In 2003, Chris Moneymaker, a simple accountant, made headlines around the world when he qualified for the World Series of Poker Main Event through a satellite tournament at a website called “PokerStars.” To everyone’s shock, he won first place, taking home $2.5 million. This was also the year I began building websites focused on the online gambling industry.
Moneymaker’s story received live coverage on TV, which effectively popularized Texas Hold’em and online gambling in a way that nothing had before. Suddenly everyone wanted to be like Chris Moneymaker, so websites like PokerStars and online casinos saw an explosion of sign-ups and activity.
Maybe you also have been inspired by Chris Moneymaker’s story. You wonder if you could become the next poker superstar even if right now you work in accounting, customer service, tech support, or some other unrelated profession. After all, if he got rich playing poker online, maybe you can do it too.
- But does that mean that the internet is really the best place to learn how to play poker?
It depends on who you ask. Some people swear by online poker rooms. Others believe that it is best to learn how to play in real brick-and-mortar casinos and card rooms.
I would assert that there is no simple “right” answer to this question. The “right” answer is the one which is a good fit for you. That comes down to your play style and your personality and psychology.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of learning poker online. Then I will talk a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of learning poker offline.
How Learning Poker Online Can Help You:
Perhaps the most helpful aspect of learning poker online is that it is convenient! You do not need to spend money on gasoline or waste time driving to and from a brick-and-mortar casino. You do not need to dress up or do anything else fancy. All you have to do is join an online casino, deposit money, and start playing.
If the effort involved in going to a brick-and-mortar casino is an obstacle for you, getting it out of your way could really open up doors for you to learn.
It can be a lot less expensive to learn at home as well. Brick-and-mortar casinos can drain your money in unexpected ways. I have already mentioned the cost of transportation. But they also tend to offer you discounts on food and drinks, which may prompt you to spend more money not directly related to your stakes.
Speaking of your stakes, that is another aspect of online poker which is more cost effective. The stakes at online tables are typically far lower than they are at offline tables. The less you have to put down to learn, the better. You will lose money learning, so you should aim for the lowest entry stakes you can find, at least in the beginning. When you are ready to move to higher stakes, you will find that online poker has plenty to offer you.
Online poker has a much faster pace than offline poker. This is not ideal for every player, but if you like the fast pace, you can play through a lot of games in a very short span of time. Multi-tabling even allows you to participate in multiple games at once. This can facilitate very fast growth in your poker skills!
For some players, there is an additional psychological barrier in learning how to play poker offline. The pressure of sitting down surrounded by more experienced players can sometimes be just too much. This may cause you to avoid actually trying to learn at all, or it could just cause you to play poorly when you do sit down at the tables offline.
Online, some of that pressure goes away. You obviously may still be seated among superior players, but you do not have to actually look at them or endure them looking at you. This can make you feel a little less embarrassed and out of place and a little more confident. This in turn may make the entire game more approachable.
Drawbacks of Learning Poker Online:
While the brick-and-mortar casino may pose a number of distractions, for some players, home is actually more distracting. At home, you are surrounded by family or housemates. You may also be sidetracked by smartphones, the television, and other devices, not to mention the other programs on your desktop. For some players, the booze in the fridge may also pose problems.
If you are interested in the psychological aspect of poker, you may not get as much out of playing online. Offline, you can watch other players and search for tells. The cues that let you know what they are thinking and doing. While there are still tells online (usually in the form of betting patterns), they are obviously far reduced. If tells are going to be an important aspect of how you play poker, you may find that you actually can perform better offline than online.
How Learning Poker Offline Can Help You:
You Get To Learn All About Tells
Online you can study betting patterns, especially with the aid of poker tracking software. But offline, you can study so much more about how people gamble. You can watch their movements, their expressions, where their eyes are directed. It is an amazing opportunity to learn more about how people think and behave, to learn more about your own behavior and emotions as well.
You Get To Use Those Tells
If you become very good at reading people offline, you can use that skill to your advantage. We have all heard that poker is not really about playing your hand, but rather about playing the person across from you.
Online poker proves that is an oversimplification of the truth. But using tells can be a huge part of the game, especially at a brick-and-mortar casino. If it is something you excel at, it can make you a master gambler. Those same skills (or the potential to develop them) however may do very little for you online.
You Might Find It Easier To Focus
If you have too many distractions at home and you do not find a physical card room as distracting, you may find that you actually have an easier time staying focused on the game if you stick to playing offline. For some players, this is simply a better approach.
Drawbacks of Learning Poker Offline:
Games Are Slow
Poker games at physical tables are a lot slower than they are online. As I mentioned before, this is not a drawback for everyone. Some players even prefer it and will do better with the slower pace. But for many, it can be exhausting, and it may lead you to second-guess a lot of your decisions.
If this is the case for you, the faster pace of online games may be better. ] Plus, if that is the case, the more games you can play within a short time period, the faster you can learn. The entire pace of learning offline tends to be slower unless it really is better for you. If it is, the advantages you gain through the slow pacing could make up for the slower growth in your experience.
You Could Get Distracted
If you do find the casino environment more distracting than your home environment, that would be another definite drawback to learning offline. If you find that you cannot stay away from the bar or the buffet table, or the glamour of all the well-dressed ladies around you is a disruption, you should probably consider learning online instead.
Pressure is High
If you just cannot get past the fact that you are surrounded by players who can own you, you may want to stay away from brick-and-mortar games until you at least start building some confidence online. Eventually you may find that is enough to get you over your fears. In the meantime, trying to learn offline could just cost you money in the form of nervous mistakes.
Stakes Are High
As you will typically need to put down more money to play a game offline than you would online, you will be spending a lot more on your learning process if you stick to offline poker. A lot of newbies simply do not have the bankroll to play with the high-rollers. Again, you are just starting out, so finance yourself accordingly.
It Is Time Consuming and Inconvenient
Finally, playing offline is an inconvenient process. First of all, you have to find somewhere to gamble. That may mean driving a long distance to a casino, or it might mean searching all over your community for an appropriate home game. You may not be able to find any private games to join which accept players with your stakes and skill level.
All of this can suck up a lot of time and energy. Wouldn’t you rather spend that time and energy actually learning poker? If you want to get right down to business, you are not going to beat online casinos for a simple solution.
Conclusion: Online and Offline Learning in Combination May Be Ideal
So should you learn how to play poker online or in physical card rooms? Hopefully by now you actually have some idea what the best answer is for you taking into account all these pros and cons. Nobody else knows your personality and psychology like you do.
For some players, online learning may be the best choice. For others, offline learning may be ideal.
I think a lot of players can benefit from spending some time learning online and offline. That way you can take advantage of the positive qualities of both environments, and you can be prepared for a broader swath of situations and possibilities. At the same time, you can mitigate some of the inconveniences which come with each form of learning.
Caution: Translating Skills Between Online and Offline Poker Requires Adjustments
If you do decide to play poker both online and offline or you are thinking about learning in one environment now and eventually transferring your skills to another, there is one thing you need to be aware of.
Because there are differences in online and offline poker, there are going to be different adaptations which you make to play successfully in each environment. You will pick up habits due to the faster or slower pace of games or the ability to see players or not. When you go to transfer your skills to a different kind of table, some of those adaptations will no longer be a good fit.
For that reason, expect some hitches when you switch from online games to offline games or vice versa. This is a subject I will get into in-depth in an upcoming article. Until then, just keep it in mind as you launch into your poker learning adventure!