Are poker players in casinos worse than online players?

So I’ve bene playing internet poker for years. (I’m Canadian, it’s legal here.) I find it fairly challenging. Ring games at .25/.50 I can generally turn a small profit; .50/$1 I’m up against it.

I never played the real live stuff because, well, it’s inconvenient and I was intimidated, but a few weeks ago I was in Niagara Falls for a comedy performance and figured what the hell. I sat down at a 1/2 200 NL table and, rather easily, won. I worked my stack up from $200 to $300 before I had to go, despite at least one pretty awful beat.

Tried again a week later. Won some more. Tried again today. Much tougher opponents - a weekday, no drunks. I still won a little. I’m not great poker player. I’m not even average, IMHO. I’m not doing anything fancy; I play submarine, just sitting submerged until I’m dealt a monster or hit a flop in late position, and people usually bet and bet some more. I fold everything else. It’s rudimentary, dirt-simple poker, and you can see a few guys can see what I’m doing and don’t walk into it, but many of them don’t.

What the hell? Some of the people I’ve played against were just visibly awful. I’m telling you the flop percentage has to be 40% or higher; hand after hand has 5, 6 players seeing the flop. People call with shit hands in early position. They make errors of stunning idiocy, mistakes I hardly ever see someone make in an online ring game worth more than pennies. On one occasion I flopped a flush. A guy went all the way to the river with me with - was it two pair? Maybe it was one pair. I didn’t hit the flush on the river, I flopped it. That’s poker language for “If You Do Not Have This Suit, Run Like A Scared Rabbit When Other People Bet,” and he merrily gave me $60 to play a hand he shouldn’t have had any stake in. I was flabbergasted. I cannot remember the last time I saw that in a quarter game in PokerStars.

Have I just been lucky? Or is online poker now tougher than the real thing?

Maybe he had the ace of that suit alone? I’ve been beaten in a flush situation like that before (too many times!) where I flopped the king-high flush, and they had the ace and were hoping to hit on 4th or the river. Burns me up, and it’s no way for them to play, but still… it sometimes pays off.

In my experience, Texas Hold 'Em poker is a game of patience. Wait for good pocket cards; and if you’ve got those, you wait for a good flop. You don’t “play” very often, but when you do, it’s because you have a hand worth playing.

But many players, again IME, are impatient. They want to play, so they take chances. They’ll play whatever, as long as they can make decisions and push chips out.

As a poker player, you sound a lot like me, Rick. I’m planning another trip to Toronto this coming summer; any chance we can play?

Yes, definitely, and it’s not even close.

The online games you’re talking about, even at those relatively low limits, feature a large percentage regulars who are there to grind out a profit, and the vast majority of even the “bad” players actually know how to play NL Hold’em pretty well (reasonable preflop standards, etc.). At a brick & mortar cardroom, you get so many more tourists, or craps players wandering in to play that game they watch on TV sometimes, or girlfriends who are being staked by their poker-playing boyfriends. Or drunks. Like everything else in the poker world the games aren’t quite as juicy as they once were, but $1/$2 is still reliably super-fishy, and it’s not all that hard to find a good $2/$5 game either if you’re in the right spot and willing to table-select.

I don’t necessarily believe casinos are worse than online, but I admit I was surprised a few weeks ago at just how loose many of the players were. I went to Vegas, was playing $1/2 in the Mirage, and guys were seriously overvaluing pairs and straight draws.

They were aggressive enough, raising and reraising, but they were doing it with simple pairs with weak kickers. From listening to the table talk that seemed to be common practise. Time after time the play would be between two players making a raise, a call, another bet, a re-raise, and when the cards were flipped you would see pure muck and be left wondering, “why was he even in that hand?”

I didn’t complain, I went from €200 to €800 in a few hours by simply playing tight. But it was strange to see people paying me off when the board was paired and I had barely made a bet in the last hour.

Maybe that was just a weak table. I had sat at a table in Caesars Palace early on Saturday morning, and found myself with eight guys straight out of Rounders. When four old guys are discussing which 2/5 game is best in Vegas, and some tournament they played in Detroit the week previously, you know you are in trouble.

