Online Poker vs Live Poker
There are a number of notable differences between live and online poker. Although the fundamentals of the game are largely the same either way, the overall experience you get from playing live is simply not the same as the experience you get from playing online. Some of the differences can actually have a significant impact on certain aspects of the game.
In this article we're going to do a comprehensive comparison of live and online poker by taking a detailed look at a number of areas where the two differ. We'll also consider the effects that these two options have on players, based on their differences, and try to determine whether online poker or live poker has the most advantages to offer.
Speed of Play
This is easily one of the biggest and most tangible differences between online poker and live poker. Playing online is a lot faster, for fairly obvious reasons. Much of what takes up time at live poker tables is done automatically and therefore much more quickly at online poker sites. There's no need for the deck to be manually shuffled after each round, the cards are "dealt" in a split second, and any chip counts are done instantly.
These things all have a major impact on how long it takes to play a hand.When playing live you can expect to see around 30 hands per hour at the most, whereas online you can expect to see at least double that on average.
You might not think that this faster pace is a big deal, but it really is. If you're a winning player then playing more hands should ultimately equate to making more money, and even if you're just playing for fun you'll probably find the fast pace games far more enjoyable. The slow pace in the live environment can get very frustrating, particularly if you're not getting good cards. A lot of your valuable time may be wasted just waiting for something to happen.
Online wins. The faster game makes for a better all-round experience.
Convenience & Comfort
Playing online poker is definitely more convenient than playing live, especially if you don't live anywhere near a casino or poker room. There's no need to make a trip, as you can play any time you choose just by firing up your computer and logging into whichever site you use. A lot of sites even allow you to play from mobile device these days, so you can even squeeze in a quick session when you are out and about if you want to.
As a general rule, playing online is a much more comfortable experience. The chairs in most poker rooms aren't necessarily uncomfortable but they don't compare to the comfort you feel from playing at your own home. You can sit (or lie down) wherever you want when you're playing online, and you don't even have to get dressed if you don't want to. It's not like your online opponents can see you!
Online wins easily. It's far more convenient to play and generally more comfortable.
Many live poker rooms around the world are only open during certain hours. Even the ones that are open 24 hours can't guarantee that you'll always be able to find games to join. It's quite possible that you could visit at a time when there's only one tournament running that you're too late to enter. It's equally possible that you could visit at a time when all the cash game tables are full and there's a lengthy waiting list made up of other players waiting for a seat just like you.
You don't run into these problems online. Poker sites never close and you'll always find games running around the clock. Some times are busier than others, so you're not always guaranteed to find action at your preferred game and stakes, but there'll always be something for you to play.
Online wins again. Game availability is much better at online poker sites.
One of the drawbacks to playing online is that you miss out on the social factor. Most sites include a chat function on their tables, so you can at least communicate with your fellow players, but it's really not the same as actually talking to them in person.
The ability to have a laugh and a joke with opponents is a big part of what makes poker such an enjoyable game for many players. Some players aren't too bothered by this aspect of course, preferring just to focus on their game, but overall it's fair to say that the social factor is something that gives live poker the edge over playing online. It just adds a little something extra to your overall experience.
Live wins this one. Poker is a clearly a more social affair in a live environment.
The selection of games available at poker sites isn't even comparable to what's available in a live environment. There's a massive variety of games to choose from online, whereas your options are usually quite limited in even the biggest live poker rooms.
Most poker sites offer several different variations of the game for starters. Texas Hold'em is the most popular but there are plenty of variants you can play too. The larger sites typically offer all of the following:
- Omaha Hi/Lo
- Seven Card Stud
- Five Card Draw
- Mixed Game Formats (e.g. H.O.R.S.E.)
Most of the above are usually available in both cash game and tournament formats. You have a choice of betting structures too with limit, no limit, and pot limit all widely available. You can also choose whether to play full ring (up to nine or ten players), short-handed (maximum of six players), or heads-up (just two players).
