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The difference between live and online poker

January 28, 2011 4 comments

Some people have played in a Brick & Mortar casino all their life and want to start playing online. Some players have been playing online their whole life and would like to start playing in a B&M casino. The question that all of those people will sooner or later ask is: what is the difference between live and online poker? Personally, I haven’t played much in real casinos, but from what I was able to gather and from what I’ve heard from friends, live games are much softer for a skilled player to beat. Here are some arguments:

1) There are many more casual players in B&M casinos than online.
There is no rule as to whom might be playing poker in a casino. It could be anyone: from the millionaire businessman who is not sure if a flush beats a straight, to the person who has just lost his yearly salary playing blackjack and decided to sit down by the poker table on his way to he toilet. The end result is that in a B&M casino there are considerably more players who are there for pure entertainment or simply to gamble. That’s what a casino is for in the eyes of most of its visitors.

Online, on the other hand, players need to demonstrate some sort of commitment. You need to visit a website, download the software, register an account, then figure out a way to deposit your money, probably reading one or two articles along the way. And if you do that, then you are more likely to be interested in understanding the rules and strategies of the game. Also, when playing online you are far more likely to come across strategy websites and other poker schools such as Card Runners.

2) The UIGEA and other laws.
Many countries and states are against online poker. In some cases, such as the US, this has resulted in the deterioration of the accessibility of online payment processors that could be used to deposit money to a poker room. This, on the other hand, limits the number of casual online poker players even more, leaving only those who are really determined to make a deposit. And those are exactly the people who are likely to become good at poker.

3) Live poker is more intimidating.
When playing live, people feel that their decisions are being scrutinized, they are therefore less likely to do absolutely crazy raises in weird spots, fearing the judgement of others at the table. Online players don’t have this problem; an online poker player is most likely sitting there at home in his pants, with a bag of Cheetos and the TV turned on. He is feeling very comfortable, which results in more aggressive and abnormal decisions that can increase variance for others in online games.

4) Online poker players can multi-table.
This is crucial. In a live game, you can only play one table at a time. An online player can have as many as 12 (and sometimes twice as many) tables open at any given time. This allows him to play a tight game, which means that players are less likely to be playing with absolutely marginal hands, because they can afford to wait. In a B&M casino this isn’t the case. With 25 hands per hour (as opposed to 800-1600 hands online), B&M players get impatient quickly. After all, they didn’t drive all across town with their cash in order to just sit there and play 3-4 hands per hour. They want action. This means they are much looser, making it easier for a skilled player to extract maximum value with his good hands.

5) Less time for decisions online.
The more pressed for time you are, the more likely you are to make an irrational decision, resulting in money loss over time. In online poker you have less time to think than live, which again makes internet poker harder.

6) Numbers, numbers, numbers
No one can deny that there are way more people playing online poker than live in casinos. When playing on PokerStars, for example, players can easily afford waiting for a donkey to show up, and because of that – online players are even MORE tight than casino players. In a casino, however, you don’t really have many options in terms of table selection. Once you sit down, you are likely stuck with that table for the rest of the night. This in turn means you’ll want to quickly get on with the action (as you will have no other options later on), which breeds impatience, which breeds soft games.

7) Poker software.
This one is simple. There are no HUD’s or poker analysis tools available in casinos. This makes online games considerably tougher.

8 ) Online players have more experience.
Assuming that 4 tables is the average an online poker player will play, he will be putting in around 300 hands an hour. In that same time, a live casino player will have played around 25 hands. This means that a live poker player requires 12 hours to log in the same number of hands that the average online player will play in an hour. And this figure doubles in the case of better online players, who play 8 tables at once. Add to that the vast resources online players have at their disposition, such as forums, the software I mentioned above, and community sites, and you can see that “onliners’ are MUCH tougher opponents.

9) Alcohol in casinos .
Speaks for itself. 🙂

10) Stakes discrepancy.
Keep in mind that the lowest stakes available live are usually $1/$2, while the lowest stakes online are $0.01/$0.02. This means that the weakest live players usually buy-in for $200, while the weakest online player usually buys in for $2. That is something many people switching from live to online play don’t take into account: they assume that since they have been beating the $1/$2 tables live then they can do the same online. This is simply not the case. Do not try to compare the stakes, and no matter what you’ve played live, always start with the lowest stakes online and make your way up using proper bankroll management.

Let me know what you think and please don’t hesitate to add to the list above.

Good luck.

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