Over the years, many poker players, even the best in the world, have found that moving from online poker to live poker and back again is difficult. Some players decide to focus on one discipline or the other, voting with their buy-ins in the great battle between online poker vs live poker. Is online poker harder than live poker? Is the live game the purest form of poker and still the hardest to conquer?

In this article, we’ll look at how online poker differs from live poker, highlighting the advantages of each way of playing poker. We’ll help you judge which game you’ll enjoy more and be better at playing. Whether it is the pace of poker, the difficulty in transitioning from one game method to the other or some of the other facets of switching from online poker to live poker.

Online Poker

The Advantages of Playing Online Poker

Playing online poker is all about the instant accessibility and comforting convenience of poker being available whenever you want it.

There are a huge variety of games that you can play in online poker, that fit every bankroll and every type of player. With a vast array of online poker sites to play on, choosing which one to use is your first tricky task. From first depositor bonuses to rewards that are unlocked through playing a high volume of games, there is an online poker site (or sites) for everyone.

Playing online poker rather than live poker allows you to experience different game formats on the same night, too. From Pot Limit Omaha to H.O.R.S.E., other game variants can be added into the mix along with No Limit Hold’em, which is the most popular way to play. You can also mix it up in terms of tournament tables or cash game sessions, but different types of both of those offerings too.

Will you play nine-handed ‘full ring’ cash games or stick to six-max? Should you play Sit ‘N’ Go poker tournaments where one table will produce a winner, or are multi-table tournaments (MTTs) more for you? You can find this out over just a few hours, and never have to leave the convenience of your home study or office if you have one. If you fancy a quick game of online poker, you can register on a site, claim a bonus and be sitting at the virtual felt in a matter of minutes, winning good money inside the hour. The same cannot be said for playing live.

The Challenges of Online Poker

While there are huge benefits to playing online poker there are some challenges too. While you can look your opponents in the eyes at the live poker table, online, there are no physical tells to pick up. Instead, you’ll need to focus on bet sizing, patterns and historical hands – which you can usually access and go through hand-by-hand as well as looking at timing tells – how long a particular player takes to act in different situations.

Online poker depends on technology, so if you are using a laptop, tablet or mobile, make sure that you have enough power, signal and battery if out and about to be able to complete the game you’re playing. You don’t want to be in the situation that WSOP bracelet winner Ryan DePaulo was, when he was forced to go out to the shops and use a popular high street retailer’s WiFi signal in order to win his first-ever WSOP bracelet!

The Allure of the Green Felt: Live Tournaments

Atmosphere and Social Dynamics

Going from online poker to live poker is often a tempting prospect. A far more social game, you’ll get to meet like-minded people and be part of a cultural night out rather than having only yourself for company. The atmosphere at the poker table when you’re sitting down at the live table in something else. You can read opponents in-person, gauge their strength or weakness in an individual hand and use live tells to your advantage… if you can mask your own!

While there are a number of real positives about playing live poker, you’ll need to be aware of differences in the toll it takes on you. You’ll only be playing one table instead of multiple online tables, so a lack of continuous activity changes the overall experience. Your physical presence will now be important in terms of bluffing and either intimidating your opponents by putting pressure on or putting on a performance that convinces them of your weakness when in fact you’re strong.

Your live poker persona is your table image and over time, you can work on your ability to put on a show that will influence other players. When you weigh up online poker vs live poker, you want to look at live poker as a skill that you will be working on at a much slower rate than online.

The tale exists of an old school poker pro, wearing a cowboy hat in a recent World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Playing against a young ‘internet player’, the old cowboy told him he needed to stick around for a little longer and play some more hands. The young online player politely asserted that he had, in fact, played more volume than the old man, it was just that they were all online. The table began debating and the general consensus was that the youngster may have been right. Either way it was close.

Is online poker harder than live poker? That’s impossible to say – they are very different formats of the same game. Neither are to be looked down on.

