Online vs. Live Poker
In the past when live games became tough to beat players turned to online poker to hone their skills, get multi-table bonuses, and make money. With the games online getting harder by the day it is quite ironic the same players find themselves heading back to the live tables where there is a new found abundance of fish from the televised exposure of poker. While the game is the same, NL Texas Hold’em, the similarities end rather quickly. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call anything not played online as “live” poker. This means casinos, home games, illegal back-office games, and anything that isn’t you sitting in front of a computer playing against people you cannot see.
While players are still dealt two cards, a flop/turn/river burned and turned, and the pot awarded to the best five-card hand, there really aren’t too many similarities between playing live and online. For those who have spent most of the career playing online, heading to a casino can be quite a shock, and vice versa. Breaking down the main differences in how the games are played, their rules, and the types of opponents you will find in each venue can go a long way in making your first experience in a new world a profitable one.
Moving past the obvious difference, the ability to interact and visually break down your opponent, the games really do play much differently. Common clichés placed on live poker include old men playing very nitty along with a slew of drunk people who have had too much fun at the casino throughout the day. This creates quite an interesting dynamic at the table because there is such a huge difference in play/style/ranges of these two types. The good part is each player is easily identifiable and should be easy to adjust to and exploit during your session. The third player you might find at your live table is the tight grinder who plays relatively well compared to his competition. Finally, and this is a bit of an anomaly, every now and then you will run into a good loose-aggressive player who, just like you, can adjust to his opponents.
Herein lies the main difference between online and live poker In general, the online games are much tougher at the same buy-in levels. The obvious reason for this is the lowest limits in live poker are generally $1/$2 or $1/$3 blinds compared to online poker where you can find $.01/$.02. Those who go to a casino and are not bankrolled for $1/$2 have a choice to either play a level well above their skill and bankroll or to not play at all. Just imagine if all of the fish you see at $.01/$.02 up to $.10/$.25 online had to immediately jump 10-100x in stakes against you. Chances are you could fare quite well against people who already are bad and have now added being on “scared money”. For reference, the skill level in a $1/$2 live game is most comparable to a $.05/$.10 Full Ring game on any major poker site. Sure, there are tight grinders playing 10% of hands but there are also plenty of loose fish just having a good time.
So what major adjustments are necessary for a player crossing over into a whole new world? Let’s break down online to live first. The major adjustment is obvious, instead of relaxing at home acting in any manner you want, your physical behavior can now have a major effect on your bottom line. It can be quite a shock having to handle chips, have a player stare you in the eye, or even having to deal with picking up your hole cards discretely. Here are a few quick band-aids to cover up the appearance of a player new to live poker:
-Practice looking at cards before you head to the casino. Everyone has a deck of cards around the house. Take them out and find the best way to view your cards in a way where no one else could possibly see them. The last thing you want is your opponents getting a peak at one or both of your cards during a hand.
-Along the same lines, make sure to either bring a card protector or use a poker chip in lieu of one. This is especially important for those in the 1 or 9 seat as on more than one occasion an overzealous dealer has mucked a player’s hand who was sitting to their left/right not realizing they wanted to play.
-Stacking your chips properly can help speed up game play and make uncomfortable situations easier. Always have your biggest denomination chips in plain sight. This will help players have a better idea of the amount of chips in your stack which will avoid them asking for a count every time you are in a pot together. Remember, this is not online poker; there is no magical pot-size or chip-count number hovering magically over the table. You are responsible for knowing both your opponent’s stack sizes and the pot size at any time.
-While you are involved in a hand keep table talk to a minimum. Most players new to live poker unintentionally give things away when they start talking. Either by appearing comfortable with a situation or showing some sort of nerves you can inadvertently give away the strength of your hand. Once you are comfortable at the table it is time to quickly identify your opponents and their playing styles. Because you will only be dealt 30 hands per hour it could take some time to get in-depth reads on the competition, but you should be able to get an overall understanding of their games by their appearance, style, and seeing them play a few hands. Pay attention to every show down and work through the hand in your mind. Did the player with pocket Kings limp in PF? What about the player with 78s, did he limp/raise/re-raise/etc…? Do the guys in seat 3 and 6 know each other? The player in Seat 2 is awfully chatty and playing every hand, he might actually have a clue.
As you play more and more live poker you will get a better understanding of what to look out for and begin type-casting players as soon as you sit down. From there it is just simple poker adjustments against each player type, punishing the loose/passive players and taking strong holdings up against your overly loose-aggressive opponents.
