Knowing When to Quit for the Day - A Poker Pro's Perspective

Knowing When to Quit for the Day in Poker
Something that many new poker players in particular struggle with is knowing when to quit for the day.

Should you call it quits when you are winning, break-even or losing? What about length of time, number of hands and so on?

In short, it can be confusing especially for a poker beginner to know when to call it quits and stop playing for the day.

As someone who has played this game as a pro for over 10 years now I have struggled with this myself at times. But there definitely is a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

So in this article I am going to provide you with the answers for how to plan your poker sessions and how to know exactly when to quit for the day.

1. Play a Specific Number of Hands (Online Poker)

If you play online poker the best thing that you can always do is plan to play a specific number of hands. This is something that I have been doing for years.

The reason why this is effective is because it gives you a clear and unambiguous target to shoot for. You know exactly how many hands to play and exactly when you will quit.

Now, how many hands you should play depends on if you multi-table or not. Check out my complete guide to playing more online poker tables by the way right here.

If you only play on one poker table, maybe you want to set a target of 200 hands.

Keep in mind that most 6max tables online will deal around 80 hands an hour (or 60 hands per hour for full ring). So if you are playing on one 6max table, then it should take you approximately 2.5 hours to complete your session of 200 hands.

If this is too long for you, then set the number of hands lower at say 100 hands. And of course if you play, 2, 4, 8, 12 or more tables, then you can multiply this number significantly.

For Example:

You play 4 tables of 6max and you want to keep your poker sessions to roughly around 2 hours each. You should shoot for about 640 hands.

Each 6max table will deal you 80 hands per hour. So 160 hands over the span of 2 hours. Multiply this by 4 tables and you get 640 hands.

You could of course just round up or down to a nice even number. I think you get the idea though.

The bottom line is to set a clear and unambiguous target number of hands before you start playing. This way there is never anything to even think about regarding when you should quit playing.

When you have played the target number of hands you sit out and leave. Almost all online poker sites by the way will tell you exactly how many hands you have played.

2. Play a Specific Time Limit (Live Poker)

Now if you usually play live poker (i.e. in a casino), then you have to find another way to determine the length of your sessions. This is because knowing the number of hands that you have played would only be possible if you literally counted each and every one.

Nobody wants to do that.

This is why when I play live poker I simply go by the clock. I will plan to play a certain amount of time. This could be 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours or more.

The bottom line is that once this time limit is up, I am done. Whether I am stuck large, winning big or somewhere around break-even has no bearing at all on my decision to quit.

And this is the common theme that you will see behind the quitting decisions of both online and live poker pros like myself and others.

We don't make the decision on when to quit playing for the day based on emotion or results. There was a clear plan on when to quit that was set BEFORE we even sat down to play.

3. Do Not Allow Results to Determine When You Quit Playing Poker For the Day

The reason why allowing your results to determine the length of your poker session is a bad idea is because you have absolutely no control over what they will be from day to day.

There is so much variance (short term luck) associated with poker that it is almost impossible to predict what your results will be on a day to day basis.

This is why I actually suggest that you don't even pay any attention to your poker results at all. And instead use an independent and arbitrary variable for when to quit poker for the day, such as number of hands played or hours played.

Many online poker pros that I know will go weeks without even checking their results. Why you might be asking?

The reason why is because they know that their day to day results in poker are basically meaningless. As long as you are properly bankrolled for the games you are playing in, there is really no reason why you need to know how much you are up or down in the short run.

Learning how to ignore short term results also has potentially huge positive benefits especially for somebody who has tilt problems. I know that this was definitely the case for me.

When you can finally stop stressing over every little bad beat you take and just focus on what actually matters, (making consistent good decisions at the poker table), your emotions are likely to remain much more stable.

And therefore, your results will likely improve dramatically over the long run.

4. Extend Your Session if the Games Are Particularly Good

Now with all of that said, there is one key situation where I will break all my rules and extend my poker session beyond what I had planned.

And you should do this too.

This is a situation where there is a really loose and wild fish at the table who is clearly playing very badly and giving his money away.

Example of a poker game I simply will NOT leave:

It is often worth it to stick around in a spot like this because it is such an insanely profitable position to be in. This is especially the case if you have the seat on the left of the crazy player (aka the "Jesus Seat").

This will allow you to get into so many more pots with them and get to act last on every street. This gives you the ultimate ability to outplay them and get all of their chips before the other players do.

