Stopping sessions at the right time

For cash games players, the duration of sessions can vary widely, from a quick 30 minutes online to several days at a live table. The duration of a session most likely depends on a delicate and unpredictable mix of enjoyment, profitability and schedule.

For regular players, when maximizing your profit on a long run becomes your priority, it can be difficult to know exactly when to stop a session.

After playing for 7 hours at a live table and making a decent profit, it’s not always obvious if putting in an extra hour is worth it. You might be a bit tired, you might experience a lack in starting hands, maybe you feel like playing a hand or two for fun, but actually it might be a good time to stop, and maybe you should have done so one hour ago.

So why is it important to stop at the right time?

When getting tired, you’re prone to make more mistakes at the table, as you’re not in the position to follow all the action. You can miss some action, you can miss a tell, or just take a sub-optimal decision that can immediately cost you.

A single mistake due to inattention or an unconscious loosening of your game can have a big impact on your hourly rate. If you usually run on a +5BB per 100 hands rate, a 5BB mistake at the end of a session can cost you 4 hours of play if your table plays 25 hands per hour.

Cash games are forgiving because you can quit as soon as you’re not playing your best game. Doing mistakes at the end of a tournament is another story, as it can cost you much more. Making a bad move can send you to the rail prematurely and make you miss the big payouts of the final table.

Mistakes will also obviously increase your risk of tilting. You want to avoid tilt at any cost. A single occurrence of tilting is never good for your results and for your mental health. Some players really want to avoid tilt as it builds up over time and can end up with a disastrous impact on their bankroll.

In the long run, especially if poker is your first source of income, you’re also at the mercy of a lack of motivation and burnout. These can have a really bad toll on you and your bankroll, so you definitely want to be cautious about that. More often than not, it’s a good thing to stop even if you still want to play. You’ll be extra motivated to play the following session. Stopping a session exhausted, tilted, or because you’ve lost too much is never a good sign for your long-term goals.

Limiting the length of a session have a positive effect, as you’re getting some time back, time to:

  • Work on your game and get better;
  • Get in a better condition for future sessions with whatever works for you: working out, getting more sleep or meditating;
  • Enjoy your time with any other activities.

When should you stop, then?

There are many signs that can indicate you it’s time to leave the table.

If you recognize some of those patterns you should ask yourself if it’s a good time to leave.

  • Plain fatigue: You start to yawn, you feel uncomfortable on your chair, you just want to sleep.
  • You’re constantly distracted by what’s around the table, you’re having trouble following all the action at the table.
  • You’ve just lost a big pot and feel like you won’t be playing your best after that.

Here are other ways to call it a day:

  • You have a heavy schedule of 8-hour sessions five or more days a week, you might want to play one hour less every day and see how it goes for you. You can set an alarm to remind you to leave the table.
  • The whale at the table went bust or left.
  • The field is tough and the game won’t be very profitable.
  • You’ve played a significant amount of time, made a decent profit and decide it’s time to leave happy with your result.

So take your time management seriously as it has crucial impact on short and long-term. Give yourself a moment to think about your approach to poker as a whole, and see what you could do differently.

There is always a time where playing more won’t produce a positive effect, and there is probably a way to allocate your time to produce better results when you play. Think about what you want to achieve in poker, and go get those chips!