Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When to Leave the Poker Table in a Cash Game

quitting a poker session
When should you leave the table in a cash game? This is a question that I get asked all the time. I think the reason why is because a lot of people suffer from what is sometimes referred to as "winner's tilt."

This is a feeling that you get when you have been winning a lot and you have a fear of losing it all back. This can cause you to play more cautiously and miss out on tons of profitable situations. Many people will even decide to quit early in order to "book a win."

This is actually a highly counter productive way to play the game though and locking up a win is not a good reason to leave the poker table. In fact, it can almost be as damaging to your winrate as tilt itself.

In this article I am going to show you how to structure and plan your poker sessions instead and provide you with some real reasons for when to leave the table.

Results Should Never Influence When You Leave the Table

One of the biggest hurdles that you need to overcome on the way to becoming an elite poker player is the idea that your results in any particular session actually matter.

Because they don't. At all.

This is why I actually suggest not even looking at your results at all during your session if you are playing online. But I digress and that is a topic for another article.

The main point here is that no matter how good or bad your results are in an individual poker session, they will have very little impact on your long term real poker results.

A commonly accepted number that gets thrown around in order to make solid conclusions about your long term winrate is 100k hands.

Yes, 100,000.

Having run either way above EV or way below EV on many occasions for stretches of this length myself, I would agree that you need at least this amount of hands to even begin making any firm conclusions about your results.

How many hands did you play in your last poker session? 500? 1000? Even if you are a heavy online grinder it is probably no more than a few thousand. If you play live the number might only be 200 hands.

I think the point is probably pretty clear by now. Your results in a single poker session really just don't matter at all. Therefore, choosing when to quit playing because of them makes no sense.

You Should Always Quit Your Poker Session if you are on Tilt

There is one factor that should absolutely force you to quit though. This is when you are on tilt.

Even though today's results are not indicative of your long term winrate, if you are having a particularly bad losing session, you can start playing based off of emotion and anger which can have a massively negative effect on your ability to play well.

Even though tilt is essentially irrational, this is something that happens to every poker player at some point or another. Elite players just manage to control it better.

If you find yourself doing things like:
  • Playing more hands than normal preflop
  • Making more bluffs for no particular reason either preflop or postflop
  • Having a hopeless feeling of being beat in every hand
  • Making bad calls on the river when you know you should fold

Then there is a good chance that you are on tilt. You should quit your session immediately if this is the case.

Trying to "play through it" is typically a bad idea for most people and just turns into more losses because you aren't thinking clearly and you are playing your C, D or even F-game at the tables.

Here is the bottom line: If you think you are on tilt, then you probably are.

Quit immediately. The games will always be there when you return tomorrow.

Plan Your Poker Sessions

So, assuming you are not on tilt, what factors should actually go into your decision to leave a poker table then? Well, this is where pre-planning comes in.

There are two reasons why you should leave the table:
  • Time Limit
  • Number of Hands

Before you start your poker session you should set a specific amount of time that you are going to play for or a specific number of hands.

Now of course everybody has different abilities when it comes to how long they can stay focused and motivated as well at the poker tables.

So there are no clear-cut rules that you should play x amount of time. This is something that you have to decide for yourself.

For me personally, I typically set time limits for when I quit. I prefer shorter sessions in order to keep my mind fresh and keep me focused on playing my A-game at all times.

So I typically never play more than 2 hours in a row. Often as well, I will sit out at the 1 hour mark for 5 minutes and simply go walk around for awhile and use the washroom.

You can also set the length of your sessions by the number of hands played though too. Back when I used to be a heavy rakeback grinder I would often use this method.

The reason why is because I knew that I had to play 3k hands for instance in order to collect enough points to clear the next bonus or to stay on track to hit Supernova on Pokerstars. So my sole focus for that day would be to play 3k hands (or more if I wanted to get ahead of pace).

If you use a tracking program like Pokertracker, then it already keeps track of the number of hands you have played for you. Most poker sites will also show the number of hands that you have played as well near the chat box.

If you play live, then knowing how many hands you have played will obviously be more difficult. In that case I would just set out to play for a specific amount of time.

Never Leave a Really Good Game

Now with all of that planning talk out of the way, I need to completely contradict myself for a second here and say that sometimes you need to throw all of that right out the window.

There is one particular time when this is the case. This is when you are in a really good game. What do I mean by "a really good game?"

I mean a table with a recreational player (or even a reg) who is clearly on tilt and has been losing a lot. Also, you have a good seat versus them (i.e. they are on your right).