A Bridge Between Worlds: Overcoming Challenges in Transition

Adapting to the Pace of Live Tournaments

Time-wise, live poker is much slower than online poker. Online poker cash games and tournaments will play at a rate that is double that of the live equivalent. You should play 100+ hands per hour at the online felt whereas  you’ll average between 25 and 30 hands per hour in a brick-and-mortar cardroom.

This change in pace is mostly due to the dealer physically having to shuffle the cards, as well as live poker players needing more time – or simply taking it – to make their decisions. The slower pace of live poker will tempt you to play on your phone or watch a TV show on your tablet. The great live player uses the time to their advantage by focusing on what the other players at your table are doing, even when you are not in a hand, and especially at showdown.

In live poker, you’ll need to utilize your math skills, calculating the stack size of your opponents, avoiding being pot-committed because you failed to calculate the size of the bet in relation to your stack. You’re allowed to ask players what they have in their stack but in general, live players will stack them in towers of 10 or 10 chips. You should do this too, always remembering to stack your large denomination chips at the front.

Live tells can be important but aren’t regularly so. Bet sizing, for example, is a much bigger indicator you should be looking at tracking. Most live tells are subtle, such as players betting quicker when they are bluffing or are strong. Make sure you don’t fall prey to such traits; put your chips into the pot the same way each time, be consistent with your physical movements and don’t get drawn into table talk during a hand unless you’re 100% sure that you’re in charge of it, something that many people think they are when they’re not.

Mind Games: Psychological Shifts in the Transition

Live poker provides a multitude of challenges as we’ve just described but online poker is no less taxing. It can be hard to go from playing in a busy cardroom to sitting on your laptop in your home office on your own. Make sure that you know how to cope with the lack of social interaction and maintain your focus in solitary environments.

The opposite is, of course, true. Many online poker player struggle to adapt to the live poker community when they join it after years of online interaction only. Building rapport with opponents is important in the live arena, as is dealing with live table chatter, a live dealer, physical changes of table and other factors.

When you play online, you’ll need to adapt to the different digital interfaces of sites as varied as 888poker, PokerStars or GGPoker to name just three of the biggest poker operators. In the live space, you can rely on a very similar method of playing with physical cards and chips, but it is still worth utilizing technology in live tournaments. We’d recommend making notes about other players on your phone for beginners struggling to compute data as it comes to them.

Live tournaments can often be about who is at your table. Search your opponent’s name on The Hendon Mob and you’ll be able to check out any ranking event results and establish the level of your foe.

Bankroll Management and Continuous Improvement

When asking yourself “Is online poker harder than live poker?” the more appropriate question might be in regard to how big the bankroll needs to be for each discipline. Online, you might make multiple deposits across a number of sites. With different bonuses available, and most importantly accessible after different checkpoints, keeping track of the funds you are putting into your online poker game is vital.

Online poker has a very quick turnover of games, and with rebuys part of the process in most online events, building a spreadsheet is a sensible way of tracking your expenditure and of course how much profit or loss you’re running at. Playing live poker requires a different bankroll. You’ll need to factor in expenses for travel and accommodation as well as dealing with the variance of fewer opportunities to balance out the vagaries of luck, both good and bad, at the felt.

In both live poker and online poker, how much you practice and work on your game is crucial. There’s a plethora of training sites available online and online coaches are a growing sector of the game. Live mentors are, of course, available too, but you need to remember that over the course of time, you’ll play many less tournaments live than online, so variance plays a big part and micro-movements of improvement may not be felt in terms of results for some weeks. It’s all about creating a diverse training routine and learning from every experience at the felt, whether it is live or online.

In Conclusion

Playing both online and live poker is a balancing act that can be difficult to judge at first. Over time, with access to the right coaching, training packages and support, moving between online and live poker with ease can be a case of understanding the transitional phases as you enter them.

From a different pace of poker to physical tells versus online volume, blending both live and online poker is a skillset all of its own. Tracking your progress is as vital as putting in the work as you look to move forward in your development every step of the way.

Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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