Saturday, March 17, 2007

Speaking of . . . Online vs. Live

Speaking of . . . Online v LiveMentioned before how I’m headed to Vegas next month. The trip has gotten me thinking about differences between online poker (where I’ve played a lot) and live poker (where I’ve played very little). Because my experience is so unbalanced, I’ll refrain from drawing any uninformed conclusions here about differences. Instead I thought I’d compile what others have been saying here recently about online vs. live play.

Mike “the Mouth” Matusow: “Online poker is so fake that its funny”

Mike 'the Mouth' MatusowAbout a month ago, Matusow was involved in a high stakes NLH session over at Full Tilt and amid a chat box exchange with a player named Msampoerna articulated his oft-mentioned cynicism about online poker. According to Matusow, “online poker is so fake that its funny . . . this is stupid . . . u think cards just role on ioff likehere inlive game.” A few found it strange Matusow might try to advance the “online poker is rigged” argument on the very site he is paid to represent. Indeed, the second part of Matusow’s quote does suggest something along those lines -- as if he really believes there is something sketchy about how the site’s randomizing program deals out the cards.

The first part, though -- where Matusow says “online poker is so fake that its funny” -- doesn’t necessarily refer (only) to the integrity of the software. Here Matusow is more likely speaking of the way people play online as opposed to live poker. As he pointed out in a 2005 CardPlayer interview, with online poker “the speed of the game is so fast” many players “think they have to play every hand.” Thus come horrific beats and other oddities one doesn’t normally see in the casino. “Online players are the worst players in the history of mankind,” Matusow goes on to say. “Guys put in $13,000, $14,000 when they can’t beat anything. Only online do you see that. That can never happen in a live game. I crush the no-limit online.” (Matusow here is presumably referring to the $50/$100 NLH game he mentions earlier in the interview.) Matusow reiterated that boast in his chat with Msampoerna last month: “i play anyone inpoker live poker any stake anytime.”

Barry Greenstein: “I get pretty bored online.”

Barry GreensteinGreenstein appeared this week on the Pocket Fives podcast, and among other things was asked about differences between online and live play. He mentioned how when he wrote his book, Ace on the River, he hadn’t really played much online, and so relied on conversations with Phil Ivey (who had played a lot online) to write his internet chapter. Now that he’s been signed on to represent PokerStars, he has gotten more online experience.

In the interview, he noted how when he plays online he usually finds himself “playing bridge also or surfing the web, reading news stories, things like that.” He went on to explain: “I don’t get the sensory feedback from playing one or even two games online. It’s not enough for me, because the way I [have] always played poker live, I was always talking to people, looking around the table at what other people were doing. I was reading people, that’s how I spent my time. Now when I play online, I don’t get that same sensory feedback. I get pretty bored online. And the funny thing is, the younger players -- and I’ll use Phil Ivey again as an example -- who’ve played more online than I have, when they come to a live game, they’re so used to playing more hands and multiple games . . . they don’t get the sensory feedback playing live. So it’s like we have opposite problems . . . Phil is more focused online actually than live, and for me it’s just the opposite.”

“Bodog” Ari Engel: “It’s exactly the same game.”

'Bodog' Ari EngelEngel is an online pro who has frequently appeared in the upper reaches of Pocket Fives’ player rankings (today he’s ranked 21st). Recently he’s been playing more live events. After being an early chip leader at the L.A. Poker Classic main event at the Commerce last month, he made a modest cash by finishing in 50th place. During that tournament Engel appeared as a guest on The Circuit where he mentioned that the Commerce event was only his fifth $10K live tournament. (He also talked about having obtained a backer to enter that particular event and, one presumes, subsequent ones as well.)

During the interview, Engel talked a lot about the differences between online and live play, with his choice of words betraying his own background in interesting ways. At one point he characterized having made a mistake in a hand -- he had bet an amount other than what he had intended -- as having “quote-unquote ‘misclicked.’” Ultimately, Engel downplayed the differences: “Rule No. 1 is you have to realize that it’s poker, it’s still the same game . . . I’m talking about [how to advise] a regular online pro wanting to play his first live event. You know, it’s exactly the same game. You cannot approach it differently . . . . There are just minor technicalities that are different.”

Engel’s been thinking further about the issue on his blog lately, with an interesting post this week listing some of his observations from the circuit about live poker. In the post, Engel talks about difficulty estimating stack sizes (something he also discussed on the podcast), the significance of slower blind structures, and bubble play (among other topics). “Above all though,” claims Engel, “tournament strategy does not change between live and online poker.”

* * * * *

Gonna refrain from drawing any conclusions. It is tempting, though, to generalize that while live pros emphasize differences between online and live play, online pros are more likely to stress similarities. Gotta imagine any player’s opinions are largely influenced by his or her relative success playing online and live.

I do know that when I sit down at a table in Vegas next month, there’s little chance I’ll be lacking in “sensory feedback” (as Greenstein says happens to Ivey and other online players). From my past (limited) experience, I’m anticipating the opposite -- sensory overload.



Blogger Erwin said...

I played live a few times and I experience the opposite of what the pros say (or to be more exact, the pros that started in live poker): too many distractions. In front of a computer I can focus very well, live, much of what happens passes me by. Online, I get sucked into the screen like Tron, so to speak. Playing live I'm thinking about a load of others things, probably because the action moves like a snail.
Poker players generation gap?

3/17/2007 8:39 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Great post. It was an interesting to hear what the pros and online pros said.

I've played live a few times. I'm definitely less bored when I play live. But that's because I don't live that much. Since it's a new experience I enjoy it more.

Online I do what Greenstein does and end up doing other things. When I first started playing online, I was really focused on the game.

3/17/2007 11:52 PM  
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3/18/2007 10:54 AM  
Blogger microlimitdonkey said...

I too get very very bored with online poker and often find myself surfing or watching tv but It's convenient.

I do prefer the social side of poker when you can talk and meet new people and get more of a feel for the game.

The downside is I loosen up because You don't get dealt as many hands and you can only play 1 table at a time of course.

I am also convinced that online poker is dodgy. That's just my gut feeling.

If I had a choice It would be live poker every time. Nothing better than having a copious amount of booze and having a laugh :)

3/19/2007 4:31 AM  
Blogger Cell 1919 said...

I've never played live, although I have had several nightmares about it (honestly!).

It's probably the little things like having to estimate chip stacks instead of having the number in front of you, and saying call, raise etc that would freak me out.

And I'm not sure whether I'd be as calm in real life as I am behind a screen ;)

3/19/2007 6:15 AM  
Blogger Cadmunkey said...

I think its probably easier for an online player to slip into a live game than it would be for a live player to be thrown into the online scene. I suppose its what you know - but judging by some of the online players live game successes it seems like bodog Ari has a point.
By the way Shamus that Tortoise Album youre currently spinning is pretty funky stuff! Brightened up my otherwise uneventful day anyway.

3/19/2007 11:59 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Interesting responses, all.

Glad yr diggin' that Tortoise, Cad. Easily one of the most-played discs in my collection. They have some other good titles (esp. TNT), but Millions is the best.

3/19/2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger KajaPoker said...

Just got turned on to your bl-augh and loving it so far.

My experience is that live, people are a lot looser than they are online. Especially in limit games where people will play any draw to the river and sometimes even call with a busted draw.

I love live poker but don't get enough chances to play live.

3/27/2007 1:01 PM  

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