Since the turn of the millennium, the game of poker has changed drastically with the emergence of online poker. Not only has it altered the way poker is played, but it’s also allowed given people an easier way to play the game. This change has created an influx of cash into poker games, as well as increasing the overall general interest in the poker industry.
While many pros play both online and live during their career, they often do better at one form of the game than the other. For that reason, let’s take a look at the distinct differences between online and live poker and outline the benefits and drawbacks of each. That way you'll be better equipped to decide which format may be better suited to your specific style and needs.
Intro | How to become a poker pro
Part 1 | What Does It Take?
Part 2 | The Prerequisites
Part 3 | Developing A Winning Strategy
Part 4 | Live vs Online
Part 5 | Cons of a Pro Poker Lifestyle
Part 6 | Tips to Be a Successful Poker Player
Part 7 | Ready to Give it a Go?
- Varying Stakes: The ability to play at very low stakes can be a godsend for a pro who’s just starting out with a smaller bankroll. In live play, cash game tables generally start with blinds at $1/$2, calling for around a $200 buy-in and $6000+ bankroll (plus living expenses). Online, however, you can play games at stakes of $0.10/$0.25, $0.25/$0.50, and $0.50/$1.00 – all cheaper than live games but still all at a level that allows you to make an income from poker. Essentially, by playing at these lower stakes, you can minimize the tangible amount of money you could lose while building your bankroll and experience in the game.
- Hands per Hour: Online poker is an incredible invention. Relative newcomers to the game have the opportunity to quickly gain the same experience (and play the same volume of hands) as experienced live grinders who have been playing for decades. Hands dealt per hour are much greater and faster at poker tables online. Playing more hands per hour allows you to quickly bridge the poker learning curve. It can also allow you to increase your overall cash profit each month, provided your BB/100 hands stat stays relatively consistent from live play to online play.
- Multi-Tabling: A prime reason why the number of hands per hour goes way up when playing online is due to multi-tabling. You can also play tournaments while playing cash games, which gives you the potential to skyrocket your bankroll even faster, as you continue to grind consistent profit at the cash tables.
- Use of HUD: Not only does a HUD help assist your gameplay when you’re multi-tabling, but it will also improve your decision-making process down the road. Not only will you be able to see detailed statistics on your opponents from previous hands, but you'll be able to keep track of your own. This feature is something that’s unique in online play versus live play.
- Location: Online poker is a beautiful thing because you can essentially do it anywhere you have an internet connection! Many poker websites also have a mobile version of their poker client – making it even easier to navigate and play from a mobile device. And, if you must play from a PC or laptop, you can always use your phone as a “hotspot” and tether your PC while on-the-go. You also still be able to use your HUD and multi-table a lot easier than on your phone or tablet.
- Variety of Websites: Different poker websites have different benefits. Some poker rooms promote deposit and reload bonuses. Some sites have softer (weaker) players than other online cardrooms. Having such a wide selection to choose from can be really beneficial to you and your bottom line. Maybe you like the tournament schedule on one website while you like the softer cash games on another. You can pick and choose to play on a selection of sites, depending on your preference and what's more profitable to you. That’s the advantage of playing online – you get the best of both worlds.
- Quicker Tournaments: Because you play more hands per hour online, tournaments will be over much faster than its live equivalent. You'll have more opportunities to do well and cash big in tournaments, simply because you can play a higher volume of them online than in live.
- More 6-Max Play: Commonly in live play, you will only find 9- or 10-handed tables for cash games and most tournaments. Online, 6-max play is much more common, especially for cash games, which is great if you enjoy and do better at short-handed play.
- Poker Variants and Options: Because online poker rooms are not limited by physical space, they can host a much wider variety of games and tournament types than their live counterparts. This can include different variants of games (PLO, Limit Hold’em, Stud, Draw, Mixed) than No Limit Hold'em, which is the most commonly played tournament genre. This online feature is great, especially if No-Limit Hold’em isn’t your favourite or best game!
- Automatic Rakeback and/or Bonuses: Often, online casinos will attract players with cash(rake)back offers or flashy promotions. These incentives can help you pocket extra money as you play and/or balance out any negative swings you might experience. Promotions that add dollars to your bottom line add even more incentive to grind online as opposed to playing live.
- Player Fields are Generally Stronger: Because the number of players in one online tourney can be greater than the total players in one live cardroom, you will be up against more fish. Even though a lot of these players will be at the lower stakes, there are always those who want to try their luck at the higher stakes. You also have the big fish who have lots of cash, but not a lot of poker sense. The one downside to this is that you are more likely to be up against players who know their way around a poker table. For this reason, table selection for cash games is extremely important; you want to scout out where the fish are, instead of trying to grind your way through tough opponents.
