In the world of Poker, online poker vs live poker is one of the classic debates with staunch defenders of each type on either side claiming why their chosen medium is miles better than the other.
Here at betandbeat.com, we don't go in for childish side-taking. We're here to give you the straight facts about both poker game types and answer key questions such as "is online poker harder than live?" so you can pick what you'd enjoy the most.
Differences Between Live vs Online Poker
Aside from being able to make all your decisions with a click of a mouse, there are a lot of differences when comparing online poker vs live and if you're considering making the jump from one to the other it's worth knowing what you'll be in for. Make sure you tailor your strategies for the medium you are playing through.
Pace of Play
One of the most noticeable differences between playing online and live is the speed of play. Online, the game runs much faster as dealing cards and moving chips are done electronically rather than slow humans. There are also timebanks online which give people a specific amount of time they need to perform their action in - in live games people can take as long as they like until a clock is called.
This one is a big advantage for live poker vs online as physical tells don't really exist in online poker! The closest thing you can get online is timing tells, but even then as you're not in the same room you can't tell if they're agonizing over a decision or if they just had to answer the door.
However, there is the possibility that you can misread live tells when playing live leading you to make the wrong decisions so it's not always a pro to be able to see people!
The ability to play multiple tables at once is a huge positive for online poker, not only does it alleviate the boredom of waiting for a hand to finish at one table but it allows you to play a lot more hands - potentially earning you a lot more money.
Live poker is limited to 1 table at a time (unless you fancy sprinting from table to table each hand!) and therefore you can't get in anywhere near the number of hands you can online.
Whether it's comfier to play online or live will depend on the quality of your casino/home setup but even the most relaxed casino won't let you play in your underwear as you can at home!
The comfort levels at casinos and card rooms will vary drastically depending on where you live, some are fully kitted out with comfy seating and great lighting whereas others are full of hardback chairs in a dimly lit room - it's really luck of the draw.
This can be either an advantage or disadvantage of live poker depending on who's at your table! One of the most enjoyable aspects of live poker is the social aspect, being able to chat with the people at the table, trade stories, and experiences can be most of the fun for some people which online poker doesn't offer.
However, a couple of assholes at the table and you'll be wishing that the only communication available is a chatbox!
This is another aspect that will vary greatly depending on the casino you frequent as well as the online site you play at. Most casinos predominantly offer NLHE or PLO Texas Holdem cash games and only NLHE tournaments with little demand for mixed games outside of the USA.
Most online poker sites offer a wide selection of mixed games to cater to your taste, as well as a huge variety of tournament types (Knockout, Bubble Rush, Mixed Max, etc.).
If you're playing seriously then you'll be taking rake into consideration and you'll find that the rake tends to be higher in live games compared to online games. Depending on the game there can be a 10% rake plus extra money taken out of the pot for promotions the casino is running whereas online you tend to see it around 5%.
Even though rake is higher in live poker, pretty much all live games are going to be beatable.
Why Is Online Poker Easier Than Live?
The first question we need to ask ourselves is "is online poker easier than live poker?" - and I would say that the answer is generally no, at least if you're comparing similar stake levels. However, it can be easier in some respects if you look closer at the details. Let's look at how it can be easier.
- There are fewer distractions when playing online poker vs live poker
- You have software such as HUDs that will give you concrete information on how your opponents play
- You can't give off any live reads when playing online
- You can always play at 100bb when playing cash games, making situations more repeatable and therefore easier to learn and master
- Most online poker sites offer rakeback and promotions that will help boost your win rate
The availability of permitted software to help you in-game can make things much easier in online poker vs live poker - HUDs can track stats perfectly whereas our human brains aren't capable of accurately tracking things like that.
While $1/2 cash games are far softer live than their online counterparts, $1/2 is generally the lowest stake available live so it would be better comparing the game to the lowest stake available online which is 1c/. The average quality in these games is going to be higher in the live games as you get more decent players playing $1/2 at casinos than you do playing 1c/ cash games.
Why Is Online Poker Harder Than Live?
Online poker is considered to be the harder of the two disciplines as the general standard of the players is often higher than it would be in the equivalent live game.
- The standard of the average player is better online compared to live poker
- You are unable to use physical tells to help you make decisions
- You have a limited amount of time in which you can make your decisions before your hand is automatically folded
- Online poker is a lot more aggressive than live poker which makes it harder to realize equity/showdown marginal hands
- Your opponents have access to software such as HUDs that can analyze the way you play, allowing your opponent to exploit you.
While we mentioned in the previous section that having software such as HUDs will be a big help to your game, you have to remember that the same software is available to the other players you're playing against who could use it against you.
