Not so long ago, online poker and live poker were largely considered as two different things by the pros in the game. There were either professional live tournament players or professional online players, but very rarely have there been pros who dipped their toes in both methods.

Some even still consider online poker to be a lesser method of playing the traditional card game, while others still simply couldn’t make the jump from playing alone behind a computer screen to sitting across from multiple real-life opponents.

In 2021, however, it’s a completely different story. Everyone from pros to poker novices plays a combination of both online and live games, with some getting to grips with the discipline online first before moving into live events.

Meanwhile, advanced gaming technologies like Virtual Reality and live dealer games transport online players into traditional casino settings.

So, how do the two methods compare with each other? What are the key differences between online and live poker, and which method is the best to play?

The Online Realm vs. The Real World

Some have argued that online poker is just a video game, while live poker is a legitimate mind sport. Classifying online poker in this way, however, is a disservice to the game itself and to the millions of players around the globe who dedicate time to competing in online tournaments.

Many of the world’s top players have qualified for prestigious tournaments like the World Series of Poker by playing online satellite tournaments first. By the same token, elite cash game players make full use of online games and resources to keep their strategies tight and their skills refreshed.

Poker is poker, whether it’s played in a Las Vegas casino, on a laptop or smartphone, or around a dining room table.

However, even though online poker games don’t differ from live poker games in terms of the rules that govern them, the gaming experience itself is completely different. The rules of texas holdem, for example, are the same whether you play the game in a live tournament or the digital realm, but there are significant differences between the experience of the game when playing online.

Key Differences between Online and Live Poker

The most obvious difference between the two methods of play is that one is a solo activity carried out behind a screen, while the other is played against a group of live opponents. This can affect the gaming experience in several ways:

Reading becomes Non-Existent Online

Reading opponents is a key element of the experience of live poker, however, it’s largely non-existent online (unless the game in question is a high-level online tournament). Being able to read opponents is crucial to achieving success in live poker.

Players develop reading skills by either studying the way their opponents play, analysing the decisions and choices that they make throughout the game, or by reading their body language. It takes an expert player to find out whether the tells they see in their opponents are real or bluffs, which is why reading is a useful tool when players can get information from both an opponent’s body language and playing style.

Games are Speedier Online

Another way in which digital poker changes the experience of playing poker is by increasing the speed of play. New online formats like fast-fold poker make it possible to play rounds of games within just a few minutes, but even in a standard online game, play is much faster than compared to a live game.

Several elements that can take up time at the live poker table, such as manual shuffling, dealing, and chip counting, are all automatic processes in an online game. This generates a faster pace for the game, allowing online players to get stuck in immediately, without having to wait for things like reshuffles due to common human errors. An average online game moves at a rate of 60 hands per hour, while live cash games only see around 30 in the same time frame.

The faster pace of online gaming can make a big difference in the earning potential of players, and it makes the game more enjoyable on certain levels. When you just don’t have the cards or you’re running out of chips to play with, live poker games can drag on and become very frustrating. In the digital realm, however, the faster pace means that players on a winning streak will be able to play more hands and increase their winnings.

Online Games are Always Accessible

Online, poker can be played 24/7, 365 days a year. In the real world, poker games are restricted by limited opening hours and a limited number of games available. Even in those poker rooms that operate for 24 hours, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find the right game to join.

The always-on nature of online platforms means games will run around the clock, even live dealer games. It’s much easier to find specific variants like Omaha Hi-Lo and Five-Card Stud, as well as games set at your preferred stakes.

Additionally, the accessibility of online poker means it appeals to a wider demographic than you would normally find in a typical poker room. The anonymity of online poker rooms makes them a safe place for players in minority groups to learn and play the game, while famous poker players can enter games online without having to deal with any potential fall-out over their celebrity status.

What’s Better, Online or Live Poker?

This is an impossible question to answer since every single poker player has their individual needs. Some players are born for live games, they thrive on the social interactions of the tournament environment and play at their best when they’re face to face with their opponents.

Other players, meanwhile, like the accessibility and instantaneous play that’s associated with online poker platforms. Then, there are those players who find that they want to switch things up from time to time, choosing to play online or vice versa as they progress.

What’s the best method for you depends on your circumstances, preferences, and gaming habits. You might, for example, enjoy online poker games because of their ease of use and instant play-ability. On the other hand, you might be the type of player who enjoys playing poker for the social element of the game, so playing alone online would feel alien to you.

There are also other things to consider, such as the availability of bonus offers online that have money-saving potential. Additionally, the vast amount of poker resources that you’ll find online, as well as freeroll tournaments and play-money games makes it easier to learn how to play poker online, or try out different tactics and strategies.

There will always be pros and cons associated with both online and live poker, and what suits one player won’t necessarily suit you. Research the local and online poker rooms that operate in your area, thinking about what your individual gaming needs are.

Most importantly, remember that poker is a fun hobby as much as a serious money-making pursuit, so don’t be afraid to shake things up from time to time.