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Online Poker vs. Live Poker - Which One Is Harder?

According to our Editorial Guide
This page is written by
Kelvin Jones
Kelvin JonesSenior Online Casino Expert
clockReading time 6 min

When it comes to online Poker vs. Live Poker it’s important to remember that this card game is multifaceted. While both formats may look similar, there are vital differences between them. It's one thing to play a lekker game of Poker in a South African-friendly online casino. Playing the game in a live venue is totally different.


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The Online vs. Live Poker Debate

Since its creation in the 1800s, Poker has been played in person. But this changed in the 1990s when the first online poker games went live.

But which one is more difficult? Take a look at the pros and cons of each to find out.

The Dynamics of Online Poker

There are many advantages to playing online Poker, the first being access and convenience. You can enjoy a game of Texas Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud, Pai Gow Poker, Omaha Hold’em, Video Poker, or any other variation on your desktop, smartphone, or tablet 24/7.

There’s far more game variety online, and game speeds are faster as well. Plus,  you can multi-table too, playing as many tables as you can handle.

  • The Challenges of Online Poker

The first is the lack of physical tells. Chip glances, eye contact, phone glances, table talk, and trembling hands are some of the most common Poker tells you’ll miss out on online. 

Then there are the technical issues, like security concerns, payment processing issues, software issues, and other players using bots or other cheats to gain an unfair advantage. In the Live vs. Online Poker debate, live games definitely win this round!

The Intricacies of Live Poker

When you play Live Poker, you can see the physical tells of the players around you. There’s also the opportunity for social interaction with like-minded players and the chance to work some psychology into your strategy! You also have to be aware of your table image (how other players see your style of play) and the live reads you give other players (how they read your tells).

  • The Challenges of Live Poker

Live games take place in a certain location at a set time, so you need to ensure you're in the right place. The pace of games is slower, and you can only play games that are available. There are also higher costs associated with Live Poker games, and rake tends to go up as well. In this part of the Online Poker vs. Live Poker debate, online Poker wins hands down.

Online poker vs. live poker which one is harder

Skill Requirements: Online Poker vs. Live Poker

Now that we’ve discussed the disadvantages and advantages let’s move on to the traits both Poker formats share:

  • Poker Fundamentals

A grasp of the game fundamentals of initiative, position, and pressure is needed. 

  • Bankroll Management

You must understand bankroll management. You need to avoid tilt at all costs, and this is the only way to do it.

  • Emotional Skill

You need to control your emotions. This is the key to winning games.

In contrast, the unique skills for online Poker include controlling seat and table selection and being able to utilise software tools like database software, equity calculators, and solvers. South African players will also have to be able to manage their screen time and ensure they don’t lose focus.

The unique skills needed for Live Poker rely heavily on the physical aspect of the game. This means that South African players must interpret physical and verbal tells and read body language and the behaviour of their fellow players. You’ll also have to have a handle on Poker dynamics. All players have certain characteristics, and these will create a particular dynamic.

The Evolution of Poker Strategies

With live Poker vs. online, there’s no question that strategies apply to both formats. Over the years, players have developed a range of approaches to maximise their chances of winning. One of the most popular, effective strategies to evolve is Game Theory Optimal. Poker GTO involves making the best decision based on the assumption that your opponents are also playing optimally.

In online settings, Exploitative Play is a popular approach. This is where the player identifies and exploits their opponents’ strategic imbalances.

  • Traditional Strategies in Live Poker

There are many different types of psychological warfare and mind games that people can get away with while playing Live Poker. This includes doing and saying things that irritate or unsettle opponents, disrupting their mental game, and tilting them on an emotional level.

Having a deep understanding of table image is crucial to success. The way your fellow players perceive you at the table should guide your decisions if it improves your chances of winning.

You’ll also need to adapt to different styles of play like weak-tight, loose-passive, and hyper-aggressive and loose. The way you play should change with every encounter with different kinds of players.

Bankroll Management and Variance

Poker bankroll management describes how you manage the money you’re playing with. It determines the stakes and games you’ll play and limits your chances of going broke. This game constantly swings up and down, and you need to control your bankroll to deal with its volatility.

One of the biggest advantages of online Poker is that the top sites offer a vast number of bonuses. You need to use these bonuses and rewards programmes to get the most bang for your buck.