Severely Limited Poker Tells: If you rely heavily on poker tells for making your decisions, online poker might be difficult for you to adjust to. While there are some limited tells you can use online (such as bet timing and betting lines), you aren’t going to have nearly as much to go off as you would in live play.
Tips For Online Poker
- Table Selection: This bit of advice is a big one as it can determine whether or not you rake in consistent profits each month. Online, you have a wide variety of tables to play. Live, you may not have the same luxury. Track down tables with the fishy players, take a seat, settle in and get comfortable. It's here that you will more than likely make the bulk of your money.
- Only Multi-Table a Number of Tables You Can Play Effectively: Some players can multi-table upwards of 40 tables at once. Other players struggle with 2 tables going (in which case, live play might be better suited for you). Know the number of tables you can reasonably handle while still playing your “A” game. Never play above this number until you're certain that you’re ready for a step up.
- Choose a Healthy Schedule: Some players like frequenting the same daily tournaments. While other players only like playing when they feel ready to play. With the convenience of firing up your computer and sitting in at a poker table always in the cards, make sure you’re in the right mood and mentally prepared to play. Don’t play when you’re emotionally distraught, and definitely don’t play when you’re tired. Just because it’s easy to jump into a game, doesn’t mean that you should. Choose your hours and schedule carefully and at times that suit your lifestyle and daily routine.
- Higher Tournament Buy-ins: Higher tournament buy-ins, in general, mean bigger prize pools with much more cash than online tournaments with similarly sized playing fields. If you do well in tournaments, big fields are a great opportunity to scoop up some easy money, often with relatively soft playing fields, too!
- Easier To Concentrate: During online gameplay, you may have multiple tables going at once, maybe the TV going in another room, and other interruptions that can easily distract you from the game. In live play, you’re at one poker table, and that’s all you have to focus your attention on. Because of this, you can pick up player tendencies and betting patterns more easily than you would be able to while multi-tabling online (even with a HUD). You’ll notice certain things that stats from a HUD just won’t be able to tell you. Perhaps that player on the button always looks straight ahead when they've picked up a big hand. Bottom line, with only one table to focus on, and with it being in a live setting, you’ll be able to concentrate a lot better.
- Easier Opponents: In general, players are much more passive and weaker live, than they are at similar stakes online. Generally, live players will be much looser, a lot more passive, very straightforward and quite exploitable, making it relatively easy to build up your BB/100 stat for live play.
- Travel Opportunities: It’s not uncommon for poker players to have to travel to destinations around the world each year to play in certain tournaments and live events. Being able to explore different cities and countries while on the tournament grind is a huge perk. Even if you’re a cash game grinder, you can still travel to other cardrooms and casinos, using the live cash action to support yourself.
- Freebies: Keeping up with what we said above about travel opportunities, some casinos offer free hotel rooms or meals if you play enough. Some even dole out points as part of a poker players VIP club. These points can be used to buy food, traded in for gift cards and vouchers – as well all sorts of cool gadgets.
- Grinder Freerolls: If you play frequently enough at certain cardrooms, many of them will offer end-of-the-month freerolls for poker players who play the most hands, rake the most money, or place best in casino-hosted poker tournaments. Because the stakes are higher in live play, these freerolls will often have much bigger prize pools than their online equivalents.
- Tells: A great part about live play is being able to use “poker tells” to your full advantage. You can see your opponents’ facial reactions, look them in the eye, watch how they stack their chips, their body language, watch how they bet, and so much more. These are all crucial tells that can be pivotal in helping you improve your gameplay decisions and overall results.
- Higher / Limited Stakes and Games: The available game variants and stakes are often severely limited for live poker players. At the bigger cardrooms and casinos, you will find PLO and Stud games but for the most part, the bulk of the formats will be $1/$2 No-Limit Hold’em.
- Hands per Hour: In live play, generally you’ll find an average of about 25 hands per hour, which is quite low in comparison to online poker. While your BB/100 hands might be higher in live play, remember that you won't be playing the same number of hands per hour as in online play. Therefore, you should take this into account when calculating your approximate hourly win rate.
- Location: Unlike online poker, you can’t just connect to the internet and play from anywhere. Unfortunately, unless you live near a cardroom, your options for live play will be severely limited or even non-existent! On top of that, the variety and frequency of poker games at your local casino may also be severely limited! Location can definitely be a drawback for live play, which is why many poker players move to larger metropolitan areas that have many casinos. That way, they can choose whether they want to play live, online, or a mixture of both.
- Rake: Rake is something that can deeply affect your bottom line and how profitable you are as a poker player. While rake varies slightly from one casino to next (as it does online too), in some live venues, the rake is jacked so high that it's virtually impossible to be profitable – even for the best players! Always do your research to find out what the rake is before you sit down and play.
