If you’ve ever played or even just watched poker, you probably know that cash games and tournaments can take hours and even days to finish. Over the course of these hours and days, players will have played many individual hands. But how many exactly? How long does a typical poker hand last?
A poker hand can take anywhere from 10 – 15 seconds to 10+ minutes to complete. It depends on how many players decide to get involved and how big the pot gets. If players have to deal with tough decisions, they’ll take more time on every street and can sometimes go into long tanks before they act.
In general, live poker hands take longer than the online ones. This is because of several factors. First of all, online players don’t have to deal with physical chips and cards and they’re always warned when it’s their turn to act.
Secondly, most online poker rooms have timers, so there is a fixed amount of time you’re allowed to take on any street before your hand is automatically folded. In really tough spots, you can get an extension via your time bank, but even these time banks are much shorter than how long many players take to act in live games.
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How Many Hands Can You Play in a Session?
The question of how long does a poker hand last may seem somewhat pointless but it’s actually quite important for serious players. You want to see as many hands per hour as you possibly can if you have an edge over the competition.
This is especially important in cash games, where professionals will often explain their win rate in terms of big blinds won per 100 hands. If someone is playing $1/$2 no limit Hold’em and wins 10 big blinds per hundred, they’re making, on average, $20 for every 100 hands they get to play.
This includes all hands, even the ones they fold before the flop without putting a single penny into the pot.
So, you want to see as many hands as possible during your session if you’re a winning player because that effectively increases your total profit.
So, let’s look at some numbers.
Online poker is typically much faster and you can expect anywhere between 70 and 100 hands at a 6-max table and between 60 and 80 hands playing full ring (nine players). So, an average hand of online poker takes less than a minute to complete.
In a live game, you’ll be lucky to see 30 hands per hour at a full table, while you might get to 40 – 45 playing 6-max.
In a live setting, especially in cash games, there are no time restrictions. Some rooms won't even let you call the clock on a player when playing cash. In those games where you can do it, it’s still considered rude and done rarely.
So, if you go to a casino to play full ring, in a typical five to six hours’ session, you’ll see between 130 and 200 hands. In that same period online, you can get to up to 500 hands in, and that’s assuming you’re playing just one table.
How to Speed up the Action?
Let’s be honest; the moment you fold, you’re ready for the next hand and having to idly sit and observe others fight it out for the pot is boring and even frustrating sometimes.
This is especially true if you’ve been getting a lot of bad cards and had to fold a lot. In that case, the next hand simply can’t come around fast enough.
Online, this isn’t too big of an issue as players can’t take forever to act and you can always add some extra tables if the action on one is just too slow. Live, though, all you can do is sit in your chair and wait for someone to drag the pot before the next hand can commence.
Before we discuss some things you can do to potentially speed up the action, it’s important to post some warnings.
Players have the right to take their time to make a decision. Some take longer than the others and as annoying as that may be, it’s the part of the game. You can’t just rush everyone else because you’re bored. After all, it’s the real money at stake.
Some players are new to the game and some dealers aren’t as experienced. These things can slow down the game significantly and make every hand last much longer than it should. Getting frustrated over it won’t do you any good as they aren’t doing it on purpose. Have some patience and be thankful there is some fresh blood at the table.
There are some players who enjoy poker mostly for the social aspect of the game. They don’t care how long a hand lasts or what their big blind per hundred or per hour is. They want to have fun and tend to take a lot of time with almost every decision.
If you have a player like this at your table, where they take an extra 30 – 40 seconds on every hand for no real reason, your best course of action is to ask them politely not to do it.
In most cases, this will work. They probably aren’t doing it to annoy anyone, they just don’t see the total number of hands they play in a session as an important factor.
Calling the Clock
Calling the clock on someone isn’t really popular in cash games but it’s sometimes a good option in tournaments. Since blinds increase overtime, taking too long to act on your hands is inconsiderate and rude to other players.
If you notice someone is tanking all the time and stealing valuable time from others, you can (and should) start calling clock on them. Every time you call the clock, the tournament director will come around and give them 60 seconds to make up their mind. If they don’t do it in time, their hand is declared dead.
The same goes if someone is stuck on a particular street and they’ve been thinking for several minutes without a decision in sight. You can’t really let someone steal an entire level just to play a single hand.
Online vs. Live: Number of Hands vs. Quality of Play
If you’re just looking to play as many hands as possible every session, the choice is clear. You have to play online and fire up multiple tables. You’ll be able to put in a huge volume. If you really want to maximize the time / hand ratio, you can even play speed-fold variations like Zoom Poker.
Live, the number of hands you’ll get to play is clearly limited by external factors that you have no control over.
At the same time, you can achieve much higher win-rates playing live poker. For example, a good $1/$2 player can easily win 10 big blinds per hour. A solid online player in today’s environment can maybe expect to make 2-3bb/100. You can still make more money online as you can play more tables but it’s much more challenging.
In the end, it gets down to your personal preference and what you enjoy more, provided you can beat both online and live games. Going any deeper than that would be out of scope of this particular article, but at least now you know long a poker hand takes and how many of them you can expect to see in a session.
Is there a time limit on how long a poker hand can last?
There is no fixed time limit on how long a live poker hand can last. Players can take as long as they feel is necessary to make a decision. In online poker, there are timers that determine the maximum amount of time a player can take on any particular street.
Why do online players get to play more poker hands in an hour?
Online hands take less time to complete on average because there are no physical chips or cards, there are no player or dealer errors, and there are time limits in place. Also, online players can play multiple tables at the same time.
What can I do to make hands at my local poker room not last as long?
Not very much. You can ask other players politely to try and play faster if they habitually take too long to act and maybe ask the floor manager to try and speed things up, but at the end of the day, no one is getting banned from a poker room for taking some extra time to play their hands.