The Age-Old Debate: Online Poker Vs Live Poker
The Moneymaker effect back in 2003 shocked the world and ultimately kickstarted the poker boom where many aspiring players started taking to playing online poker rather than going to conventional casinos/private poker rooms to play.
Fast-forward 15 years; we still ask the long-standing question of which is better? How is the experience different in terms of gameplay, style, and the opponents you compete with?
Let’s look at a few differences between Live poker and Online Poker:
It is quite clear that being able to choose any format at any time is a huge advantage for a player. You get to choose from a long list of options; be it stakes or a particular tourney or different formats like PLO, SNGs, OFC etc. Finding games and tournaments in the comfort of your home is essentially way easier than commuting to a casino (provided there is one in your city). Also, since online tables are running 247, one really doesn’t need to work around their schedule to play.
Finding and sitting at a live table requires a lot of effort. Time constraints are also a big factor. Plus, finding action is another task. Imagine going all the way to a casino to find that you’re the only one at the poker table. In Online poker rooms, a quick glance will instantly tell you where all the action is.
Tracking Software Vs Live Tells
Well, this is a debate. Purists will tell you that a piece of software can’t give you all the info needed to read an opponent. They’ll say that reading your opponent live using tools like table talk, body language reading skills and experience will trump any software.
However, with access to a wide array of material online, players have almost infinite information at hand. Nowadays, HUDs and trackers keep a database of every hand you’ve played to date and every opponent you’ve encountered. You get the analytics in real-time which can help you determine your course of action for every hand.
Playing live requires more concentration and better memory skills to have an edge over your opponents. Recalling the history of your opponents’ action, style of play and psychology to make an informed decision is much harder. On top of that, you encounter so many players, thereby making the entire process that much harder.
However, all said and done, getting a read on your opponent will always be easier in a live setting than online. Even if one has all the past information at hand, still translating that into making the best possible decision is much harder online (let’s say, you want to know whether your opponent is bluffing or not in a particular hand).
Transitioning from one to the other
Online poker players have access to a lot of real-time information thanks to HUDs, trackers, and calculators. They can base their play on GTO or pure math. Of course, skilled online players use a variety of strategy. On the contrary, live players rely on advanced strategy and gut.
In my opinion, I feel that it’s more difficult to transition from online poker to live poker than the other way around. A sense of admiration should be shown to online players who have transitioned to live poker. A great example of this would be German poker player, Fedor Holz, who took the online scene by storm a couple years back. He then continued to have a godlike run in live high roller tournaments, quickly making more than $30 million in live earnings and becoming the 5th-highest ranked live tournament player on the Global Poker Index.
This is one of the most crucial elements in separating the two. Often, we see threads in forums which have endless rants about horrific bad beats that happened online. This is due to the fact that people play a large volume of hands online and consequently run into bad beats more. Another reason is that there are more recreational players online than live. Lastly, at micro stakes or small stakes, people tend to play more junk hands and when they get outdrawn to better hands, they blame the RNG.
Players who are good at multi-tabling can really extract value from playing online. Of course, this is impossible in a live game. Multi-tabling is probably one of the biggest advantages of playing online.
Imagine a scenario where a player plays around an average 100 hands an hour online compared to an average of 30 hands offline. Now, if the same player is multi-tabling and sits on 3 tables, he’s playing a whopping 300 hands per hour.
This huge difference in hourly hand rate makes a big difference for someone who understands the dynamics and knows the value of volume.
Come on, we’ve all done it! Online players hit-and-run all the time. Conversely, it’s very rare that a live table will allow you to make a run for it if you’ve just double-upped. I feel that a player is at an advantage if there is no 'call time'. Hit-and run aside, there is no pressure on you and you don't have to spend hours protecting your stack.
Bet Sizing and Table Information
In online games, all information is visible. In live games, you need to constantly calculate your stack size, opponents stack, relative stacks (when in a hand), etc.
Also, there is a difference in bet sizing. Online players normally tend to make 3x big blind pre-flop raises while live players guesstimate and can open with 5x or even 6x. Same goes for raises on later streets wherein an online player will go for a half-pot, 3/4th or even full pot raise.
In the end, it all boils down to the personal preferences of the player. Typically, old-school players prefer live games while the younger generation is all about online play. Which is better? Your thoughts are as good as mine!