Although they are essentially the same game, online poker and live poker play quite differently in a number of ways. Transitioning from live to online (or vice-versa) can sometimes be a complicated process exactly because of these aspects.

In this article, we’ll examine the top 10 differences between online poker and live poker. Of course, not every one of the differences is as significant as the others but when you add all of them together, it becomes quite clear why some people insist that live and online are two different beasts all together. While there are many other more minor differences between the two games that didn’t make our list, the ones we have listed are some of the biggest and most glaring.

simultaneous live and online poker
Image credit: SHRPO Blog

1. Live poker is much slower

For those players coming from an online background, live poker can seem extremely slow. Online players are used to playing several tables at once and seeing 50+ hands an hour at each of these tables. Live, however, you’re limited to one table and approximately 20–30 hands every hour.

If you’re used to playing online, live poker’s slower pace can cause boredom to creep in and influence the action, as it can seem like forever since you’ve had a playable hand. A good way to battle this is to focus on what’s going on at the table even when you’re not involved in a hand, taking notes to try and gather as much information as possible about other players’ styles and tendencies.

2. Live play is usually softer

On average, a live poker cash game or a tournament will be much softer than its online counterpart. For example, a NL25 table will, on average, be much tougher than most live NL200 games. One of the biggest reasons for this is that many online players constantly learn the game using some of the best poker training systems. Conversely, many live players just play for fun and don’t work nearly as hard at improving their game.

3. Online poker offers more variety

Even if you live near one of the biggest casinos with the best poker rooms, you’ll struggle to find the kind of variety offered by the best online poker sites. This applies both to game types (No Limit Hold’em, PLO, Seven Card Stud, etc.) and limits. Online, you can easily find games with blinds of $0.05/$0.10 (and even lower) or tournaments with buy-ins of just $1.

Live, you’ll rarely find cash games with blinds under $1 and you’ll need to pay at least $10-$20 to play in any type of a tournament. If you’re looking for a tournament with good structure, it will usually cost you $100+.

4. Live poker offers a better social setting

Playing online is usually a lonely activity. Although most online poker sites offer a chat option, this is rarely used for any meaningful conversations. On the other hand, live poker rooms offer a much better social setting, where you can easily strike up a conversation with someone about anything and everything. So, if you want to have the type of fun that doesn’t exclusively depend on how you’re doing in the game itself, live poker is always the better choice.

5. Playing online is more convenient

To play in a live tournament or cash game, you need to get dressed, make the trip to the casino, and then spend a certain amount of time there. With online poker, you can fire up some tables whenever you feel like it and, if you so choose, you can even do so in your underwear. In that sense, online poker offers the kind of freedom that games in a casino simply can’t match.

Note, that playing online thus also saves you the extra “associated costs” of live poker, namely gasoline (sometimes) parking, tipping, and – of course – commuting time.

6. Online players have access to many strategy tools

One of the biggest difference between live and online poker is in the fact many online players utilize various strategy tools and HUDs to help them make decisions at the tables. It give them access to relevant poker stats for their opponents, which, when used properly, can significantly increase their edge. In a live setting, players can only rely on their own memory, brainpower, and physical reads.

7. Tells are more important in live games

When you can actually see your opponents across from you at the tables, you’re able to pick up a lot of information that you simply don’t have access to online. While online tells are for the most part limited to timing and bet sizing, in live games you’ll be able to see the behaviors and mannerisms of other players and factor them in when making your decisions. Of course, it takes time and practice to become good at reading live tells, but they definitely exist.

8. People don’t like to bust live tournaments

Although this doesn’t apply generally to all tournaments, in most live events, people will be very cautious about putting all of their chips on the line. Online, it is easy enough to bust one tournament and just fire up the next one. Live, once you bust, provided there are no rebuys or re-entries, you’re done and have to look for some other form of entertainment. In other words, your tournament life tends to be a lot more precious in a live poker setting.

9. People play more hands live than online

Because of the already mentioned slower pace of the game, people are much more eager to play hands live, in cash games and tournaments alike. Since waiting for really good hands can become very boring, live players will often try to see as many flops as possible to see if they can hit. In doing this, they’ll often pay off big raises, especially during smaller blind levels in tournaments.

10. Variance can be more brutal in live poker

Finally, because of the slower pace of the game and limitations in terms of how many hands you can put in during a session, variance in live poker can appear more brutal than online. Although the math doesn’t actually change, it can certainly appear so, simply because it takes you far longer to put in the same kind of volume live vs. online.

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