Whether you play online or at the casino, the same poker rules sit at the heart of any format. If you’re familiar with Texas Hold’em, Pot-Limit Omaha, or another poker variant, you’ll know how the game is played in both live or online format.
While the rules of poker are essentially the same in both formats, online poker games often play out in a significantly different fashion compared to live poker. Cash games and multi-table tournaments often seem like completely different games on a legal online poker platform, especially if you’re used to playing live.
The reverse is also true, as players who exclusively play online might find the realm of live poker as an entirely different beast. Let’s take a look at some of the primary differences between live and online poker.
The Speed of the Game
Online poker deals many more hands per hour versus live poker. A typical nine-handed live game at the casino sees around 25-30 hands dealt per hour.
That same game at an online poker room ends up doling out 60-80 hands per hour. Six-max online tables see upwards of 80 hands per hour go to each player.
The increased speed of online poker can sometimes be jarring to a player coming from a live poker background. Fast-fold cash games, like the Fast Forward games found at BetMGM Poker, push the hands per hour up to around the 200 mark.
Players with a mostly online background experience the reverse effect. If you’re used to the faster speed and multi-tabling ability of online poker, the live game might seem to move at a snail’s pace.
The hands-per-hour metrics listed above account for single table play. Perhaps the most significant difference between live and online poker is the ability to play multiple tables at once online.
An experienced online player can handle four or more tables simultaneously, which can produce around 300 hands per hour depending on how many players are at the table. BetMGM’s Fast Forward games push the speed of online poker to the max, making it feasible to play 3,000 or more cash game hands in a single day.
That 3,000-hand total is equivalent to playing around 100 hours of live poker. A multi-tabling Fast Forward session could appear to generate impossible bad beats, setups, pocket aces versus pocket kings, and other mathematically improbable scenarios.
Online poker might seem “rigged” when you go through several hundred hands in a single session. Improbable hands aren’t “impossible” hands, however.
The more hands you play per hour, the more you’ll see unlikely setups occur at the poker table. For example, if you’re dealt pocket kings in a nine-handed Texas Hold’em game, you’ll find yourself up against pocket aces about 1-in-20 times.
That equates to a 5% chance of running into aces for every time you look down at pocket kings. The chances of picking up pocket kings preflop are 221-to-1, and five percent of the time you get kings, someone else will have aces.
The math behind pocket aces versus pocket kings makes the matchup one of the more unlikely setups in Texas Hold’em. The more hands you play per hour, however, the more often you’ll see it.
Calculating chip stacks, bet sizes, and the pot becomes an easy task when you play online poker. All of those aspects of the game are clearly identified by a simple digit display at all times.
Many online poker sites offer tabs that allow for half-pot, full-pot, and other fractional sizes of the pot for any betting opportunity. That can be particularly useful in Pot-Limit Omaha, a game in which a pot-sized bet often requires a more complex calculation than it seems.
Live poker requires you to evaluate opponents’ chip stacks and remember the pot size. An online poker site does all of that work for you; a live poker room does not.
If you’re inexperienced at live poker, you can easily find yourself in a big pot, not knowing how much money is actually in that pot. Counting chip stacks can present a daunting task, especially against opponents that use bizarre stacking techniques.
As you play more live poker, you’ll get used to keeping track of the pot as it grows. Chip stack counting becomes easier with time as well.
Opponent stacks and pot sizes are critical factors in any poker game. On the live felt, you’ll have to rely on yourself to keep track of those details.
Difference In Stakes
Online cash game stakes start at $0.01/$0.02 at poker sites like BetMGM Poker, WSOP.com, and PokerStars’ US-facing sites. Multi-table tournaments at $1, $5, or sometimes even lower buy-ins run daily at online poker platforms.
The entry fees for the lowest levels of live poker are much higher. The lowest-stakes live cash games at land-based casinos generally offer $1/$2 limits.
You’ll need to sit down with at least 100 big blinds in any cash game to implement an optimal strategy. For a $1/$2 game, that means putting down $200 when you sit down to play.
Almost all casinos will allow you to sit down with less, but beginning any hand with less than 100 big blinds isn’t optimal. The lowest buy-ins for a live tournament at a casino generally hover around $35.
Bankroll management is crucial to success in poker. For cash games, you’ll want to have at least 30 buy-ins for the stake you want to play. For multi-table tournaments, a bankroll of 100 buy-ins or more is preferred.
The micro stakes games offered at online poker sites make it much easier to put together a reasonable bankroll. Using the standard 100 big blind buy-in, you could comfortably play at $0.01/$0.02 cash game stakes with a $60 bankroll.
That same $60 won’t get you very far in a live cash game, even at $1/$2 stakes.
Taking up live poker requires a bigger bankroll, but success at online poker takes a significantly higher level of skill. Online poker players go through more hands an hour, which allows them to progress at the game much faster than players specializing in live poker.
The barrier to entry is also much lower for live poker. You’ll encounter gamblers from all walks of life at a live poker room, including many players who approach poker from a true gambler’s perspective.
These players aren’t sitting at the table to apply poker theory and grind out a respectable hourly win rate. You’ll often hear players of this mindset declare that they’re “here to gamble,” and they mean that in every sense.
The poker community often refers to wild gamblers as “fun players” or “whales,” and this player type plays a vital role in the poker economy. You’ll find a much higher ratio of these players in live poker rooms.
Online poker rooms tend to draw a more serious player type. The fun players are still around at the lower stakes, but online cash game tables are often filled with regulars.
A $1/$2 live game often includes a player lineup that’s easier to beat than an $0.10/$0.25 online cash game. Online tournaments are often filled with recreational players in the early levels, but that player type frequently evaporates once a tournament gets to the final 3-4 tables.
Live poker might be better suited to players with bigger bankrolls and who enjoy the social aspect of playing face-to-face against other opponents.
Live poker requires more patience and time commitment but can be extremely profitable if you take the game seriously and observe your opponents’ tendencies.
Online poker is more convenient, faster, and more productive if you’re actively trying to get better at poker. The 2021 online poker landscape is fierce, however, and long-term profit isn’t easy, even at the lower stakes.
Legal online poker sites offer the chance to improve at the game at a much faster rate when compared to live poker. If you can master the game online, you’ll crush at the casino.
Be sure to check out our guides to legal online poker in Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Nevada.