Playing Live Poker vs. Online Poker

At a glance, it would be reasonable to assume that there is no difference between playing poker games online or at a casino, after all poker is poker no matter where it is played. While the basic rules of Texas Hold’em or other poker variants remain unchanged regardless of where you play poker, there is a breadth of differences between playing poker online and playing poker live. Players should be aware of these differences to realistically set proper expectations. By understanding the nuances between playing poker live versus online poker games, players can choose the setting which is best suited for the poker experience they want.

Live Poker is a Social Game

The biggest difference between when you play live poker and when you play poker online is that playing live requires you to compete in a public setting. While seated at the live poker game, you can observe your opponents, and they can observe you. In addition to being able to interact with the other poker players, you can expect some interaction with the dealers, servers, floor staff and occasionally spectators. While these interactions provide a great opportunity to network and socialize, they can be draining for a natural introvert. It is important to remember that there is no requirement to be overly social – some live players will spend their poker sessions completely silent. When you play poker live, you should be cognizant that many live players – particularly those who play poker recreationally – seek out and enjoy sociable, gregarious opponents who don’t appear to take the game too seriously. For them, poker games are often a form of entertainment and they will have no issue leaving a table if they feel their opponents at the cash game are too stoic or unfriendly. 

Another thing to remember when playing live poker at a card room or casino, players are expected to tip the dealers and waitstaff. While never a requirement, it is a generally accepted practice to give a $1 tip per drink served or pot that is won. 


Convenience of Online Poker Sites

Online poker is unmatched when it comes to convenience. From the moment you wake up, right until you go to bed, you can be at a poker room within minutes. Faster than an elevator ride to the poker room on the casino floor, you can join thousands of poker players, from all over the world, playing nearly every format of poker, at blinds ranging from $0.01/$0.02 to $1K/$2K or higher. Online poker also allows players to join multiple poker tables at once (multi-tabling). This gives poker players the option to play as few or as many hands per hour as they desire. Contrast these differences with live poker, which typically requires you to commute to a casino, get on a waiting list for a limited selection of poker games, exchange cash for poker chips, and sit at a single table where, if everything goes well, you might average about 20 poker hands per hour. Playing live, a single poker tournament can take an entire day, if not multiple days, to complete. When you play at an online poker tournament you know you are likely to be finished within a few hours.

Poker Competition and Poker Strategy


Make no mistake, competition when playing at online poker sites is tough when compared to playing poker live, especially at comparable stakes. The very reasons that make online poker appealing (convenience, speed of play, low cost of entry, etc.) are also what make it such a competitive landscape. Given that online poker players are able to gain experience at a much faster rate than live poker players (and can do so at much lower stakes – playing live poker you might find cash games with blinds as low as $1/$2 blinds while at online poker sites it could be $0.01/$0.02). It is not uncommon to see a skilled online poker player playing at a fraction of the stakes they would be capable of beating in a live poker setting. In my own experience, a winning online poker player who plays No-Limit Hold’em cash games at $0.10/$0.25 blinds generally has the poker skills necessary to beat typical live No-Limit Hold’em cash games with $2/$5 blinds.

Moreover, poker players find that winning strategies in one arena do not transfer well into the other. A winning live poker player may rely heavily on their ability to gauge the strength of an opponent’s hand based on physical observation, commonly referred to as “tells,” or “game flow,” which refers to the general feeling of how the poker table is playing. This same poker player may struggle at online poker sites where reliance on being able to see and interact with your opponent is limited. In general, winning online poker players tend to play more of a “theoretically sound” poker strategy based on game theory. Conversely, a winning online poker player, who rarely plays in a live setting, may struggle to adapt to their opponent’s tendencies without being able to rely on in-game poker statistics (such as those provided by GGPoker’s Smart HUD) and/or a lack of observation due to boredom from the slow pace of the poker game.  

So, Which is Better?

There are benefits and drawbacks to playing both live poker and online poker. This makes it hard to objectively state which is the better way to play. Some poker players will claim that playing poker live is the best option, while others state that online poker is the only way. And while players will sometimes resign themselves to exclusively play one version of poker or the other, my preference is a mix of both. More specifically, I prefer playing poker tournaments online because I can multi-table several events at the same time, while I prefer playing cash games in a live setting because of the social dynamics. If you are fortunate enough to have access to both a live poker game and online poker games, give each setting a try and see what feels best to you.

About the Author: ‘Dano’ is a graduate student working on his Master’s degree in fisheries biology and part-time poker dealer. He enjoys playing the “great game of Pot-Limit Omaha” cash games online.