What proportion of players online are human? It seems to me it’d be relatively easy to write a bot that sees exactly what the human player would see, and just makes the standard accepted decisions based on that. Leave it running overnight, and it’ll weed out all the players who don’t play to even that level, and pull in a small but reliable profit.

I can not think of why anyone would play online. Way too easy to cheat. I just assume everyone I play is cheating. I haven’t played regularly for a while. I generally destroy online players. Reading the cards is only half the game. Reading the players is the other half. I’ve been up against a lot of really good players in Atlantic City. But poker on TV really took a lot of fun out of it. Too many people who don’t understand they are only showing the highlights. It is not necessary to go all in every hand. But they usually drive themselves out of the game pretty quick.

I suppose that depends if they build that casino in Toronto REALLY fast :wink:

But let me know when you’re down, if I’m around we can go to Niagara and try our luck.

My experience is the same as the consensus - casino poker players very from a bit worse (weekday retiree players who are tight but not very good) to much, much worse (weekend night drunks, tourists, and college kids who are loose and bad).

I’ll second what bucketybuck said as well (that there can be tough games), but emphasize the upside of human players. It is relatively easy to realize when you are the worst player at the table at a live game. Or at least in the bottom half. And then you can just move tables or leave.

Not a poker player, but from what I gather from a pal who is, bots are very much frowned upon by poker site owners since they ruin the popularity of the site, particularly among players for whom online poker is practically a job (i.e. the most regular & dependable patrons). And unlike WoW & gold farmers, they’re not the only game in town :).

As such, there’s probably as much or more effort spent on designing software able to track bots by analyzing betting patterns etc… and kick their owners out as there is on coding the bots themselves.

Yes, live games are much much easier to beat than most online games. PokerStars in particular probably has the toughest players around.

I had been playing poker for a living for several years before online play began, mostly playing $10/$20 Hold 'em at the Mirage. All games were Limit then, No-Limit was almost never played; the No-Limit games became popular when the TV blitz began.

It’s harder to put an absolute number on No-Limit games, but in Limit games I found the online $2/$4 games to play about the same as a live $10/$20 and the online $3/$6 to play about like a live $20/$40.

There are two main reasons that online games are so much more difficult; people can play multiple games online but only one game at a time live, and tracking software like PokerTracker that records every hand you play against every opponent and shows you in real-time a great deal of information about each opponent.

No-Limit is a fundamentally flawed game – a simple strategy can be devised that makes even an unskilled player pretty much impossible to beat – basically, just playing very tight with a short stack. If you raise all of your good hands and (very) occasionally a (very) few hands like suited connectors to disguise your hand a bit, and put the rest of your stack in on the flop, even the best players have no chance to outplay you and you will win – although you won’t win as much as you could if you played well.

That very-tight-with-a-short-stack method in live play means each time you win a good sized pot you have to leave the table and get back on the waiting list (because you’re not short-stacked anymore), but online you don’t really have much of a wait and you’ll be back on another table very quickly. Combine that with the fact that you can play 12 to 24 games at a time online and you are never just sitting and waiting, you pretty much always have a hand to play.

So, online, you’re seeing games with players to the flop percentages of 12% to 15%, not the 30% to 40% (or more) that you see in live games. Add in some tracking software that displays a huge amount of information about each player and you end up with some very tough games, even at the low stakes.

Note that I am not at all saying you can’t make money playing online. Far from it. Once online play hit, I left Las Vegas, moved back to my small hometown in the mountains, and earned my living playing online until the government shut down the games. It was a very nice run and I am now old enough to be officially retired.

As for cheating – there have been some scandals. Most poker sites are very vigilant and do their best to keep it under control. The fact that they have a record of every action in every hand ever played, including the hole cards, gives them much more information to work with than live game operators have. Skilled players will know (and report) when something is wrong.

Player tracking software isn’t considered cheating too?

No. In fact, tracking software was a major factor in convincing players that the games are dealt fairly.

