How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time

How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time

This article was written by contributor Fran Ferlan.

We live in an incredibly fast paced world, and sometimes it feels like there’s just not enough hours in a day.

Between your day job, family, friends, chores and increasingly shorter leisure time, it can be hard to find the time to play poker, let alone make it a profitable side hustle.

You already know that poker is a long term game, and it takes months, years, and even decades to achieve great results and have something to show for all the invested time and effort. 

And to get to that mystical and elusive long term, you need to put in volume. And lots of it. But how can you do it with a myriad of real-life commitments that constantly compete for your limited time?

This article will hopefully help you find the time to play poker without taking away from your other responsibilities or even your leisure time. 

1. Define What You Want

In order to successfully put in more volume, it’s crucial you define why do you do it in the first place. It’s not so much about the end goal (i.e. earning a certain amount of money), as it is about what motivates you to reach that goal. 

You should take the time to reflect on why you play poker in the first place. Doing so will help you figure out what you want out of the experience.

When people say they don’t have the time to do something, what they are really saying is it is not their priority. We all have the same amount of time in a day, and it’s up to us to decide how to best use it.

This is something that BlackRain79 discusses in his latest video on how much money poker players make.

Now, some people have more responsibilities than others, of course, but oddly enough, the more responsibilities you have, the more you actually accomplish. 

It all comes down to time management. Time is a resource like any other, except it’s non renewable. 

You can always make more money, but lost time is lost forever. That’s why the most accomplished and successful people value their time above all else. 

If you say you don’t have enough time for poker, or anything else for that matter, you’re saying that it’s not high enough on your list of priorities. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Like they say, poker is life, but life ain’t poker. 

Poker is a hobby for most people, and it won’t come as high on the list of priorities for most people. It usually comes after family, friends, and work (in no particular order). 

Take some time to talk to yourself (or better yet, write down) where poker fits into your life. 
Ask yourself why you play it in the first place. 

Do you play it to pass the time or unwind after a long week? Do you like it because of the social aspect or do you enjoy the competition? 

Do you play it for the excitement or because it’s intellectually challenging? Or do you just want to make money?

There’s no right or wrong answers here. We do the things we do for a number of different reasons, and you might realize your motivations run way deeper than you first expected. 

What’s important here is that you’re honest with yourself, and articulate what really makes you tick, instead of coming up with motivations that are more socially acceptable. 

If you play poker because you like gambling, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s better than playing slots, anyway. 

All hobbies cost money, so why should poker be any different? But unlike other hobbies, you can actually make money playing it. It sounds like a rationalization, but it’s true nonetheless. 

The point being is that people have different motivations, and some people’s goal isn’t actually to win playing poker in the first place. They don’t mind when they do, of course, but it’s not their primary concern. 

And it shouldn’t be. Not everyone can become a professional poker player, and not everyone can be a winning player by default. 

It’s like a professional sport. Everyone can play, but not everyone can make a living out of it. If I enjoy playing pick-up basketball, it doesn’t mean I want to play in the NBA. 

Poker is no different. 

If you like playing it, but don’t feel like studying ranges, math, doing hand analysis and so on, by all means, just play the game and have fun. 

Just be aware of the fact that your results will be directly correlated with the amount of effort you’re willing to put in.

If you want to actually make money playing poker, you will have to put way more effort than the majority of the player pool you’re up against. 

Continuing with the basketball analogy, nothing’s stopping you to play it recreationally, but if you want to actually earn money, not only do you have to be exceptionally talented, but you also have to train for an ungodly amount of hours over years and years, and have the right amount of good fortune at the right time for your talent and effort to be recognized. 

And most still won’t make it to the NBA. 

This was a somewhat long-winded rant, but it’s meant to show that it’s important for you to realize what goals you want to achieve playing poker, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in to actually achieve those goals. 

After you figured out where poker comes in your list of priorities and what personal goals you’re trying to achieve, the next step is deciding how much time you can realistically set aside each day, week or month to actually sit down and play.

