Live poker is a lot easier than online poker.
Unless you’ve never stepped foot in a casino or played a hand of online poker, you probably already knew that. But do you know why?
There are actually a handful of reasons that online games and players end up tougher than their live counterparts:
- The money at stake is more valuable to online players.
- Live players are less likely to learn from online resources.
- Cliques of live players are less likely to challenge each others’ ideas.
- Online players put in more volume and take advantage of tracking software.
- Live players experience more short term variance, which can lead to bad habits.
- The online poker lifestyle attracts the best players.
Some of these reasons are more prevalent than others, but they’re all common in the poker world. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
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#1. Money Is More Valuable to Online Players
Online players are much younger on average. They’re often just starting out with small amounts of money, to the point where it’s even difficult for them to scrape together the $300-$500 needed just sit in a live game.
Mustering a full live bankroll is a near-impossible task. A proper bankroll for $1/$2 live No Limit, which is the lowest games most areas offer, is about $4000.
On the other hand, scrape together $500 and you have yourself 20 buy-ins for 25nl online.
Heck, if you can find a way to get $100 you can confidently hop in the 5nl streets (the rake won’t be kind to you there, though.)
#2. Live Players Tend to Neglect Online Resources
Online players are very familiar with learning on the internet. They grew up more likely to use Wikipedia than an Encyclopedia.
Conversely, live players are an older, less tech savvy crowd. Many of them aren’t aware of all the amazing resources available online. Even some of the ones that are aware of things like training sites and tools choose not to use them, either because they don’t think it can help them or they just don’t have the desire.
Now, I’m not trying to pick on live players. They aren’t all like this, but here’s an example that illustrates how true this is in general.
Take a look at the two photos below. One is an online player wearing an Upswing Poker shirt and the other is a live player wearing the same shirt. Which one seems more out of place?
See what I mean?
#3. Live Player Cliques Are Less Likely to Challenge Each Other
There are countless “cliques” in the poker world and they almost always contain players around the same level as each other. There’s cliques of high stakes online poker players just as there are cliques of $1/$2 recreational players at a random casino in Oklahoma.
Being apart of groups like this is one of, if not the best ways to get better at poker. Having a circle of friends gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other and discuss past hands/mistakes. Being challenged mentally by someone who is near or at your skill level is amazing for growth.
(Note: Ready to take your poker game to the next level? The Upswing Lab is a comprehensive poker training course meant for both live and online players. Check it out by clicking below!)
Live poker player groups will often have a lot of bad advice and misinformation floating around them. The players are either too unaware or afraid to challenge those ideas, which leads to players taking misinformation as fact. There’s all sorts of horrible conventional wisdom out there in the live realm.
If I went to an online poker forum and suggested flatting a late position raise with AKs preflop, 10 people would immediately jump down my throat and call me an idiot.
Suggest the same thing to a group of low stakes live players and I’d often see nodding heads and hear:
Ya man, is a drawing hand!
#4. Online Players Play More Hands And Take Advantage of Tracking Software
This quote from baseball player Jim Russell applies to more than just his sport. The best way to get better at shooting free throws is to practice shooting free throws. The best way to get better at swimming is to get in the pool and swim.
Poker is no different. The more hands you play in poker, the quicker you’re going to improve.
Online poker tables average around 100 hands per hour, compared to around 30 hands per hour at live tables. Getting in over 3 times as many hands as live players gives online players a huge leg up when it comes to growth.
And we haven’t even factored in multi-tabling. Online players have the option to, and often do, play multiple tables, which makes the games much tougher on average.
Let’s say there are 100 good players and 50 weak players in a live poker room. There will be 16-17 tables filled and each one will have an average of 6 good players and 3 weak players.
Now let’s compare that to online. The 100 good players play an average of 4 tables while most of the 50 weak players stick to one table. There will be around 50 tables with an average of only 1-2 weak players per table.
Once to get to around mid-high stakes online you will be hard pressed to find tables with 2 or more weak players. Most tables will be filled by good players with maybe 1 fish.
Serious online players take advantage of tracking software, which allows them to review their massive amount of hands. With tools like this at their disposal it’s much quicker and easier for online players to identify and plug leaks in their game.