In the early days of online poker there was a lot of suspicion that some poker sites were dealing “action flops”, i.e., they weren’t dealing the cards randomly but were, instead, putting cards on the flop that would result in more betting, thereby increasing the amount raked.

At one point one of the sites, I think it was ParadisePoker, released the database of every hand they had ever dealt. I can recall the grinding of my hard drive while I was analyzing it with my primitive self-made database. It took a while, but everything turned out to be just what probability would indicate. Other players reported the same.

The weird plays and frequent bad beats were actually a function of the speed of the online games. Thirty hands per hour would be a fast live game, online games often go at 60 hands per hour, so the frequency of things that look peculiar happen at double the pace. Then play five games at a time and your are looking at bad beats ten times as often as you are used to seeing them in real life. It can get very emotionally upsetting.

When the tracking software first surfaced there was some concern about the amount of information conveyed because you could see the opponents hole cards for every showdown, not just the times when he bet and you called, like in live poker. Some sites tried showing hole cards in the hand histories only in same cases where they would be exposed in a live game, but being able to examine all the hole cards turns out to be such a powerful tool in discovering cheating that those sites that didn’t show them either lost most of their players or changed their policy to show all hole cards.

The extreme example of the benefit of players being able to see all the hole cards was the case where an insider had a backdoor into the server that allowed him to see all the hole cards of every player. When some players, through their tracking software, discovered that this guy won every showdown he was involved in, and never called on the river with a losing hand, it was obvious what was happening, and it was a major scandal.

Knowledgeable players can also determine that certain players are colluding only if they can see those hole cards.

So, tracking software actually has made the games safer and more honest, while also making them tougher. If you aren’t using it, you are very unlikely to be a long-term winner.

Turble gave a great answer, but just to add to it, tracking software isn’t considered cheating because as far as I know the software is only recording information that the player could manually record were he so inclined.

If you kept a written log of every hand you ever played you could analyse it to see what hands you win or lose most often with, or how many times a certain player called your raise, or how often you lost on the river. All that information is there, the software just makes it infinitely easier to record and process.

For the record, I detest tracking software and consider it the main reason why online play sucks balls these days. It has turned online poker from a place where I win money to a procession of nits and shortstackers passing chips around.

I’m one level lower than you – I can only make a profit below .25 online (back before the Feds shut it down in America), but in the casino the 2/4 games are not as devastating as you’d expect to me, given my inability to make money on quarter poker online. In fact, I’m technically ahead, but I’ve only played three times in a real casino, and the first time I got three AAs and drew to a couple lucky straights in just a couple hours. So I wouldn’t expect my streak to last.

I’d say the tracking software is only one factor affecting the tightness of online games, and a small factor at that.

When the poker sites first allowed playing multiple games, the games tightened up a little, but everything was still Limit and you can’t play too tightly in a Limit game or the blinds eat all your profit. The sites began to allow it because people who wanted to play multiple games would open multiple sites and play one game on each site.

The big tightening up of the games came with the advent of TV poker and movement of most of the play to No-Limit. The fact that a very simple, very tight strategy will grind out a small profit meant you would have tables where 7 or 8 players were playing only big pairs and AK. You can do that in No-Limit because when you finally do win a pot, you can win 50 or 100 blinds or more. You can’t do it in Limit games because in Limit, the pot might only contain 5 or 6 blinds.

So say in a $1 big blind online No-Limit game, if you play your super tight short stack strategy, you will, in the long run, earn about $1 per hour. Not much fun (and in a live game at the same stakes you would make much more, because the game would not contain those 7 or 8 super tight short stacks playing multiple games). However, if you play 20 games at a time, you earn $20 per hour … with virtually no skill needed.

Now add in micro games, and the people who would have been donating dollars are now only playing for pennies, the games tighten up even more, and it becomes even more difficult to earn a decent amount at the low limits. Casinos can’t deal such low limits because of the labor and overhead costs, so those who are playing micros online will be playing the $1 game when they go live. Those players will get the (correct) impression that live games are much better than online games … basically because they are playing against the same level of players they have been playing with online, with the exception that there will be a skilled player or two in the live game who will, given enough time, end up with all the money that the rake doesn’t get.