You can look down on it, call it predatory or whatever you want, but as the poker legend Doyle Brunson sagely reminds us:
"Poker is war. People pretend it is a game."

I have often found myself sticking around for hours on end after I planned to quit my poker session because I was in a situation where I had the jesus seat on a fish who was spewing badly.

And I usually end up being glad that I did stick around because these are the sessions that have produced some of my biggest wins.

In today's games, both live and online, having terrible players spewing everywhere is not the norm anymore. You often have to search just to find the bad players, let alone find one who is on tilt and giving away their money.

So this is why I think it is critical to take advantage of these situations when they occur. You can even tighten up and just play like a nit if you want in order to lower your variance.

Just don't leave the table. These opportunities do not come around that often. If you leave, some other reg will just end up taking your seat and busting the rec player.

The Fear of Playing Deep Stacked

One last point that I want to address is playing deep stacked. I know that this can be a major concern for some when they have been winning a lot. This is something that happens a lot especially if you play a fast-fold game like Zoom poker.

And the reason why it makes some people anxious is because they are not used to playing deep stacked and you can potentially lose a lot (or win a lot) with just one single decision.

I actually see this as a good thing though. Since I only sit in poker games where I know that I am the best player, playing deep stacked just gives me more ways to use my skill advantage.

However, I definitely understand the anxiety that can go along with playing deep especially if you are on a short bankroll or moving up to a new stake.

The problem though is that leaving the table and coming back with a smaller buyin, often referred to as "ratholing," "going south" or a "hit and run," is widely frowned upon in the poker community and often quite simply against the rules as well, especially in live poker.

Most online poker sites in fact have a rathole timer. This means that if you leave a table while stacked up (for instance you bought in for 100 big blinds but now have 200 big blinds), then you will be forced to sit again with 200 big blinds for x number of hours.

Now of course with online poker there are often plenty of other tables for you to join. If you are really that concerned about playing with a deep stack, then just quit and join another table.

But overall, I think the best strategy is just to make sure that you are using proper bankroll management and then it should not matter.

Also, you should understand that just because you are deep with someone else doesn't necessarily mean that you are somehow risking a lot more.

The chances of both entire stacks going in the middle are extremely low because most competent players understand that you need an absolute monster hand in order to ship 200 big blinds in the middle for instance.

The great thing is that most fish don't understand this though.

So playing deep stacked with a recreational player is actually a hugely profitable situation. You can potentially get all 200 big blinds in the middle with your set versus their top pair and be a virtual lock to win a monster pot.

I don't think I even need to tell you how good this kind of thing is for your winrate!

Final Thoughts

When to leave the poker table in a cash game is not always an obvious thing. This is why it is important to have a plan before you even start your session. You should either plan to play for a certain amount of time or a certain number of hands.

But you should also never voluntarily get up from a really good game where you have a fish on tilt on your right. You could potentially get a few easy stacks in a situation like this. This is like rocket fuel for your winrate.

The most important rule though is to never let your results in any particular session influence your decision to quit. This is because they are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Always think of poker as one long continuous game. You are going to post the blinds again in your very next session and this is simply a continuation of the current session.

Quitting now because you happen to be winning over a meaningless sample of hands will have absolutely no effect on what is going to happen in the future.

There are only three things that you should be focusing on when playing this game. Implementing a solid poker strategy, controlling your emotions and table selecting.

If you do these 3 things on a consistent basis, then your results will take care of themselves in the end.

Let me know in the comments below how you decide when to leave the poker table in a cash game.

when to leave the poker table in a cash game


  1. 100k hands is not really much. You will need millions of hands to get an idea. Even with an expected winrate of 10bb/100 you could be unlucky enough to play 100 sessions without winning anything, although it is very unlikely but not impossible. From time to time you lose 10 stacks in a session (1k hands) and there is nothing you can do about it. This can happen a few times in a row if you are unlucky. 100 not a big number, by far not enough to ignore randomness.

  2. What would you do in these scenarios on a 6-max game:
    - Full table with all unknown players, after a fair sample of hands to gather stats, all players seem to be TAG/NIT.
    - A full table becomes shorthanded (4 or less, more so than 5) and/or the fish you were targeting has left the table.

    1. I would leave in both scenarios. I don't play at tables that don't have fish on them.

  3. Hey Blackrain, have you played at ACR?? If you have, where are the fish, it seems a huge majority of players are pretty decent and play TAG, including myself. Keep in mind I'm playing mostly 25NL, is that too high of a level to find fish?? Thanks.

    1. Hi B,

      I haven't played on ACR in quite some time. If you aren't finding any fish there though, I would simply change sites.