Today we will talk about the main signs that indicate that it is time to end your session. I will not list what is already clear – a bad game; you fall asleep during the game from fatigue;... Banalities are unlikely to help our viewers. However, I consider the ability to end your session at the right time to be a very important poker skill. I'm taking the professional player's approach in this matter. What is good for an amateur may differ.
If you think logically from the point of view of a person who wants to make money by playing, our goal is purely to win money. In an ideal world, we could accurately determine our $/hour expectation at a given table and compare it to the average expectation. If the expectation is in line with the average, we can continue the session for at least another 12 hours if our level of play magically stays the same. True, then you have to sleep for a long time, so the next day you won’t be able to play. This also needs to be taken into account, because we cannot be at the table forever.
In reality, of course, we assess our advantage over the field very poorly, especially in the moment, during the game. And we do it worst of all when figuring out when leaving the table will be of maximum benefit.
So: you've been at the table for the whole day, played some stretches rather weakly, and luck wasn't there for you. You have almost no strength left, but you say to yourself: OK, I'm tired, but I have a chance to make a little more, the line up is pretty good, my expectation should be above average... Alas, even if you try to come to a decision in a logical way, in reality, you are just picking up reasons to do what you desperately want to do – keep playing and recoup.
It doesn’t matter how developed your ability to objectively assess the situation is, because we don’t know how to be truly objective, it’s just that some people do it very badly, while others even worse. All of our ratings are subjective. Emotions govern our desires and we see the world through their lens.
Probably the worst thing we evaluate is the quality of our own game. Fatigue greatly degrades the quality of decisions. Dissatisfaction with yourself and disappointment also have a noticeable effect.
I don’t want to pretend that I have universal advice that will work for everyone, such as “Never play more than seven hours and end the session when you go five buy-ins down”, but I will note that these kinds of rules can be useful. We move away from the table and after a while we stop emotionally reacting to the session we played. It's this version of myself that I want to trust to make the big decisions, not the smeared-up guy who lost ten buy-ins and has been at the table for 13 hours. It is quite possible that the expectation of this half-dead-from-fatigue man is actually pretty high – the line-up can be really weak, but the decision to continue grinding looks much better when made soberly and in advance, and not under the influence of the situation.
By the way, the fact that you should not make important decisions when you are tired, in itself hints at the undesirability of long sessions – after all, poker is a game in which decisions must be made constantly. The line-up may look uniquely weak, but...you know, there's no way life doesn't give you a second chance. This happens more often than it seems.
What can I advise? Review your sessions and keep track of your state as you play. Try to estimate how big a loss would have to occur before it starts to affect your emotions – and how much will seriously affect them. Fatigue affects some people more than others. And winning too! There are people who, when they win, start to play worse. I don't know which category you fall into, you can figure it out on your own. However, you need to figure it out in advance, and develop a set of rules before the session starts. For example, leaving when you lose six buy-ins, regardless of the line up.
Let's say you hit your stop loss fifteen times in a year. Perhaps a couple of times out of these fifteen, it would actually be more profitable for you to continue the game. However, in all other situations, you made the right decision. On average, it will undoubtedly be profitable to follow such a rule.
Once again: this should be a rule that you have established for yourself, and not something imposed by someone from the outside, for example, by me. Play by your own rules, but don't forget to follow them. This should help.
A significant part of my poker action is the Challenge matches – heads-ups, in which participants must be in place on a certain day and time and play a predetermined distance. Stopping a match on a whim is against the rules, so lately I've rarely been in a situation where I can use a stop loss. However, I have played all sorts of different forms of poker before, so I have experience.
I will add that $/hour is not the most important thing for me. I stop if I feel miserable. Joy can be lost through fatigue, or a bad result, or slow and boring opponents... It doesn't matter! If I don't feel the joy of the game, then it's time to leave. Why? First, because when I'm sad, I'm more likely to play worse. Secondly... well, because I'm sad! This is bad in itself, and it does not matter if I earn money or not. A great indicator that it's time for me to wrap up. I can finish and go to bed, meet friends, be with family, watch TV, anything that makes me happier.
It turns out that there are two upsides at once: both financially and emotionally, an excellent decision was made! In the end, happiness in life is more important than your results at the poker table. If you feel very bad four days a week, it starts to affect everything, including the quality of your game and your results. So I advise you to aim for joy more, maintain your sanity, calmness and peace of mind.
Perhaps, as a formal rule, the “sadness indicator” doesn't work for everyone, because we are not always able to understand when we are sad. If we really want to continue, we can try to deceive ourselves. However, this rule is important to me, and I try to follow it.
You can object: ''Phil, but if I get up from the table every time I feel miserable, I won't be able to play enough volume, and I have to earn a living!'' Well, here's my answer: if you get sad playing poker that often, poker probably isn't the right career path for you. You either don’t love the game ienough, or the losses cause too much negative emotion in you. If the problem is in relation to losing, I have good news – you can work on that, the problem is solvable, you don’t need to quit poker. You just need to adjust your reaction to failures. You shouldn't feel negative too often. It's perfectly normal to get frustrated for a while when you lose a big pot. You can dwell on this for 10 minutes or even 45 minutes – that's okay.
Oh yes! I forgot to talk about the same things from an amateur's point of view. Well, I didn't forget... If poker is recreation and entertainment for you, by definition you play for the sake of positive emotions and fun. And if you're not having fun, why keep playing? Get out of there! You can play again tomorrow. Everything is simple.
My answer turned out to be not overly structured, but I hope it helps someone. I consider the ability to quit the game at the right times very valuable. I didn't share my own rules because they change depending on the type of poker, the availability of the game, my bankroll, the clarity of how much losing at this limit can affect my emotions, and so on. All these factors affect the amount of the stop loss.
So, create your own set of rules for such situations, and not just in your head – be sure to write them down separately, and fix them in reality, so to speak. Well, follow them, of course. Sometimes this will cause you to make the wrong EV decision, but more often than not, this approach will save you money and absolutely in all cases will save your nerves.