Live vs. online

Jun 4, 2007 5:46 AM

How many of you play poker online? I’m not talking about playing for real money as I realize that is illegal here in the U.S. How many of you who play online also play in a real life poker game, whether with your friends or in a casino? Would you say that the games and strategies are vastly different? From my experiences and from talking to some serious players, I would say it definitely is. Why is this?

For the moment, we’ll ignore the aspect that if you’re playing online and not for money that you’re bound to find a lot of people who play as if they’re playing for something worth a lot less than money. We’ve all seen the guy who goes ”˜all in’ on the first hand, even if it is an off-suit 2/7, because he can just buy in to the next table if he loses.

But, once you get rid of these guys and you settle into a real game, it is still not the same as a live poker game. In my opinion, this is because you are missing a significant aspect of the game of poker — the tells. You still have bluffing in online poker, but the only way you can tell is to try and determine someone’s betting pattern. You can’t tell if he’s sweating online. No raised eyebrows or twitching fingers to look at. When you play online, you don’t even have to wear sunglasses — with or without dinosaurs on them.

In a live poker game, there is a whole other aspect to what you need to pay attention to. You still pay attention to the person’s betting patterns, but sometimes you can learn even more by watching the other players. Not just in the hands you’re in, but in the hands you’ve folded.

A good poker player watches every move the opponent makes, looking for anything to give you an additional advantage. As a result of the differences, the strategy you use in an online game is likely to be a bit different than you would use in a live game. How much more so this must be the case for the differences between real poker and video poker, where there are no other players, no bluffing and no tells whatsoever.

If you were playing 5-card Draw Poker against other people, the decision to keep a low pair or go for an open-ended straight would depend in part on how the other people play, the size of the pot and other factors.

In video poker, this decision is based 100% on math. If you’re dealt a pair of 2’s, along with a 3-4-5, you realistically have two choices. You can play the pair of 2’s or you can play the 4-card straight. If you hold the 4-card straight, you have 47 possible draws. Eight will result in a straight, 11 will result in a pair (2’s thru 5’s) and the rest will wind up with absolutely nothing.

In a live poker game, winding up with a low pair may give you a chance to steal the pot. In video poker, its value is the same as drawing an 8 and having absolutely nothing.

On the other side of things, if you pick up the straight, you’re a sure winner in video poker. In live poker, you’re a very likely winner, but there is still some possibility of losing. Also, the amount you will win or lose in live poker will vary with each hand.

In video poker, you know the payout of a straight because it is right there in front of you. Generally speaking, the payout is 4. You have eight chances to get the straight. In the long run, you can expect to get back 32 of 47 units wagered for an expected value of 0.68.

We can perform a similar calculation for the pair of 2’s. There are 16,215 possible 3-card draws when holding two cards. A total of 45 will result in a flush (paying 25), 165 in a full house (paying 9), 1,854 in three of a kind (paying 3), 2,592 in two pair (paying 2) and the rest will result in a losing hand.

Again, in live poker, the pair of two’s while being a weak hand, still may take the pot. In video poker, it is a sure loser. When we add up the results, we find that we would get back 13,356 of our 16,215 wagered for an expected value of 0.82. This is considerably higher than the 0.68 for the 4-card straight, so in video poker, the right play is to play the pair of 2’s.

In a live game, no one can tell you what the right play is without knowing your opponents, your chip count, how well you bluff, the tells of the other players, etc. All of these things are completely irrelevant in the game of video poker. The games are created using math and nothing but math, and the way to play them is by doing your math homework.