What are the main differences between online and offline poker?

What are the main differences between online and offline poker?

Should your decisions be influenced by whether you're online or not?

Online and offline poker are the exact same game in regards to the overall concept and rules, a pair of aces still gives you the highest chance of winning and a pair of twos still leaves you like a sitting duck. Many skills that are learned in one side of the game are extremely transferable, but are they as effective?

Many of the game's icons such as Phil Hellmuth used to ridicule the idea of online poker and disregard it as real poker and compare it to that of a video game due to its virtual nature. However there have been a number of professional players who have made it big online and then made the transfer to live games and been equally, if not more successful such as Tom Dwan.

Our guide on which hands are the best you can have in poker is a useful read if you're new to the game.

So what are the differences between online and live?  Here we cover a number of typical differences between the two dimensions of poker.

Access

The first big difference between the two not necessarily related to how the game is played but is a difference nevertheless, is access to games. Online poker provides 24/7 access to a variety of different games across numerous sites at all different levels of buy-ins and stakes. Whereas, live poker is more tricky and difficult for the average player to access a game suitable for them and usually requires a heftier buy-in. To find a live game of poker as an amateur player you would have to go a casino or card room dependent upon their game schedule, these can usually be found online and include all details of buy-in amount, re-buy-in ability, start time, late registration etc.

Size of Bets

The size of bets made by players usually varies across online and live games, maybe due to the psychology of physically holding your value or due to our risk-averse nature, we avoid inviting more players into the game with weak bets in live games when we can see who we’re playing against. Due to factors like this mentioned you will tend to see players online opening preflop with bets 2x,2.5x, or 3x the big blind whereas, in live games, it isn’t rare to see a player opening with 5x or 6x bet; the size of someone’s bet usually indicates the strength of their hand. Dependent upon the game you are playing in these factors can vary and other stipulations come into play. For example, in tournaments when a weaker player is matched up against a more experienced player or professional, it is not uncommon to see the more experienced player over-betting to try and confuse or “bully” the weaker player, making them lose track of the pot or force them into folding to minimilise their losses.

Call or Fold?

As mentioned previously about players tending to be more willing to bet big on preflop calls in live games, post-flop the tide of the game usually tends to change. Players tend to find that post-flop they’re less likely to make bigger bets with weak or medium-strength hands than they would online, this could again come down to the psychology of the game with your opponent right there in front of you as opposed to behind a screen. Also, it is notable that some of the best players in the game are also the best actors and it is not rare to see an experienced player flop or land the “nuts” (this is a term in poker used for the best possible hand) and continue to bet as if they have a weak hand, to entice and trap their opponent on the river, maximising their chip return. On the other hand of this, online there is a more common element of seeing big bluffs on the river in a bully attempt against an opponent. This is also more common when a player has a sizeable amount of chips more than their opponent and make this bluff to cover them and essentially make them make a decision based on their willingness to risk it all. 

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Bad Beats

Bad beats are when a player who has the stronger hand loses to a considerably poorer hand due to an unlucky run of the cards. An example of this would be two players going all-in preflop against one another with a pair of aces and a pair of sixes and a six coming on the flop giving the weaker handed player a set and now the highest chance of winning, when in essence you should never go all-in on a pair of sixes. These tend to be more common online as players are more willing to call, this can be due to the amount of value to enter tournaments, as entry can be as low as $1 or just because it is virtual and doesn’t seem as real to some players, therefore manipulating their interpretation of loss or risk.

Speed of the Game

Online poker is usually considerably faster than live poker, this is usually a deciding factor for some players and often players find live games too tedious and monotonous to participant in. This can correlate with the higher stakes in live games as usually players in are allowed more leniency when making a decision whereas online most sites give players an allotted amount of time for each decision and also a time bank if they’re struggling to come to a decision. In live games it is not rare to see a player take between 3-5 minutes to make a decision especially in the more experienced levels of the game.

Online Tells vs Live Tells

This is one of the biggest differences between the two types of poker, as this is usually what a player uses to inform their decision on whether to call, raise or fold. The role of the physical tell is obviously completely removed in the online game as you are unable to see your opponent. This leaves players in a position where concentration is key, meaning they would have to try to track each bet made by opponents as well as pots size during each phases of the round to try and inform their judgement as best they can. Other than being lag or a nit (loose-aggressive or low risk) player it is very hard to profile an online opponent through to lack of physical presence. Less experienced players tend to very easy to profile in live games as they are commonly known to give away a lot of information very quickly during the game.

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