Online Versus Live Play

Jared Hubbard

The topic has been discussed before, but I hope this article will help make the difference between the two types of play clear for beginners wanting to make a switch.

Online poker is a much different game than live poker. The timing, the speed of play, the rate at which you can go broke and the quality of your opponents are all in stark contrast online to what you would encounter playing live. Playing online has a lot to recommend it, although perhaps not for the reasons you might think..

Hands per Hour

One of the most important things to understand about online poker is your hands-per-hour ratio. At a live table with a top-shelf dealer, you'll be getting around 30 hands per hour at a No-Limit game. Having a rookie dealer sit at your table can lower your HPH ratio down to as low as 10.

At a standard online table, your HPH ratio will usually be over 60. Then factor in playing multiple tables. Even if you're only playing two online tables, you're still seeing four times as many hands as you would playing live. Most online poker professionals play a minimum of four tables at once.

On sites such as PokerStars you have the ability to play as many tables as your screen will fit.

If you are playing poker properly and well, then the money you make is directly correlated to the number of hands you're dealt. This reason alone gives online poker the ability to be much more profitable than live. I'm not saying it always is; just that it has the potential.

Another benefit to online play is that the more hands you see, the quicker you're going to learn to play the game. One week of online poker can have you dealt into more hands than 2 months in a cardroom.

While we're on the topic, I want to set the record straight: Online poker is not rigged.

Patrik Antonius
Patrik Antonius built his huge roll online, and used it to buy a gigantic watch.

Online poker is legit.

Online poker is just as random as a standard deck being shuffled at your local casino.

Every time I sit down to play online poker, some bozo will lose a pot and start to complain the site is rigged, or it's a joke, or that it always happens on this site. "I don't even play trips anymore; they always lose on this site". This is ridiculous.

There are four reasons people think online poker is rigged:

1) When you are seeing over eight times as many hands in one session as you do live, you will be seeing over eight times as many bad beats and suck-outs.

2) The quality of players online is sub-par. You get far more huge calls with hands that are completely dominated. That is how a suck-out starts.

3) People remember bad beats; they don't remember that out of the last 20 sets they had, 13 of them got folded to (that's a win) and four of them won a big pot. But they do remember every detail of the last three that lost.People have too much ego. No one wants to admit they made a mistake. Everyone drives in the fast lane on the highway, because no one will admit that they are slower traffic. It's much easier to say that you lost because the site is rigged, than that it could have had something to do with how you played the hand.

Time to Act

Another reason you get dealt far more hands online is that the setup of online play forces every player to act in a very small amount of time (most sites' turnaround time is about 20 seconds).

Having a ticking clock adds significant pressure, and forces an amateur to act before they have actually come to a decision. This causes people to make more mistakes on the table. The more mistakes others are making, the more money you should be making.

Speed of Descent

Whether it's a result of tilt, exhaustion or any other outside factor, as a poker player you will start playing bad poker from time to time. When you start to play bad poker, you start to lose your money.

The speed in which this happens live is slow - you have time to think about every pot you lost between hands, you have time to realize that you're making mistakes and you're usually are able to walk away before your whole stack is gone.

When playing online, the speed at which you are getting dealt hands and the fact that you're on multiple tables can cause you to absolutely self-destruct. The speed of descent in online poker is vastly increased.

It's very common to have a little meltdown, and before you realize what went on, you've lost your stack across multiple tables online. The same meltdown that would have cost you a portion of one buy-in live can lose you multiple buy-ins online.

As dumb as it sounds, another contributing factor to the online meltdown is that no one can see you do it. People will get embarrassed if they're playing bad poker at a table, and not want to be seen being a donkey.

When you're playing online, you're alone and anonymous. It makes it easy to say "Screw it" and just go off the deep end. Another reason for this acceleration of losses can attributed to learned helplessness (click here to read all about it)

Brad Booth
Brad Booth, one of the toughest live cash players, has yet to find his online "A" game.

Quality of Players

The quality of players online can be simply horrid. The reason is simple:I If someone knows they're horrible at poker, they don't want to embarrass themselves at a casino, so they play online.

You have drunk people, and people coming home on tilt after losing a session of poker live. There are many factors, but the point is, online players suck.

Because there are so many poor players online, it means that people will be making far more mistakes. If you have multiple people all making mistakes on all the tables you are sitting on, then you don't have to do anything creative at all. All you have to do is play solid poker, not make any mistakes yourself, and they'll give you their money.

At times this can be irritating. When you're playing against all amateurs, you're not able to make any serious bluffs, no advanced plays... basically you don't get to flex your poker muscle. But remember, you're making money. That's why we play poker, is it not?


I can't stress enough how wonderful rake-back is. Rake-back is the No. 1 reason I like online poker. If you're getting a large amount of rake-back, then you will be making decent money at a poker table, without having to win a cent.

You can break even on the tables, and make money simply from rake-back. The way you should look at it, you're getting paid to play online poker. This is something you don't get live. The rake-back systems at live casinos just don't come close to the amount of money that can be made from rake-back online.

So, yes: you'll have to put up with inept, inebriated opponents, but the opportunities to pad your bankroll are irresistible. Online play will never take the place of sitting down at the green felt, but it can help you pass the time, rack up the ducats and maybe even improve the caliber of your play.