- Tournament Structures: In the daily tournaments at many casinos, many structures are way too fast and steep to allow for optimal, “normal” tournament play. It's costly for a casino to run tournaments and so they want to get as many is as possible, and get them over as quickly as possible. This creates high-variance action where luck takes even more precedence over skill.
- Calculating Pot Sizes / Player Stacks / Other Poker Maths: In online poker, stacks sizes and the size of the pot are automatically calculated and shown to you. In live play, you must add this dimension to your game and learn how to keep track of this yourself (i.e. calculating odds during a hand, as well as sizing bets properly).
- Raise Sizes Increase: In online play, players will usually make a pre-flop raise of 3x the big blind in a cash game. In live poker, though, if someone comes in for a raise pre-flop, you usually see raise sizes ranging anywhere from 4x to 10x the big blind! With this increased pre-flop raise size (especially in smaller stakes games, like $1/$2), the stack-to-pot ratio (SPR) gets a lot smaller. The bigger pre-flop pots add a unique twist to post-flop gameplay, with players having to deal with inflated pots.
Tips For Live Poker
- Bring a Few Buy-Ins With You: Online, your bankroll is at the ready, waiting for you to register for a tournament or buy into a cash game, as and when needed. In live play, you're unlikely to carry your entire bankroll around with you, everywhere you go. Make sure that you have about 2-3 cash game buy-ins with you, plus any tournament buy-ins needed for that day. The worst thing that can happen is that you get sucked out at a table full of fish and don’t have another buy-in to get back in and play.
- Use Tells To Your Full Advantage: Tells should never be the sole basis for your decision-making at the poker table. However, they should supplement the information you already have and further help to assist you and support your decisions. In live play, your opponents can't hide behind a computer screen. So, stay alert and look for tells constantly!
- Always Focus: When playing online, you likely have a few tables open simultaneously. There always seems to be something happening! A player goes all-in, someone busts or a weird river showdown. In live play, you only have one table to focus on. On top of that, play takes place at a much slower pace than online. Even though most of the time you won’t be actively involved in a hand, it’s imperative that you stay alert and stay focused. Study your opponents’ actions and try to pick up on any tells they might have.
Which Is Better For You? Online or Live?
Below are 10 questions for you to answer to help you decide which type of poker is better suited for you – online or live or a combination of both!
- How much do you rely on poker tells, table talk, and angling to affect your gameplay decisions?
a. A lot – Live Poker
b. Not too much – Online Poker
- How well are you able to maintain your composure and poker face?
a. Total Control – Live Poker or Online Poker
b. Not so much – Online Poker
- What is your current poker bankroll (living expenses excluded)?
a. < $6,000 – Online Poker
b. > $6,000 – Live or Online Poker
- How well can you concentrate?
a. Pretty well – Live Poker
b. I always need to feel occupied – Online Poker
- Can you calculate pot sizes, player stacks, and appropriate bet sizes swiftly and easily throughout the course of the hand?
a. No – Online Poker
b. Yes – Live Poker or Online Poker
- How much do you rely on a HUD for your gameplay?
a. A lot – Online Poker
b. I can calculate/keep track of the stats myself for 1 table – Live Poker
- Are you physically close to a cardroom/casino that offers poker? Are you satisfied with the poker games offered (variants and stakes) and the tournament schedules and structures?
a. Yes – Live Poker or Online Poker
b. No – Online Poker
- If there is a live poker room close to you, is it reg infested (full of good players) or are the games pretty soft (easy to beat)?
a. Reg infested – Online Poker
b. Easy to beat – Live Poker or Online Poker
- Are you more of a 6-max cash player or full-ring cash player?
a. 6-Max – Online Poker
b. Full-Ring – Live Poker
- Are you better at cash games or tournaments?
a. Cash Games – Live or Online Poker
b. Tournaments – Online Poker (bigger selection to offset variance)
In general, if you get more Live than Online answers, or vice versa, then that's' the way you should go.
Here's a quick guide for your results:
- 7+ Live = Live Player
- 7+ Online = Online Player
- 5 or 6 Live or Online = Mixture of both or choose the one that you prefer
However, if some questions are more important to you, then you need to dig deeper. You might need to have a go at both to see which one, live or online, suits your style of play better.
Ultimately, while you might prefer one type of poker more than the other initially, playing a healthy balance of both will help round out your game and improve your poker skills on the whole.
Here’s to your success at the felts – whether it’s online, live, or both!
In Chapter 5, we'll look at the Pros and Cons of a Pro Poker Lifestyle. If you think it's all a bed or roses, think again!