Going on tilt is one of the most dangerous places you can be in a game of Poker. Being on tilt is that place where you stop thinking clearly, where you make decisions based purely on how angry and upset you are instead of based on strategy and the cards you are holding.
At all costs you must avoid getting into this space, because if you go on tilt and you stay there, you will lose the game. Other players will be gently (sometimes not so gently) trying to goad you into this space. Resist.
Why is it called Tilting?
Back in the days of yore, before the PlayStation and the Nintendo DS, there was a device called a Pinball Machine. Yes, ok, you've heard of pinball. I'm just checking how old you are.
So, in Pinball, you keep whacking the paddles to shoot the ball into various areas of the deck to try and earn more points. The game is fast and extremely furious, and it can get very frustrating very quickly.
People would end up trying to physically lift the machine on one side to get the ball to roll a certain way - basically, they had lost it to the point where they were doing stupid stuff to try and win. And it didn't work, because pinball machines all had a sort of rudimentary gyroscope (like the magic thing inside a Wii controller) built into them that could detect when they were being lifted. Alarms would go off, the “Tilt!” sign would blink on and off, the game would instantly end and you would lose all of your credits.
Which is not unlike what happens when you go "on tilt" in a game of poker.
Tilting is a strategy
The important thing to understand about tilting is that players employed as a strategy. It's actually a very fine line to walk, because some of the bigger tournaments like the World Series of Poker actually have rules that prevent you from being rude to other players. It's pretty much always been a fining offence, but as of 2009 you can actually be kicked out of the tournament for antisocial outbursts.
Regardless, the other players will be trying to make you fall. They'll be needling you. They'll be mocking you. They'll be laughing at you when you lose a hand. They will be doing everything in their power to distract you from your natural decision making process.
Because the point is, it is to your opponents' advantage if you lose it, whether they caused you to or not. If you are on tilt, you will be making stupid decision after stupid decision, and your previously massive chip stack will be flowing in their direction like a river in flood.
Managing the tilt
Know yourself! Are you the sort of person who has a short fuse? Do you shout easily? I ask because the very same skills that you require an anger management class are the same skills that are going to keep you calm and sane during a particularly vicious session of heads up poker.
I've played heads up sessions online where my opponent would swear at me every time he won a hand. The first time it happened I was so rattled that I started making big raises on hands like K-7 and A-5 in the hopes of hitting something on the flop, and he just kept laughing and taking my money.
Eventually I managed to calm down, breath deeply, and refocus. And in so doing, I discovered my ultimate anti-tilt strategy.
How to beat the tilt
I simply remained calm. I utterly ignored the chat box. I slowed down my play and I focused on watching him bet so that I could learn his play. And I gradually ate his stack.
His failure to put me off started to make him panic, until he actually lost it himself by attempting to intimidate me with stupidly large raises. I just slow played that sucker into an early grave. And when he was broke, I said, “Thanks for a lovely game. I think I learned something from you,” which just annoyed him even more.
So the trick with players trying to tilt them is to not let them bug you. However you manage your calm is up to you, but the more you fail to respond to their antics, the more upset they get ... which puts them on tilt themselves. Cha-ching!