Explained: Why do some online professionals not play live?

Is it just about money, or is there something temperamental about why some successful online players stay home during big live events?

We have a lot of new players at PokerStrategy.com and we have to therefore remember that a lot of the conversations that experienced players take for granted will sometimes go over their head. So when stories in the poker world come up that only make sense to experienced poker players, I am going to spell out what we are talking about for the newbies.

Last week Patrick 'Pleno1' Leonard irked a few people in the Super High Roller community by suggesting that the skill gap between midstakes MTT regulars and the players who play in €100,000 events at the EPT was not that wide. I actually agree with him, but that’s a conversation for another time, the thing that I found most interesting was his reasoning for why these same players do not play in the big live events where literally millions are up for grabs:

Opportunity cost


It does seem odd that online poker professionals would shun the live game. If you are new to poker, live poker always seems like the pinnacle of the game and the most fun. Then from a business point of view, in most weeks there are only a handful of tournaments online with six-figure prizes but most major events make multiple millionaires. However, what Patrick is saying is true, at least that a lot of great players avoid playing live (Patrick himself missed the WSOP to watch the World Cup this year).

Patrick gave a number of reasons including that the players could make more at home. What he is getting at there is that in order to play in the Super High Rollers, almost everyone has to be staked anyway. So the guy in a $100,000 event might actually be only playing for $25,000 of equity, for example. Then you have the travel expenses (which are a silent killer) and perhaps most of all the opportunity cost of not playing online. Two days of travel is time you would not be playing online, then the same player would be used to playing maybe 20 online tournaments in the time they play one live. It’s really feasible that some solid number crunching would reveal online is more profitable for many players, even if it’s for a fraction of the buy-in.

But I really wanted to touch on the point he made about not wanting to travel alone. I actually think this might be one of the main drivers of online grinders to want to continue playing online instead of live. Poker is by its nature a social game, but the online format has opened it up to players who otherwise would not have been attracted to it.

Introverts vs Extroverts

Online poker naturally attracts a lot of introverts compared to live poker, which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Introverts like to spend time alone and there are few pursuits where you can make a lot of money from the comfort of your home like online poker. Introversion is something which is largely misunderstood and gets a bad rap (I highly recommend reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain to learn more about this topic) in our modern culture that celebrates celebrity so much. Introverts are not necessarily 'unsociable' but simply social interactions tend to deplete them of energy and they need time to recover (whereas social interactions tend to boost the energy levels of extroverts). So not only may live poker be outside of their comfort zone from a playing perspective, the thought of 10-hour days locked in highly social situations might feel very intense emotionally. The GIF below sums it up perfectly:

The difference between introverts and extroverts

I have a very unique appreciation of this because I am extroverted in temperament, but after a decade of working from home I have developed a few introverted habits. I really enjoy live poker and going to events, but in recent years I have found more excuses not to go to them, because avoiding them is easier. I can only imagine this is the case for a lot of online poker professionals. They know they can make money at home and not disrupt their day, so why bother?

I’ve also become acutely aware of this working with online players over the last ten years or so. As a broad example, I’ve often worked on promotions where the prize is a seat to a live event (very much like this one we have going on right now) and while they are understandably popular, they are not as popular as I assumed they would be compared to some of the other stuff we do. Over the years I have also noticed that successful online players whom I have approached to interview are sometimes more reluctant to do interviews than live players, and in some cases prefer not to give their real names and share personal images (sometimes that is also for tax reasons, but usually not).

Live MTTs are no longer the summit

Lex on Twitch
Fame and fortune can be found away from live poker

Then you have simply the fact that online poker allows people to design a lifestyle they really enjoy, so why bother travelling all the time? While jet-setting across the world might seem like heaven to some, others prefer being able to spend time with family, exercise and do other hobbies outside of poker. Online poker therefore makes it much easier for them to do just that. For every introvert or player who can simply make more money online, there are also players who accept the trade-off of losing a bit of EV but its worth it for their work/life balance and wellbeing.

Whatever the reason, I think it’s a sign that the big live tournaments are not the summit of poker anymore, even if you are a professional. They are a wonderful spectacle and marketing tool for the game of poker, but as the game evolves alongside technology, diverse groups of people are finding ways to make poker fit around their lives, rather than making their lives fit around poker. That can only be a good thing in my opinion.

What other poker concepts do you hear everyone talk about but you have no idea what they mean? Let us know in the comments:


Share this page

Comments (1)

  • OldSchoolPapa


    Mmm Introverts ... it reminds me of someone ...