How Is Online Poker Different From Live Poker?

While there is no substitute for the exciting experience of playing in a live poker room, there are many aspects of playing poker online that make it just as entertaining and rewarding. Not to mention accessible, and it is a good place to sharpen your skills and test your patience. More so now than in the past, many pro players manage to excel on both sides of the fence, but you still need to understand the differences to stand a chance of winning.

So, what are the main differences between live and online poker, and what are the advantages of playing the latter? These are timing, pace, quality of opponents, a variance of play and the rate at which you can get through your bankroll. Here we look at these points in more detail:

Speed and volume

In the online arena, the sheer speed and volume of the games alone increase your profit-making potential. The speed and volume in online poker mean of course that you can lose faster as well. Beware of this especially if you are playing on multiple tables.

In a live game, you can expect between 10 to 30 hands per hour (HPH) – depending on the experience of your dealer – whereas in an online game you could expect your HPH to climb to 60 plus. And if you are playing multiple games, maybe two tables (pros will play at least four at a time), you are massively increasing the number of games compared to what you would play in a live game. In fact, the only thing that limits the number of tables that you can play online at a time is your screen size.

Another upside of this for relative beginners is that the more hands you play, the faster you learn. There is a downside for newcomers to online poker rooms and that it the speed of play allows less time for rational decision making and increases the margin for error. And one man’s mistake is another man’s win in poker.

Exaggerated variance

This term describes swings that you experience in poker regarding big wins and big losses over time. The fast pace of online poker means that your bankroll can go up and down like a yo-yo and you need to manage it accordingly. Prepare yourself for this mentally (you don’t want these fluctuations to put you on tilt). Go in with sufficient bankroll (more than you might in a live game) to cover multiple buy-ins or entry fees.

Quality of the competition

The quality of players in online poker runs the full gamut from the truly impressive to the truly awful. But the majority are pretty awful at times and you don’t have to tax your brain too hard to work out why. Rubbish players are not going to go and embarrass themselves in a live game and prefer the anonymity offered by online poker rooms. It’s also not unheard of for someone to lurch from making losses in a live game straight to an online game just to make the same mistakes.

Poor players make more mistakes, and if you can manage to play a solid game, this can be an advantage to you. If you are a decent player, this may not sound too challenging, even boring, but at least you should be able to take your opponents’ money.

Loose vs. tight play

While you should never rely too much on assumptions about players, whether live or online, generally speaking, live poker play tends to be a little looser and more passive than online where you can describe the play as more aggressive and tight.

The comfort of your own home

While live poker tournaments offer glamour and exposure, playing online offers a chance to hone your skills and build your bankroll while saving you a packet in travelling and living expenses that the live circuits necessarily involve.

The other benefit of being in the relative comfort of your own home is that nobody can see you, so any physical ‘tells’ that you might display in a live poker game are not visible. It, of course, works both ways, and maybe be harder for you to get a ‘read’ on your opponents in an online room. It can add to the frustration that you may experience with the kind of ‘unorthodox’ play that is prevalent on the virtual scene especially in low-stakes, large-field tournaments.


You can still make money on the rakeback in online poker even if you haven’t won a penny. It does not happen in the live poker games and is an important distinction.

Not to confuse with the ‘rake,’ which is the percentage taken by the house on each pot. [For more on this LINK TO OUR ARTICLE ‘How does online poker work’] Rakeback is a promotional tool that online casinos use to encourage long-term players to come back to their site. It works by regularly refunding a proportion of the house ‘rake’ into player’s accounts.

This particular feature of the online game has created a sub-group of players called ‘rakeback grinders’ whose profits come almost exclusively from rakeback. By grinding away online, losing or just breaking even, they generate ‘rake’ for the casino and then benefit from the ‘rakeback.’ Make sure you do your research and shop around for the best deals if you are going to go down this route.

Online poker is not rigged.

And finally, on this list, we should put to bed one of the most common concerns about online poker, and that is about fair play. As with all other online casino games, poker room software uses Random Number Generators. These RNGs ensure that the deals are just as random as they would be at a table in a bricks-and-mortar casino.

So, when you see someone ‘chatting’ in an online poker room, complaining that the game is rigged, you can guess that they may be poorly skilled or inexperienced, and very likely on a losing streak. Nobody likes to admit that they are losing because they are a sub-standard player. Instead, it is much easier to blame it on the poker room.

Still not convinced? Then that might just be your ego doing your thinking for you. To be sure that you are playing in a safe and fair environment only play online poker on reputable sites that are regulated and licensed by the UK Gambling Commission.