More strategy articles from Sean Lind:

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Anon 2015-05-15 15:36:43

I still see some guy who are just terrible online.

These days, the difference between live and online play is the delta of competition you'll encounter.

Live, sure, occassionally you'll play a guy who is like 80/5 FR. Even the weaker live players have a field day pointing out how bad he is. But in general, though, your loose passives won't be that loose/passive, your maniacs won't be that maniacal, and your nits will be...well, no, the nits will still be the Rock of Gibraltar. What you'll also get less of live are absolute crushers. I have a few friends in the live game that are dominant, but most pros I know are simply grinders, trying to play a solid 15/11 FR style (limit hold em), take a half a bet an hour out of the game, and go home. They'll play straightforward and won't go for soul-crush plays with any deep understanding of your range/tendencies.

OTOH, online 6 max FLHE is full of some absolute morons (52/7, 80/52, 90/47, 39/0 are all guys I play against regularly) regarding the game of poker. Some chase any discernable draw until they're confident they are drawing dead, some constantly try to barrel you off a hand, some attempt to free card in position religiously. They all lose at a velocity I couldn't fathom (like -15 BB/100 type guys). But on the other end of the spectrum, you get LAGTAG crushboxes who just play their hands really well. They play a solid 30/23 - 39/30 6 max style, they go for thin value, they bluff, they take lines that can be indicative of a wide range of hands (meaning you can't make the exploitative laydown of QJ on J88-2 when the fish who just cold called your raise and called the flop suddenly springs to life on the turn). Regularly when I play higher limits (15/30 or 30/60), my table will consist of myself, 3-4 strong regs, and 1-2 total fish. Easily tougher than any live game I'll play.

So long story short, you'll come across more experts online, but you'll also come across more total idiots who want to slam $10k down and start flinging $.

Tony 2014-09-15 02:49:46

Wish online poker players were still terrible in 2014.

dbaddog 2014-04-07 23:17:36

the one thing about online poker to be really careful about are teams. You don't know who at the table knows someone else at the table and are exchanging hand info. It happens in casinos as well but online it if prevalent. just keep your eyes open, pay attention, and you can catch it....then run!!

Ryan 2012-12-04 00:06:00

I think you are right on most of it but majorly wrong about the quality of player online vs the casino and im talking at the bigger stakes not microstakes. The players in a live casino are generally far easier to play many limpers etc that you can isolate.
Also noone is using HUD in a casino either.

Sam W 2012-05-05 09:35:26

Sean, For the most part I agree with what you wrote in this article. I think I'm a pretty solid live player but it's a two hour drive to my casino so I started playing online. I have made plenty of bad beats when I got my money in at the wrong time but usually with a good strong hand and a bad play. Eg I have KQ, Flop is AQ4, Turn K and I get it in when my oponent has AQ and the river Q makes me the winner. But, I can honestly say after eviewing my hands using HM2, I have put my money in with AA or KK over 250 times in the last year, the flop has had me with top set and some idiot has called my preflop 4 bet with Q7suited to flush me out on the river etc. How the hell are you supposed to get good value from these sort of hands without getting all the bad beats from rediculous calls. Even just today, I had over $600 at the table (equivilent of 3x buy in)I was on the button, had KK, UTG+1 raised to $8 on a 1/2 NLH table, all others fold and I raise to $32, he snap calls me. Mind you, the other player and I have been at the same table for around 3 hrs, so we have a fair idea of each others play and we both have the bigger stacks. Flop comes out Q34 rainbow. He leads out $40 into a $43 pot making it $83, I raise $120 making it now a $80 call for him. He calls. Now there is $283 in the middle. Turn is a K. Now I'm excited. He bets $285 and I reraise him all in. He snap calls and the cards turn over. He has pocket 4's and hit his set on the flop, I turned my obviously much larger set (top set).... Now, the river card is another 4. Obviously he wins this very large pot. How can I avoid this situation? All the books I read and all the players I play with all say I should get my money in there and I did. What I have trouble with is the variance. I win small pots and lose really big pots when I get my money in good. I just don't get why I seem to be losing such a large amount online when my starting hands range is very solid and I never go all in preflop without AA or KK and I never go all in unless I have the nuts at that point in the hand and yet I am not a winning player online. What can I do to iprove my play? Obviously, I must still be the donkey at the table...

Rik N 2011-03-07 14:59:15

Nice article, I agree with the things you wrote, but imo you forget 1 big advantage to playing poker online: easy access. In the weekend i get up, pour myself a cup of coffee while i turn on the pc, and after 2 minutes i'm playing poker against people from all over the world. Whereas playing in the casino, you have to drive there and it has to be open. Also, If you play a home game with friends instead of online, you have to find enough friends with time to play. And although i make more money with online poker, I prefer playing live with friends (or in the casino). Simply because online poker can be very boring at times, whereas playing live, your enjoying yourself together with your friends.

Jerome B 2010-09-15 11:32:11

Telling me PStars isn't rigged ??? howcome they allways suck out on me ?? Its a conspiracy !!!
I trap em with 7-2os, they come over the top with JJ-AA and i lose, hows that possible ?

John O 2010-05-14 00:25:16

Sean you comment about online poker not being rigged and no one has commented. This i trully cant beleive!!!!!

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