Live, Online, Omaha, or Sit & Go: Which Type of Poker Is Right for Me?

  • Online cash is the simplest and purest form of poker but has a tough rake structure
  • Live tournaments come with a dose of glamour, although the travel can get old fast
  • The variance is considerably higher in Omaha and that’s what brings the fish to bite
  • You should have an edge in mixed games if you become reasonably competent
Poker chips and money
There are many varieties of poker, but which one is right for you? [Image:]

Online cash

The simplest and purest form of the game. Plenty of liquidity, sit down whenever you want, get up whenever you want. Settle in for a slow grind and spin up your roll slowly over time. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, it’s classic. It’s also a nightmare.

One major problem with online cash is that it might be on borrowed time. Very similar spots tend to crop up again and again when playing online, and newer, faster solvers can keep up the pace. Policing this is a nightmare for sites, and RTA use is already not uncommon.

online cash has an extremely punishing rake structure at lower stakes

The second problem with this is that online cash has an extremely punishing rake structure at lower stakes which makes it difficult to grind up from the micros. And lastly, even then, it’s one of the more difficult forms of poker. With sites also trying to crack down on bumhunting to protect their recreational players, you can often get caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the other hand, the purity of 100bb poker is as clean and cerebral as it gets. You’ll get the smug sense of satisfaction as you snobbishly dismiss the abilities tournament and live players who can’t come close to your understanding of the game, while they rake in four times as much money despite studying about once a year.

Live cash

Live games are invariably far softer because they move at a snail’s pace and people haven’t worked an eight-hour shift to fold for an hour then fold AJo to a 3bet. While they’re slower, your hourly is likely to be a decent bit higher, and they’re more social too, for better or for worse. You’ll also (probably) not be facing anyone using RTA and the game will have a long future ahead of it.

Now the problems. Firstly, you’ll need to live near a casino and actually leave the house, so that rules out the hermits. Secondly, whale-hunting is still prevalent, but while online you can click around tables and do this fairly shamelessly, in live games people will actually have to see you be a predatory coward in person.

Another issue in many localities is that private games have sucked away a lot of liquidity from casinos. You’ll need to suck up to the hosts and the whales, and play loosely in the hope of getting invited back while trying not to piss off anyone too shady. Especially if you live in a country that’s insane enough to make it illegal to play cards but thinks owning an assault rifle is fine and dandy. But hey, OGs like Doyle Brunson used to drive around to home games with shotguns in the trunk, and what’s old and forgotten is new again…

Online tournaments

The varying stack sizes, the need to conserve chips, and ICM means that tourneys should be a bit safer against the relentless march of AI than cash games. This also makes them more exciting – you’re constantly in unusual situations that you haven’t seen a thousand times before, and there’s the allure of winning a huge amount of money in a single session.

The problem with tournaments is that they don’t accommodate all lifestyles. If you’re a lazy grinder, they’re actually quite good for forcing you to put the hours in, but if you’re like the 99.99% of the population, you’ll need to not have a career, kids, a partner, an overbearing mother, an athletic breed of dog, or anything else that might object to you gluing yourself to your computer for 12 hours straight.

you’ll develop an incredible aptitude for achieving things in exactly five minutes 

On the plus side, you’ll develop an incredible aptitude for achieving things in exactly five minutes. If you see a guy capable of taking a shower, shaving, and rotating his tires in five minutes flat, that’s a man who knows what a 25bb rejam range looks like. Cooking, cleaning, picking your fantasy football team, calling your mother – it can all be done in this timeframe, leading to incredible efficiency savings in your general life. And yes, since you’re not allowed a significant other, you can even do that one too.

Live tournaments

One way in which live tournaments are clearly superior to any other form of poker is in their glamour. You’ll travel the world – get to see Barcelona, Paris, Bucharest, Los Angeles, Macau, Coventry, Rio de Janeiro. You’ll be playing for huge, life-changing amounts of money. You’ll get on TV. You can actually become semi-famous. If that appeals to you, then live tournaments are the way to go.

One other advantage that doesn’t get mentioned is you don’t have to bother with game selection too much, which as we’ve discussed, is one of the worst aspects of the game. In a tournament, you just sit down and have to play whoever’s there. This is why you constantly get to see great players battling each other in big events, which has become depressingly rare in cash games. There’s a little bit of selection involved, but here’s a quick guide: if there’s a tournament being played live, it’s a good game. Fire in.

