Phil Galfond: Top 5 signs it's time to quit your poker session

Run It Once
20 Jun 2024
Psychology Coaching
20 Jun 2024

Poker is a game of ups and downs, maths, skill and luck.

We all often find ourselves in situations where there seems to be potential for making money, but nothing works out. We ask ourselves questions and try to analyze the causes and consequences of what is happening, trying to make some assessments and manage our game.

But are we asking the right questions in general? Maybe we should dig in some other direction? Where to even start analyzing your gaming state, what to pay attention to when everything goes down the drain, and how to live on - the famous high-stakes professional Phil Galfond will answer all the key questions for you today. He will share his experience, thinking and vision of such painful situations - you will learn how to think and act if nothing works out.

The Importance of quitting

As you know well, saved money is money that you won't have to win again, and therefore it is difficult to overestimate the importance of quitting the game in a timely manner when things are going badly.

It doesn’t matter who you are - a regular, striving to move up in stakes, or an amateur who comes to play cards purely for emotions - it will be useful for you to understand exactly when it’s time to quit. As a player with vast experience, I know all this well. 

The most common signs of this: the game is going lousy, you’re not having a good time, your opponents are doing crazy things but they’re winning, etc., and also when you fall asleep right at the tables, or maybe you’re even a little drunk.

If you are not a professional yet

So, let's get to the point.

Let's say you are a winning regular trying to make money from poker, but not yet a professional player. Your goal is to win more and more. In an ideal world, you would have a clear idea of ​​your hourly income from your regular job and constantly compare it to your average $/hour from playing poker.

We will agree that during a long session your perception remains as clear as at the beginning (in reality, not).

Since, being still a conditional hard worker, you will have many such sessions when you want to continue playing, despite the fact that you have to sleep in the morning/evening before work, then you will be tempted to skip the working day, coming up with some a plausible and «respectful» excuse to play today while the game is going as it should, and then, as they say, we’ll handle everything else.

You should not play too much, but regularly compare during such sessions what is more important to you in the near future: playing poker while it is going well or still having normal relationships at work - at least with your superiors.

After all, in poker over a short distance the role of luck is very large, and it would be naive to consider yourself a cool player before you have shown a similar good win rate at a distance of hands of about 100 thousand.

Luck may soon turn to you in a different direction, but at first you will not understand:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • Why has your win rate dropped so dramatically?
  • What the hell is going on in the game?
  • Why would the variance increase?
  • And so on . . .

And then, looking at the graphs and your poker bankroll, you can become very dismoral and lose the desire to play - for a while, and perhaps for a long time. But by that time you may already be kicked out of your job, and you will lose a stable source of money for subsistence, without yet finding a new source in the form of stable income from poker.

Rakeback does not count yet, because rakeback comparable to salary comes out either at limits near the «liberating» stake, or with a huge number of hands. But having a main job and playing just 2-4 hours a day, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to gain a lot of rakeback.

Sign #1: Overestimating your edge in the game 

The previous point was about an ideal world. In the real world, we rarely assess our level of play soberly and adequately. And we give the most dishonest assessment of our game precisely when it’s time for us to quit playing today.

A simple and common example. You've been playing for a long session, the game is going badly, you've had a lot of bad luck, and on top of that, you've done a lot of things that you now regret. You’re tired and you’re thinking something like this: I’m pretty exhausted, but at this table there’s really a good chance to win back and wipe the noses of opponents, getting what’s mine back.

There seem to be logical chains of thoughts spinning in your head: now your $/hour is higher than usual because the table composition is awesome, etc. - you strive to justify the continuation of your game in order to play further «with a clear conscience» and try to regain what you have lost. 

You strive to justify with logic what you want with emotions

It doesn’t really matter how consciously you act - when you are frustrated for a long time, the emotional background changes, which increasingly confuses the logic of thinking.

If the game hasn’t been going well for a long time, you should wait it out because you’re not thinking soberly.

