A lot of online poker players are new to gambling altogether, but many are players at brick-and-mortar casinos and card rooms who are making a transition to the convenience of online play. If that describes you, you may be surprised by just how different online poker is. You could, in fact, be quite good at playing offline and struggle to win online. This is because a lot of the habits and skills which you learned offline may not transfer over to the online environment perfectly. In short, patterns of thinking and strategies which made you money offline could actually cause you to lose money online.
So what are all of the differences which you can expect?
1. Lower Stakes Online
While there are some aspects of transitioning from a live poker environment to an online setting which pose a challenge, one which does not is the change in stakes.
At a live casino or card room, you may find yourself having to put down stakes which are uncomfortably high. There really is nothing you can do about this aside from to avoid the tables or wait until you accumulate enough money to play a game. Naturally this can lead to slow learning—or to losing a lot more money than you can afford.
Online you will never have to deal with this problem. There are a lot of online poker games which offer what is known as “micro stakes.” These are very small stakes often amounting to under a dollar. With stakes this small, you are essentially practicing with next to no risk. This is an amazing learning opportunity! It is also a great option if you are simply a gambler who does not have a lot in the way of financial resources. Save up your money for when you are ready to win big. In the meantime, you get to enjoy more poker games!
2. No Chips or Cards to Handle
One aspect of gambling offline which is a genuine pain is dealing with the physical cards and chips. On top of that, you have to keep track of the pot. If you fumble with the chips a lot, watching other players handle them with finesse can be distressing.
Online, there are no physical cards or chips to handle, nor do you have to go out of your way to keep track of the pot. The software takes care of all of this for you, which allows you to actually focus on the game. You do not have to feel a sense of novice shame either when you see other players handling the chips better than you. In fact, you do not have to look at them at all (unless you are playing at a live casino which includes video feeds of all the players).
3. Games are Shorter and Faster
Now, one aspect of transitioning to an online poker table which can take some getting used to is the change in game speed. Brick-and-mortar venues feature games which can take a really, really long time to unfold. If you are used to that, you may not think anything of it.
Once you start playing poker online, you will be introduced to lightning-fast game speed. Some players take very well to this change, but others struggle because they feel overwhelmed by the pace of the action. They are rushed with their decisions, and as a result, they make poor calls.
This can lead to another problem. If you are not used to finishing games this quickly, you may be surprised when your first game is suddenly over. Your first thought may be to play another since they fly by so quickly—and then another, and another. For some players, this can be addictive. It becomes the mentality of, “Just one more game, and I will win it all back.”
Before you know it, you have lost a lot of money playing game after game, even though your stakes were not as high. Many gamblers who suffer from addictive personalities may not even notice what they are doing or how many games they have played when this happens. It is just suddenly the end of the day and they are left wondering how they became so down and out.
My advice is to slow down to the best of your ability. You cannot take forever to make your decisions at the table, but you can at least put a cap on how many games you will play in a day. Give yourself time to get used to the changes in game pace. Make thoughtful adjustments to your strategies which compensate for the change in speed.
You can also choose to look at the bright side. Eventually you may prefer the fast pace of online poker. You may discover that it is less fatiguing, and that you are less prone to losing focus and letting your mind wander. You also may end up second-guessing your decisions less since you do not have as much time to vacillate.
4. You Can Multi-Table
One of the coolest things about playing poker online is that you can multi-table. “Multi-tabling” means just what the name indicates—playing multiple tables at one time. Imagine what that would entail if you were to do it offline. You would have to scramble back and forth between tables while other players were doing the same. It’d be chaos.
Online, there is no scrambling and no chaos. You just set up a multi-tabling layout that you like and follow and participate in multiple games at once. Despite the fast pace of online poker, many players are comfortable doing this. Some players may even be able to juggle a dozen games at a time. Most of course will only play several. The ideal amount depends solely on you and your play style.
Naturally this means you can play a lot of poker games online in just a single sitting. As you might expect, that can add up to quite a bit of money if you are good at it and win most of your games. It also can add up to quite a significant drawdown at the end of the day if you are bad at balancing all those games. Multi-tasking is actually very demanding on the brain. For those with poor executive function in particular, multi-tabling may be dangerous.
