Live vs. Online Poker

by Greg Cavouras

With the recent explosion in the success of online players at major tournaments, everyone seems to want to get in on the online action. Purely online players, such as Chris Moneymaker have challenged the best live players and acquitted themselves very well. Well, I assure you that live and online Poker are two VERY different games, so with that as a starting premise, letís have a look at the basic differences between the two and what they will mean to your game.

By far the biggest and most important difference between the two forms of the game is the lack of interaction at the table; with no live presence, it can often be far more difficult to read an opponentís hand strength. Without your opponentís presence and the accompanying tells that presence inevitably produces, you have far less tools with which to evaluate the strength of their hand. Conversely, they have fewer tools available to evaluate yours; depending on your style of play, this may be beneficial to you. For example, an aggressive player who prefers to play his opponents hands to his own, such as Gus Hansen, would probably not be as successful as a pure online player. By contrast, a mathematician who plays the numbers and is more of a fundamentals player, like Howard Lederer, would probably do just fine as an online player. For most beginners, online play is likely to be more forgiving for the first hands of Poker because their ability to read, and their ability to control the information they send to opponents is not developed yet.

The psychology of the game manifests itself in a number of ways, and these ways are largely unavailable to you when playing through a computer screen; whereas when sitting at a table, you could gauge facial expression, breathing, voice, reluctance, and a multitude of other indices, these are unavailable. Does that mean you canít read an online opponent? No it doesnít, but the means to this end are limited. This puts a premium on the tools you do have, so make sure you use them; for example, an opponentís time spent deciding on a call can be a great indication in some situations. Another very powerful tool you have in online play is the history bar, which allows you to see exactly which cards and plays provoked which bets from your opponents- if you learn to read this properly it can be incredibly useful. You also have the benefit of outside assistance, something you couldnít have at the table, like a pot odds calculator.

Keeping in mind the differences between the two games, I would suggest that a beginner would have less trouble against a skilled opponent in an online forum; however having said that the top players will always win- one way or the other. While there can never be a real substitute for sitting down at a real table with a pile of actual chips, the true value of online play lies in itís accessibility- you can play hundreds of hands a day at your leisure without ever leaving your home.

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