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Avoid Tilt with a Poker Playing Break


Sky Matsuhashi

on October 21, 2023

When poker's got you down, take a break! Downswings happen to all of us.

Do some studying instead of playing, work to plug leaks and have some fun before returning to the tables.

Listen to episode #461 as you follow along below:

Take a Break to Relieve Anger and Tilt

I’m in the middle of a 1-week break from poker because I was having a rough time at the tables:

  • My bluffs weren't working no matter the bet sizes I used.
  • They kept folding to my value bets.
  • My AA and KK kept getting cracked; my TPTK hands got rivered by 2p or better over and over.
  • I would also go long stints without getting any cards worthy of playing.

Things just weren’t going my way for days on end! And you can guess my mood through: angry and tilting!

I’m not telling you this for any kind of sympathy because, heck, we’ve all “been there, done that” dozens of times, right? No one likes poker sob stories and there was nothing special about this bad downswing. And, I'm sure it's all my own fault:

So I decided to take a break and follow my simple 2-step process for returning to the tables with a renewed sense of drive for poker.


Step 1: Take a Break from Playing Poker

Yep, get away from the tables.

For me, playing angry leads to tilt and bad decisions which leads to even more losses. You can’t lose any money no matter how angry or tired or frustrated or upset you are if you’re not playing.

The best way to stop this bad play is to just not play. Don’t go to the cardroom. Don’t fire up PokerStars or Ignition.

I’m not a professional player, so taking a break from the tables is totally fine with me. If you’re a pro, you may have to follow a different path and find ways to play through the anger and tilt.

But, taking a break from playing DOES NOT MEAN taking a break from poker altogether.

Sure, you may have a bad run of cards and results, but I guarantee that the poker leaks that you had prior to your bad run; they’re still there. So instead of playing poker, you can spend time working to understand and your leak.


What Are Your Leaks?

On day 1 of your break, analyze your recent statistics and win rates. Get your free tracker below.

You might find leaks like:

  • Losing too much when calling 3bets.
  • Losing too much when calling cbets.
  • Losing when donk betting or limping into pots.

I guarantee that you DID NOT plug these leaks in the time leading up to the break you’re taking.

So, instead of playing poker, spend your poker time studying. Just choose one of your leaks or even a strategy you want to work on like check-raise bluffing or donk betting turns, and get to work.

Watch a few videos and take notes. Read a chapter from a book and take notes. Listen to a podcast and take notes. Create action steps with your notes to help you purposefully practice the strategies when you return to the tables. Do a ton of hand history reviews and full hand reading exercises.

Review all of the big losing hands you recently played and find any mistakes you made. I guarantee, like I mentioned earlier, that downswing probably wasn’t just a bad run of cards. Take responsibility and assume you were making mistakes. This time off is your opportunity to build your skills and correct mistakes. Assuming you’re making mistakes makes it more likely you’ll find mistakes in your big losing hands.

When you return to the tables, you can now do it with a mission to use the strategies you worked on.

Now that you’ve spent a week studying (or however long you feel is necessary) it’s time to return to the tables. I don’t usually go straight back to the same game and stakes. I often take a little side journey for some fun poker.

Get a FREE Quarterly Stats & Win Rates Tracker:


Watch and follow along to fill out your tracker with this YouTube video:


Watch me analyze my own quarterly statistical results:


Step 2: Make a Game Change for Fun

I’m an online cash game player, but I used to be an avid sit-n-go player (quick, one-table tournaments) and I really enjoyed this form of poker. So instead of going back to cash, my first session back, and maybe more than 1 session, will be playing SNG’s.

It’s still NLHE, but with a different format that requires some different strategies. Doing this makes poker fun again for me, which is opposite of how poker felt just prior to the break while I was on a downswing.

Home games can be a lot of fun too. I play in a weekly game with 6 of us and it’s dealer’s choice. They’re crazy drawing and community card games and lots of fun. These are welcome breaks from online NLHE for me.

Let me tell you about the only form of HE we play: Hi/Low with a Draw. Here’s how it works:

  • 1 full round played.
  • Cards play just like in HE so there’s no declaring hi or low.
  • Everyone gets two cards and there’s a flop, turn and river (like normal).
  • However, if the board pairs, we have a round of betting, then a draw. After the draw another round of betting then the next board card.
  • It’s great it’s great when the draw helps you out. For example, you hold AT on the K77 flop. There's a pair on the board, meaning you can draw. You discard the Ten and get a Deuce. Now you have the nut low A2.
  • Or, you hold the J6. You discard the Jack and get a 7 for trips. Or, you get an Ace and now you have a shot at the low with A6. Or you hold the KQ, discard the Queen and you might get a King or 7 for a full house.

So play something fun to get your juices flowing for poker again.


Alternative Step 2: Play a Lower Stake

Instead of switching games, sometimes I’ll just drop down in stakes when I return to playing.

I normally play $10 or $25 buy-in online cash games. So, I’ll drop down to $5 buy-ins. It’s less money on the line and it allows me to try to have more fun and test out the strategies I learned during the break.

Poor results when you return can quickly bring that anger and tilt right back. But, at a lower stake, it’s less of a concern. Sure, you still don’t like losing, but it seems to help keep the anger at bay.

Plus at a lower stake, your opponents are probably not as strong, so you’re more likely to outplay them and book those wins that your mindset may desperately need.


Good Idea: Book a Win, Any Win

The prior losses you suffered were leading to anger and tilt and the need to take a break. You probably desperately want to book a win. So, upon your return, end your session as soon as you’re up a few bucks. You just spent time working on your game. This small win is proof that that time was well spent and it feels really good to book that win. You don’t need to turn for your normal 1 or 2 hour sessions.

I’ll often end my first session back after 10 minutes and I’m up just 10bb’s. It feels good to end the session on a win whereas the prior sessions all ended on frustrating losses. That good feeling will go a long way to stoking the fire for continued poker play and studying in the days to come.



The next time a downswing happens and anger and tilt are affecting your play and your enjoyment of poker, take a break. Follow the steps I’ve given you here and see if a little study break plus a change in games can get your poker journey back on track.

Now it’s your turn to take action do something positive for your poker game.


Sky Matsuhashi

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