Sign #2: Fatigue and overly biased assessments

We generally tend to be biased towards our game.

So. The player wants to get the desired result with his emotions, but the emotions themselves influence the prism through which he sees the state of things around and inside him. And this greatly affects his game. What kind of controlled result are we talking about here?

The more tired the player is and the higher the degree of his frustration, the worse his vision, and the more disastrous the results will be.

When a judge judges unfairly

Usually it is difficult for players to look at a hand «from above»: when he is not personally playing against a given opponent, but two players unknown to him are playing against each other (or more).

Think about yourself in a conflict of any kind: in a poker hand, in a verbal altercation, in a physical fight - how did you behave and how did you feel? And also remember what you thought later about your behavior during that action?

Surely, you were like in a dream and as if you were floating with the flow. Now, remember how easy it is for you to comment on something from the outside - especially when you think you understand it: a poker hand, a football match, a showdown in the yard. . . and so on down the list.

In the first case, when the «judge» is inside the hand, he will think very subjectively and biasedly, protecting his Self

A person wants to look better than he looked in that spot, and somehow protect to himself his image of a strong player who simply didn’t have much luck this time (as usual, right?).

In the second case, when the «judge» studies the situation from a distance and for him the players are approximately equal, he will be much more objective, sighted and will make a much better conclusion on the problem situation.

Sign #3: You are not the «best version» of yourself right now

The best version of us as a player, the one who should be trusted to make important decisions at the table, is when we have worked through the mistakes of previous sessions, repeated or learned something and, most importantly, mentally prepared for the game.

If we have been playing for the sixth to tenth hour without any special breaks, and especially when we have lost 10 buy-ins, then we have a bunch of fears and illusions stuck in our heads that prevent us from playing normally and implementing the strategy 100%. - This version of ourselves should not be trusted in the game.

Yes, we can say that the table is really nice, and such a game may not exist for a long time, but these are all excuses. - You are not in the right mental, moral and physical state to continue playing with the same EV.

Exception: this is really a game in which you are just happy to be in. But often it still will happen again.

Have a backup plan

Observe yourself periodically: how you played and how you felt in the last sessions, and what in the current one. Based on this, decide in advance what level of losses

  • Will have almost no emotional impact,
  • Will have a moderate impact,
  • Will have a strong emotional impact.

The same goes for the level of fatigue, level of frustration, etc. - Make a plan to exit the game in advance. You can even imagine it as a kind of traffic light:

  • Green light: play as usual, without worrying or deviating from normal play,
  • Yellow light: begin to be much more attentive to your emotions and thoughts,
  • Red light: it's time to take a noticeable break from the game or quit it at all.

Therefore, approximate Plans B, C, D, etc. should be developed in advance for various undesirable events.

Sign #4: It's like you're in a fog and don't understand how long will you last

Of course, often in a series of bad events various thoughts and questions come, including philosophical ones. Your head seems to be in a fog, there are either no thoughts at all or no good ones, it’s as if you are being carried somewhere into the unknown, but all this either causes anxiety or zero emotions - then everything is bad.

Take a break from the game

When you feel that your emotions are starting to overwhelm you, even though you are not knocking on the table or crushing the poor mouse, you should take an urgent break and go to unwind, at least for half an hour. But better for an hour+.

It is important to temporarily switch to something else that will definitely be pleasant and will draw your attention to itself, and you will get a surge of endorphins in your blood and stop negative emotions

The essence of the switch is to get a charge of good mood from the production of dopamine and serotonin (hormones of happiness), as well as a decrease in the level of cortisol (the hormone of stress and danger) in the blood, thus not receiving a negative reinforcement - so as not to lose the desire to play poker, despite all his (and his own) tricks.

You can think of many such activities:

  • A short jog (under adrenaline and cortisol there will be a lot of energy),
  • Release of steam on a boxing mannequin - until physical fatigue,
  • Some explosive exercises - similarly,
  • Just a quiet walk in the fresh air,
  • Listening to music, watching a movie,
  • And so on - hundreds of such pleasant things.

