Well, this is the inevitable post made by all bloggers that have played both Live and Online.
Is it "better" to play Live or Online?
I'll post my thoughts on this in terms of: What are the pros and cons ~for me~ to playing live and playing online? I'll also try to financially quantify items (that can be quantified) as they apply to me today. The major focus of this post will be centered on limit poker, not no-limit.
i) Under normal circumstances my EV is +2BB/100 hands.
ii) Live stakes are $6/$12 (the nearest common online limit is $5/$10, but for simplicity I will assume 6/12 is available online)
iii) Online, full 10 seated table sees 60 hands per hour.
iv) Live full seated table with a shuffling machine sees 45 hands per hour. (combine this number with i) to get an hourly rate of 0.9BB playing live)
v) Avg live session: 3 hours, avg online session: anything
vi) Time to start an online session: 0.0 hours
vii) Roundtrip travel time to play live: 0.4 hours
viii) Avg time to be seated live: 0.1 hours
ix) Live poker is fully legal
x) 60 hours of play per month
xi) I'll assume at this point that given my lack of experience in picking up tells and my lack of experience in hiding my tells, the net benefits of tells approximately equals the benefits of using tools like PokerTracker/GT+/PV and hand histories. (Question: As my live play improves, how much effect will tells have on my BB/100 hands?)
xii) avg live player plays as well as the avg online player (the consensus I have read from other people is that the avg online player is better, but I do not have enough playing time to make this judgement, nor to quantify it)
pros of playing Online
1) more hands per hour: Assuming typical speed opponents, even with shuffling machines, you will see 1/3 more hands per hour per table. Assuming the table is always full, then this works out to online being about +0.3BB/hour better than live.
2) multitabling: Again, multitabling allows you to see more hands per hour. Additionally, multitabling can also allow you to reduce your variance by playing more tables at a lower limit. (e.g. instead of playing a single 20/40 table, you could play four 5/10 tables) The tradeoff of doing this will be a degredation in your BB/100 hands since you will not be able to pay 100% attention to the action. However, if you are capable of good, quick, +EV decisions and use tools like PokerTracker/GT+/PV, then BB/100 hands should not suffer too much.
With my current aptitude of multitasking (including the frequency of clicking the wrong button), I believe my BB/100 hand falls no more than 25% when playing small stakes limit, and falls no more than 15% when playing very small stakes no limit ($100NL).
Assuming quad tabling at the same stakes, the BB/hour is (4*0.75) = 3x the BB/hour single tabling. +2.7BB/hour better than live (when including the 1/3 more hands per hour).
Assuming quad tabling at 1/4th the stakes, the BB/hour is 0.75x the bb/hour single tabling. 0.0BB/hour same as live (when including the 1/3 more hands per hour per table).
Multitabling also permits you to play different games at the same time. e.g. playing some combination of ring games, SNGs (SitNGos), and MTTs (multitable tournaments). There is probably little $ value to this. The main benefit seems to be to alleviate monotony. I exclusively play no limit for SNGs and MTTs. To avoid confusion, I only play no limit ring games when mixing in SNGs and/or MTTs.
3) lower rake: I estimate that given the same limits, the difference in the cost of rake is ~$3/hour better than live.
4) rakeback: Rate of rakeback depends on #tables, avg # players per table, and limits. This probably ranges from $5/hour to $20/hour, I'll assume on average this is $15/hour when quad tabling.
5) deposit bonuses: I don't really bonus whore all that much anymore, so I'll estimate bonuses provide a net value of $300/month.
6) no tipping: Granted, tipping is not mandatory in live play, but I don't want to be despised. I estimate no tipping online saves ~$4/hour compared to live play. (I don't tip much, and my strategy is likely to win a below average number of pots)
7) cheap online MTTs (with huge fields) develops skills for making it through large fields. These skills could have a lot of value in large buy in tournaments. Cheap online SNGs provide great experience in playing the final table of an MTT. Difficult to quantify the value of these things.
8) never having to worry about dealer errors. Difficult to quantify.
9) microlimit games exist for a large variety of games - thus providing an extremely cheap way to learn how to play new games such as Triple Draw.
10) playing in your underwear (come on, did you really expect me to leave this one out?). Impossible to put a price on this.
cons of playing Online
1) minimal social interaction: no short term cost, long term cost unknown.
2) more frequent distractions from poker? (IM, TV, email, web surfing, telephone, chores such as laundry, paying bills, etc) Granted, many of these are a "self-discipline" issue. It is difficult to quantify the cost of these things in BB/hour. In theory, these distractions can be removed with discipline and would then have zero cost.
3) risk of loss of account balance if there are major problems with the site (e.g. site has financial problems, site arbitrarily decides to close your account and confiscate your funds, someone breaks into your account, etc)
pros of playing Live
1) No legality issues compared to playing online: no likely short term or long term value
2) Helps develop some skills that are needed to play in very large buy in tournaments (that only exist in live format).
3) ultra-high ring games (anything above $200/$400) currently only exist live; complete irrelevant to me now, but one can dream....
cons of playing Live
1) risks involved in carrying moderately large amounts of cash
2) risks involved in winning money from unstable/angry/drunk people
3) transportation costs: less than $5/session
Live limit play vs. Quad tabling online at same limit
- more hands per hour/quad tabling: +2.7BB/hour
- lower rake/rakeback/no tipping: $22 per hour; assuming $6/$12 => +1.8BB/hour
- live play startup time estimated at 0.5 hours / 3 hour session => online BB/hour should be adjusted upward by 1/6th.
Final: Online should be approximately (2.7+1.8)*7/6 = 5.25BB/hour more profitable than live.
This final result is represented in BB/hour because I will likely play a mixture of live and online each month. (which is also why I didn't include deposit bonuses here because these would likely to always be cleared so long as I played any reasonable of online hours in a month)
I have read numerous people's opinions that online is significantly more profitable than live. It is still a little surprising for me to have computed a +5.25BB/hour difference for my situation. Prior to having done any analysis, I probably would have guessed a +2.0BB/hour (compared to my assumption of 0.9BB/hour live)
I think I need to periodically review my analysis because i) I may have made errors in my calcuations, ii) various assumptions may change (e.g. stakes, live BB/100 hand rate - particularly because of tells, avg session length, online BB/100 hand rate changing if GT+/PV can no longer be used, quality of the avg live opponent vs. avg online opponent, degree of multitabling changes - 8 tabling? 2 tabling?, etc.)
Nevertheless, I will certainly favor playing online limit ring games over live limit ring games for the purposes of increasing my bankroll.
In the future, I would like to investigate the potential returns from playing higher stakes no-limit games. My online no-limit experience has predominantly been at $100NL. (Live no-limit games are not readily available to me)