On the one hand, whether you play poker in a casino or play online poker on a computer, it’s still the same game. A flush beats a straight in both. Players in both games bet and bluff and deliver and receive bad beats. Many of the skills developed in one format translate readily to the other.
Then again, many players have persuasively argued the games couldn’t be more different. It’s like comparing chess and checkers, some have suggested. Online poker, a video game, live poker more likened to a sport. One’s “virtual,” the other “real.”
There was a time in the not too distant past that the contrast between “live poker players” and “online poker players“ was quite stark. Many Poker pros belonged to one group and essentially ignored the other. You’d hear stories of “live pros” venturing online and not faring well (with some complaining the game wasn’t “real” poker). Then there would be “online pros” showing up at live events and struggling with handling cards and chips or game etiquette.
In live cash games you’ll often encounter different bet sizing than happens online, primarily when it comes to opening preflop raises. While an online cash game might feature players opening for 2x, 2.5x, or 3x the big blind, in live games it isn’t unusual to encounter players opening for 5x or 6x or even more, particularly in the lower-stakes live games (e.g., $1/$2 NL).
Tournaments are a different story, although there, too, you’ll occasionally find live players overbetting, particularly inexperienced ones who struggle with keeping track of pot sizes.
That said, in the live games you’ll often encounter looser play, generally speaking, in the form of players doing a lot more calling. One consequence of this trend is more multi-way pots occurring live than online where the preflop betting more typically creates heads-up situations.
It isn’t that unusual in a live cash game session to witness a number of limpers preflop and/or several callers of a preflop raise, thereby creating a multi-way situation.
Meanwhile, if live players are often looser than online players with their preflop calls, postflop things tend to go differently. You’ll find that online players are in fact more apt to make big postflop calls with weak- or medium-strength hands than tends to happen live. That means big river bluffs tend to get through more often live than happens online (although of course, everything depends on the player and situation).
One explanation for this tendency is the fact that it is easier for many players simply to click a “Call” button than to make a tough call live. Not having to endure in person the embarrassment of guessing wrong with such calls make them easier online.
Those are some of the most significant differences between live and online poker. Which would you consider to be the biggest difference out of all of these? Share your thoughts in a comment below.