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Detailed differences between online and live poker

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Differences between online and live poker

At one point in your betting career, you might have come across the phrases “online poker” and “live poker” and you keep getting it all mixed up. Just know that you are not alone. This article will give you an in-depth understanding of the differences between the two and afterwards, you will be knowledgeable enough to know the best one to choose. Let us start with the basics. Poker is a family of card games that combines betting and several psychological skills. You can play poker in a land-based casino or at online poker sites. 

If you decide to play poker at an online casino, you will be offered two different forms of play, and this is where the term online and live poker came to existence. Basically, the two forms of play share a lot of similarities especially in the rule of play such that if you have enough experience playing online poker, you will definitely find it easy to play live poker and this goes vice versa. So the major difference between the two is that live poker is played with a real-life dealer through a video feed while the other is played with a computer-based software. In this article we will list the major differences between live and online play, prepared for you by the team of BeastsOfPoker.

Style of Play

Live and online poker requires you to play online through a mobile or desktop platform, however, with live poker, you will be playing in real time with other players from different regions. You also have the ability to interact with the dealer as the round proceeds. Cool right? This helps lighten the mood of the game regardless of whether you win or lose. However, with online poker, cards are dealt by an automated software known as the Random Number Generator (RNG). When playing online poker, you are generally interacting with a computer program throughout the course of the game.

Another difference is the pace of the game. Live poker is much slower in progress. If you are used to the fast pace of online poker with RNG, you might find live poker too tedious to tolerate. Where online poker deals you 60 hands in an hour at a given table, you will most likely hit just half that number using the same timeframe with live poker. Online poker also gives you the opportunity to play several tables at once which translates to more hands per hour than you can get with live poker. With online poker, you can explore more in less time.

According to many players who have had experiences with the two versions, you are likely to experience more bad beats with online poker. However, you should know that this is not because online poker puts you at a disadvantage. It is because you tend to play more hands and rounds within a short period of time, so you experience more of everything and these include more wins and more losses. In the past, the contrast between live poker and online poker players was very clear, however, nowadays there is more overlap with the gap becoming smaller in recent times.

Playing Live and Online

In live poker, you will often come across more bet sizing than you can find with the online type, primarily when it comes to opening preflop raises. Generally, online poker is ideal for players with a relatively small bankroll. While online poker might feature players opening for 2x, or 3x the big blind, it is quite normal to come across players opening for 5x, 6x or even more, particularly in the lower-stakes live poker. Tournaments are a different story, although you will occasionally find live players overbetting, particularly inexperienced players who find it hard to keep track of pot sizes.

While playing live poker, you are likely to have more encounters with loose play in the form of players doing a lot more calling. One major consequence of this trend is more multi-way pots occurring during the rounds. Cases like this require strategy adjustment and also a lot more thinking through before proceeding with the round. It is not that unusual in a live poker session to come across a number of limpers in preflop and/or several callers of a preflop raise. Online poker on the other end, has preflop betting that results in more heads-up situations.

Generally, online poker gives you the opportunity to access online betting tools to help you play better. In essence, you will also be playing against other players who have the same access to such tools and are well-groomed strategically, thus making every round tough. However, live poker will most likely involve players who just play for fun and in many cases are not too technical about their analysis. However, this is not typical of all live poker cases. So, if you prefer to follow the calm, soft trend, live poker might be a good deal for you.

Variance in Online Poker

When playing poker, either live or online, it is a good practice to keep track of your wins and losses over time. Keeping record of your results helps you to ascertain whether your strategy is helping you make money or not. Be aware that variance plays a big part of your wins and losses in the short team. When the number of wins over a period of time is much more than your losses and more than you would expect to make if the cards break even, then you have a positive variance. If you experience more losses than wins over a particular period of time as a winning player, then you have a negative variance. It is common for players to experience extended periods negative variance at some points in their play – these periods are called downswings.

There is no standard period to compute poker variance, you might decide to go for 50 or 100 sessions– the choice is yours. However, it is advisable you stick to a period to get good data on how well or bad you have done. So, how do you apply this in real life betting? Let us assume you decide to use a month as the standard period for statistics. After a month, you played 20 sessions and you achieved a 55% win-rate which is 11 sessions. You can then check subsequent months to see if your results improved or not. The most important part is of course the amount of money won or lost – simply having more winning sessions only to lose a lot in a single sessions is not good for the long-run.

It might be quite tricky to run a variance calculation manually. This is why there are several tools that can help you. You can simply do a google search for “poker variance calculator”. However, when using variance to determine your win rate, you should be mindful of short-term losing streaks which might be a result of habits you don’t do regularly. An example is trying out a new poker variant that you have never played before such as 5 Card Pot-Limit Omaha. The losing sessions from this new adventure can skew your result, thereby misleading you to believe you have a negative win-rate.