There have been many times over my poker career where I have played well beyond what I had intended because the game was just too good to leave.

Often this has led to absolutely massive winning sessions for me where the fish eventually dumped several stacks to me.

This actually happened in the recent video course that I put out for NL2 online. If you watched that then you will remember that I stacked the same fish over and over again.

This is why my results for that session (and in these games in general) are so insanely high. I don't leave the table until the fish has handed over every last chip to me.

5. Quit the Session Early if the Games are Bad

On the flip side, if the games completely suck and you are having a tough time finding the fish, don't be afraid to just quit your session early.

Many people forget that no matter how much you study and improve your poker game, the biggest factor affecting your poker results is always going to be the people who you are playing against.

Your win-rate is always going to be vastly higher when you are playing with clueless recreational players splashing around with terrible hands and making tons of fundamental mistakes.

You honestly don't even need to be any kind of a great poker player to print money against these guys. I have literally made a career out of it, waiting for AA/KK or my set and then getting paid in full from these goofballs.

The regs though (regulars) are people just like you and me who study the game, try hard to win, play tight etc. It doesn't matter how good you think you are, you are just never going to have a huge edge versus these kinds of players.

They simply do not make enough big fundamental mistakes for this to be possible.

So if the games are particularly bad go ahead and just quit your session early. This is the perfect time to do a session review and improve your own game.

Which brings me to my next point.

6. Schedule Time for Regular Session Reviews

Regular session review is one of the best things that you can possibly do to improve your poker game. What I mean by this specifically is analyzing your key hands in a tracking program like PokerTracker or Hold'em Manager, finding your mistakes and fixing them for next time.

This is really one of the biggest differences between the elite winners and everybody else. All of the pros and biggest winners are constantly studying their own hands (as well as their opponents) in order to get better.

The reason why this is so effective is because these programs tell you exactly whether you are winning or losing for every situation imaginable. And the numbers simply do not lie.

So you can keep butchering the way you play AK out of position in 3Bet pots for years and years on end or you can go into PokerTracker and find out specifically why you are losing here.

For much more on how to find your leaks and fix them I wrote an entire guide on this recently. You can find that right here.

7. You Never Actually "Quit" a Poker Session

The reality of poker though is that you never actually "quit" a session. The only poker results that really matter are those at the end of your career, whenever that is.

Because as long as you plan to play poker again one day what difference does it make how much you were up or down today?

Poker is one big long game and trying to "book a win" on any individual day so that you can feel good about yourself really accomplishes absolutely nothing.

Playing winning poker is not like a regular job where you can expect to receive regular earnings. Some days you will lose in poker and this is perfectly normal.

All poker pros have losing days, lot's of them. Some days they get absolutely smashed in fact.

Does this mean that they suddenly suck at poker and should just quit the game completely? No of course not, it's one day. Even one week or one month may not matter. This is because they are still printing money in the long run.

And this is why I recommend that you only concern yourself with longterm results in poker. And by that I mean at least one month. Because anything less than this can just be complete variance.

Don't be like everybody else and get caught up in the short term illusion.

Final Thoughts

Knowing when to quit for the day in poker is an important skill to learn. Whether you play online or live I suggest using a fixed variable such as number of hands played or hours played in order to determine when you will quit.

And just to be completely clear, you always set this amount BEFORE you sit down to play.

The only reason why you should ever deviate from this plan is if the games you are playing in are particular good on that day or extremely bad.

You should always stick around for as long as you can if there are lots of fish playing bad and throwing away their money on your tables.

On the flip side, if your tables are full of tight multi-tabling regulars, then this is a good opportunity to quit early and go work on improving your game instead.

If you want to know the complete strategy that I have used to create some of the highest winnings in online poker history at the micro stakes, then make sure to pick up a copy of my free poker ebook.

Let me know in the comments below when you quit a poker session. How do you decide when it is time to quit for the day?

when to quit poker for the day


  1. i play way too much...10 hours a day at least....great article

    1. Thanks David. It's fine to play a ton. I used to play 10 or 12 hours a day as well. But I would space it out with breaks.

