Texas Hold'em: Strategy Differences Between Online and Live Play

by Matthew Hilger (Reprinted with Permission)

Many players assume that strategy for online and live games is the same. After all, you still receive two down cards, five community cards, and play against nine opponents. However, there are several characteristics unique to Internet play that require subtle adjustments to your play including short playing sessions, the virtual environment, and Internet distractions. Let’s discuss these unique characteristics in a little more detail and the impact they may have on your strategy.

Short Playing Sessions

One big difference between the Internet and live play is that players are constantly moving in and out of games. The accessibility of the Internet allows players to just sit down and play a few hands, a few minutes, or maybe just an hour. In a live game, you generally are playing with the same opponents for at least a few hours and maybe even up to seven or eight hours. This rarely occurs on the Internet. How does this affect strategy?

Your opponents will not have a very long time to evaluate your play. This means that you should play more straightforward and less deceptively than you would in a live game. One of the benefits of playing deceptively or trying a bluff is the advertising value you receive on future hands when your opponents think you are a loose wild player. A loose table image can help you earn more chips later when you hold strong hands that your opponents call because they think you might be bluffing. On the Internet, you may not be sitting with the same opponents long enough to benefit from this image.

Against regular opponents, you still need to mix up your play on the Internet, but overall, you should mix it up less than you would in a live game. Against new opponents, the best strategy is to simply play a straightforward tight game without worrying too much about how your table image might affect future hands.

A Virtual Environment

On the Internet, you are dealing with names, not faces. You cannot stare your opponents in the eyes to see what they tell you. This psychological part of poker makes for a different type of game on the Internet compared to live games. For example, although I don’t advise it, there seems to be more bluffing and tricky play on the Internet compared to live games. I suspect this to be the case because players don’t have to “show” their face when making terrible plays or terrible bluffs. They can simply wilt away at home in front of their computer screens. In live play, many players find it difficult to make crazy bluffs when they have to look their opponents in the eye.

Another reason why players may tend to bluff more online than in a casino is the ease in which you can bluff. Online you just have to click your mouse. In a live game, you have to physically move your chips into the center of the table. I believe that some players on the Internet forget that they are dealing with “real” money and may tend to get careless at times by simply hitting the bet or raise button for that slim chance at a win.

Of course, these are generalizations, but players tend to be more deceptive and tricky on the Internet than in a live game. This impacts strategies in two ways. First, you can’t assume your opponents are bluffing all the time, but you will need to call and raise a little more often against those opponents who are trying to win every pot. On the other hand, you should probably bluff a little less often than in a live game since your opponents will tend to call you a little more. They also realize that players online bluff a lot, so they will tend to call more even with weak hands. They will also find it easier to just click the mouse to call compared to physically moving their chips in a live game.

Internet Distractions

Many players play two tables, read e-mail, watch television, or talk on the telephone while playing. Since there are so many distractions, some of your opponents may not be aware of all the action that is taking place. This is yet another reason to use less deception in your game, since some of your opponents will not even see some of your plays so that you can gain some future value out of them.

One final point about play on the Internet. Since players move in and out of games a lot, can’t see your face, and are distracted by many other things, they tend to notice less that you are playing a tight game. In a live game, if you sit there a couple of hours without playing a hand, don’t expect a lot of action when you decide to bet or raise. On the Internet, you can play a straightforward tight game for a long time and still get good action when you bet since opponents either do not notice or have not had enough time to realize that you are such a tight player.

On the other hand, if you don’t play many hands in a live game, your chances for pulling off a successful bluff are high, while on the Internet I doubt this gives you much of an advantage. A bluff on the Internet is usually only profitable by the merits of the play of the particular hand, not by table image.

So remember, table image is not as important online as in a live game. Play a more straightforward game with fewer bluffs and protect your hands against those opponents who try to win every pot by bluffing too much.

Matthew Hilger is author of Internet Texas Hold’em: Winning Strategies from an Internet Pro, which can be found at his website, www.InternetTexasHoldem.com.