2. Designate Specific Times to Play

When trying to figure out how much time you’re willing to invest in playing, it’s better to err on the conservative side.

It’s easy to say something along the lines of: I can spare 2 hours to play every day, so that amounts to about 60 hours a month. That’s thinking in ideal circumstances, and life is anything but ideal. 

It doesn’t take into account the countless obstacles you could, and will encounter. Something can always come up. A family emergency, working overtime, getting invited for a beer on a Friday night, you name it.

And some days you simply won’t feel like playing.

How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time

You’ll be tired, distracted, in a bad mood etc. You’d rather just watch Netflix or do nothing at all.

The problem with planning ahead is we often think about current circumstances, and fail to take into consideration how things could be different in the future. 

For example, you plan for something when you feel optimistic and motivated, but when it comes to actually following through in the future, you’re just not as hyped anymore. 

It’s like when you’re in a good mood and someone invites you to a party next weekend, you accept the invitation, and when the day comes, you’re overworked, tired, and would rather stay in, and you ask yourself why the hell did you say yes in the first place.

So when you’re planning your play time, take into consideration all the distractions that might come your way in advance, and try to work around them. 

This might mean that you won’t be able to set aside the time you originally planned, because some higher priority might come up. This is where the previous point of articulating why you play will be so important. 

If you play poker for the social aspect, for example, and your friends invite you over for a beer, it doesn’t really make sense to turn them down in order to grind the lower stakes online alone in your room all weekend.

If you’re trying to make money in order to save up for a vacation for your family, on the other hand, you might want to take a rain-check on that beer.

When you’ve realistically assessed the number of hours you’re willing to set aside for poker in a given week or month, it’s time to actually follow through with it. Put it on your schedule like you would any other commitment, and honour it. 

Physically writing it down in your calendar will prevent you from defaulting to “I’ll play when I have some free time” mentality. 

This kind of amorphous thinking simply won’t be compelling enough for you to actually follow through, because you would rather play video games, watch TV, or what have you.

The better way is to commit specific time on a specific day and treat it like you would a business meeting. This means showing up, and no excuses.

See BlackRain79's popular post 10 years as a poker pro for more on this mentality of a pro.

Here’s an example: 

I will play online from 9 PM to 11 PM every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I will play in my local casino every Sunday from 7 PM to 10 PM.

How many hours you set aside doesn’t really matter. It will depend on your individual circumstances, your other responsibilities and priorities. What matters is that you value and respect your own time, and protect it like your life depends on it.

 If you don’t, something will always come up, and you won’t have any time at all. 

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3. Talk to Your Friends, Family and Significant Other

If you’re a single guy in your twenties, finding the time to play cards will be significantly easier to you than to a 50-year old married man with a 9-5 job, three kids, two mortgages and a golden retriever.

However, a man is not the creature of circumstances, circumstances are the creatures of men. 

The 50-year old might be exceptionally gifted in time management, extremely driven, and has a deep passion for poker, so he finds time to play even with all the other responsibilities.

The 20-year old plays poker when he’s not busy partying, sleeps till noon, and likes poker somewhat, but he’s more enticed to it for the prospect of making an easy buck here and there.

For example, making $50 a day from poker as BlackRain79 talked about in a recent video.

Which one’s side hustle has the better prospects of succeeding?

Now, I’m not saying this to disparage the 20-year olds, as I myself steer closer to that degen category than to an upright model citizen in the example above.

The point is while your personal circumstances do play a role in your time management, they aren’t the decisive factor to determining your success or failure in any endeavour, poker included. It’s not about the hours you put in the effort, it’s about the effort you put in your hours.

So make every minute count, and be sure you always bring your A game to the table. And you can only do so by having complete focus. 

It will be much easier for you to focus if you talk with your loved ones candidly beforehand. This is why the previous steps are so crucial. 

You will make a much more compelling case if you articulate to yourself first what it means to you, and then reassuring the people dear to you that they are still your priority. 

