Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Mental Toughness At The Table

by Alex Fitzgerald |  Published: Nov 15, 2023


Alex Fitzgerald credit: PokerGO Get a Free Training Package at

I get this question constantly when I’m coaching. “How can I stay mentally tough at the table? I tilted off my stack the other day. I don’t even know why I did it. How can I stop that from happening again?”

Every player has had experience with tilt, myself included. These are the tips that have always worked for me. I hope some of them can work for you as well.

Tell Yourself To Expect A Bad Beat

On average, you should experience a bad beat every day you play. It’s rare to play an extended session and not get a bad beat at some point.

If you tell yourself on the way to the cardroom that a bad beat is likely to happen today, you will be less perturbed when it does come up.

If you go in expecting to run pure every time you play you are setting yourself up for frustration.

This is especially true for tournaments. When you get deep in a tournament, the stacks get shorter, the players get more aggressive, and you get the money in with thinner edges. It is extremely likely at this point that someone is going to gut your stack. If you’re prepared for this bad moment to occur, you can rebound quickly.

Tell Yourself To Expect Something Getting On Your Nerves

It is common for something to get on our nerves at the table. There could be a poker player talking while we’re trying to think. There could be a slot machine going off nearby. A premium card could flip over when being dealt to us.

If we expect this before we show up, we will be prepared for it. We can put our headphones in. We can focus.

Work Out Before You Get To The Table, Avoid Caffeine

Drain nervous energy before you get to the table.

You can walk. You can lift weights. You can run. You can use resistance bands in your motel room. The choice is yours.

If you’re wound up before you get to the table, it will be difficult to focus as the day goes on.

It’s easier to tilt when you’re dragging ass later. Hydrate as much as you can. Sip coffee slowly. Don’t load up and wire yourself out of the game.

Take Your Time With River Calls

Impulsive river calls send people on tilt all the time.

It’s easy to make an impulsive river call after we have been playing for hours and are fatigued. It’s especially easy to make a bad river call when we have been running poorly. We just don’t want to accept that our hand got cracked again.

If we take our time on rivers, we will make better decisions. We need to ask ourselves if our opponent is value betting a worse hand. We need to ask ourselves if our opponent would fire with a missed draw. We need to ask ourselves how many missed draws are even out there? We have to ask ourselves if our opponent could truly fire with a pair they turned into a bluff or a high card.

We have to think about how this player has been playing all day. Have they done nothing of note? Then it is unlikely that they are suddenly bluffing huge. You would have at least seen some preflop aggression if they were the type of person to try to run over the table.

You’re not getting bluffed nearly as much as you think you are. Don’t be afraid to let more hands go.

Take Your Time With Bluffs

If you are about to bluff, think it through.

Is this actually a good situation to bluff? Does our opponent have a capped range that doesn’t want to see us bet large? Or are we just pissed that our draw missed? Are we trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

We have to accept that we are not going to be able to win every pot we play. There are eight players at the table and only one of us. They have us outnumbered. They are supposed to win almost every single time. Our job is to be patient and wait for the few times the deck hits us. When that happens, we need to execute.

Bluffs are difficult to execute versus casual players who like to call down. It is likely that one of them has made a hand and they don’t want to fold it. If we give up more versus them that’s not a bad play. If the bluff wasn’t going to work that often we shouldn’t entertain the notion.

We want to be careful about reckless bluffs. Getting one bad bluff called is an easy way to get on tilt. If we stay vigilant and don’t gift our opponents large bets, we will feel better.

Give Yourself A Reality Check

This last one is a little eccentric, but it works for me. Whenever I’m getting pissed off, I try to give myself a reality check.

“You are in an air-conditioned room playing cards. You’re not in the sun digging ditches. Don’t act so damn soft.”

I’ve given myself a pep talk like this more than once. It helps.

If I’m in a tournament, I ask myself what someone on the rail would pay to have my stack right now. Thinking of the cash total a stack like mine would fetch always brings me back to reality. I stop focusing on who has a bigger stack than me or who has a bunch of my chips from a bad beat. Instead, I see that my stack still has a lot of value.

I remind myself that I’m really going to regret it if I punt this tournament. I tell myself that if I want to avoid regret tomorrow, I have to focus right now.


The mental game is a lifelong process that no one ever truly masters. Just try to get a little bit better at it every day. I hope these tips start you on your way. Good luck to you.

Learn how to play A-K when it misses the flop!

Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on ACR Poker. He currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at