Live poker can be fun. But it’s also slow, often tedious, and fraught with incidental expenses (gas costs a lot these days!) You’ve probably heard that online poker is free of all these downsides.
That’s true. But playing online comes with its own set of challenges.
Online poker plays completely different from a live game. Yes, it’s faster; thus the potential for a higher hourly rate exists. Yes, it’s more exciting; thus there’s less of a chance that you’ll get bored. And yes, there are fewer fixed expenses; thus less overhead and more profit.
But there is an opportunity cost you’ll have to pay, which is learning to adjust your game.
Adjustment #1: Online Poker is Faster than Live
You’ll typically see around 80 hands per hour at a shorthanded online poker table. Compare that to 20 or 30 hands per hour at a casino. The faster pace of online poker means you can win more in a shorter period of time. But it also means you can lose a lot very quickly.
You’ve probably experienced tilt before. It sucks, largely because it’s hard to identify and control. If you tilt at a casino, you’re liable to screw up over maybe 10 or 20 hands before you quit. Online, tilting over the same time period would cost you 40 or 50 hands’ worth of screw-ups.
Say you lose an average of $5 per hand when tilting at a casino. That’s $50-100 bucks down the tube. At the same limits online, you’d be down $200-250.
This means you’ll need to work on your emotional control. If you hang around any high-stakes poker forums, you’ll quickly learn that the line between online hacks and online pros is skill at impulse control. Much of your profit playing online poker will actually come from exploiting players who tilt a lot.
Learn to monitor your emotions, to identify when you’re playing poorly, and to quit at the right time. Counter-intuitive as it seems, these skills are probably more important online than live due to the faster pace of play.
Adjustment #2: Live Tells Don’t Work Online
You may have heard that you can’t read players in online poker. That’s actually a common misconception. Online poker is all about reading other players, but the reads you’ll make are nothing like those you’d make live.
Live, you might look at an opponent’s body language: steadiness of hands, line of sight, face pallor, et cetera. You can’t look for these things online. Instead, you’ll be looking at betting patterns.
Things like your opponent’s reaction time, bet sizing, and past history will tell you a lot online. Players on the internet are pretty predictable. For example if you notice that an opponent has bet 4 times the big blind on the button for 5 straight orbits, you can be reasonably sure he’s playing loose from late position regardless of his hand strength. Given this you can start fighting back and steal a few pots profitably.
Learning to recognize this sort of pattern is critical in adjusting to online poker.
Adjustment #3: Online Poker is More Aggressive than Live
The online games have gotten very aggressive over the last few years. Don’t let that scare you off -aggression doesn’t mean difficulty. It’s just one factor you’ll have to adjust to in online poker.
It’s not uncommon to get 4 or more limpers preflop in a raised pot live. That will almost never happen online. Online players generally take a “serious business” attitude to their play. A solid online regular will isolate bad players by raising, steal lots of blinds, and raise for value on early streets as much as possible.
Adjusting to this isn’t hard, but it will certainly feel different at first. You’ll need to play a much less passive game. A useful maxim is this: never flat call a raise and never limp a hand you want to play. Gamblers often say “you’ve got to bet it to get it”. That’s certainly true in online poker.
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