You'll also find that the games online play far more aggressively than they do live, with a lot more 3betting and 4betting preflop. Being aggressive is one of the keys to being a winning poker player as it allows you to win hands without showdown and puts your opponents to tough decisions. If your opponents are playing like this (like they do in online poker) then it makes it harder for you to play the same way and win.
Transitioning Between Live & Online Poker
While online poker and live poker are ostensibly the same game, they tend to play very differently and it can be hard to adjust to one if you're used to the other. We'll have a look at what differences you'll notice if you make the change from one discipline to another.
From Live to Online Poker
If all your experience has come in home games or at the casino it can be quite daunting to log onto a poker site and see the long list of tables to join! Here's what to expect if you're making the jump to online:
The biggest thing that you will notice when you change from live to online poker is that the general standard of play is much better online. Players are more experienced just because it's so much easier to get in a high number of hands online and scenarios are much more repeatable (i.e. you can auto top-up online so you're always playing with a minimum of 100bb whereas this is much tougher to do when playing live).
The pace of play will be much quicker, you'll have to get used to making decisions within a few seconds as the timebanks on some sites can be unforgiving and you'll want to keep as much time as possible for the tough decisions.
Another key difference is how much more aggressive the games play online compared to live poker. There are a lot more multiway pots when you play live as players are more inclined to call raises whereas online players will more often 3bet than call. In live poker, a 3bet from most players will mean they hold a premium hand but in online poker, people will 3bet with all kinds of hands so it's important to adjust your continuing ranges appropriately.
This can be looked at in a couple of different ways. The first is that it's much easier to play a lot of hands in online poker vs live poker so if you suffer from tilt the effects could be a lot more catastrophic to your bankroll. Being able to control your tilt and knowing the best time to quit is a big part of being a winning online player.
The second way you can look at this is that you don't need to be stoic after you've made an action - you can shout "FOLD!!" at your computer monitor as much as you want when you're bluffing and it won't matter at all!
From Online to Real Poker
Despite online poker being a respected discipline, there are some people who will frame this discussion as online poker vs 'real' poker. These people seem to exclusively play live so if you wanted to make that transition here's what to expect:
While we've mentioned a couple of times that the games are generally going to be tougher online compared to live it's important to realize why that's the case. When someone logs onto a site to play online poker, they're doing so with the specific purpose to play online poker - whether that's for the fun of the game, to gamble, or to win money. Whereas when someone walks into a casino they're likely there to just gamble, and poker is a conduit for their gambling rather than the specific purpose of their trip.
It's important to remember that for most people that will be sitting at your table, their goal is to gamble and have fun, and if you're there as a poker player trying to earn money you need to make that game as welcoming as possible for the gamblers - otherwise you'll be sat with 8 identical versions of yourself!
If you're used to mass multi-tabling 6max zoom games then making the switch to live poker will be like downgrading from a Ferrari to a push-bike. It's going to be slow going playing one table where people aren't on the clock to make decisions and while most people don't take up too much time for their decisions there will be people who like to tank or don't even know the action is on them half the time.
While the game will be slower there are opportunities for much higher win rates live compared to online in terms of hourly so it's important to keep your focus in between hands.
Aggression (or lack of)
While online poker is generally played as raise or fold preflop, limping is still alive and well in live poker and you'll be seeing a lot of it. Anticipating this and devising a strategy to play well against limps will give you an extra edge over the other serious players at the table.
Even post-flop is a lot more passive compared to online as we see a lot more multiway pots. This inevitably leads to people bluffing and value betting tighter ranges. Learning to adjust to the more passive action and tighter betting ranges can save you a lot of money with marginal hands.
Playing online poker it's easy to tilt, losing 5 flips in half an hour and ranting at your monitors is commonplace amongst online grinders but when you play live you'll come up against a different set of obstacles.
Firstly you'll be playing with other people in the room so your foul-mouthed tirades will either get you kicked off the table or at the very least socially ostracised, so keeping cool is important in that respect.
Secondly, the reasons for tilt will be slightly different. Given that you'll see a fraction of the hands in an hour playing live vs online, if you get stuck it can be hard to claw your way back out. Having to fold 20 hands which would usually be less than a minute online turns into an hour-long slog of watching other people having all the fun splashing around in pots.
Being able to stay disciplined and sticking to your strategy when you're card dead can save you from punting off stacks just because you were bored and wanted to make something happen.
While there is no definitive answer as to which is better in online poker vs live poker, people enjoy both for different reasons. I would suggest trying out both and playing whichever one you enjoy the most!
This article was published on February 25, 2021, and last updated on February 23, 2021.