For those who want to make a real living playing poker, starting off online is now the primary way. In turn, one of the most burning issues in global poker culture is the timing of transition from online to live play in person, and how people can translate online poker skills to playing in brick-and-mortar venues.

Live online poker cartoon
For illustrative purposes only. Image credit: pokerdoodle.com

Pitfalls of transition

It stands to reason that online casino games are so popular. In theory, anybody of age in a legal jurisdiction can simply play here and win life-changing sums of money in mere minutes. Yet, online poker games have strengths and weaknesses which stand very prominent next to their land-based counterpart.

Immediately, the most obvious differential factor is the ability to read a ‘poker face’ in a land-based setting, and the lack thereof in an online game, unless there is a type of live video facility involved. Many successful live poker players also specialize in (or rely heavily on) reading the ‘tell’ of their opponents, which can sometimes take the form of an involuntary physical tic that indicates the strength of a hand.

Innate elements of luck notwithstanding, the best live players will habitually keep detailed poker notes on their most deadly opponents. Unless a person is playing in an online VIP room in a high stakes game, it is also unlikely that even a specialist would have the opportunity to read up on their opponents beforehand.

For that reason, successfully transitioning between online and live poker is all the more difficult. Even if a newly-transitioned player has the ability to read an opponent’s mannerisms, another complicating factor is the level at which players begin to focus predominantly on live events.

A common mistake is for online players to be overly ambitious when playing in person, and buy in more than they should. Poker players who are simply impatient people are also particularly susceptible to a bad transition. The impulsive, ‘Type A’ player will typically hope to utilize their skills developed online, and go for the big win in their first live tournament.

Lots of people with that mindset have failed miserably before, and the most successful transitions between online and land poker tournaments are made by those who know themselves – and the different ‘poker personalities’ that exist – more profoundly than most.

Success stories

For all the dangers faced by those with excessive ambitions in the ‘real world’, there are some documented winners who have managed to translate both mediums of Poker into successful ventures. One such player is Stephen Chidwick, who has over $5 million in online winnings, alongside his total from live events – currently north of $31 million.

Tom Dwan is also a prime example of how using online platforms as a foundation, combined with careful, phased studying before transitioning to live events, is a key to success. He played online, and like many other beginners, lost on numerous occasions. Like all of his elite peers, Dwan learnt from those setbacks, and inside just four years, he earned north of $5 million.

There is also the inspirational story of Chris Moorman, the UK native who came from nowhere to live the Vegas dream. Unlike Chidwick, Moorman’s ratio of live winnings ($5 million) to online winnings ($14 million) was weighted firmly in favor of the latter by the end of his first decade as a poker pro. This shows that there is no right or wrong time to make the jump from online play to live events – the only right time is when you can accept losing, but know that you can win.

Is a good ‘online’ game important?

Of course, a good online game can be helpful, but for every Moorman or Dwan out there, there are undoubtedly many other players who has smashed the online game, only to see their fortunes turn in live play. Online success is no guarantee of a good live game, and even if it does, one run of bad luck can ruin everything.

Whether online or live, one of the best things about poker is the range of personalities that it attracts. Some players, particularly the elders of their craft, can be as charismatic as professional wrestlers, and thrive off a crowd in a live room. However, those same extroverts might not perform to the same level in an online poker game, with some having learned their trade in brick-and-mortar venues from the very outset.

Talented professional poker players have always existed, and thrived, long before the explosion of online poker over the past two decades. It is also worth remembering that (for legal and regulatory reasons) there are currently “generations” of Americans who have never had the opportunity to play online poker for real money.

Perhaps the only reason for online poker’s popularity as a starting point is down to the modern regulation of tables by reputable online casinos, to ensure that beginners are not continually outclassed.

In live venues, there is less of a guarantee that a novice player will not suffer excessively, although the buy-in amount – alongside the number of participants – is usually an indicator as to the caliber of opposition. Ultimately, alongside a bit of luck, common sense can be enough to skip years of online play safely, and swap virtual baize for smooth, tangible felt without too many sleepless nights.

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