Top Five Reasons Live Poker Is Softer Than Online Poker (Part 2)

Last and quite the opposite of least, I conclude my list of the top five reasons that live poker is softer than online poker with the two most prominent.

2. Live Poker Demands and Rewards Patience, Online Poker Does Not

Generally speaking, the looser the game, the softer the game, and the more money that can be won. Live games are virtually always looser than online games, from starting hand to the final card, and there’s a simple reason for that which isn’t due to the skill or knowledge of the players, rather, in spite of it.

The trip to a live cardroom, and the subsequent wait for a seat, generally requires a not-insignificant investment of time, energy, and transportation. It takes sacrifice to be there.

Once in the game, a player can expect to be dealt no more than 40 hands an hour (and quite a bit fewer in an Omaha 8 or stud game). Assuming the cards are running average, a player is likely to see just one or two premium hands per hour. With only a few hours to devote to a poker session, a large percentage of players are simply not capable of “playing by the book” with their starting hand selection.

In terms of the demands it places on one’s patience, playing tight in an online game is in no way comparable to playing tight in a live game. An online player can have as many tables open as he likes, and each of those tables individually will be dealing him hands at two to three times the speed of a live game.

In addition, an online player doesn’t have to go to any effort to be in these games, aside from a few mouse clicks, and he can easily come and go at any time, for any reason.

Online players are completely free of the temporal, spatial, and opportunity constraints that live players must face.

And this isn’t just a matter of frugality with starting hands. Live players are much more likely to toy with thinner edges, to peel for more draws, to take more chances, to make more crying calls with those premium hands they had to wait so long for, and in general to push everything just that much harder in the hopes of “making something happen” than those exact same players would in an online game.

Everyone is prone to play at least somewhat looser in a live game than in an online game. It’s just a fact. And the additional action begets still more action. A game’s tightness or looseness tends to feed on itself, and the live environment encourages looseness (particularly in a game paid for by time collection charges). Everything about online poker on the other hand (rakeback in particular) encourages tightness.

Peer pressure is another factor in live games. The first time I ever played poker in a cardroom I was singled out, teased, and chastised for playing tight. The second time too. And the third. By my fourth session I found that I was playing far more hands than I had on my first, and entirely because of not wanting to have the “nit” sign around my neck. They had successfully acculturated me, and in a manner that benefitted them (and the game).

Players in live games have a number of ways of ganging up on tight players, including call-outs, ridicule, refusal to give action, or even raise/reraise whipsawing simply on principle. Even when the hazing is delivered in a playful manner, which it often is, it nonetheless starts to get under the skin of even the most stoic individual. There is a social price to pay for being a “folder” in a live game; none at all online.

Even online a game can be loosened considerably just by slowing things down a bit. Back in the pre-UIGEA days there was an online cardroom named Pacific Poker notorious for its bizarrely loose, gambling clientele. Pacific was unanimously hailed as the host of the softest games and the worst players on the Internet, and second place wasn’t even close. Many explanations were offered for the anomaly that was Pacific’s butter-soft games. In my mind, though, the games played the way they did due to the simple fact that Pacific had a feature (or I might say a non-feature) unique among the online cardrooms: you could only play on one table at a time. That, and the software was painfully slow.

Like live games, and unlike all the other online rooms, Pacific was so much looser because it ran at half the speed, and the one-table rule put patience—the resolve to actually wait in “realtime” for good hands, and not overplay them when they came—to the test. Many players, no doubt including those who otherwise played tight when multitabling at other rooms, failed that test.

When you equalize players in regard to patience, when it doesn’t cost anyone anything to “wait for their pitch,” then the players who can wield patience as a weapon in games that demand it have lost a large chunk of their edge against those who can’t.

1. Live Poker Games Exist In A (Much) Smaller Universe

Curiously, number 1 on my list of the reasons why live poker is easier—the reason that I consider to be the most relevant, obvious, simple, and important by far, maybe more critical than all the others combined—is rarely if ever mentioned when people are discussing the issue.

Here it is in one (long) sentence: an online poker game is instantly accessible to nearly everyone on the entire planet, so it can always be as tough as the best players in the world who consider the stakes worthwhile, but a live game can only be as tough as the best players able and willing to physically commute to it.

There is an absolutely staggering difference between the two situations.

