One of the most common questions asked by players making the transition from live poker to online or vice versa is whether one is more profitable than the other. There is no one simple answer to this question, but there are a few factors which should very quickly tell you how likely it is that you will be a better live player than online or the other way around.
The big difference
The most fundamental difference between live and online poker is that win rates online are lower, but the turnover of hands is much faster. As a result, typically your win rate per hundred hands live will be much higher than it will be online, but the number of hands you can play an hour will be vastly higher online - with the result that finding the most profitable balance between profit and turnover should be your objective when asking this question.
Win rates vary
Win rates live are much higher for a variety of reasons. Firstly, there is much more information on offer to you as a player, making your decision making much easier. Secondly, weak players stay in live games for much longer than they do online ones, both as they lose on a given day less often (fooling them into thinking they are may be a winning player more easily), as well as frequently favouring the more social experience that live poker brings. However, the games are slower as people typically take longer on each decision, and non electronic dealing is much slower than its online equivalent.
Online the information is much more limited, and as a result sound technical play wins out in the long run. This drops your win rate considerably, as some of a player's best tools are not available, such as picking up on live tells or being able to stare a player down. However, not only is online play much quicker, with small time banks and rapid hand dealing; you can also multi table, a point which allows you to massively increase your hand turnover compared to live. As an example, you can easily play more hands in an hour online than you could in a whole day playing live, and this has an obvious effect on your win rate regardless of how much smaller it is than in live poker.
Keep good records
The best way to answer these questions is simply a matter of some basic record keeping. Find out what stakes you can beat and at what rate both live and online and then compare them. Just like any similar business question, the desire to balance profit and turnover is at the heart of these types of questions, and establishing these two factors is crucial to good game selection.
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