Pros and cons of online poker compared to live poker

Pros of Online poker

  • You can control the speed of play
  • Allows multi hands and multi tables at once

Cons of Online poker

  • Online poker is generally aggressive and harder
  • Less social

Relative stakes and betting limits

Regardless of your skill level, you will need to adapt to different competition & betting structures for online and live poker if you will be trying both. As we have established earlier, online poker players have access to software that can improve their skills. This is however not the case for live poker. For this reason, you will most likely encounter higher-skilled players while playing online poker. As a rule of thumb, it is generally advised to use the 10-to-1 guideline when comparing poker games. For instance, if you have a $0.50/$1 NL game online, it will play as “tough” as a $5/$10 NL live game.

Due to the gap in skill level, we advise you to use relative stakes when playing online or live poker. With that in mind, you should note that there are different betting limits and they are implemented in four common forms. The first is the no-limit type and it’s denoted with ‘NL’. We referenced this type in the last paragraph for you to see how it’s used. This betting form allows you to raise the bet by any amount up to your remaining stake, however, the raised bet must be at least the amount of the previous raise.

There is also the pot-limit betting structure which limits players from raising more than the size of the total pot. The total pot includes starting pot (chips collected from previous betting rounds), trail (previous action in the ongoing betting round) and/or a call from the player making the raise. Also, we have a fixed limit betting structure. This betting structure allows players to choose whether to bet or not. However, the bet amount is fixed by rule in most situations. To enable the possibility of protection and bluffing, the fixed amount normally doubles at some point during a round.

Poker Variants

Poker has several variations, most of which still retain the standard order of play. However, individual differences occur when considering the type of hand values to be used, the number of betting rounds, the exact cards that are dealt and the type of actions allowed to be taken between rounds. There are three categories of poker variations that you will come across and these variations are Draw, Stud and Community poker. Generally, in draw poker, you will be dealt a complete hand, facedown, and allowed to replace cards to improve your hand. Draw poker allows two to eight players in a table.

Stud poker is a little different from Draw in that each player is dealt a combination of face-down cards and face-up cards in different betting rounds. The face-up cards are then used for analysis by the players. The popular types are 5-card stud and 7-card stud. The major difference between these two is the number of cards dealt before the betting round. The 7-card stud has an additional two cards dealt to the players and in a case whereby the deck is exhausted before the round is completed, the players share the community card dealt at the center of the table to proceed with the game.

And lastly, we have poker with community cards. This variation involves the player’s incomplete hidden hand being combined with shared face-up cards. The shared face-up cards are dealt in the centre of the table and are shared by all of the players. The set of community cards is known as the “board” and may be dealt in a set pattern or arranged in a simple line. The popular community poker variants are Texas Hold‘em and Omaha Hold’em. At the end of a round, each player will have two cards but has access to the five community cards from which they can make the winning hand.

Poker Game Structures

There are three common gaming structures available in the poker world. The first is the cash game. This is the most basic poker format that involves you buying in with a certain bet amount based on the stakes, and with the bet amount, you can bet, raise or call once you have received your cards. You can decide to sit out whenever you want without a penalty. If you have a busy schedule and still want to enjoy poker this is the best game structure for you. It allows you to get in a few hands during a short free period.

Tournament Poker

Tournaments, on the other hand, require you to play until either you are busted from the tournament, out of chips or you win. If you decide to sit out, your blinds will still be taken, which means that despite not being at the table for that round, you will still lose some chips. Tournaments require a significant time investment and it’s only recommended for those who have enough free time to spare. However, tournaments offer huge rewards and can attract tremendous player pools from different regions. An example of a poker tournament is the World Series of Poker.

Sit and go tournaments

Sit and go tournaments have several similarities with tournaments however they do not have a set schedule. This type of tournament only starts when enough players register to participate. Much like tournaments, they require a time commitment, therefore, it is not recommended for players with a busy schedule. Also sitting out does not exempt you from playing the blinds just as it is with tournaments. However, sit and go tournaments are typically much quicker from start to finish than a tournament. They are often the best choice for practicing final tables of larger multi-table tournaments since they are short.


What is the best format of poker to play?

Many of the common poker formats are beginner-friendly – make sure you understand the rules and the betting structure in a particular game before jumping in!

Is online poker legal?

This is totally dependent on the region you are from, but most countries allow you to play online.

Can I play online poker using my phone or tablet?

Yes, you can. Several online poker sites are compatible with mobile devices.

What is a poker strategy?

This is the pattern of play a player develops for winning. In poker you can win with many strategies, but usually winning players use a tight and aggressive style of poker.

Can I play at more than one poker site?

Yes, you can try multiple sites and use the best one for you.

Is poker hard to learn?

Not that hard! Poker takes just a few minutes to learn as a beginner-friendly game and you only need to know the basics to start, but mastering a game requires real commitment and will take thousands of hours.