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!