For many U.S. players, Black Friday has meant the end of playing poker online.  For those players, the only way to currently play poker without the worry of legality or cashouts is to go to a brick and mortar cardroom and play honest to god live poker.  I happen to be one of those players, and the transition from online play to live has not been a super easy one for me.  Here are some of the reasons why:

1) Chip stacks and potsizes.

When playing online, the software simply tells you exactly how much is in your opponents’ stacks and how much is in the pot.  When playing live, you have to determine this yourself.  While it wouldn’t seem that this would impose a huge challenge, it is more difficult than you would think, especially when you are first starting out.  Players often don’t keep their stacks in standard stacksizes, so what you think at first glance is 6 stacks of $100 each for a total of $600 might actually be 6 stacks of $70 or 6 stacks of $150 for a total of between $420-900.  When you are playing in tournaments or in NL cash knowing your opponents’ stacksizes is often a critical part in the equation when you are determining whether and how to play a hand.  Similarly, knowing how much is in the pot in a live game is much more of a challenge because the chips are just strewn haphazardly in a big pile and it is up to you as the player to determine how much is in the pot.  If you aren’t keeping track of how much is in the pot at all times it is quite easy to make a bad estimation as to how much is actually in the pot.

In regards to stacksizes, the biggest solution for me has simply been to ask my opposing players about how much they have in their stacks – if they are unwilling to tell me verbally, then I usually will use my color-blindedness as an excuse and ask the dealer for a guesstimate.  I have been playing live long enough now that I should be able to know approximately how much my opponents have – but I am just really bad at knowing whether a stack has 20 chips or 25 chips or whatever in it, so I still ask all the time.

In regards to potsizes, you just really need to stay on top of it and keep a running total in your head.  If you don’t you will find yourself in spots where you are making horrific calls when you aren’t getting nearly the right odds or just as bad, you will make horrific folds where the pot is laying you something like 4:1 and you only need 2:1 to call and you fold because you don’t know the potsize.

2) Your game selection is likely to be greatly limited.

When I played online, I could choose pretty much any type of game I wanted to play at any time.  In Las Vegas, many cardrooms offer a decent selection of games, but none come close to the variety you could choose online.  And in local cardrooms your selection will often be even more limited.  At my local cardroom my options are limited to playing in either a $1/2 or occasionally a $2/5 NL game, or choosing to play in Limit games from $1/2 to $4/8 up to the occasional $20/40 game.  Considering that I was a fulltime MTT (multi-table tournament) player, this means that I was forced into playing a game that I don’t consider myself to be as proficient in.  Unfortunately, there is no real solution to this.  All you can do is pick the game that you are best suited for and dive in.

3) Playing only one table at a time is MUCH SLOWER

Online play churns out more hands per hour simply because there is no dealer who has to physically deal out cards, and there is a time limit on hands played.  Moreover online, you could play more than one table at a time.  I never got super adept at multi-tabling, but even I could play 8 tables at a time relatively easily online.  This meant that I was receiving 8 times as many hands as I would have been if I was playing only at one table.  A super good dealer and a fast acting live table means that you will generally see around 30 hands an hour.  Online you could easily see 250 hands an hour if you were multi-tabling.  Considering that you are dealt AA on average once every 220 hands, this means that on average online you could play AA at least once an hour; whereas live you will only get them about once every 7 hours.

So what does this mean for us?  It means we have to be more patient.  It becomes really easy to become impatient when playing live and try to force the issue in spots that are not very good.  In other words, it is pretty common for a hand like 99 or AQo to be the best hand you will see in an hour, and you will have the urge to play that hand to the very end just because you haven’t played anything else.  Often, the game situation will be such that you need to resist this urge.  Just because we are getting fewer hands an hour doesn’t (necessarily) mean that we should be bluffing more often.

3) The rake and tipping may very well kill our profits.

Because there are no dealers or floor people who have to be paid online, the rake is generally lower.  Further because there are no live personnel online, there is no one to tip.  In live games it is pretty standard to have a $4 drop in pretty low-limit games and often another $1 drop for a jackpot.  When you include at least a $1 tip for every hand you win where a flop is seen, then you are talking about a $2-3 loss per pot that you are forced to incur live in comparison to an online game.  These per pot losses that you incur add up big time.

What does this mean for those of us who are transitioning to live play?  Well one thing it means is that you need to resist the urge to tip your dealer more in big pots.  You will often see players who tip the dealer more when they win a big pot.  But the more you do this, the more you are cutting from your own profits.  Remember, all the dealer is doing is giving you cards and making the game run as quickly as possible.  I am not saying don’t tip them, but for me at least, in low limit games, I tip them $1 per pot that I win when a flop is seen.  It doesn’t matter how big the pot is.  I am playing poker to make money, not to make friends with the dealers.

The other thing this means, is that you really need to keep good records.  It is very possible in low-limit games that you might not be able to beat the rake unless you are an excellent player.  If you find that you can’t beat the rake, then you need to either stop playing or be honest and know that you are truly going to play to gamble and not because you expect to make money.

4) Know the house rules.

The last point about transitioning to live play, is that you need to be aware of any house rules.  It isn’t possible to do things like fold out of turn, make a string bet, or even muck a winning hand online.  It is very possible to do these things live.  Rules change from casino to casino and rules can be enforced differently even in the same casino (one floor manager may give you one ruling and a different floor manager would give a totally different ruling).  As a new player to a casino, an easy way to avoid mistakes is to make sure to verbally declare what action you want to take and declare exactly how much you want to raise.  Also if there is any dispute or anything you are unclear of, don’t hesitate to call a floor manager over and ask – it’s their job to resolve disputes and answer your questions.

If you are like me and have been forced to play live, hopefully these tips will help you when you make your first voyage to a live casino.

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Transitioning from Online to Live Play
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