#5. Live Player Experience More Short Term Variance
If a good player played $1/$2 online for a month and put in a lot of hands, it would be very difficult for them to have a losing month. The sheer volume they put in playing day-in and day-out across multiple tables is enough to plow through variance.
On the flip side, if a great player played $5/$10 for a month it would be completely plausible for them to have a losing month. It’s way tougher to put in sessions and log a lot of hands playing live poker, which allows variance to have a greater impact on your long term results.
This doesn’t just effect your results. The short term variance they regularly experience also causes live players to be more results oriented than their online counterparts.
Online players can get all in with AK or Tens preflop a multitude of times, giving them a large sample to help them decide if it was the right play. Live players don’t get to see particular situations that many times and will often draw incorrect conclusions from short term results.
They’ll get unlucky once when their AK gets all-in against Aces, and as a result stop 3-betting AK altogether.
Small sample sizes can cloud what the best plays actually are and cause players to develop biases.
#6. The Online Poker Lifestyle Attracts the Best Players
Good and hard working players with options will often choose online poker over live because it’s more convenient. You get to work from home and never have to travel to or spend time in a casino.
Online poker requires a structured game that’s more fundamentally sound, and online players are much more familiar with poker theory.
(Note: You can learn solid poker fundamentals straight from Doug Polk & Ryan Fee in the Upswing Lab!)
If a huge fish hops in an online game and starts playing too loose or c-betting too often, online players are quick to identify what they’re doing and smart enough to know how to take advantage of it.
This isn’t the case for live poker at all. You’re much better off playing a very exploitable style while being very sensitive to your opponent’s tendencies in order to maximize your winrate.
Which leads me to my last point.
Crossing Over from Online to Live (And Vice Versa)
The schools of thought for online poker can be applied to live, but you have to appreciate and realize what it is you’re actually doing and figure out how to make the transition work.
When I play live poker I play really loose. I don’t 3-bet much more, but I raise preflop and call raises a lot more often with a wider range of hands. Live players will often do things like play too loose, too tight or just flat out bad. This allows my weaker hands to realize more equity, which is why I can play so much looser live.
Online players have pretty much always been able to cross over and play live, but not vice versa, and there’s a reason for that. Think about that classic quote about life in New York City.
Making it in online poker is kinda like making it in New York. If you can keep up with the lifestyle and afford the $5k a month rent for a studio, you can probably move anywhere you want and do just fine.
That said, there is an advantage that the best live players have over any online players — something that makes them crush live poker.
Experienced live players tend to be better at understanding how players perceive the game and/or how other players will react to the way their playing.
Contrary to popular belief, poker is mostly NOT a game of psychology. “Playing the player” doesn’t exactly describe what live players do well. They’re moreso “playing the environment” and taking advantage of the inefficiencies they see in people’s games.
When these talented live players are in their own environment they can achieve a higher winrate than even a great online player who tries to play in the same game. All of the exploitable plays the live player has developed based on solid reads can easily send their winrate soaring over mine in the same game.
Let’s say I decide to start playing $5/$10 at Bellagio, which I have only played a handful of times. A good regular in that game will have several advantages over me as the first hand is dealt:
- I’m not familiar with any of the players.
- I don’t know who the regs are.
- I don’t know which players are tight/loose.
- I don’t know who the tourist is.
- I have no idea how all the players will respond to the tourist.
The regular probably knows all of those things really well. They’ve probably spent time thinking in-depth about their strategy against certain players.
It would take me time to learn what everyone is up to and adjust. My adjustments will likely be more effective once I make them, but that isn’t going to happen right away. Even though the live players may lack some in technical skills, they may beat my winrate because their adjustments are more in tuned with what’s actually going on at that table.
Reminder to Both Live & Online Players
For all the live players reading this: Don’t take this article as an insult. Instead, take this opportunity to see how your past experiences have shaped your poker game. You could be a small adjustment away from seeing your winrate soar.
And for the online players: You shouldn’t feel superior to anyone just because your games are tougher to beat. Like everybody else, you aren’t a perfect poker player and learning from the mistakes of others can help you realize some of your own.
After all, poker is about making money, not needlessly towering over others.
Being the best might be important to Ash Ketchum, but that’s probably because there’s no money in Pokemon (I hear everyone’s too solid.)