What is the Difference Between Online vs Offline Poker

Posted by Elliot Nield . Last updated:

Making the Leap Between Online Poker and Live Games – or Vice Versa

Online and live poker games use the same rules – though they are very different in some significant ways. If you are a live player transitioning to the online game, you’ll need to drop down in stakes significantly to beat the games. Live games also have challenges for those who learned to play online. These include the physical aspects of chip handling and emotional control – as well as the relative slow pace of the games.

This page compares live and online poker games in multiple ways. Below you’ll find tips to make the switch – in whichever direction applies to you. Here is what is covered:

Pros and Cons of Online Poker Games

Online poker has many benefits, the sheer volume of hands you can play make these games potentially very profitable. You can rake in the money from the comfort of your own home too.

Online Poker Pros:

  • No travel: All the home comforts while you grind
  • Multi-Tabling: No limit on the amount of games you can play (12+ tables are possible)
  • Huge Choice: Formats that live casinos don’t spread are often busy online
  • Wide Range of Stakes: You can play for pennies – or hit the high stakes tables and battle the pros (and everything in between).
  • Tournament Poker: No waiting for tournament events to come to town, there are tournaments going off every few minutes online

Online Poker Cons:

  • Higher Standard of Opponent: There are plenty of fish in the games, though above the smallest stakes, the games are dominated by good players.
  • Multi-Tabling Grinders: Good players will play 8+ games, while fish play only 1 or 2 – this means that the games can be ‘reg heavy’, particularly during the day.
  • Antisocial Hours: Online poker is most profitable at the weekends, when the recreational players are out in force.
  • Lack of Physical Tells: Your edge might be diminished, especially if you are used to using physical tells for close situations.

Pros and Cons of Live Poker Games

Hit your local casino and you’ll usually find games which are much softer than those online. The downside is that you only get to play 30 hands an hour – very slow progress for players used to the fast-pace of online poker. Here are the pros and cons:

Live Poker Pros:

  • Social Games: The social element is a big draw, especially for recreational players. Live games can be a lot of fun compared to the often-snarky atmosphere online.
  • Looser Games: With fewer hands to play per hour, you’ll find people raising with all sorts of junk which would be folded instantly online – making for loose, profitable games.
  • Physical Tells: Hand shaking, people acting strong and other physical tells are an important part of the game for many people.
  • Jackpots and Promos: To keep people playing, many casinos run promos like bad beat jackpots, free rolls based on hours played or splash pots.

Live Poker Cons

  • Limited Choice of Stakes: You’ll find $1 / $2 (or $1 / $3), $2 / $5 and $5 / $10 games live – though nothing smaller and only the occasional bigger game. Compared to online games where you can play for pennies, a bigger investment is needed.
  • Slow Pace: If you are used to online poker, then 30 hands per hour can feel like a real drag, especially when you go through card-dead patches.
  • Travel Needed: Not too many of us are lucky enough to have a live casino on our doorstep – you’ll need to factor in the time and expense of travel.
  • Higher Rake: Live casinos need to employ dealers, and the rake, jackpot drops, and tips can eat into your profits.

What to Expect from Online Poker Games?

If you are a live player considering stepping online – then you will find a lot of options available. The games are divided into 4 main formats, with many different poker games covered.

Online Poker Formats:

  • Cash Games: These work the same as live cash games, where the chips in front of you have a direct monetary value. The main difference is the buy-in levels. Online games start from 1c / 2c blinds – and go up from there. You can choose 2, 4, 6 or 9 handed games (depending on the site).
  • Tournaments: if you are used to small fields and big ($100+) buy-ins at your local casino, then the choice online will amaze you. There are 1000’s of tournaments, with the main formats include freezeout, rebuy, turbo, bounty and satellite qualifiers. Every game format, table size and buy-in level you can think of is covered. Prizes pools of $1 million are regularly running, while most games have buy-ins between $3 and $50.
  • Sit N Go: This format is a small tournament, which starts when the table(s) are full. The most common format is 9 players, with 3 in the money. Bigger Sit N Go tournaments run, up to 180 players at some sites. Again, these are available at all buy-ins and many formats. Novel forms include double-or-nothing, knockouts and lottery games with random prize pools.
  • Fast Fold Poker: This goes under various names (Zoom, Zone and SNAP! Being 3 examples). The idea is the same on all of them. You join a pool of players at each buy-in level. You are put in a hand with players from your pool, and the instant you fold you go to a new hand. You can even fold out of turn. With no waiting time, this speeds up the games significantly, up to 4x as many hands as a normal online cash game per table.