Unfortunately, there are downsides, and they are considerable. Firstly, the swings. My god, the swings. Getting two-outed in a big cash pot is always brutal, but it’s never that big a deal. In live tournaments, it might change the trajectory of your entire life. Play big field events and you might genuinely never get to the fabled “long run” where skill always shines through. In your entire life. That’s a big risk to take.

deduct the cost of your flights, hotel, and a casino burger in Bratislava

Secondly, while the traveling aspect might sound fun, try the following experiment. Take your edge in an average $3k buyin event, which you’ll already need a considerable bankroll for. Now deduct how much action you’ve sold. Now deduct the cost of your flights, hotel, and a casino burger in Bratislava to your wallet, waist, and soul. Still sound like a good living?

You can cut these down of course, but the travelling-the-world, playing-cards-for-a-living playboy lifestyle won’t quite seem so glamorous when you’re sharing a hotel room with three other sweaty grinders wishing you’d brought a spare pair of earplugs and had lost your sense of smell.

Sit & Go

So, we’ve seen the downsides of tournaments: the long sessions, the huge variance, and the soul-destroying rivers. Well, with Sit & Gos, you can enjoy the style of tournaments without any of that. You’ll also get tons of practice on final-table and ICM situations, as well as playing with different stack sizes if you ever do decide to fire any big events. It’s a good, solid game and you shouldn’t suffer too badly from swings.

Those are the pros. There’s only one con: it’s not 2005 anymore. Forget about it. Literally nobody plays these. Becoming a professional Sit & Go player in 2023 is like becoming a professional VHS repairman, or Philip Schofield’s agent. Move on.

Spin & Go

It’s been a strange trajectory for Spin & Gos ever since Winamax invented them with their expresso format. It was initially assumed to be a gimmick and rake trap until one twoplustwo poster showed that the games were eminently beatable. Now, they’ve endured, and every site has its own knock-off version.

As long as you’re sensible, the swings aren’t even that bad, since you’ll usually get at least something just for spinning the big prizes. A lot of stables have targeted these lately, but the games are still soft. And you can jump in and out fairly quickly, like a cash game.

like saying you’re a professional filmmaker when you install CCTV cameras for a living

There are not too many serious downsides to these, but… come on, 15bb poker? To make a 2 or 3% return? Grow up. Imagine the scene: You’re at a party. “Yeah I’m a pro poker player.. yeah, no… no… no, Spin & Gos.” That’s like saying you’re a professional filmmaker when you install CCTV cameras for a living.


One thing about non-Hold’Em games are that, while the poker boom may be long gone, it’s also never been easier than ever to actually get good. Anyone today benefits from tons of content they can find for free, affordable training apps, and easy access to solver solutions. Stray too far from NLHE though and you’re somewhat on your own – there’s far less material available to learn.

Still, Omaha is by far the most popular option, there are usually games available, and it’s certainly softer. The variance is considerably higher, but that’s what brings the fish to bite.

You will need to be a certain type of person, though. The equities of the cards may run closer in Omaha than in Hold’Em, but when it comes to the clientele, the reverse is true – this is a very polarizing game. Only either absolute punters who play nine pints deep or the nerdiest shut-ins in poker need apply. Nothing in between.

Oh, and let’s not even talk about five-card and six-card Omaha. Flopped quads? That’ll be a fold without a straight flush redraw.

Short deck

Yeah, this has never really taken off the way everyone said it would, has it? I mean, maybe if you play in big games in Macau because you owe $2m to the Laotian mafia or whatever, sure. Knock yourself out.

Mixed games

Can’t be bothered gitting gud? Well, if you can just get reasonably competent, you should have an edge in mixed games, or so the theory goes. And it seems to work – by being a jack of all trades, you’ll have an edge over the field who tend to have no idea what they’re doing in some of the variants.

Most casinos won’t spread the games live either, so you’ll be stuck playing online.

The problems are similar to Omaha – the lack of training material and liquidity compared to Hold’Em – but dialed up to 11. Most casinos won’t spread the games live either, so you’ll be stuck playing online.

Also, I’m not sure why, but for some reason there’s a whole weird fashion sense that goes with being a mixed game player, like golfers. Just know that you’ll be laughed out of any WSOP 8-game event unless you’re wearing a shirt so loud you make Bubba Watson look like Karl Lagerfeld.

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