1. There is a temptation to play online when you shouldn’t. Internet poker is so easily accessible that it is easy to find yourself playing when you would be better advised not to (during or after a drinking session, for example). While it is true that alcohol is permitted in most live-action games, you are less likely to run into someone who is playing poker completely drunk in live play than you are online. On occasion, some online players even take the time and trouble to inform others at the table of exactly how much they have drunk! (If you come across such a player, please feel free to e-mail me so that I can join the party.)
2. There are more distractions when playing online than in a brick and mortar cardroom.The fact that most people play online in their homes, means that potentially they could be distracted by other matters and, in failing to pay full attention to the table, start to make mistakes. Whereas in a brick and mortar game, the physical presence of other players should be enough to keep your attention on the game, this safety net is absent from the online game. Most online players are, to a greater or lesser extent, guilty of answering e-mails, surfing the Internet or watching TV while they are playing. (It follows that you will have an instant edge over many of your less focused opponents if you simply give the game your full attention. Online poker is real – the players are real and the money is certainly real!)
3. Like all ‘computer games’, online poker may encourage obsessive and compulsive behaviour in some people.
The relatively easy accessibility of online poker might be potentially very damaging for ‘problem gamblers’, since the next opportunity to gamble is only a mouse-click away. Furthermore, it is easy to get sucked into playing ‘just one more hand’ or ‘just one more round’ and before you know it another hour has passed by.
4. Online poker is a very untactile form of the game.
Most players prefer the tactile qualities of physical cards and chips to making impersonal movements of a mouse around a screen. Indeed, some players like to hold a few chips in their hands while they are playing online, in order to make the game seem more ‘real’.
5. Online poker could potentially have negative health effects. For players who play for many hours each day (like anyone else who spends a great deal of time on a computer) there is the risk of RSI or other computer-related health problems such as eye strain and headaches. Furthermore, nowadays many people already spend their working hours at a keyboard, and it may be unhealthy or unsatisfying for them to spend their free time at a computer as well.
6. There is little social interaction online.
For many players the general social interaction of a brick and mortar game is one of its most appealing qualities. If you attend a regular weekly game, for example, you have the opportunity to chat with old friends and share the odd joke while you are playing. Although all online cardrooms offer a chat facility, this is a poor substitute for proper conversation. Professional players who play exclusively online may therefore experience a sense of social isolation.
7. There is no face-to-face psychological warfare.
Many brick and mortar players enjoy the fact that they are engaged in combat with other players sitting nearby; human beings whom they can look straight in the eye, rather than pixelated representations on a computer screen.
8. There are no waitresses bringing food and drink online.
If you need beer or pizza you actually have to get up and fetch it yourself!
9. There is no internationally recognised regulation of online gaming operations.
Many players are understandably wary of depositing substantial funds with online cardrooms. Apart from fears over the legality of playing online poker for real money, there are two main reasons for their concerns. First, if the cardroom were to go out of business, they would most likely lose any funds that are being held on account. And second, if they became involved in a dispute with the cardroom, their account might be frozen without any means of legal redress.
10. It is more problematic to buy-in and cash-out online.
In a live-action game you can just show up with the cash and sit down to play, whereas online poker requires that players have some electronic means of funding their account. Likewise, you cannot simply walk away from an online game with a bundle of notes, but will experience a delay of at least a few days while any cash-out is processed. One side-effect of this is that there are fewer purely casual players online than in a casino – the hassle involved in buying in online is enough to deter anyone with only a passing interest in poker from playing solely on a whim.
It is more important (and harder to maintain) your emotional control and general discipline when there is no-one else around. The very fact that they do not want to embarrass themselves in public, is enough to prevent many players from going on tilt in a live-action game. However, there are no such emotional checks in place when you play online, and the fact that you are playing with ‘cyber’ chips rather than real chips may accentuate the problem. Furthermore, the online game is so fast that you can find yourself on tilt before you know it.
On the whole, online players are more poker-obsessed and poker literate and will therefore play in a tighter fashion than their brick and mortar counterparts (for some of whom poker is more a social event, possibly being combined with a visit to the blackjack table, some slots and a little roulette). Indeed, many good players choose to play at lower limits online than they would in a live-action cardroom; the speed of the online game and the fact that they can play multiple tables means that they can earn as much (or more) online than they would in their normal brick and mortar game.
Furthermore, most online opponents are competing at a level with which they are comfortable, and not being forced to play out of their depth just because it was the only seat available. In online play, casual or inexperienced players can choose to play at micro-limits, whereas in brick and mortar cardrooms they would very likely be forced to play at least at $3/$6 or $5/$10 limits. The micro-limits provide these new players with the opportunity to learn to play poker very cheaply before they venture into the online low-limit and middle-limit games. In addition, many of the looser players who provide the ‘action’ in full ring brick and mortar games, opt for short-handed rather than full games online. Finally, weak online players are usually prevented from going on serious tilt for thousands of dollars, due to online credit restrictions. Instead of losing whatever may be in their wallet, without ever having to add it up, these players are forced to establish a proper bankroll when they buy-in.
Brick and mortar cardrooms always provide players with the option of moving seats when another player leaves, but in an online game you cannot change seats in this fashion. You must first leave the table and then buy back in, which would place you at the bottom of any waiting list.
Every online player occasionally experiences the frustration of disconnections from a site in the middle of a hand, either for Internet connectivity reasons or because of a local problem with their computer.
The online game is much faster and more frenetic. In fact, some experienced players deliberately act bewilderingly fast in order to confuse their opponents and perhaps cause them to rush their decisions.
Although there are tells in the online game, these are far fewer and generally less reliable than tells in brick and mortar games.
Although collusion does occasionally occur in brick and mortar games, it is much easier to collude online. Indeed it is even possible for one person to be playing two or more hands at the same table.