Are There Limits to Only Learning Online Poker?

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Man sits in front of laptop with poker chips playing online poker.
BetMGM Dec 27, 2023, 5:28 AM

There was a time when the contrast between “live poker players” and “online poker players” was quite stark. Many pros belonged to one group and essentially ignored the other. 

There were stories of “live pros” venturing online and not faring well, complaining that the game wasn’t real poker. Equally, “online pros” have shown up at live events and struggled with handling cards and chips or game etiquette.

Today, there is much more overlap, with players at all levels playing online and in-person poker. Read on for a breakdown of the main differences between the two formats and the limitations that learning poker solely online might present.

The Differences Between Online and In-Person Poker

According to most experienced poker players, live poker has the potential to earn you more money, but your game can stagnate. Online poker is said to be the format that will push you to improve as a player and stay ahead of the curve

The digital version also allows you to play poker with friends online. You can meet virtually at the same table from anywhere in the world and compete against each other for real money.

For players considering making the jump from one format to the other, there are several differences to consider, which are discussed below. 

Bet Sizing and Pots

When you learn to play poker in live cash games, you’ll often encounter different bet sizing, particularly 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, 6x, or even more, particularly in lower-stakes games.

In poker tournaments, you’ll occasionally find live players overbetting, mainly inexperienced ones who struggle to keep track of pot sizes.

In live poker games, players tend to exhibit looser play, resulting in more calls and multi-way pots. Unlike online poker real money games, live cash games frequently involve multiple players limping preflop or calling preflop raises, leading to a greater number of multi-way situations.

Calling vs. Folding

If live players are generally looser than online players with their preflop calls, the postflop tends to go quite differently. 

Online players are more likely to make substantial postflop calls with weak or medium-strength hands than live players. That means big river bluffs tend to get through more often in live games than online games (depending on the player and situation).

A poker theory explaining this tendency is that it is easier for players to simply click a “call” button than to make a tough call in a real-life scenario and potentially face the embarrassment of guessing wrong. 

The Pace of the Game

Due to this tendency to run into more callers online, many online players report experiencing bad beats more often than in live games, particularly at the micro and lower-limit games. 

This phenomenon is enhanced by the pace of the game. Online poker is considerably faster, with 60 hands per hour or more (and even more in short-handed games), compared to around 30 hands per hour in a live no-limit hold’em cash game. 

The option to multi-table online allows for an even higher number of hands to be played per hour, a feature not possible in live games. This increased speed can make live poker seem slow and tedious to those accustomed to online play. 

Variance

Variance refers to the “swings” you may endure in poker, with the higher variance translating into more significant gains and losses in the short term. The faster pace of play when you play poker online can artificially affect the definition of “short term.” 

You might play for a week online and log 10 times the number of hands you would’ve if you’d played live poker for a week, giving the impression that your variance has dramatically increased. This can intensify bankroll swings, but it is not a hard and fast poker rule. 

What it does mean is that bankroll management has to be approached differently when playing online. Here, you generally want to maintain a bigger bankroll (in terms of cash game buy-ins or tournament entry fees) than what you would need when playing live poker.

Online Tells vs. Live Poker Tells

Finally, an obvious difference — and limitation — when playing online is not being able to see your opponents or for them to be able to see you. This means the role of physical tells doesn’t exist in the online game. 

Naturally, this also affects table talk, which can be crucial in live games but becomes a non-factor when playing online (aside from chatbox talk). Experienced live players maintain that it is much easier to profile opponents when playing live, especially less experienced ones, who tend to give away lots of information at a table.

Up Your Online Game

In conclusion, learning poker basics solely online won’t fully equip you for some of the realities of the live arena. However, it still has advantages, particularly the ability to play more hands. Register with BetMGM and practice your poker strategy online before complementing it with live cash games.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.