Live poker and online no limit holdem both function the same exact way. The blinds are posted, the button moves the same way, players are dealt 2 cards each, some betting happens, and people win/lose by the same hand ranking chart. However, both games differ quite a bit when it comes to dynamics, default assumptions, and even available information. In this article I want to discuss 6 of the major differences between playing poker live and online, and how you can improve your winrate by adjusting to them.
To alleviate some of the confusion let’s use the assumptions of a standard live $1/$2 game versus a standard 50NL full-ring online game. Some of these differences may be obvious, and some of my comments are certainly tongue-in-cheek, but at least this gets us started…
It’s way more common to see multi-way pots when playing live poker games. One person raises, gets a bunch of callers, and they see a flop with a low SPR and many players to contend with. Online you see far fewer multi-way pots as less players are constantly calling preflop raises. This is also partially a function of open-limping; another common live trait that is much less common in online games. In live a player open-limps and then everyone and their mother limps behind. There are three easy ways to adjust your game accordingly:
1. When playing live know that you can limp behind without the fear of being constantly isolated.
2. If you call a preflop raise online you stand a larger chance of facing a squeeze.
3. Know how the SPR changes before automatically getting involved in that live MW pot with a suited Ace.
In live games it’s much more common to see larger open-raises sizes compared to the big blind. Online an open-raise size tends to be 3-4x with some min-raises/2.5x raises from later position. In live games it’s very common to see an open-raise that is 5x-7x, and seeing a 10x open-raise isn’t that uncommon in splashy games. This is a huge difference between the two games as it changes the effective stack sizes if the standard open-raise sizes are significantly larger (or if there are straddles in your poker game)
Another element to the bet sizes is the sizing that your opponent’s use postflop. Online it’s very common to see postflop bet sizes in the 2/3 pot range. In live games the sizes tend to be much more sporadic. This could be because live players find simple math impossible to add up the pot in order to find 2/3 of it. Or it could be because they simply don’t know what a good bet size is. But facing 1/4 pot sized bets live is much more common and doesn’t always imply weakness like many online players would assume.
1. It’s very common to see live open-raises sizes at 2x that of online games
2. Live players don’t tend to automatically use 2/3 pot sized bets postflop
3. Smaller bets in live games don’t always insinuate weakness
Postflop All-In Ranges
If you see two online players with 100bb starting stacks stack off postflop you usually expect to see two strong hands (big pairs, two pair+, etc.) or a strong hand vs a big bluff. If you see two live players get 100bb all-in postflop you will see more junky top pairs, second pairs, and over-played draws. Live players tend to stack off much wider and take weak hands much further than their online counterparts. This means a few things:
1. Online players should be more selective when putting 100bb into a pot
2. You can value bet hands further and more in live games
3. When a live player tries to get their stack inside it isn’t always the nuts
Simply put; live players get extra information via tells and online players get extra information via their HUD. While both live and online players can observe their opponents, take notes (either physical, digital, or mental), and observe things like their opponent’s timing…tells and huds offer unique types of information. While tells and huds are available information, they can also be sources of lost edges if used incorrectly.
For instance, online players tend to struggle at hiding their physical emotions during hands since they don’t need to develop that skill while playing online. And live players tend to get little assistance from a hud when playing online because they haven’t learned how to use a hud correctly. In order to be a well-rounded player you need to know not only how to gather the information via sources like huds and tells…but also how to avoid giving away information. It doesn’t take much to learn how to read basic tells, nor to use a poker hud better…but these are important skills if you are going to play both games well.
If I had to choose three words to describe live and online games I would use the following:
- Live Poker: Loose/Passive/Inelastic
- Online Poker: Tight/Aggressive/Elastic
Now these are my default ideas of each game and of course they could change once I get information on the actual table I’m playing. But as a default if I sit down at a live game I’m going to expect it to be loose/passive and I’ll expect a default online game to be tight/aggressive. This is usually fair at these levels ($1/$2 live and 50NL full ring online) but we should always adjust once we get actual info on the players at the table. As for elastic versus inelastic this relates heavily to the bet sizing point above. Live players tend to be much more inelastic with draws and pairs, meaning they will give large and small bet/raise sizes roughly the same amount of action. Whereas online players tend to be more elastic and give those large bet/raise sizes less action (and thus when they do give action it’s with a stronger hand range!)
Let’s be honest…live poker is slow. In most rooms you’ll be lucky to see 30 hands/hour, which is painfully slow when you consider online you can get 60 hands/hr at a normal table. If you are playing multiple tables online, even just 4, it’s easy to get over 200 hands/hr without breaking a sweat. This presents two large issues.
- It takes FOREVER to build a decent sample size playing live games
- Live games are boring on a hands/hour basis compared to online
Because live offers no option to multi-table it makes getting a 100k hand sample size a sizable feat. It would actually take playing almost every single day for 10hrs/day for a full year just to get 100k hands in live…whereas there are many online players that can do that in a single month. So getting a meaningful sample size for studying winrates and variances is super tough to do playing live which makes monitoring your game from a statistical point of view very difficult. Couple that with the fact that hand histories aren’t automatically saved and you’d be forced to database all of your informaiton by hand…it isn’t a very feasible task.
A few tips I can offer are this:
1. Online players need to work on fighting the boredom when playing live games
2. Live players need to understand that you can go hours without picking up a playable hand
3. If you want to monitor and analyze your play, online is the only way to go
While some of these differences are obvious, it’s vital that you understand them and adjust accordingly if you want to play both live and online well. I personally play both and find both games offer different ways for me to interject edge, and you may find that one game suits your skills better. If that’s the case and you want to only play live, or only play online, that’s OK. Just make sure you play the best that you can and keep working to improve your poker skills and win even more at the tables!