Who’s better? Online or live players?

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With all the young online pros kicking ass in poker today, one burning question remains. Who's better? Online players or live players? Name live players seem to mock the notion that online players are better than them. Vice-versa, online players seem to be fully confident that their skill level is being disrespected. I personally would like to make a stand for online poker players abroad. I'd like to use this article to explore this ever popular debate and express my own educated opinion. I'm going to go so far as to say that the average online professional poker player is not only better than the average live pro at online poker… they are better than the live pro at live poker as well.

I'd like to start by examining the WSOP Main Event and other huge satellite field tournaments. These tournaments are basically a school of fish and I find it completely unfair that they are even used for comparison. Remember, we are not talking about the worst vs. the worst here. In contrast, we’re not talking about the best live player vs. the best online player. We’re talking about one of the thousands of each in general – facing off against each other.

Next, I'd like to kill the notion that live players are better because they have more experience. You may find this hard to believe, but this makes no sense either. A young online player often has significantly more experience than even a live player. We may not have played for many years, but we have one monstrous advantage that live players never had – we play on the computer… not in a brick and mortar room. This allows us to play sometimes over 30 times more hands than a live player would. How is that possible you may ask? Live players are stuck with a dealer dealing fewer hands than one would see online. There are so many reasons why online players get over 500% more hands in on a single table. The virtual shuffle, people being able to auto-fold, time amount to act, using virtual chips, the list really does go on and on.

Not only do we get 500% more hands in on a single table, we are almost always playing more than just one table. I have even heard of some players playing as many as 20 tables at once. Theoretically sometimes online players are getting 100 times more hands in than a live player at the casino. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that experience in poker is determined by the number of hands you play, not how long you've played. I would expect one to argue that live hands and online hands are completely different. However, they are not completely different, they are only slightly different. The only difference is that in live play you have to be able to keep a poker face and, of course, you have to be conscious physical tells. I won't deny that these are major factors, but they’re simply not enough to override the enormous amount of hands that an online player has played. When it boils down to it, it's still the same game and one hand is still one hand.

I'd like to better illustrate this with an example as to how little “experience” live pros have had compared to online pros. I heard an interview with Daniel Negreanu about 2 years ago where he mentioned he has never had a royal flush. Daniel Negreanu was 32 years old at the time and had been playing poker since he was a teenager… a minimum of 15 years. I, on the other hand, am a 23 year old online player. I have been playing for about 5 years and have had 14 royal flushes. I don't know how many hands Daniel has played, but I've played millions and millions of them; which is way more than Daniel has in 15 years.

Please don't think I'm insinuating that I'm better then Daniel Negreanu at live poker. If we both played heads up I'd probably give him a good edge… perhaps 55% to my 45% chance of winning. He's one of the few live pros whose ability and general feel and comfort at live poker is so advanced that it makes up for any amount of hand experience I may have on him. However, that doesn't do anything about the general consensus of live vs. online. There are thousands of live pros, but not all of them are as good as Daniel Negreanu. He's a special man who is extremely talented and is an all-around natural. He's a rarity in the live poker world; whereas an online poker pro with great skill is not. If you throw 10 million poker hands at any average Joe, they in all likelihood will be damn good at poker afterwards. It doesn't take a special natural born-talent or feel for the game to win. It's just mathematics and the old concept of “practice makes perfect.”

In conclusion, we may have to work harder by playing way more hands. However, I think I can speak for most online pros when I say I love what I do, so bring it on!

30 COMMENTS

  1. Everyone…please also keep in mind that Off Topic posts should remain in Off Topic and that any thread that is started that contains any Poker Discussion should be put into the Poker Discussion forum.

    Thank you

    Captain Obv

  2. ok the whole "o online players see a million hands" is the biggest cop out for a reason…..that means nothing, learning curve is quick in poker, and many things become standard, plus seeing hands is gibberish unless you study, i play sng, and see tons of hands, but i havent improves since prolly hand 1,000, lol…..basically….just seeing  a lot of hands doesnt equate to an edge, unless u compare it to someone who has seen ZERO hands….live pros have seen enough…

  3. not even close, at worst seeing more hands helps with your instincts. The times where you just "feel" some card is coming or you just "know" a player has nothing… but either way I would say there is much more to this argument, and I wouldnt neccessarily count out the online guys…

  4. I don’t buy the "a hand is a hand argument".  I don’t think an online pro gets a lot out of hands when he is 12 tabling.  He may be applying what he already knows to those hands but he isn’t necessarily progressing.  Now, if you are playing live and studying the other players and trying to guess what each of them have, etc, I think you are getting much more out of it.

  5. geeky computer nerd online players have image problems when they play live, which can be overcome, but alot of them start off as blown players and cant figure out why they dont get any action

  6. "I have even heard of players playing 20 tables at once"

    REALLY???? You heard this?  OMG.

    If you truly didn’t know this for sure, or even have done it yourself.  I dare say you shouldn’t be writing an article about online players.

  7. Wonder why no one has put together a Live vs Online tournament. Maybe Invitational and maybe allow a certain number of satelliete players .  Pocket Fives you should get together with some pros and have a Huge Tourney with that specific format…..

  8. a good player is a good player. the one thing i will say it from my experince is end game tourney it seems online players seem to play it well not to say live players dont. cash games i will give the small edge to live players there is no foreced play or end game. like i said a good player is a good player.

  9. After he won the NBC Heads Up Championship Chris Ferguson said he improved dramatically at HU play by playing many hands on-line.  This comment from a classic "live" pro bolsters the argument that more on-line hands helps in live games but it also shows why this whole debate is now a mute point.  There aren’t many great "live" players today who aren’t also on-line players.  Most of the well known live players (Ferguson, Hellmuth, Negreanu, etc.) play alot on-line.

  10. Clearly playing hundreds of thousands more hands would provide a distinct advantage in experience for most people of average intellect and poker talent. That would mean, generally, the average on-line poker player would have the edge over the average live player.

  11. Is this guy serious???? give me a break man, negreanu would crush u and ur stupid idea. Did you ever think that  internet poker is jucied and that may be the reason uve had a WHOPPING 14 royals.

  12. resilient josh: To say that it’s pointless I think is ridiculous.  A lot of people don’t understand the concept of hand experience. Especially you nutinsider who evidently for some reason hasn’t improved since his first week playing and thinks I’m the one who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

    I don’t know about you but I find myself constantly working on my game and learning and improving and I’ve been a pro for almost 5 years.

  13. JD roark: Finally an intelligent person.  I don’t disagree with you at all.  That being saidm to say that your not progressing each hand and just applying tactics you already know may be true in some scenarios.  However, often not the case and often your involved in very tough spots.  Everytime your in one of these spots, everytime you have to make a tough decision, everytime you recognize a mistake you make or a great play you make, believe it or not your gettng better.  That happens a lot more online and hence your game is improving at a more rapid pace online.

  14. I apoligize guys if your an advanced player and this came off in the wrong tone.  I guess in hindsight I could of edited it more to suit a more skilled audience.  

    I am who I am though and I like to write articles that anyone can understand and enjoy.  Both amateurs and pros alike.  I’m disappointed because this was my first published article.  I love to write as both a stress reliever and an escape.  I’m sorry if you didn’t like it and I hope at least a few people did.

    Cheers