Tell them the goals you are trying to accomplish, and where they fit into them. People are much more likely to accept something that benefits them directly, so they don’t feel left out or neglected.

Your wife will be more accepting of you playing cards if you say you’re trying to save up for that dream vacation she’s always wanted. Your buddies won’t mind you skipped out on a night out drinking if you invite them over for a barbecue next week instead. 

Designate specific times to spend with them as well. This way your personal life won’t spill over to your game and vice versa.

By the way, I discuss this in much more detail in my new Elite Poker University training. 

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4. Remove All Distractions

This one might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to emphasize it nonetheless. 

When you sit down to play poker, make sure you are 100% focused on the task at hand. 

This can only be achieved if you followed the previous tips of defining your priorities and making sure they’re taken care of, designating specific time to play during which you won’t be disturbed in any way, and having a candid conversation with people close to you so they respect your playing time as well. 

But removing the external distractions is only a part of the equation. You have to keep yourself accountable as well.

How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time

This means no multitasking.

Human beings are incapable of multitasking, because we can’t actually perform more than one activity at the same time, as we can only focus on one thing at a time. 

If we are highly skilled in those activities, we can do them at the same time (like driving and listening to an audiobook, for example), but what we’re actually doing is shifting our focus back and forth between them. 

This means that you would retain less information from an audiobook while driving than you would by only listening to it. 

Multitasking makes you more prone to making mistakes and missing vital pieces of information. Just like texting and driving is ill-advised, so is texting and playing poker. 

If you can manage doing something else while playing, like checking email, scrolling through social media, reading news and what have you, you should rather fire up another table or two if you play online.

If you’re playing live, you’re better off observing the action if you’re not directly involved in the hand. 

You are far more likely to pick up on a tell from your opponents because you can evaluate your opponent’s actions more objectively than you would if you were directly involved in the hand. 

What’s more, you have far less information to consider when you’re not involved, so more of your brain’s processing power is available, so to speak.

The bottom line is that if you want to play poker as a part time job, you are absolutely going to need to remove all distractions.

5. Play Online Cash Games

Online cash games are the best format to play if you’re strapped for time.

Not only do you save yourself the time from having to actually physically go to and from the casino, you’ll also be able to put in bigger volume, as online games play incredibly fast as opposed to a brick and mortar casino. 

While you can play only about 30 hands an hour in a live game, you can play three times as much in an online 6-max cash game. 

And that’s only playing a single table. 

You can multiply that number by playing on multiple tables simultaneously. While at first it may seem daunting to play 8 tables at once, for instance, it can easily be achieved with a bit of practice.

How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time

However, just because you can multitable, it doesn’t mean you should just fire up as many tables as your software and hardware allow. 

You should start slow, and progressively add up tables over time. Add them at a pace you’re comfortable with, and if it gets too overwhelming, scale down to the pace that allows you to make the best decisions possible. If it means only two tables, start there. 

Poker is a long term game, and slow and steady wins the race. By the way, if you want a complete guide on how to multitable like a pro, Blackrain79 has you covered.

There are a number of advantages of cash games to other formats (like tournaments and sit-and-gos). 

First of all, the games are practically running 24/7, so you can always get action regardless of your schedule. 

You can sit down, take a break, and up and leave any time you want. Other formats simply don't offer that flexibility. 

What’s more, you often don’t know in advance how long a tournament might last, so they are a bigger time commitment than cash games. 

If anything comes up, you can always leave a cash game with no consequences. Other formats, not so much.

6. Consider Playing Zoom Poker as Well

Another format you might want to try is fast fold poker. 

Most online poker sites offer this option, and they call it differently (Zoom, SNAP, Zone poker, just to name a few), but they all have the same concept in mind. 

When you fold your hand, you’re automatically seated at a new table and dealt a new hand instantly. 

This way you can play an insane amount of hands in an hour (more than 200, or even more if you multitable. 

