Live Versus Online Poker Tournaments
Even if you are exclusively an online poker player, there is still nothing quite like playing live, especially when it comes to tournaments. It can be an exhilarating feeling when you first touch the cards and stack your chips. But there are more differences between live tournaments and online tournaments than just the equipment. Here are a few to keep in mind when you venture out from the safety of your home.
One of the most glaring differences you will notice when you try your game in a live tournament is that the structures tend to be much worse than online. To the unsuspecting, it doesn’t seem like it at first since live tournaments often have longer blind levels and larger starting chip stacks than their online brethren. But unless you love ultra turbos and playing short-stacked, you will soon realize that your everyday tournament at a brick and mortar casino is not nearly the skill competition that you would like to envision. The two main reasons for this are blind jumps and hands per hour.
In a typical tournament at a casino, the blinds increase much more quickly in relation to the chips stacks than they do in a standard online tournament. For example, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a casino known for its poker, the weekly $200 + $30 tournament has 25-minute levels and 15,000-chip starting stacks, both greater than most online events. The blinds start 25/50, which is fine, and stay relatively calm through a couple of levels. But, by Level 10, the big blind is 2,000, or 13% of the starting stack.
Compare that to Full Tilt Poker’s $750,000 Guaranteed weekly tournament. Here, the blind levels are only 12 minutes long and the starting stacks are only 5,000 chips, but by Level 10, the big blind is just 200, only 4% of the starting stack.
And keep in mind that the Taj tournament I used as an example is actually a pretty decent one. The casino has others every day with lower starting stacks and shorter blind levels, yet the same blind increases. How about this for a crazy structure: at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas, you can play in a weekday tournament where you get 4,500 chips if you opt for the rebuy in the beginning (3,000 if you don’t). Blinds increase every 15 minutes and, by the end of Level 10, the big blind is already at 8,000! There is an optional add-on for 2,000 chips at the end of the first hour, but at that point, that add-on is barely worth three big blinds.
To make these structures worse, fewer hands are dealt per hour in live poker than in the online game. You can generally expect to see at least twice as many hands on the internet as you would live, making for significantly less play for the privilege of handling physical cards. Put it all together and you had better be prepared to commit to a good hand and hope to double up.
As with anything in poker, what you will see from game to game, tournament to tournament, varies. But from my experience, players tend to be tighter at the outset when playing live compared to online. I attribute this to people feeling more committed to a live tournament – they made the trip to the casino and planned on making a day of it – so they don’t want to bust out before they even get comfortable. Even if they fail to make the money, they want to stretch their entertainment dollar as far as it will go.
Online, people can queue up another tournament within seconds. If they bust out, so what? They are already home and can find something else to do. That said, live players do seem to make larger pre-flop raises. Whereas 3x the big blind is about standard online, 4x to 5x tends to be the mark on the live felts.
Because of this lean towards tightness, if somebody raises or re-raises you, chances are they have something. And while people will certainly bluff, bluffs don’t seem to be as common live. Fear of losing big and having to go home is one reason for this, but I also believe players fear the embarrassment of getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar and therefore avoid the situation altogether.
When we play online, we have all the comforts of home within reach. We can run to the fridge to grab a snack, take a bathroom break without having to run through the casino, grab a phone call, or catch the latest and greatest episode of “Jersey Shore.” Whatever we would normally do in our house, we can do while we’re playing. We can even take our laptop with us if we need to change venues.
It can be an unnerving experience to play in a “real” poker tournament for the first time. There’s the constant din of chip shuffling, hundreds of people we don’t know who emit all sorts of different smells, and game mechanics that we’re used to handling with the click of a mouse. The thing to remember is that many of your opponents feel like you do; there’s nothing wrong with being a bit nervous. And if you aren’t sure how things work or what you’re supposed to do, just ask.
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Useful poker terms:
- NICKEL - Five dollars, usually represented by a red casino check.
- BIG BLIND - A blind bet, usually a raise of an earlier blind which would be called the SMALL BLIND. In limit poker, the BIG BLIND is usually the size of the minimum bet on the first round of betting.
- OPEN-HANDED - A category of games characterized by a part of each player's hand being exposed.
- FAVORITE - Before all the cards are dealt, a hand that figures to be the winner. Ant: UNDERDOG.
- BURN - To discard the top card of the deck prior to dealing, usually done for every dealing round except the first. The theory being that if somehow the cards are marked (illegally) no one will know what card will next be dealt, only what card will be burned. This makes marked cards less of an advantage, hence tends to reduce cheating.
- BOAT - A FULL HOUSE, three of a kind and a pair.