Online Poker is not Casino Poker
A few columns back, I wrote that poker online isn’t the same game as casino poker. I also said some winning casino poker players might lose over a significant short-run while playing online because they have less familiar tools available to them — someone who normally shoots a round of golf using fourteen clubs could have trouble golfing while using only three clubs. I then also said playing online is more a game of discipline and the cards you hold, rather than primarily a game of people like casino poker is. While I think most of what I wrote about playing online (higher variance and luck make short-term bad luck more likely to hit good players) is accurate, I think I should have been clearer about several things.
My main point remains: online poker is not casino poker. It’s a different game. That doesn’t mean it’s a worse game or a less valid game — or a better game. There are just lots of differences, beyond the obvious that you can’t see or hear your opponents. For example, one bedrock poker rule is “one player to a hand.” This rule simply does not exist in online poker. I’m not talking about any hanky-panky either. Players play while chatting on the phone, while sitting with a guest in the same room, and while teaching novices to play. Card Player Magazine publisher Barry Shulman wrote a column pointing out how playing online is a great way to teach someone to play. He’s surely right about that. You can watch and discuss hands as they unfold with a novice. You can explain why you are betting, or checking or checkraising. And of course if the novice is at the keyboard, the experienced player can say “raise” or “don’t call.” Unlike in a casino where you’d get tossed out for such actions, online this is accepted and inevitable.
Online some players play artificially tighter or more passive than they normally would because of the buy-in rules of the sites (where you are limited to buying a certain amount of chips in a day or a week). It’s common in casinos for some looney to play two days and dump a truckload of money. This is far harder to do online. Truly rotten players are protected much more.
Online you can play two games at the same time. You can even be in two hands at the same time. There are plenty of pros and cons to playing two games, but the point here is just to show that this is another major difference in online poker play.
And this brings me to a mistake in my first article. It’s not so much that you are playing online with only three golf clubs. You are playing with a bagful of different clubs. For instance, in casino games, we get a lot of people tells. Players sometimes even get up and walk away from their hands, making obvious their intention to fold when it comes to their turn. We can’t see our opponents online, but we can notice a lot of things. One big “online tell” is the speed in which a player acts on his hand. If the blinking light representing a player acts immediately, it’s likely this person has clicked the box to “check in turn” or “bet/raise in turn.” What a huge tell! It’s usually easy to determine when a player has a no-brainer hand. The immediate “check” is often incredibly revealing. If you are first and take a moment before checking, then if your three opponents immediately check behind you… they very likely have nothing. If the next card is a blank, it’s bluff-city time!
My favorite online poker trick is to monitor which opponents are playing two games. They are a lot easier to bluff! And they tend not to chase, and when they do bet, they tend to have a hand. If they are spending time focusing on this game rather than the other game, it’s likely for a reason — they got something. Then also, it’s a great trick to stall if in a pot with a player playing two games. Stall, then bet. They may well have been dealt a new hand in the other game (maybe even a monster!), so they will more easily release a marginal hand in your game.
Tells of acting quickly (or not quickly), ways to exploit people playing two games, people playing with artificially short bankrolls… these are peculiar to online play. Another huge difference — the software tells you if you’ve won or not! No overlooking hands, no mucking winners, it’s almost childish in that way.
Pretty soon you’ll see a cottage industry springing up: How to play online poker. Poker books, magazines, columns, these can only help so much, because… online poker is not casino poker. It’s its own game.