when to quit a losing poker session

The Smart Approach to Losing Poker Sessions (3 Questions to Ask Before Quitting)

It’s tough to know when to walk away from the poker table, but sometimes it’s the most valuable skill you can have.

A few days ago, I was sitting at my home in Las Vegas and suddenly felt the itch to hit the live felt.

This is a rare feeling for me. But when you get the live poker itch, you just have to scratch it.

I showed up at the Bellagio at around 8:00 pm on a Friday night, planning to play $25/$50 for around 6-10 hours. I like to play long sessions when possible. There’s something about shuffling chips and getting dealt cards that is simply hard to walk away from.

Disaster struck about 8 hours into my session. Due to some unfortunate timing with AK in a 3-bet pot in which my opponent flopped a set versus my top pair, and my trips running into a boat, I was stuck to the tune of $45,000.

Now, if there is anything I am not, it’s a quitter.

Quitters never win, right? You gotta fight the good fight, right!?

Today I’m going to show you how to be smart about losing poker sessions. I’ll share the 3 questions I always ask myself before quitting a game, plus a few stories from my career that demonstrate what you should and shouldn’t do during a losing session. 

This article has been updated to include more info to help you quit your sessions at the right time (originally published February 1st, 2016).

What you shouldn’t do 

You should avoid blindly grinding when you’re just trying to get unstuck. It’s usually better to call it a session and fight another day.

I remember a session that one of my best friends played in 2010. He started playing a full ring session at $0.50/$1, and quickly got stuck about 12 buy-ins. He decided right then and there that he was not quitting the session until he was up money.

I went to lunch and came back — he was playing.

I went to dinner and came back — he was playing.

I went to bed, woke up, and stepped outside my room — he was playing.

I went to lunch again — he was still playing.

By the next evening, he had finally dipped his head above breakeven (including rakeback) and decided to call it a session.

I think he made a huge mistake playing for so long for such a shoddy reason. It’s tough to continue playing a solid game for 24+ hours. But the funny thing about that is, when I am the one stuck, I always want to grind my way back!

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What you should do

It can be very tough to know when its time to hold strong, and when its time to live to fight another day. Here are 3 questions you should ask yourself before deciding if you should continue your session or not:

  1. Are playing well? If you think so, by all means, carry on.
  2. Is the game you are in still good? Sometimes there are lineups you simply cannot leave. In these scenarios, you just have to keep battling.
  3. Are you feeling up to the task? Oftentimes you won’t be playing your A-game for a variety of reasons (such as sadness or tilt). If you don’t feel up to playing, then walk away.

In this particular Bellagio session, I thought the answers to the above questions were yes, yes, and YES. So, I stuck in there and battled it out. 

About 18 hours into the session, my stack ballooned to over $55k, but I was still in the red.

bellagio stack

I had won a lot of chips in pure quantity, but unfortunately, the quality of them wasn’t nearly enough to get us back all the way.

I had a good run of cards, although to be fair, I had my share of missed draws and failed bluffs. 

At one point, a guy to my right sat down about 22 hours into my session. He looks at me and says “Wait, you are still here?” I laughed and confirmed what was obvious considering I was wearing the exact same clothes as the day before.

Sure enough, 26 hours into my session, I did it! I got unstuck. I turned a $45,000 loser into a $4,000 winner. I had done what seemed near-impossible 12 hours earlier.

I think by the end of the session I had doubled up, like, 6 different players. Some of them for small stacks of $3,000, some with stacks of up to $25,000. But I still walked away as a winner.

My proudest comeback winning session ever

I felt great about booking a win at the Bellagio, but I would be lying if I said this was my happiest $4,000 win ever. I can think of one that made me even happier: this swingy session versus Sauce123.

100 200 comeback correct

A session played against Ben Sulsky on September 29th, 2013, things weren’t looking good halfway through but I stuck it out!

Getting unstuck always feels great, but digging myself out of a $190k hole versus a top player is next-level great.

Side note: I just put out a video talking about the glory days of battling Sauce123 and others at high stakes heads-up. You can watch it here.

Wrapping-up losing sessions

On more than one occasion in my life, I have been in the depths of despair only to come out gloriously ahead.

While I was lucky to make it happen in this session, I kept going because:

  • I felt like I was playing well.
  • The game was good.
  • I was ready and willing to battle back — and I wasn’t feeling dejected.

When you decide to keep grinding while in a big hole, make sure you have similarly solid reasons to continue playing.

Remember that if the spot is good, you should usually keep grinding. But if it isn’t, there will surely be another day of poker to play. Life is just one long session.

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About the Author
Doug Polk

Doug Polk

I have over $5,000,000 in live tournament winnings. In 2014, I won my first World Series of Poker Bracelet, followed up with a 2nd bracelet in 2016.
My online winnings are over $2,000,000 on Full Tilt and PokerStars alone, mostly at Heads Up No Limit, and those graphs are publicly available on HighStakesDB.

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