The move from live to online play can be somewhat difficult but because you are typically against worse players it tends to be a bit easier then moving from live to online. The $1/$2 Full Ring online games are full of tight-aggressive professionals who make a good living off of the games. There might be 1 or 2 fish at the most at each table and this leads to players who come from the live realm in no man’s land. Should they play the $1/$2 games online against tough opponents or drop down in stakes and work on their game? Most players make a basic mistake here, instead of moving down to stakes that are similar to the live games, building their online roll, and moving back up when necessary, they immediately feel their games are ready for online play.
But what most players do not understand is just how many more hands/hour you can play online to live with just a little practice. As mentioned before players can get in about 30 hands per hour in live games with professional dealers. In online play your typical Full Ring table will get anywhere from 55-70 hands in an hour. With twice as many hands per hour players could move down in stakes and still make the same hourly rate at $.50/$1. But this goes further, if you can 2 table, you could move down to $.25/$.50 and play up to 140 hands per hour, or almost 5 times as many hands as you might in a $1/$2 live game. This is exponential, but with some work and helpful tools such as PokerTracker, Heads-Up Displays, and Pokerstove, players have been known to run an excess of 20 tables at a time! Even those new to multi-tabling can start four-tabling with minimal effort which means anywhere from 220 to 280 hands an hour, or almost 10x as many as live poker. This could allow someone to move down to $.10/$.25 stakes and use a $600 roll to get the maximum deposit bonus at most poker sites.
Bonuses are another big difference between live and online poker and a big reason why a lot of online players enjoy multi-tabling and grinding out rakeback and large initial deposit bonuses. In live games players earn comp points which can be used for discounts on hotel rooms, free meals, or even show tickets. However, players rarely will ever receive cash back for playing in a casino. This is completely opposite from the online realm where most rooms practically throw money at new members in order to increase their poker room’s traffic. These bonuses require players to put in a large amount of hands but they are by all intensive purposes free money. A lot of live players coming over the online world are totally oblivious to these bonuses or rakeback offers and it can cost players tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. Most sites, such as PokerStars or FullTilt offer a 100% up to $600 initial deposit bonus and sites such as FullTilt also give qualifying players 27% rakeback. Rakeback is a great way to earn extra money as players receive a certain percentage of their rake paid back in cash every week or month. For some of the highest rake generators this can be over $100,000 a year.
The rules of each game, while at their simplest level are the same, can be a bit different. Yes, players are dealt two cards and the flop, turn, and river are dealt after each betting round but that is where a lot of similarities end. In live poker there are a few options not available in most online games including straddling, running it twice, and the ability to show your hand to your opponent before you act. Straddling is the act of placing a third blind, typically twice the size of the Big Blind, out before the flop. The most common position to straddle from is from UTG but players can also “Mississippi Straddle” which is to do so from any position at the table other than the blinds. Once a player straddles he/she will be initially skipped before the flop and actually be allowed to close the action. For example, if the player UTG straddles he goes from being first to act PF to last. The player to his left will begin the action and the straddler will have the option to check or raise if players have just called before them. This can increase the action at the table as it makes the pot even bigger before the flop and also forces the initial raise size to be larger as well.
Running-it-twice is something FullTilt and a few smaller sites have implemented but it has certainly not become too big in the online poker world. If two players find themselves all-in in live poker an agreement can be made to deal two boards (or two turn/rivers depending on where in the hand the all-in occurred) and the pot will be split if each player wins one of the two runs. Some casinos will allow this to happen and others will not but it certainly is a staple in high stakes games as it tends to create a gambling mentality. Some players have been known to run in three or four times which is the same idea but there are more boards dealt and the pot is divided accordingly.
Finally, in most live cash games players are allowed to reveal their hand before the action has been closed. This can be beneficial to those who feel they can get a “read” off of their opponent’s reaction to seeing their hand. Be careful, however, as some rooms do not allow this and revealing your hand can cause it to be dead, forcing you to forfeit the pot. Those new to live poker should be aware of this type of ploy and not be caught off guard if a cagey veteran pulls such a stunt at the table.
Online games have their subtle changes as well. Players must act much faster in these games and this is enforced by an automatic clock which initially gives a player 15 seconds to make each decision and allows for an additional 60-120 seconds of “timebank” for tougher decisions. As mentioned before, online games have options such as the display of the pot-size, chip counts, or bet amounts. Players can also choose to use a four color deck which can make multi-tabling much easier. Instead of red and black cards each suit will have its own individual color. There are also some innovative ideas which are only possible online such as FullTilt and Rush Poker. Rush is a new way to play an old game, as it takes players from seat to seat after the completion of each hand. Players can sit on just one table and play more than 250 hands per hour this way.
While the games are the same and in its purest form poker remains unchanged there are still big differences between live and online poker. Both live and online poker can be fun, profitable, and a great way to stay entertained. Be sure to take some time before you venture into a new arena to fully understand the characteristics of each game and give yourself the best chance to succeed in a new situation.