Whether you are a cash game, tournament, or SNG grinder, putting in time at the tables is a big key to becoming a winning player. It takes hundreds of thousands of hands to become proficient at any of the poker disciplines and to do so you will have to grind. Some players enjoy playing a lot of shorter sessions but for some that just is not feasible. Instead, playing one long session per day is the norm. Let’s define a long session as one where we play for three or more hours without a break. There are many factors which contribute to having success during the sessions including proper table selection, maintaining focus, avoiding tilt, and knowing when to quit.
One of the biggest downfalls of players who try to fire up a large number of tables and just sit there for hours upon end is they typically are not the best tables at their current stakes. While this isn’t an issue for SNG or Tournament grinders it is certainly one for cash game players. In poker our earnings come from players who are worse than us, therefore it does us no good to blindly fire up 12 tables full of regulars at your given stakes just for the sake of playing 1,000+ hands per hour. Instead we should employ a few basic table selection tactics in order to be sitting on the best tables in the lobby.
Open New Tables
This is a great way to start a table full of fish and looser players. Because most regulars will not play heads-up or even short-handed you can entice fish and other crazy players to sit at your table. You might get to play heads-up with the fish for a while before the table begins filling up with regulars which is a great boost to your winrate. Once the table begins to fill up you must assess the quality of opponents and determine if it is time to open another table or to continue playing there. This cycle should continue repeating until you find yourself on a handful of tables with fish sitting at each and every one of them
Most major online poker sites will allow you to filter the lobby in one way or another to better help select fishier tables. Some of the best factors in determining how fishy a table is are Players to the Flop %, Average Pot Size, and Hands Per Hour. The best combination would be a high players to the flop % (looser players pre flop), big average pot size (loose players playing big pots with mediocre hands) and a lower hands per hour. The lower hands per hour number typically results from a lack of regulars playing tight and folding before the flop. It can be counterintuitive but remember, our goal is not to play the most hands per hour but to make the most money we can per hour.
Some sites offer other filters which allow you to narrow down the stakes and games you want to play. This can be helpful as you can sort out all the riffraff from the lobby and just concentrate on the games you want to play. When you are playing a lot of tables the last thing you want to do is have to deal with a lobby full of games you will never be playing. For example, on PokerStars you can narrow the games down by stakes, number of players at the table (heads-up, 6max, or Full Ring), speed (regular or fast), and even hide full tables. All of these are great options except hiding full tables. If you find a full table with great stats, hop on the waiting list and be patient. If a seat opens soon you might find yourself in a great situation. Before sitting down you should look at the last few hands to see if the fish busted and left the table. However, if a regular foolishly stood up you just found yourself a great seat!
It can be quite difficult to be focused for the entirety of your sessions. The key is to not force yourself to focus but to be able to realize when your concentration is wavering. Try to keep all outside distractions at bay by turning off the TV, closing your web browser, and even putting your phone on silent. You are here to make money, not aimlessly put in hands while your favorite TV show plays in the background. It can be hard enough to play a large amount of hands in a short time period without your attention constantly being directed elsewhere.
Players should also only begin sessions with a clear head. If you had a rough day, trouble with your significant other, financial issues, etc… you shouldn’t be playing poker. If you are able to put these issues behind you, then poker can be a great release from the real world. As long as you can sit down and 100% focus on the game you are playing you will be fine. Remember, as soon as you begin to feel your focus is being pulled away from poker either take a second to regain yourself or end your session and come back at a better time. This is obviously much easier for SNG and cash game players compared to tournament grinders. For those who enjoy playing MTTs, you must be willing to commit fully to your session as soon as you sit down. There is enough variance in online tournaments even playing your A-game, there is no need to add more by playing poorly.
Tilting, or playing poorly when running bad, has been the major downfall of online poker players for years. All it can take it one bad beat to send someone spiraling into a huge losing session which has been known to bust bankrolls. There are a few ways to avoid tilting and they all take practice and discipline. In some cases all it takes is to sit out at your tables for a second, take a deep breath, remind yourself the best way to make the most money is to continue to play to the best our your abilities, and to sit back in. If you are prone to tilting and losing a large amount of money then you must learn to recognize early warning signs and end your session as soon as you can. Again, for cash game and SNG players this is much easier than those in tournaments. Tournament grinders need to remind themselves they have been putting in a lot of time and effort and throwing it all away because of one bad beat is just foolish. Appeals to logic are typically a good starting point. Those who are unable to control their emotions at the table will need to take a long hard look at their future in poker, as it may just not be in the cards.
Some players like to have a stress ball or object sold by most online poker sites in their VIP stores. These can help relieve some tension during trying times. For others, just counting down from ten and taking deep breaths could be a simple and quick remedy. Whatever it takes, if you want to put in long sessions you are inevitably going to have to deal with running bad. It is unavoidable, tilting however, is not. The best players in the world are able to put bad beats behind them and continue playing great poker even in the most trying times. Take it from them, if you want to be the best, you have to play your best at all times.
Knowing When to Quit
Understanding when to finish your session is basically a combination of all the points listed above. At any given time when you cannot find any good tables, are losing focus, or have begun to tilt it is a good idea to end your session. It can be one or a combination of them all, but for most it typically comes when focus is wavering or when you begin running bad and start tilting. There is never an excuse for not finding good tables, even in today’s online poker world. As long as you are doing your due diligence you should always be able to find fish at low and midstakes games.
Ending your sessions can be harder than starting them. Some sites allow players to sit out at all their tables on their next big blind, others force you to do so at each and every table. Either way, make sure to play all the hands you can for free unless you are tilting. There is no reason to quit when you have just paid the blinds, you are costing yourself a lot of free hands and in spots with good position. After your session is over take some time to review interesting decisions you had to make. Employing programs such as Poker Tracker or Hold’em Manager can be a great help in sorting your hands based of specific circumstances. Those who just put in 1,000 or more hands will have plenty of interesting spots to analyze and sites like FlopTurnRiver are great for gaining feedback on these certain situations. Finally, do not take a winning session for granted. Sometimes players will win when they are not playing their best. Instead of assuming it was a well played session due to making a profit make sure to take some time and look through your hands. The quest to always improve is what separates the great players from the good ones.