  • Live Poker Bankroll Management

The way you handle your bankroll is different in Live Poker games because the sessions are longer and the swings slower. You’ll also have to factor in extra expenses like travel and tipping. Your main focus in these games, however, should be protecting your bankroll from bad beats and avoiding the impact of tilt.

Player Adaptation: Online Poker vs. Live Poker

You’ll need to adjust your strategy and approach when you switch between online and Live Poker:

  • Transitioning from Online to Live

Prepare for the slower pace and look for spaces to outplay your opponents post-flop. Play a lot tighter to guard against aggression, and remember to use table image and tells to your advantage.

  • Adapting from Live to Online

When switching to online Poker, the pace is a huge change. You can play more online games in one week than you could play live in a year! It’s a good idea to play against computer software to adjust more quickly to the faster speed of games.

  • Recognising Player Tendencies in Each Format

Players tend to fall into certain types in online or live Poker games. These can quickly be spotted by noticing who folds too much, who calls too much, who’s too aggressive, who’s too passive, and who overvalues hands. Adjust your gameplay accordingly, no matter what format you’re playing in.

And there’s also the question of handling the mental shifts in these transitions:

  • Mindset Differences in Online and Live Poker

The main difference between the mindsets for each format of Poker is how much more important focus is when you’re online. It’s quite easy to get into the headspace you need when you’re seated at a Poker table. Doing this while you’re at home by yourself with a million distractions is harder.

  • Staying Focused and Disciplined

Staying focused and disciplined is important for live and online Poker, but more difficult for the latter. However, the more you practice these skills, the better you get!

The Role of Luck and Skill

Variance in Poker refers to the normal statistical fluctuations that happen in the short term due to luck. In online Poker, Random Number Generator software (RNG) ensures that each game is 100% fair and the outcomes are unpredictable. This thus has very little impact on variance since all RNG does is ensure randomisation. Over the long term, strategy, know-how, and skill determine success, but over the short term, luck can favour even the newest player.

  • Variance in Live Poker

In Live Poker, the most common situation where cards are shuffled is at the beginning of each hand. This randomises the order and ensures players counting cards gain no advantage. This means that humans dealing and shuffling cards, if done properly, should have no effect on Poker variance either.

  • The Effect of Live Tournament Structures

Despite what South African players may think when they watch glamorous televised events, tournaments illustrate how deceptive the power of variance can be. Most professional players make more money in cash games and only enter premium tournaments because of how high the variance gets.

Regulation and Fair Play

The legality of online Poker is a grey area in South Africa, but no one has ever been prosecuted for playing. There are a few things you can do to stay safe, however. Stick to sites that have been licensed by internationally recognised jurisdictions. This way, you can ensure fair play, security, and privacy and can relax knowing that steps have been taken to prevent collusion and/or cheating.

  • Live Poker Regulation

Live Poker games are regulated in the jurisdiction they’re in and are checked regularly by the nine Provincial Licencing Authorities to ensure they’re up to scratch. Unethical practices are prevented by penalties imposed on offending parties, and game integrity is also ensured by these inspections.

Summary: The Verdict on Difficulty

It’s clear that when comparing online Poker vs. Live Poker each presents its own challenges. They also each bring specific advantages to the table, although it’s hard to beat the convenience of playing online! In the end, the preferences of the South African player have the most impact, and your opinion is the most important.


Is online Poker rigged?

No. Licensing and frequent testing of RNGs ensure that Poker games are fair.

Can Live Poker players easily transition to online Poker?

As long as they’re aware of the different challenges and the necessary change in mindset, the transition is simple.

Which format offers better opportunities for professional players?

Because of the increase in pace, it’s possible to play more games online and thus increase how much you win.

How can I improve my skills in both online and Live Poker?

Read as much as you can about the game, and remember, practise makes perfect.

What are the best practises for bankroll management in each format?

Players should work out how much they can afford to lose on any given day and then never bet a cent more.

Kelvin Jones
Kelvin Jones

Senior Online Casino Expert

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Kelvin Jones is a seasoned professional in South Africa's online casino scene, boasting over a decade of expertise. He's your ultimate guide in selecting the finest online casinos, providing insights ...continue reading

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