The action is lightning fast, as you don’t have to wait around for other players to complete their actions, and just get a new hand in seconds if you’re not involved in the current hand.

Check out this recent BlackRain79 video for more Zoom poker strategy.

So if your goal is to put in a big volume in a limited amount of time, Zoom poker might be a solution. However, there are some serious downsides you’ll want to consider if you opt for this format. 

First of all, Zoom games tend to play tighter than the regular cash games, as players don’t need to wait around for long to get a good hand, so they can just fold their marginal holdings and wait for a better spot.

Even recreational players (aka the fish) will play tighter on average. 

One of the reasons they play too loose is because they primarily play for fun, so they tend to get bored and impatient quickly, and that’s why they play hands they shouldn’t be playing, chasing draws they shouldn’t be chasing and so on. 

That’s simply not the case in Zoom poker, as you can just spam the fold button until you get a decent hand.

Another downside to Zoom poker is the inability to table select and seat select. You’re randomly tossed to a new table every hand, and you don’t know in advance who’s going to be on your left and on your right, and this can impact your winrate dramatically.

The best money making situation in poker is to be seated to the direct left of the fish, as you’ll be able to play in position against them most often, isolate them preflop and take advantage of their mistakes postflop. 

Finally, the third downside to Zoom games is that you will be up against a huge player pool, so it’s virtually impossible to get any significant reads on your opponents. 

To get an accurate read on a player, you need a big enough sample size of hands, and if you’re playing against new random opponents every single hand, it’s harder to figure out their tendencies and the best ways to exploit them.

On the other hand, this can also work in your favour, as the anonymity goes both ways. You can’t get reads on your opponents, but neither can they get reads on you.

All in all, zoom games can be profitable if you employ the right kind of strategy and use the characteristics of the format to your advantage.

The bottom line is that your winrate will in fact be lower in Zoom games, but the sheer amount of volume can more than make up for it.

For example, let’s say that Bob has a winrate of 4 big blinds per hundred hands in a regular 6-max cash game, and Joe has a winrate of 2 BB/100 in a 6-max Zoom game. 

Both players play NL10. After 10 hours of play, Bob will play about 900 hands, and will earn on average 36 BB, or $3.6. Joe will play about 2000 hands in the same time, earning on average 40 BB, or $4 in total. 

So your winrate is only a part of your overall profitability formula, and a bigger volume can make up for the lower winrate.

However, it’s important to mention that lower winrate also means more variance, so if you do decide to play Zoom, for example, you should be certain that you are already a profitable long-term winner at the stakes you play.

Otherwise, you should dispense with calculating your average hourly wage altogether and focus on fixing your leaks and improving your game first. If you do that, the money will take care of itself eventually.


Poker is a long term game, and your true results will be visible only after months, years or even decades of play, and learning plenty of advanced poker strategy.

The long term is far longer than most people realize. 

And to get to the long term, you need to put in the volume, which can be quite a challenge in the crazy fast paced world we live in.

So to find time to play poker, it’s worth asking yourself why you do it in the first place. What makes it compelling? 

Be honest with yourself, and try to determine where poker fits into your life and what it is you’re trying to achieve with it.

Having done that, think about how much time you can realistically set aside for it. Put it in your schedule like you would any other commitment, and honour it. The more specific your plan, the more likely you are to follow it through.

When you’re in total agreement with yourself, talk to your loved ones. Share with them what you’re trying to achieve, why it’s important to you, and how they fit into your plan. Let them know they’re still your priority, and designate specific times to spend with them as well.

If your time is limited, online cash games offer the most flexibility and the best time to volume ratio. You can play them regardless of how tight your schedule is. You can play them any time, leave any time, and pants are optional.

If your time is extremely limited, you can try Zoom poker for lightning fast action. You can put an insane amount of volume in a limited time, but you should be aware of the disadvantages, namely the lower winrate.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy to crush small stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet.

How to Play Poker When You Don't Have The Time