Online Poker to Live (and Back): 7 Rules for Making the Switch

Isaac Haxton
Everybody's doing it.

So you've mastered online poker, you crush your game for 5BB/100 and everyone on 2+2 thinks you're the man.

Maybe it's time to try your hand at those juicy live games you've heard so much about? How different can it be?

Yes, the rumors are true - live games are incredibly juicy. But if you can't adjust to the subtle intricacies of live poker, you won't be as big a winner as you should be (or think you should be).

Below are the major differences between online poker and live poker and how to adjust your game

Switching From Online Poker to Live

1) Live Games are Slower

The biggest change, and it will hit you right away, is that live games are slower. Much, much slower.

Not only are you forced to play just one table but the game itself takes much longer to play out. While you may get more than 80 hands per hour per table online you'll be lucky to get 30 live.

Fewer hands mean a lot more folding. And a lot more boredom. But don't just shut your brain off - use your free time to observe your opponents.

If you can stay sharp, watch your opponents and break down their playing styles, when you end up in a hand with them a few hours down the road you're going to have a huge advantage.

Donkey hat
Average tables are much, much softer.

2) Average Live Tables are Much Softer

Making up somewhat for how slow live poker is is how much softer your average table is.

When you play online you may consider it a good table if there's one full-stacked fish.

When you play live at $5/$10 and below, your average table consists of two real fish, two gamblers (the fishy kind), four super-tight "regulars" and maybe two good players (including, you hope, you).

The whole table is softer. The fish are fishier and the regs are more predictable. There are even players that are so tight you can guarantee any time they raise it's either KK, AA or the nuts.

These players would be eaten alive online but because there are so many more fish live they can still beat the game. As easy as it is to wait for the nuts and relentlessly value-bet against the fish, it's just as easy to raise the tight regs and push them around.

When they push back, fold. It's an easy game.

3) Live Games are More Loose-Passive

If you've come from the online six-max arena it's going to be shocking to you how passive these games are.

Online, it may be profitable to four-bet shove/call shoves with AK from any position pre-flop. If you do it live, you'll find AA-KK every time and you'll get killed.

Light three-betting is almost non-existent. When most players re-raise, it's almost always for value. Watch your opponents - they may go a whole session without a single three-bet. Some players even just flat-call QQ and AK, opting to play poker on the flop.

If you're regularly getting AK in pre-flop 100bb deep (or more) in a live game, you're going to have a tough time booking wins.

Guy Laliberte
Limp, limp and more limp.

Moving past just pre-flop play, the whole game is much more passive. Rather than raising with draws, players will just call and hope to hit. They'll also slow play monsters rather than build a big pot and they'll miss obvious river value-bets.

4) Pre-Flop Limping is Still Rampant

Connected to #3 above, there's a ton of limping pre-flop in live games. Online you can tell who the fish are by who limps. Live, it isn't the same.

Everybody limps - and limps a lot. If you tried to isolate every single time someone limped, you'd just find yourself taking 4- and 5-way flops regularly.

Live players like to see the flop. So, rather than iso-raising with T 8 off the button, you may just be better off seeing a flop 6-way.

5) More Pots are Contested Multi-Way

Online, 90% of pots are heads-up to the flop. Live, your average pot is usually 2- or 3-handed. With more players comes more chance someone has a real hand.

As the pre-flop raiser you should continuation-bet less. You'll also need, on average, a better hand to win at showdown.

6) Live Games are Deeper

If you're a winner online you've mastered play with a 100bb stack. But when you play live, you'll find yourself 200bb deep (or more) very often.

Tom Dwan
Just play your game.

Adjusting to deep-stack play can be very difficult. You'll often play hands where, if you were 100BB deep, you'd just happily get it in on the flop. But if you're 300bb deep, it's no longer profitable.

Should you choose to call, you'll have to call large bets on the turn and river as well.

7) Just Play Your Game

Whether it's live or online, your goal remains the same: either make your opponent fold before showdown or have the best hand at showdown.

Watch your opponents, study their playing habits and play your poker game. The rest is just experience.

So get up from your computer, go be sociable for a bit and take advantage of the softer games. You may be surprised with what you've been missing.

Going from Live Full Ring to Online Six Max?

If, on the other hand, you're trying to dive into online poker after mostly playing live, you'll find some equally important rules to abide by.

Shorthanded No-Limit Hold'em - or "six-max" - is by far the most popular game being played online today. It's an ultra-aggressive, action-packed game and if you're coming from a live poker background, you may find these games difficult to adjust to.

The core of the game remains exactly the same: you're dealt two cards, and there are five community cards. Your goal is to make the best five-card hand. The only real physical difference in six-max is that there are four less seats at the table. But how much does that really change the game?

blomlondon2
Online games can be tough.

1) Online Games are Tougher

For some stubborn players this may be difficult to believe - or at least difficult to accept. But it's the truth.

Online games, on average, are much more difficult than their live counterparts at the same stakes. There are a few reasons why that is.

