply their knowledge and play their “A-game” the most will come out on top in the long term. So, how do you bring your A-game as much as possible?


The poker mindset has been widely discussed, to the point where it is possible (and a good idea) to buy and read books on the subject. For now, let’s simplify the issue and talk about emotional control and tilt.


Tilt in Poker

Most players will be familiar with the term “tilt”. It is widely used to describe a player who has lost control of their emotions at the table and who, as a result, is in a mindset that is prone to making bigger and more dramatic errors.


The most common form of tilt is anger. You might lose a big hand or encounter one or more “bad beats” that throw you off your game. You get annoyed and start throwing chips around in a fit of rage. Perceptive players notice this and set about exploiting you for your entire stack.


But did you know that tilt has a wider definition. Going on tilt doesn’t just mean getting angry. Here are a few more examples of being on tilt:


  • Boredom and Tiredness – You’ve been playing poker for a long time or many days in a row. You’re bored and therefore struggling to focus on the game or to make the best possible decisions.
  • Seeking revenge – You’ve lost a big pot to a particular player. Now, you seek to get “your chips” back from that player and this leads to getting over-involved in pots with them.
  • Avoiding players – You are fearful or certain players who have a higher skill level or more chips and therefore avoid any confrontation with them. You are playing scared.
  • Overconfidence – You’ve been running hot and it seems like nothing can go wrong. This causes you to become overconfident, usually resulting in playing too many hands or overplaying hands because you feel like you “can’t lose”.
  • Long term results – You’re experiencing a significant downswing and it seems impossible to break free. Your long term results are suffering. Therefore, your passion for the game wanes and your decisions falter.


In summary, being on tilt refers to any emotional state that causes a player to make sub-optimal decisions. It is the opposite of the poker mindset and it prevents players from being on top form.


How to Avoid Tilt

So, how does a player avoid going on tilt? The truth is tilt is inevitable for anyone who isn’t a complete robot. Even experienced players feel a negative impact from extreme bad beats or long term bad runs.


But there are some ways that anyone can avoid tilt and play their A-game more often:


  • Don’t play when tired – Avoid playing poker when you are tired or fed up. Instead, seek to play poker when you’re actually keen to play. Learn about your own preferences when it comes to the length of the session and number of times per week that you play.
  • Balance poker and life – An extension of the first point, seek to balance poker with other aspects of your life such as rest, health, exercise and socializing. Getting the right balance will mean you can play poker with a clearer mind.
  • Eliminate distractions – As well as keeping your mind clear, look to eliminate physical distractions from your environment, the most obvious being TV and mobile.
  • Focus on decisions – It’s tempting to focus on results, but a lot of strategy and the moves you make. Orientate yourself towards making optimal decisions and caring less about outcomes. This is no easy task, but if you can master it you’ll avoid a lot of the tilt that comes from bad beats and losing streaks.
  • Take a break – If you feel yourself going on tilt, take a break as soon as possible. For short term tilt, that can be a small break of minutes or hours to breathe and relax. For long term tilt, you may need to take a longer hiatus from the game to come back with a fresh approach.
  • Keep learning – The more knowledge you have of poker, the more certain you can be that you are making correct decisions. Keep analyzing your own play, reading, watching videos and learning the maths to apply at the tables.



With a more effective poker mindset, you can avoid tilt, play your A-game more often, and see a positive increase in results.

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