When to Quit Part 1

Nenad Medic

Part one of three articles detailing the specific scenarios in which the best course of action is to go home, log off and say goodnight.

There is rarely a losing session of poker in which you aren't ahead in chips at some point in the night. After booking a big loss, we all have the same thought: "I should have left when ..."

Knowing when to quit is just as important a skill as knowing when to play. It's the large-scale version of knowing when to fold.

Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to cash out when you've made x amount of profit in relation to your bankroll or something equally as dumb. But there are many scenarios and situations that should be the session kill switch when encountered.

No matter what you feel, wish or hope for, sometimes there is simply no money to be made from the game you're at. Other times, there's only money to be lost. It's up to you to recognize when you're in these situations, and pull yourself away. All of the following scenarios are as relevant for online poker as they are in a live game.


Phil Ivey
Phil Ivey: Not a quitter.

Phil Ivey once said that if he is winning, he will stay at the table until he has every chip, or is too exhausted to continue playing. No matter how great or poor your session is going, it is not possible to play optimal poker while exhausted.

Mental fatigue affects your basic brain functions, diminishing thought rate and clarity. One of the most common symptoms of mental fatigue is significant loss of attention. All three of these symptoms impair the most critical skills you need to play strong poker.

You may find it difficult to tell if exhaustion has begun to set in - much like how a drunk will misjudge his own sobriety. One of the simplest ways to keep track of where you are mentally is to keep an eye on your watch. A standard session is thought of as eight hours of poker.

Your personal timeframe will vary greatly depending on personal factors, along with the type of poker being played. A player can sit at an easy, casual live game much longer than she could playing 12 short-handed tables online. Tough games take more concentration, thus lowering the maximum time you're truly in your best state of mind.

Those personal factors include everything from age, lifestyle and health to your activities in the past day or so. Did you party until the waning hours of the night? Have you eaten properly? Overexerted yourself physically? Underexerted yourself physically?

Taking all these factors into consideration, keep a close eye on yourself. If you find yourself starting to slump, prop your head up in your hands or miss details such as four to a flush on board, it's time to shut her down for the night.


As difficult as it is to play poker while exhausted, playing while enraged is even more difficult. Slow, distracted thoughts are preferable to a lack of thoughts altogether. When a person starts to steam, all logic and reason is suppressed in favor of pure emotional response.

In all aspects of life, every person has seen or done things in a fit of rage they have later come to regret. A person in rage is prone to commit irrational, often aggressive, acts with no regard to consequences or outcomes. What caused the rage is irrelevant; the outcome is almost always disastrous.

For some players, stepping away from the table to take a little break is sufficient to calm down and regroup their thoughts. Unfortunately, mostly due to adrenaline and endorphins racing through their minds, the majority of people are unable to truly shake all rage without an extended break.

Until the rage-induced chemicals have run their course, returning your brain to its previous state, it's not possible to be completely reset. Some people can function just fine in states such as this; most only think they can.

Even after coming off of tilt, putting your body through extreme emotions and adrenaline highs is taxing and exhausting on your brain. After successfully coming off of tilt, you should expect debilitating exhaustion to creep up on you far sooner than you would otherwise have expected.

Excessive Distraction

Jennifer Leigh Frontier
Jennifer Leigh + pink dress = excessive distraction.

No matter how clear, precise and quick your thought process is at the moment, it means nothing if you can't focus any of your concentration on the game. I've often seen great players in a good state of mind completely engrossed in a sporting event on TV.

If you obviously would rather watch the game than play poker, that's exactly what you should do. Wait until the event has finished, and you can turn your attention towards the game at hand.

I've seen people out on dates in the poker room. This is a bad idea, considering the most likely outcomes:

  • You pay no attention to your date. Successful session of poker, failed relationship.
  • You pay no attention to the poker. Successful date, failed session of poker.

One of these is a waste of time for the other half of the date, the other is one of the lamest and most expensive dates you could have taken someone out on.

Playing poker online allows for countless distractions at the tips of your fingers. With the Internet in your hand, games, instant messengers, blogs, movies, music, Facebook, e-mail and porn are all lying in wait to steal your brain power.

Some players seem capable of multitasking, such as playing a few tables of poker while watching a movie. Even this, though, is an exaggeration. It is not possible to watch a movie and concentrate on another task at the same time.

You can listen and follow along with a movie and play poker, or you can autopilot the poker and watch the movie.

If you don't believe me, wait until your movie gets to an exciting action scene at the same time as getting dealt pocket aces. See if you have to pause the movie, or rewind it when you've finished the hand.

The second part of this article looks into more scenarios in which your best course of action is to call it quits. There are sessions that cannot be saved, and juicy games that will bear no fruit if you can't play your A game.

If you're not in a proper frame of mind, you're better off saving your money by dreaming of the perfect setup hand.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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