It is likely that after this you will not want to play at all for today. Well, that's even better. After all, the emotions may have weakened, but the memories are still fresh. - It would be better to spend the rest of the day doing something pleasant and/or useful.

Develop rules for quitting the game

You are the person who knows himself best. Adequately assess your inclinations and properties, remember what usually happens to you in this or that scenario, and based on this, think through in advance certain rules for when it’s time to end the game.

For example: if I lost 6 buy-ins, I end the session. Whatever the game is, I just quit. Over many years of playing, I have learned the hard way of continuing to play in a suboptimal state.

In the long run, following such a rule will save you a lot of money, time and nerves

Let's say that in a year you obey your own rule 15 times. Of these, okay, about 2-3 times it was possible to somehow continue the game, but the other 12-13 times ending the current session was really the best move.

Sign #5: You feel unhappy in the game (and decide in advance what that means)

Now let's take a break from the concepts of EV, ROI, $/h and other metrics of poker performance.

Poker is very cool. But it is only part of life (for the vast majority of people)! And the most important metric in life, perhaps, is human happiness - your overall satisfaction from life.

Happiness in life comes first

And I quit the game when I feel unhappy. This is exactly what my main condition sounds like - to continue the game or not.

For me personally, the criteria for dissatisfaction with the current flow of the game are:

  • High level of fatigue
  • High level of frustration
  • When, well, obviously you’re unlucky,
  • The game is boring or too slow
  • And other criteria

Whenever I feel that I feel bad, hurt, uncomfortable here, I don’t overcome myself, but switch to something else. Firstly, my happiness in life will not increase from one specific session (which is also going badly), and secondly, being in bad emotions, I will only play worse and will only make this whole matter worse.

I think I’m not the only one, and many other people can say this about themselves. So when I realize that today is not my day in terms of poker, I just take a break from the game and do something that might be enjoyable for me:

  • I spend time with my family
  • I'm going somewhere to unwind
  • I can watch TV
  • Or just go to bed - tomorrow will be a new day!

This is what will make me happier. And in addition to the fact that after finishing the session, I made a profitable financial decision, I will be better off in life in general. And maybe my family too. In the end, overall happiness in life is the most important thing from all.

What should I do if I experience bad emotions too often?

If this happens so often that you are not playing at even remotely reasonable distances, then perhaps you should seriously think about whether this is your business at all? Poker is a very tough and sometimes brutal game. Many truly talented players were once completely broken by variance. I don't know you, but you should seriously examine your mental and emotional stability.

  • When you love the game, but often tilt, well, it’s not so bad, it’s fixable for now.

But it’s a different story if you don’t really like the game itself. That is, you play poker through force, and this accumulating frustration from doing something that is profitable in the long run, but unloved in life, puts pressure on you on top of the negativity, in fact, from the game itself. Then you definitely shouldn’t play.

It’s better to find something more suitable for your personality. There is almost no chance of succeeding in a job you don’t like while experiencing enormous mental stress.

You may be interested: Poker Variance: How to Prepare for Downswings and Upswings

What if I am a recreational player, but also often experience bad emotions?

If you play for fun, then by definition you are looking for fun and good emotions. When they are not there, why play then? Everything is the same: postpone the game to another day - today you will not have fun in the game. And move on to something else.


In this article, top professional Phil Galfond shared his advice on how to prevent possible losses, manage your attitude towards the game, how to find out your true goals and inclinations when playing poker, and also how to act when the game is no longer going well, losses are growing, and nothing good is to be seen today.

You should not only think that you have learned the key tips and simply close the tab with the article, but really make a clear plan for quitting the game when force majeure occurs). And it’s better that the plan is written - fortunately, you don’t need to write a lot there. But only the main thing.

This article was written from the Top 5 Signs it's Time to Quit Your Poker Session video by Vladimir ABIVPlus.

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