When you're playing online, its just you, by yourself, vs. your opponents with no distractions. Because the game is less social than the live variant, generally the players themselves are more serious.

By contrast casino poker, for a large percentage of the players, is a social game. People come to play and talk and drink and have a good time.

The poker, though still an integral part, is just the means to an end of a night out. The real goal is having a good time.

Since online poker isn't as social a game, the people that play online have to find poker interesting enough on its own to be motivated to play. Those people on average tend to be more serious players.

Note: At the microstakes, though, the opposite is true - players are even worse than they are at a live poker room.

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2) Online Poker is Much Faster

What you give up in soft games live you get back in total number of hands online. Online players are the new generation. They aren't happy sitting around in a card room waiting for their 20 hands an hourt.

Online poker is instantaneous - the cards are dealt in an instant, the hand plays out in a snap, and the pot is shipped immediately with no mistakes. Everything is faster. You literally can play more hands in a single day online than you could in an entire month of live play.

James Mackey
Online games move fast.

3) Online Poker is More Aggressive

The biggest difference between live full-ring games and online short-handed games is that the players are infinitely more aggressive online than their live counterparts.

In six-max No-Limit Hold'em, loose-aggressive is no longer a dirty word. Adjusting to that aggression is usually the most difficult factor for a live player making the switch.

In a six-max game, everyone is forced to play more hands. When you're paying a blind in one in three hands, you can no longer just sit around waiting for aces - the action is forced.

The good news is that not everyone adjusts well. There is a lot of dead money from players that either do not adjust or incorrectly adjust.

You can't play six-max like it's a full-ring game. A basic TAG style is easily read and when you are forced to play more hands that can be a recipe for disaster.

4) Hand Ranges Are Much Wider Online

With fewer players at the table, the risk of domination is diminished. You no longer have to worry about nine players behind you waking up with a bigger hand.

An easy way to think about your playable hand range is to think about the hands you would play when the first four players fold to you in a full-ring game. That includes suited connectors from 6-7 and up, pocket pairs, broadway cards, premiums etc.

In six-max, loose-aggressive isn't the dirty word - it's limping that's the no no. In a short-handed game it's very rarely ever correct to limp. You're best off coming in raising or not coming in at all.

The reason is simple. When you raise you give yourself more ways to win. You seize control of the hand. You can win the pot immediately, you can win the pot on the flop with a continuation bet, or you can win the pot at showdown with the best hand.

When you limp you have zero initiative. You can only win the hand with the best hand at showdown. You'll be left guessing, with no initiative, and the aggressive players will have their way with you. Not a winning strategy.

Phil Hellmuth
Not built for online 6-max.

5) Online 6-Max is About Post-Flop Play

In a six-max game the focus is on post-flop play. Players play extremely loose pre-flop but once the flop is down and the betting gets big on the turn and river, watch out.

Six-max is a post-flop game and if you play well post-flop there is plenty of money to be made.

In a full-ring game you can get away with playing like a robot before the flop, folding all your trash and waiting for a good hand. Playing tight and playing only good hands pre-flop is a sound strategy as it makes your decisions after the flop easier.

In a six-max game where you are forced to play more hands, you give up some of that easy decision edge and you will be put in more difficult situations post-flop.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since everyone will have to make tough decisions. And if you make better decisions than your opponent, you'll win the money in the long run.

Focus on playing your best, reading hands and putting your opponent on a range. If you can do that better than your opponents you will be literally printing money as the better player given the amount of hands you'll play with them.

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6) The Magic Formula for Online Poker

Ok, there is no magic formula for online poker. You just have to realize that the players are a little bit tougher and are more aggressive.

They will value-bet thinner and they will bluff more but the game remains the same. If you play solid post-flop poker and make better decisions than your opponents, you should beat six-max online at the lower stakes.

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bill 2014-03-27 03:30:25

in real life, you can expect way way less miracle cards..............people that play weak hands will be eaten up.........you will begin to realize the cards are not real online

in real life you can believe you hand will hold up..................unlike online...........where good hands are suck out hands..............

online poker is not the same game as real poker

Panda 2012-03-19 10:29:59

Intresting --this explains why I hear alot about 3-betting but I have very rarely seen it live

Mike K 2010-01-21 00:16:56

Great Article, I mix my game play between live and on-line, one thing I have been unable to find is the delineation between 6max and full table, I would love to see an article on this, pot sizes, hand strength, whether 6max on-line is more profitable, do you see more flops. I know that things like pocket pairs and suited connectors have more value then FT

Mike

Sean Lind 2009-10-10 07:17:00

Bennie, this article was actually written by my friend and co-worker here Daniel Skolovy, but it is a good article!

As for heads up, if you're playing correctly, especially at six-max, 90% of all the pots you play will be heads up, since you will almost never play without first coming in for a raise.

bennie99 2009-10-09 09:40:00

Good artcile again Sean but I don't think 90 per cent of pots online are heads up to the flop at all! I don't play any higher than 1/2 dollar when I play cash games, but certainly I don't find that at all. I presume, however, that when you move up the stakes, this is the case.

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