So I would say that the ability to play multiple games combined with the popularity of No-Limit due to television are the main factors that cause such tight games online, and the availability of micro games keeps many of the truly clueless players out of the “real” money games entirely.

BTW, there is no real defense against the short stack super tight nits. Such a strategy can beat pretty much any No-Limit Hold 'em game, no matter how skilled the other players. It doesn’t effect play very much in live games because they can only play one game at a time and have to leave the game once they win a pot.

If you look through the tables with your chosen size game online and see that all the tables contain basically the same players, your only real chance to beat that game is to become one of them. Or you could learn to play Limit Hold 'em, or Stud or Triple Draw … but DON’T play Hi-Low Split games online. Or you could study the game and play live. In other words, it is still very possible to make money playing poker, but playing low stakes No-Limit in online games is not the way to do it unless you are willing to become a serious nit.

? about “leaving once a player doubles up”-Are most casino games “sit and goes”?

Poker is a regular table game. Sit down and get up whenever you feel like it. You may need to wait for the button to pass, pay a blind, or pay a timed seat charge, if you want to buy back in later after banking your profit.

This is how most home games I’ve run have gone, though I noticed a big uptick in tournament style elimination games at other houses when poker got really popular several years back.

A “sit and go” usually means something else in poker. A “sit and go” tournament is typically a single table tournament where you start as soon as enough players “sit” to begin the game, as opposed to a regularly scheduled tournament game, whether single table or multi-table.

I am talking about a specific strategy where a player plays very tightly and plays with a short stack. Basically, he plays only the bigger pairs and AK, makes as big a raise as he thinks will get called before the flop, and then goes all-in on the flop. Once he gets called and wins a pot, he no longer has a short stack, which is a requirement for this strategy to work. He is not leaving the table because of any house rule, he is leaving so he can restart his strategy with a short stack.

The short stack always has an advantage in poker if the stack is short enough that it will be all-in before the final round of betting. This applies to Limit as well as to No-Limit games. Take the extreme example of sitting down at a poker game with only $1. You wait for a good hand and put in your dollar. Nobody can then force you out of the pot by betting. You will always be there for the showdown and will never be forced to throw away a hand that would have won if you had stayed to the river.

Your wins will be small, but they will be much more frequent than a player who sometimes throws away his hand after committing some money to the pot. This is the reason games have a minimum buy-in.

Playing No-Limit with a big stack is a very different game than playing it with a small stack. To play a big stack successfully you have to be a skilled player and make a lot of very complicated decisions. To play a small stack successfully only requires a very simple strategy. A skilled player with a small stack would make more money than our strategy, but our strategy will win small amounts even against skilled players … but only if we play only the very best hands and risk only a small amount of our total bankroll on each hand. It works because you get all your chips into the pot early in the hand and skilled players have no chance to use their skill to beat you later in hand.

For other views on the viability of short-stacking in full ring cash play, see, e.g, these threads at 2+2. (There are others; these are just the ones I found quickly through their search utility.)

The consensus I got from skimming threads on optimal shortstack theory is that it might work well, but nobody has the patience to do it right, and your hourly winrate will be less than if you just learned optimal mid and deepstack play. That said, players in those threads bitch enough about shortstackers that it’s probably a thorn in their side, and may be more profitable than “traditional” on line players will admit. It also appears to be beneficial to be the lone shortstacker in a table of deepstackers: they end up having to worry more about the other players, and are forced to ignore the shortstacker’s successful exploitation of their strategy. Agreeing on just what is a shortstack is a prerequisite, of course. Many live games play fast enough that even 50-75 bbs (not necessarily a short stack) end up all in by the flop.

A related strategy for NL tournaments was David Sklansky’s strategy for beginners, outlined in his, Tournament Poker For Advanced Players. A critique and explanation of that strategy may be found here.