We also cannot overlook the wide range of tournaments offered online. In terms of size you'll find everything from small sit and go tournaments to large field multi-table tournaments and there are many different types of tournaments as well. Freeze-outs, re-buys, guaranteed, knockouts, turbos, and satellites are just some the most common types.
Online wins and it's not even close. The selection of games available online is huge.
Range of Stakes
One of the major advantages of playing online is that there's a wide range of stakes that's suitable for all budgets. You can play cash games with blinds as low as $0.01/$0.02 and there are tournaments which can cost as low as one dollar to enter. There are also plenty of high stakes available for those who like to wager substantial amounts and everything in between is covered also.
This is quite a contrast to what you'll find in your typical live poker room. Many places are very limited in terms of the range of stakes available and even the bigger rooms with a more complex range don't compare to what's available online.
Another easy win for online. Most poker sites offer stakes to suit all budgets.
Option to Multi-Table
For any of you that aren't familiar with this term, multi-tabling can be defined as playing at multiple tables at the same time. This is easy to do at most online poker sites, but it's essentially impossible to do in live casinos.
Many recreational players and almost all beginners aren't affected by this. They typically have absolutely no interest in multi-tabling, preferring to concentrate on playing as well as they can in one single game.
It does affect a lot of more experienced players though and certainly those that play poker full time, as the option to multi-table allows them to make money at a significantly faster rate. Therefore, it has to be considered a big advantage to playing online.
Online wins. Mutli-tabling enables many players to make a lot more money.
Reads & Tells
Reading your opponents is a big deal if you want to be a successful poker player. You don't need to be able to literally read their mind, but it will certainly be beneficial to you if you're good at figuring out what they're doing and why.
There are two main ways that you can get a good read on an opponent. One is by studying the way they play and analyzing it, as this gives special insight into their overall playing style and how they act in certain situations. The other is by studying them physically and looking for any tells in their body language that might give something away about the cards they hold or how they are about to bet.
The first method mentioned above can be used in both a live environment and online. The second method can only really be used when playing live though. This highlights one of the very significant advantages that live play offers over online play; the ability to physically observe your opponents and gain information on them. This simply cannot be replicated online and for some players it's absolutely vital to how they play the game.
Live wins. The ability to gain physical reads on your opponents can be invaluable.
Another notable difference between playing live and online is that there's no automatic record of your hands in a live environment, whereas at poker sites all your hands are recorded and available for you to review upon request. This might not be a difference that many people think about when comparing these two options of playing poker, but it's actually a very significant aspect that shouldn't be overlooked.
The record of the hands you have played (which is commonly referred to as your "hand history") can be a very valuable tool when it comes to developing your game. It enables you to study and analyze all your past play, which is something you really should be doing if you want to improve your skills. Unless you have a truly incredible memory, you won't be able to do this analysis on your live play.
Online wins. It's much easier to analyze your own game when playing on the web.
Bonuses & Rewards
This difference is a very simple one and relevant to a lot of players. Virtually all poker sites give their players some form of extra value in the way of bonuses and rewards, while live poker rooms generally do very little by comparison. Some sites can be quite generous to their regular players, but some do nothing at all. As a general rule there's far more extra value available to earn online.
Online wins comfortably. Poker sites give away far more extra value than live rooms.
Final Score: Online Poker 8 - Live Poker 2
From the differences we've discussed here it seems pretty clear that online poker has more advantages than live poker. The issues of convenience and availability are the biggest advantages in our opinion, closely followed by the much greater variety of games and stakes available online.
We wouldn't go as far as to state that online poker is indisputably better than live poker though. We've demonstrated a number of advantages it has when comparing the two, but which one is "best" is ultimately a matter of personal preference. It's also worth noting that you don't have to choose one or the other, as it's perfectly possible to enjoy playing both!
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: August 2015
Related Poker Articles