Consider the poker games that might be held at a hypothetical cardroom in some rural Alaskan town… or for that matter, the poker games that are held at the actual cardroom in my somewhat off-the-beaten-path hometown of Santa Cruz, California. They can be absurdly profitable. Far moreso than the games in larger cardrooms, and certainly online. The reason is simply that the competition pool is smaller.

The key factor in the difficulty of a poker game will always be the size of the population that has access to it. And the number of people within commuting distance of any given non-private live game will never be anywhere close to even 1% of the number with access to any given non-private online game.

Selective pressures are defined (in part) by population size, so in most physical locales, the pressures acting on a live poker game from day to day aren’t even in the same galaxy of intensity as those constantly and relentlessly acting on online games.

Soft brick and mortar games can exist for years, decades, even indefinitely if the location is right, because there simply may not be a group of players within reach who can dominate the weaker ones on a day to day basis until ultimately busting them. But the market is brutally efficient online. In fact, one of the purest available examples of social Darwinism in action is the steady increase in the difficulty of online poker games since 2003. The weak were eliminated, the strong survived… and now the super-strong are beginning to eliminate the merely strong.

Intra-state online poker (that is, games only available to state residents) is now on the table in California, and in several other states. If you’re following what I’m saying, you’ll know why I’m crossing my fingers in the hope that it comes into existence. Having only to play against the best in my state, as opposed to the best in the world, is a prospect that has me daydreaming.

Items three and four on this countdown contain several examples of filters: ways in which online poker weeds out many of the opponents you most want at your table. Yet my number 1 is kind of the ultimate “anti-filter.” By completely removing location from the list of limitations imposed on online players, the game is all too open to the opponents you least want in your way.

The convenience of online poker comes at the ultimate price. Even if you happen to be lucky enough to find yourself up against a gallery of fish at any given time online, you’d better believe the sharks are already on their way. If they want into your juicy local game though, they’re going to need Scotty to beam them up. When the playing field is small, you can have a weak game all to yourself. When the playing field encompasses the world, you never will.

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4 Comments on “Top Five Reasons Live Poker Is Softer Than Online Poker (Part 2)”

  1. Jim Hayes Says:

    Thank God for your articles – I now feel sane! I have been playing serious poker now for over a year and hae recently begun crushing the 1/2 and 2/5 games at the Casinos here in Ct. Then I go online to a 1/2 game and simply get killed. I only play 1 or 2 tables at a time and the cards that get shown down to beat mine are often top 10 hands. My belief is similar to yours – esp with multi-tabling. My theory (and I have tried this and I can confirm my own experiments) is that when I play several tables at once I actually play BETTER than at 1. I simply dont have the “time” to chase draws, straights, or figure out if someone is stealing my 2 dollar blind. I just wait for a top 10 premium hand and put the money in.
    This may be more efficient for the multi-tabling pros but it makes for a very, very tough game that is boring for the rest of us. Any “edge” that you might have is very small indeed esp when stack sizes are small as all the money may very well be in pre-flop since people are playing premium hands.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. I may take the 1-2 tables online with much more seriousness now.


  2. Rob Evans Says:

    Another big problem is that the live stakes start at $1/2 usually, and the worst players congregate there. Good write-up!

  3. Nathan Vu Says:

    Thanks for sharing such important knowledge. This information helped me a ton and that’s why I’m killing all the fish at my Live table. I don’t play online anymore because it take so long to cash out (It took like 3 weeks to finally get my check from BetOnline). At a live game you cash the chips right away if you want and have real cash in your wallet.

    Many people say Online Poker is rigged/controlled and I believe it. I did win some online, but there are many times when I get bad beats on the river. If it was the flop I wouldn’t say anything, but there’s something wrong with their algorithm. After the top 3 Poker sites got shut down I only practice my skill online playing 1 table at a time so I can improve my skill of being patience and take it to a Live setting.

    Live is much more fun and profitable. Many people don’t like it because the drive is long (some states don’t even have Casino), but I don’t mine it. I think I’m a very patience guy. Anyway, thanks for the knowledge and honest read. God bless you.

    • chrisinsc Says:

      HI Nathan,

      I’ve semi-abandoned this blog for now, but comments like these (and the others) make me want to come back to it. 🙂 Thanks.

      – Chris

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