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Top 10 differences between online and live poker

5 Mar 2018

By Tadas Peckaitis
While Texas Hold'em poker rules are the same for online and live poker games, there are many differences in these formats. Today, I want to highlight top 10 distinctions that you should know when sitting down at the table – whether it's online or live.

10. Different level of competition
I do not want to offend live games players, but online games provide much tougher competition, and players have to spend more time learning the strategy to beat it. Obviously, you will find plenty of great players attending live events, and that is not an exception, but you will find even better players online when comparing the same limits.

While $1/$2 live cash games are likely going to be very weak, this is a competitive level for online play, and you will have to put in some effort to beat it. This can easily be explained by the fact that many recreational players online choose smaller stakes to save their money. However, a lot of the time in the casinos, $1/$2 is the lowest game they have, so naturally all the weaker players have to join it if they want to play.

That being said, in most stakes, online games will be tougher because players spend more time studying theory and strategy for beating those games and have plenty of tools available to help them out. Thus, if you are looking for weaker games, live ones are your target, and if you want to learn how to win online, you can take a look at my complete poker training program.

The rules are the same, but there are differences in play.

The rules are the same, but there are differences in play.

9. Different game pace
It is not a surprise, but online games run much, much faster. While you can only play up to 40 hands per hour in live games in the best-case scenario, you can be dealt hundreds of hands online at the same time.

Moreover, you have the opportunity to multi-table. This will eliminate long periods where you just have to sit around waiting for action, which is the case in live games a lot of the time.

Therefore, if you want to get more action and do not have much patience to sit around, you should be choosing online games.

8. Passive versus aggressive
Whether you play six-max cash or MTTs online, you will always see raising, three-betting and crazy postflop action. However, this is not the case in live games, where players tend to limp and take passive lines more often.

Therefore, you should consider this when making your decisions and perceive big raises in live games much more straightforward compared to ones online. Obviously, there are passive online and aggressive live players, so you have to observe your opponents closely and act accordingly. But as a rule of thumb, live games will typically be more passive.

7. Multiway versus single-raised pots
While most of your hands online will be played against one opponent post-flop, this is not the case in live games. As mentioned above, in live games players tend to be more passive, and that will result in more multiway pots.

That is not bad, but you need to be ready to adjust your strategy and play more speculative hands that can flop huge in live games when getting a good price. You are less likely to get squeezed after calling a raise and will see flops more often, giving you a chance to win big, so take advantage of this situation!

6. The difference in bluff-catching
Players tend to call fewer big bets with weak hands in live games, which gives you the opportunity to bluff more on the river. Do not get me wrong, your small bets or attempts to steal small pots will be called a lot by passive players.

However, if you make a huge raise on the river, you are likely going to make most weak and medium hands fold because live players are not ready to risk their stack without a reasonable holding. But just like all other adjustments, this works best against recreational players and should not be considered when going up against stronger ones.

5. Ability to adjust to changing dynamics
Online players tend to have the ability to change their playing style much more easily than live competition because they play more hands and have statistics at their disposal.

On the other hand, live players are used to simply playing and not switching up their strategy very often. Therefore, if you notice a reliable tell or tendency when playing live, you should use it to exploit that player later on because he is not likely to change his approach.

4. Players use different bet sizing
When playing online, you see how many chips there are in the pot all the time and can easily choose your sizing based on that. However, in live games, this is not as easy to see, and players tend to make much bigger mistakes in those spots.

Therefore, you can take advantage of that and manipulate your opponent’s play. For example, you could be betting very small, something like 1/4th pot as a bluff, and your opponent will probably fold the same range as he would facing 2/3rd pot size bet because he is likely not going to add these numbers up. Contrary to this, you could be value betting with much bigger sizing and still getting calls from weak hands and draws for the same reasons.

Obviously, you should not try to adopt these strategies against professionals, because they will pick it up very quickly and punish you for such an approach. However, versus recreational players, you can use it to maximize your edge.

Be able to adjust to changing dynamics.

Be able to adjust to changing dynamics.

3. The difference in recognition
Of course, the main goal of playing poker is to make money, be it additional income or a full-time salary, and to have some fun. However, live games can add the benefit of recognition.

If it is important for you to be recognized as the best or become a known player worldwide, you will only have this option in live games and most likely in live tournaments.

You could be a big winner in online cash games for years, and no one will ever know it, but if you take down one huge live MTT you can become an overnight star. If that is important for you, then live games gives that option.

2. Differences in available information
One of the biggest differences in these games is that online players have statistics on their opponents in a heads-up display (HUD) while they play and that can help them make much more educated decisions. Poker trackers such as Hold'em Manager 2 or Poker Tracker 4 give the player a ton of information at their disposal. On top of that, they can use different software to gain an even bigger edge, while live players fall behind in this area.

Obviously, live players have other advantages and can wisely use additional information in the form of poker tells to make better decisions.

1. The differences in poker tells
While you can get some information from tells in online poker games, such as bet sizing or timing, it is much more reliable in live ones.

Moreover, you have way more behavior patterns to study and can notice more tendencies in your opponent's actions while playing live. Chip handling, hand actions, facial expressions or breathing can indicate the strength or weakness of your opponent's holding, and that information is only available in live games.

There are many advanced poker training strategies for studying these formats, but understanding the differences is the first step. After that, make sure to choose the best game for your goals and learn how to beat it!
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