Choosing between live and online poker

Many players struggle to decide whether to play live or online poker. To try and help you, we created this article. Spoiler alert: It comes down to your skills and what you like best

Choosing between live and online poker image

A question that I often receive from players is whether they should focus primarily on live or online play.  My response is always the same: "it depends".  There is no easy, straightforward way to answer this, the best course of action relies on the player’s strengths, skill set, and current situation.  The first thing to consider is your bankroll.  Online cash games start as low as a two-dollar buy-in, and they offer the opportunity to learn the game quickly without risking much money.  On the other hand, live games typically start at NL200, and while the population for these live games might behave similarly to an online small stakes game, not everyone can afford to lose a few thousand dollars during major downswings.  Online poker also has the advantage of allowing poker players to see thousands of hands in a short period of time and, as a result, one can become an expert player in a matter of months or a year by simply putting in a large amount of volume. 

Location location location

Another factor to consider in this debate is where one is located, geographically.  As an example, a player in the US might be more inclined to focus on live games due to the unstable and unregulated nature of online poker in their country.  Often enough, this decision is not so obvious.  For instance, one might live five miles away from a casino with big action games, but also have access to juicy online games; In this scenario, it could be beneficial to note when the best games are running on each of these platforms and create a schedule to take advantage of the best situations in them.  If you want to be successful as a professional poker player, you are going to have to take all of that into consideration in order to create a plan that is most likely to lead you to the best results. 

Consider your skills

It astounds me how often players neglect to consider their own skill set when deciding what the best game to play.  Let’s say a friend calls and says “you’ve got to come to get a seat in this Omaha 8 or better game!  Every pot is 4 bets preflop and the whole table is drinking!”. One might think to himself, “Great, I’m going to win a ton of money tonight.”, without taking into account his own skill at the game, he may suck at high low and still go because the table is playing worse than their usual skill level.  My point here is that a game is only as beatable if your skill level is higher than that of your opponents.  Therefore, if your strength is doing mathematical simulations and exploiting your opponents’ HUD stats, you are probably more cut out for online play.  If you are an expert in game flow and reading physical tells, you are probably going to have more success playing live.  The best players are adept in all aspects of poker, so work on becoming a well-rounded player, but until then, build your bankroll in the areas where you thrive. 

EV is NOT everything

These days, all anyone can talk about in poker is EV, hourly rate, etc, but I’m going to bring up another factor to evaluate in order to ensure your longevity in the game; how to maximize your happiness EV.  Even if you are the most profitable player in the world, if you are miserable doing your job, you are not going to have a very long career.  You must do what makes you the happiest in order to become successful and live a well-balanced life.  Let me use myself as an example here, I am primarily a cash game player.  I don’t enjoy being away from home.  I don’t enjoy the long days and strict schedules that tournaments demand.  Therefore, I only travel a few times a year and spend the rest of my time at home playing no-limit cash games whenever I want.  My favorite form of poker is online 6 max, where I put in a large portion of my volume.  If I play too much, however, I begin to feel lonely and isolated.  What do I do to fix this you ask?  I’ll take a break from online games and go play live cash games somewhere I am familiar and friendly to most of the players. This allows me to get out of the house and be social, while also still working hard and earning a living.  I won’t say that this is true for everyone, but it has proven to be the best plan for me. So if you are new to poker, if you’re struggling with the game, or if you are feeling burned out, take some time to really think about what you want out of the game, what's the best path for you? What brings you joy? Think about what will be the most profitable course of action, sure, but also what will maximize your happiness.  Do these things and you will be on your way to a successful and prosperous career.

Best of luck at the tables!

- Kaivon