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.
Frequency of Bad Beats in Texas Hold'em Poker
In part because of this tendency to run into more callers online, many players report experiencing “bad beats” more often online than happens live. This is especially so at the “micros” and lower limits online, where the small stakes further encourage calls with subpar hands that occasionally do outdraw better ones.
The sense that the bad beats are coming more often online is enhanced, of course, by another big difference between live and online poker, namely…
The Pace of Texas Hold'em Poker
One of the more obvious surface-level differences between live and online poker is the pace of play. Online poker plays considerably faster than live poker, and some who prefer playing online find the live game too tedious to tolerate. Whereas you might be dealt around 30 hands per hour in a no-limit hold'em cash game, online you'll see 60 hands per hour (or more) at a given table and even more in short-handed games. The ability to multi-table online also means playing a lot more hands per hour than is possible live.
For this reason, the impression of getting more bad beats online can be exaggerated. The fact is, you can seem to experience more of everything online because you're playing many more hands, which in turn affects…
Variance in Online Poker vs. Live Poker
“Variance” is a term often used generically to describe the “swings” one endures in poker, with the higher “variance” translating into bigger gains and losses in the short term when compared to your results over longer periods. The faster pace of play online again artificially affects what the “short term” actually is. You might play a week online and log 10 times the number of hands you'd play if you played live poker for a week, thus giving the impression that your variance has been accelerated greatly.
Even if it is an artificially-created difference, this “higher” variance when playing online can mean faster, more marked bankroll swings over shorter periods than generally happens live. That means bankroll management has to be approached differently when playing online, where you generally want to maintain a bigger bankroll (in terms of cash game buy-ins or tournament entry fees) than you need when playing live.
Online Tells vs. Live Poker Tells
An obvious difference when playing online is not being able to see your opponents — or for them to be able to see you — which means, of course, the role of “physical tells” gets omitted from the online game. This also obviously affects table talk, which can be important in live games but becomes a non-factor when playing online (aside from chatbox “talk”). Experienced live players maintain it is much easier to “profile” opponents when playing live, especially less experienced ones who tend to give away lots of information very quickly at the table.
One last difference we can add to the list concerns how stakes compare between live and online poker. For various reasons, an online game played at the same limit as a live game will usually feature higher-skilled players, relatively speaking. For example, a live $1/$2 NL cash game generally won't have as many tough opponents around the table as you'll find in a typical $1/$2 NL online game, in part because while there usually aren't any lower-stakes games available live, there are plenty of them online (down to just pennies).
Some have suggested as a rule of thumb a “10-to-1” guideline when comparing live and online stakes — e.g., a $0.50/$1 NL game online would play as “tough” as a $5/$10 NL game live. Of course, you'll still encounter both good and bad players at all levels, both live and online, so don't take this as a rule without exceptions.
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.[:]