Playing poker in Las Vegas vs playing poker online: What’s the difference?

Who are more skilled: online poker players or Vegas poker players?

It’s an age-old debate that originally emerged in the 1990s when online poker first took hold. No doubt the arguments will continue for decades to come, but it’s important to consider the facts and the differences between the two methods of play, in order to appreciate the skills of both types of player. Dave Southey investigates.

Which is more difficult, live Vegas or online poker?

There will never be a definitive answer to this question since the skills required to succeed in each form of the game are dramatically different and should be acknowledged in their own rights. When discussing this topic, Steven Ruddock once asked: “does a sprinter laugh at a marathoner’s lack of speed, or does the marathoner giggle at the sprinter’s lack of stamina?” His analogy illustrates how live and online poker require such different skills that they shouldn’t be directly compared. Neither game is easier than the other and both Vegas and online players should be respected for their impressive skills.

The major differences in skill

Live poker players have to feel out their players, use their body language as a tactic and read the physical movements of their opponents, all of which can be incredibly difficult techniques to master. In Vegas, the poker scene can be very intimidating, with some of the biggest, most successful poker players in the world staking big money. The pressure of the live poker room adds a level of complexity and technique that online players don’t experience, and it requires a huge amount of natural skill and experience to stay cool and successfully read opponents’ physical tells.

By contrast, online poker players rely more on stats to help them get to grips with their opponents. Mathematics plays a big role in online poker, with successful players being very analytical and good with numbers. Researching opponents is crucial since they can’t be physically read during the game, and playing multiple tables at one time means players must be fast and have intense concentration in order to be successful. Practice makes perfect, but many successful online players have a natural affinity for maths, stats and analytics.

Dedication and practice

Whilst the two forms of play are completely different, they both require time, patience and practice to get right. To become a professional, both online and in live games, poker players must dedicate a huge amount of time to the game in order to fine-tune their skills, yet there remains a debate on who has it ‘easier’.

Whilst live poker players have to seek out games, weigh up the costs of travel to Vegas and offset potential winnings against this, online players tend to play as many games as they possibly can and they can do so whenever they want, without even having to leave the house.

Planning is crucial for live players who want to make a good living off the game, but offsetting outgoings against winnings can be time-consuming and for many it can be difficult to play as often as they’d like due to financial constraints. Plus, waiting for the right table and right seat in the poker room can take hours. In contrast, online players often use poker tracking software to monitor their earnings. When they want to play, they simply log into their PC and join multiple tables as quickly and as often as they like.

Online players can even play multiple tables in one sitting, and can therefore rack up hundreds of hands within a couple of hours; a brilliant way to improve skill and earn money fast. However, it’s important to note the extra research that has to go into their game. They tend to intensely analyse both their own play and that of their opponents in order to understand how best to beat them, which can be incredibly time-consuming in itself.

The stakes

As a general rule of thumb, live poker sees bigger bets than its online equivalent; it’s not unusual to see open raises five to eight times the size, whilst online tends to remain at three to four times the amount. There are a couple of reasons that this tends to happen.

Firstly, in the live game there is a lot of focus on body language and personality. Placing huge bets can be a tactic to intimidate other players since it demonstrates a player’s confidence in their hand. Furthermore, the atmosphere and thrill of the game, particularly in Vegas, often encourages players to risk higher stakes – a kind of ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Online players don’t have their competitors face-to-face and may feel less pressured to place huge bets.

The second reason for lower stakes in online poker games is that players tend to play hundreds of games for lower stakes in order to win big money in the long term. As mentioned previously, they can have multiple hands in several games at one time, so it makes more sense to reduce risk and bet low, whilst still winning enough games to make big money. Plus, good players often play on sites where most of their competitors are significantly less skilled and experienced than themselves, so they can win more often. As a result, there is no need to risk staking huge sums of money when they can simply play multiple hands that they’re bound to win.

The atmosphere

Vegas is often seen as the home of poker – the ultimate location for the biggest competitors to play. Many love the live game there because the atmosphere is tense and exciting, and it’s an opportunity to meet and play against some stiff competition. In this respect, live play can’t be replicated in the online game, but in many ways this is advantageous.

Online players get to play at their own rate at the times that suit them best and wherever they want, providing they have a computer and an internet connection. Whilst the atmosphere of live poker can be thrilling, it also adds a lot more pressure. It can be easier for online players to keep their cool and make sensible, level-headed decisions without having their opponents facing them, watching their every move. Saying that, since many online poker players have multiple hands on the go, they have to make decisions quickly and it takes an awful lot of concentration to get it right, which some may find stressful. By contrast, Vegas players are restricted to one table at a time, and for some the game can seem slow and a little dull.

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