  2. What about when the fish get a miracle card on the river.. Some obscure straight or runner runner 2's to give them tips or full house. And nut flushes losing out to river pairs. I had to turn it off after this happened so many times yesterday .. 6 buy-in loss for the day.. My worst ever . And only over 1000 hands. I was just like woah. And after about an hour I reviewed HH and all I could say was . Well... I would have played the same if I had it to do over... Mostly 😉

  3. Why not just set a time limit for online poker too ? It is much easier for me to do that ... if I try with the fixed number of hands its just unecessary work : I leave and join other tables all the time because fishes leave too when they have no money left ... so it's impossible to stay and count the hands since I permanently rejoin new tables multiple times even in an hour ... also I don't want to look on Holdem to see how many hands I played for a fixed number cause that creates an obssesion too ... the easiest possible way I see is the number of hours : example 2 hours per session ... I sit down ... start playing at multiple tables and then after 2 hours I stop ... easy.

  4. Hi. a question .. how can I know what things to analyze in my session .. how do I make a useful revision to improve my game .. and not only know the money. hands. and the bb / 100. etc.

  5. It was great. It's obvious you do not play the tournament،Because of its high variance?

    1. Thanks! I prefer the consistent profit and the flexibility of cash games. I still play tournaments sometimes for fun though.

  6. I will point out....Most people can think(work) effectively 45 min in row. After that Your brain will need a little break. Think how school is settled out... 45 min work and 15 min brake. Lunch brake is bit longer. Bottom line is - it really doesn't matter how many hands You will play...more matters how much You will win. :)

    1. Good point Lexy! I think little mini-breaks every hour is a good idea.

  7. So, today was my 1st serious day of grinding NL5 online and I cannot tell you how invaluable this advice is, truly brilliant for all those who want to crush the micro stakes, like me, for example. I have a lot of poker study and tournament experience behind me and now I want to do what you have done and crush the micro stakes, full ring NL5 and NL10 limits. What you said here about choosing a specific number of hands to play each day is very important and will be critical to my success in the long term. Please keep all the uploads and great content coming Nathan, its really invaluable for the low stakes players who wants to excel and crush and dominate all the angles in low stakes cash poker. I must set out a set number of hands to play and eliminate concerning myself with any short term variance, e.g. running Kings into Aces or being outdrawn in all the sick ways possible. The win rate takes care of itself over weeks and months of consistent hard work, we all learn that in the end.

    Referring to your comment above, I really wish I had focused as I am now on low stakes cash games because tournament variance is soul destroying without a big bankroll. No matter how great you play you can go through horrible stretches of time and never be rewarded. I actually checked "Moorman1" SHARKSCOPE and despite making millions of dollars across multiple sites in cashes. He had more than a 3 year phase on Poker Stars where he made practically no money at all in MTT's. Now that proves, how soul destroying MTT's can be, you need to work very hard and be very aggressive and lucky to crush MTT's in the short term. That is for certain.

    One last question. " Why did it take you 400,000 hands more to win the same amount of money at NL2 compared to NL5. It appears NL5 is more profitable overall.
    Any thoughts? Thank you. "

    Thank you Nathan, once again. A reply would be greatly appreciated.

    Yours sincerely.

    Armon Pajouheshnia, UK tournament and cash game player on Poker Stars.

    1. Hey Armon,

      I am glad my poker articles and videos are helping you!

      My winrates were always high at both NL2 and NL5 but I found them to roughly about the same in terms of profitability.

      And this is because while the buyin is higher at NL5 your win-rate will typically be cut in half due to better players and less total fish.

    2. Yes, short term variance can and is brutal. Took some rough beats today, poker is a really long term game and as you say you can only determine your long term profitability as a winning player over hundreds of thousands and millions of hands. Anything is possible within a sample size of less than 10,000 or 20,000 hands for example. I am still trying to determine which level to consistently grind, I started well at NL10 but today took some really tough beats. I started well at NL5 as well. Should you only play one stake at a time? Or both NL2 and NL5 at the same time for example. I personally find it easier to focus when playing only 1 set level at a time. Thank you for the advice and reply. Yes your articles and advice are very helpful. Always adding additional knowledge, have to keep learning all the time. Short term variance, sigh :)

    3. By the way it was 2.2 million hands at NL2 and 1.8 million hands at NL5, both levels you made 13,000 dollars. So, it appears that there was more fluctuation at NL2 than NL5. Only reason I am so interested is that I am planning my journey and I want to play hundreds of thousands of hands and more and working out how to plan. I am currently tagging every player I can find in the poker stars lobby at NL2 and NL5 to find all the weak players. Dedication and perseverance to the end.