It is almost impossible to be one of the best players in the world without playing online poker. In today’s age of poker, the experience and fundamentals needed I believe can only be gained from playing online. This is a somewhat sad topic because of the state of online poker in the USA, but I still believe this to be very true. There are three main reasons why you must be playing online poker to become the best.
The ability to play tons of volume
The ability to review and study your play
I will not mention/promote any poker sites currently accepting USA players. There are ways to play online in the USA, and I am in a fortunate situation and can play on WSOP.com since I reside in Nevada. Do your own research for any websites you plan on playing on.
The most important reason you need to play online poker is to put in volume. Say you play $2/$5 no limit live on a regular basis. You typically play an eight-hour session, seeing roughly 35 hands per hour. This equates to 260 hands over the course of a day, 1,300 hands over a five-day week, and 5,200 hands over a one-month period. Now consider online poker, where I am comfortable playing 6 tables at a time. Each table I can play roughly 90 hands per hour. This works out to 540 hands per hour, 4,320 hands per day, 21,600 hands per week and 86,400 hands per month. This works out to approximately 16 times as many hands online as in live poker. The learning curve is achieved about 16x faster online as you are presented with situations on a much more regular basis. You grow accustomed on how to handle check raises, 3-bets, bluff catching, etc. on a much higher level while playing online. In summary, your fundamentals become much stronger playing online than live, and this leads to you becoming a stronger player. The experience you gain online cannot be substituted.
The second important reason you need to be playing online poker is that it is much easier to review and study your play. Using programs such as PokerTracker or HoldemManager, you can develop a massive database of your hands to review. Even without these programs, you can record your screen or easily review hands later. When most people think of PokerTracker, they think of its heads up displays, which shows the statistics of opponents. However, the most important tool of the software is the ability to review your play. You can easily replay ANY hands you have played in your life. You can filter your database just to look at 3-bet pots from the small blind versus a button open for a focused study session. You can look at your long-term profit opening KJo UTG 6 handed, see you have lost money and learn to fold that hand UTG. The number of things you can do to study your play is endless. Considering the above about volume, within 1 year you can have a database of 1 million hands to study! It could take upwards of 15 years to play that many hands live and you wouldn’t be able to go back and see a hand you played 8 years ago!
The final reason you need to be playing online poker is to play against tough competition. The ability to learn from mistakes and see what strong players are doing in situations makes the ability to improve online much quicker. I have played a lot of live $2/$5 no limit hold ‘em coming up in poker after Black Friday. As we all know, the competition isn’t all that fierce. While you can make a lot of money playing live $2/$5, I feel your growth as a player is severely stunted playing these games. Your fundamentals of poker are not tested playing against this weak competition. More importantly, you do not get punished for the mistakes you make. For example, if you C-Bet too much, weak opponents won’t check-raise you at a high enough frequency. If you open raise too often, weak opponents do not 3-bet you enough. You do not learn from these mistakes, thus when you play tougher competition, you are often at a disadvantage. Playing online against tougher competition, you get punished for these mistakes, thus learn to correct them quickly. Going the opposite direction, when playing online, it becomes easier to recognize these mistakes (like over c-betting) and exploit these mistakes from opponents.
In summary, you need to be playing online if your goal is to quickly and drastically improve your game. The volume, study, and competition cannot be matched from a live poker scene. It is no mistake that European players have greatly overtaken American players in terms of skill level since Black Friday. Their access to online poker has left Americans in the dust in poker. I recommend you do your own research on online poker options available to you to help improve your game. If you are lucky enough to live in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware or now West Virginia, take advantage and support your legal, regulated online poker sites. Hopefully over the years to come, more states will jump on board.