I highly suggest you get used to playing just one online poker game at a time when you are first starting out. Once you are able to win consistently at that, you can start multi-tabling. Try playing just two games at a time at first. If that works out, you can add a third table, and so on. Just make sure that you are tracking your wins carefully so that you can identify when you hit peak efficiency.
I want to emphasize here that for some reason this turns into a contest among players. Everyone wants to be the person who can juggle the largest number of tables. But there is nothing superior about juggling 12 tables rather than 6, or 6 rather than 2 or 3. The only superiority in poker is in winning. So do whatever works out best for you and do not worry about what other people are “capable” of.
5. Games Tend to be More Aggressive
When is the last time offline that you were playing a game of poker and there were four pre-flop limpers, maybe even more? I am guessing it was not all that long ago. But if you start playing online poker, you are not going to see a lot of that. Players in online poker rarely adopt passive strategies; they tend to take a much more aggressive approach to the game. You likewise will need to be prepared to do the same. If you play passively, you just are not going to make it.
Does this make online poker harder than offline poker? Not really. But it may seem that way for a while, at least until you adapt and develop a new approach. Try not to let it intimidate you. Eventually you will be playing the same way, and it will be your turn to intimidate somebody else.
6. You Have Fewer Tells to Go Off of, But You Still Have Them
There is a huge myth that in online poker there are no tells.
It is easy to see why people believe this. For the purposes of this discussion, I am not talking about live poker with a video feed of all of your opponents. I am just talking about your basic online poker where all you have to look at are computer graphics.
In a situation like this, obviously you cannot track the eye movements of your opponents. You cannot make observations about their body language. You cannot listen to what they say or how they laugh to try and figure out how nervous or confident they are. You have absolutely nothing visual or audible to go off of.
If you rely on cues like these to understand your opponents and to win poker offline, naturally you are going to be looking at a rough transition online. You will have to find new strategies to figure out what your adversaries are up to. For a while, you may feel completely lost. You may wonder how you will ever beat your opponents.
As I just mentioned, there are actually tells online. You just need to pay attention to different things:
- Watch how players structure their bet sizes
- See how long it takes for players to react or make decisions
- Look for strategic patterns
- Track which players are attracted to which kinds of games
Log observations during your games and you may be able to get the upper hand. Even if you do not figure out your opponents swiftly enough to win one particular game, that does not mean those observations will not help you in the future. Most people who gamble online become regulars at it, and chances are good you will face many of the same opponents in the future.
7. It Can be Harder to Keep Track of Opponents You Have Played Before
That being the case, you may find that it is extra challenging to distinguish one player from the next and to recall whether you have faced a given opponent in the past. You do not have any real names or faces to go on after all. You have not sat there studying facial features and tics for hours on end. All you have is that player’s screen name. In almost every case, that will tell you next to nothing. Some players may even pick misleading names to deliberately throw off their opponents.
So what can you do about it? Consider downloading poker tracking software. There are free and paid programs available (the paid programs usually come with a free trial). If you play a lot of games and especially if you multi-table, this is practically a necessity. Poker tracking software will not only help you to keep track of your own wins, losses, and statistics, but it will help you to keep track of the same information about your opponents. While you are at it, I strongly suggest that you maintain a journal where you write detailed observations down.
8. Overall Pressure is Lower
One of the best things overall about playing poker online vs. offline is that the pressure is a lot lower. This is especially true if you are a newbie. You do not need to actually look at other people or worry about the observations they are making while they are looking at you. You do not need to deal with eye contact, and you never have to worry about social niceties. There are obviously rules for etiquette when you play online, but they are a lot less expensive, and you do have the option of just being silent. If you are socially awkward, this can be a real boon since you can just focus on your game play instead.
Conclusion: Transitioning From Offline Poker to Online Poker Can be Challenging But Rewarding
As you can see, there are aspects of playing poker online which are undeniably better, like your choice of playing with higher or lower stakes. But there are a lot of other aspects which could be better or worse for you depending on your strategies, personality, and play style. No matter what, making the adjustment can be a challenge. But it is one which can pay off in spades—and sometimes in a royal flush!
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