As most of us who play regularly can attest, poker is an extremely time-intensive activity. To play the game well, one needs to be completely focused, with enough flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. These conditions include the optimal length of time to play, which varies from player to player, game to game. I personally find that four hours is an ideal time for a session, as I tend to get bored and play too many hands after that. But if I am stuck at the end of four hours it can be quite the opposite, as I often dig in, determined to leave a winner, no matter how long it takes. At times, I play quite a bit better when I'm down than when I am ahead, which perhaps makes me an anomaly among players.
Most of us have also had the experience of playing a session knowing we must leave at a certain time, or with other commitments looming over us. Almost every player knows how difficult it can be to play a session facing an early appointment the next day, or a deadline, or even an upcoming activity with friends or family. I used to try to play once or twice a week while holding a full-time, 9-6 job. It was almost impossible to focus on the game, and I often had to content myself with the notion that playing and losing was better than not playing at all. Fortunately, my income from the job meant that I could cover those losses.
The question for professional and semi-professional players alike is: how does one focus on poker without slighting other areas of life? For recreational players, how does one lead a life that affords adequate time for poker? The Internet, with its opportunities for playing multiple games at the same time, might be one solution to a tight schedule that doesn't afford adequate time for poker. That may hold true for the most successful internet players, but I find it very difficult to quit when playing online, which obviates the time-saving aspect of the activity.
There is no way to beat the clock, but I have been considering ways to get around this and here's what I've come up with.
When I plan to play a session, I try not to schedule anything until late the following day. That way, if I decide in the middle of the session that I want to keep on playing until very late, I don't have to worry about rescheduling or burning the candle at both ends.
I make a conscious effort to put friends and family before poker. This may seem obvious, but many players get so wrapped up in playing that they neglect those ties in favor of the game. I try to structure my life around feeling connected, rather than playing, because at the end of the day, ties to people are more important to me than the game. How empty would it be just to play, even if one is a consistent winner, with no one to share one's success? I know my results are better when I'm relatively happy in other areas of life, and that means cultivating other interests, as well.
It helps if one's partner is someone who is equally into the game. I am now somewhat less than a fanatic, yet more than a casual recreational player. I find my ideal playing time to be about twenty-five hours a week. That leaves enough time for other activities, and keeps me from getting bored, which is a real risk for regular players. There was a time when I would not have believed I could ever get bored playing, but it can happen.
Having an open-ended schedule also helps. While a "hit and run" session can be profitable from time to time, it doesn't work to drop in for an hour here or there. What if you plan to play for an hour, find a good game, and take a few beats? Now you have to leave and have no chance to make the money you might be expected to win in a good game.
One problem with keeping a schedule that affords adequate time to play means that when you're free and you want to see friends or family, everyone else may already be booked. It's not an ideal situation, but if your friends are mostly also poker players, it can be workable.
The most important thing is to set your priorities. If your top priority is your job, you need to work around that. But if playing is what's most important to you, you'll make sacrifices in favor of that. It's a question of individual choice, and what works for me may not work for you.