Formats are only half of the equation. Online you will find games running around the clock which a live casino would struggle to fill at peak time. NL Hold’em is the most popular by a significant margin. You will find plenty of Pot-Limit Omaha, Omaha Hi-Lo and stud variants online. You can also play draw poker, Badugi, mixed games and exotic formats like 5-card Omaha and 2-7 triple draw.

The single biggest mistake that live players make when moving online is playing at too high stakes. Online, players are more experienced than in your local cardroom – they may have played 100x as many hands in their poker careers. They may have tools to assist them too.

If you win at $2 / $5 in your local casino and play these stakes online, you’ll be crushed. I strongly recommend starting at 10% of your usual stakes first time online. When you get used to the format, move up and test the waters one buy-in at a time.

You will find winning players multi-table online. This means that every decent regular is at 6, 8 or even more tables. Recreational players are at 1 or 2 tables each. This skews the numbers in favour of the winners – making the games comparatively tougher. Start by taking notes on who the winning regulars are, you will need to practice table selection to avoid sitting with too many of them.

What to Expect from Live Poker Games?

For online players who have never played live, the transition can be difficult. The main problem is not the standard of your opposition – live players are often very weak compared to those you are used to online – it is boredom.

Hands are slower, the deck needs to be shuffled and pots awarded. This means you’ll often get 30 hands per hour in live casinos. If you are used to multi-tabling online, that could be 10% of the decisions you are used to making in the same timeframe.

A typical live casino will run a few tournaments per day – unless there is a special event on. The rest of the tables will be cash games. Usually $1 / $2 and $2 / $5 (though higher at bigger rooms). These will be full-ring tables of 9 or even 10 players.

You can expect the standard of play to be looser and more passive than online. Many flops going multi-way, and all sorts of hands showing up at showdown is typical. To beat the smallest games, you need to hit boards – and to bet for value. Your floats and representing hands style plays will often go right over the heads of live players.

There will be a range of players, including the infamous ‘Old Man Coffee’ types, who sit for hours waiting to spike a set. Physical mannerisms and tells are a key part of the game. If you are used to playing online, then you might give more away about your hand than you expect to. Take the time to ensure that your betting actions are consistent, so as not to give away the strength of your hand.

Tips for Starting with Online Poker

The 5 tips below are aimed at players who are experienced in live games and making the transition to online poker. Remember that your opponents are going to be tougher, and that you’ll make up for the lack of live tells by playing many more hands.

  • Drop Down in Stakes: Don’t let ego get in the way, you need to drop down significantly between live games and those online. I recommend starting at 10% of your live stake – and then working up from there when you can comfortably beat the games.
  • Don’t Get Spoiled for Choice: There are many more variants, table sizes and novel structures online. Successful players pick one and learn to beat it before experimenting with the different formats. It can pay to be a specialist!
  • Add More Tables: Profits will be smaller at the lower stakes. As you get comfortable with the games, add more tables. Learning to play 4 games at once is a reasonable goal – and will give your hourly rate a boost.
  • Table Selection is Key: With so many winning players multi-tabling, you’ll need some way to make sure you are not sitting in a table of (relatively) tough opponents. Tagging them, investing in poker tools or keeping a list can help you play safe.
  • Don’t Forget Bonuses: Online poker is competitive. The sites are always fighting for your time. Take advantage of poker bonus deals and ongoing rewards, and don’t be afraid to switch sites if you are not being properly looked after.

Tips for Starting with Live Poker

Online players trying out live games for the first time need to get prepared. You’ll have a lot of time on your hands, due to the slow pace. You also need to adjust for the looser and more passive style of play. Here are 5 tips for a smooth transition.

  • Take Entertainment: An hour or two card dead can seem like a lifetime in some live poker games. You need to plan for this. Taking music is a great start. Use the time to assess your opponent’s bet sizing and mannerisms – this information might come in handy later.
  • Keep Track of the Pot: Online, software keeps track and even has handy buttons for ‘half pot’ bets and so on. Live, you’ll need to keep track yourself. Get into this habit early. While you can always ask for counts of opponent’s chip stacks – tracking the pot is up to you.
  • Adjust for Bigger Bets Pre-Flop: Online 2.1x to 2.5x is standard, in live games you’ll find people regularly open for 4x and 5x the big blind. You should follow the ‘table standard’ for the most part – to avoid getting called in multiple spots. You need to think about how this affects your pre-flop calling hands, and post-flop strategy.
  • Live Poker Tells: You need to start with yourself, making sure you are betting the same way (physically) with your value hands and bluffs. Many opponents will be experienced in this area, and you will need to catch up fast.
  • Table Changes: If your game is bad, you can’t just get up and find another seat in the room. This is the responsibly of the poker room manager or floor. You should request a table change via the dealer – and get added to the list to move. You can always decline if you do not like the seat you are offered.
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