What Are the Biggest Differences Between Online and Offline Poker Tournaments?

Vector illustration of a poker tournament banner with playing cards, coins and chips.

Whether you’ve been honing your skills with online poker or enjoying friendly games at land-based establishments, poker tournaments offer players the chance to take their game, and possibly even fame, to the next level. 

During normal poker games, players play at a single table, there are minimum and maximum buy-ins, the blinds remain the same and players can cash out at any time. In poker tournaments, players play at multiple tables, the buy-in is fixed and players all receive the same amount of chips, the blinds increase at regular intervals, and the game ends for players who lose their chips as they cannot buy back in. This makes this type of event far more competitive, with players being paid their winnings according to where they finished in the tournament rankings.

Just like with normal poker games, there are a large number of tournament variants, all of which can be played either online or at land-based events, allowing players to enjoy tournaments in two very different settings. So, what are the key differences between online and offline tournaments? Let’s take a look.

Online poker tournaments

Online tournaments happen far more regularly than offline events and tend to be smaller events with smaller prize pools. This makes them ideal for players wanting to practice their competitive skills. Borgata Online offers a range of daily, weekly and seasonal online poker tournaments.

3D illustration of golden playing cards and poker chips on a dark background.


  • Accessibility and convenience – Like other online casino games, online poker tournaments offer players the chance to take part in tournaments on a regular basis from wherever they are. This affords players the chance to hone their competitive skills without having to travel to large events. These games are also of shorter duration, allowing players to get frequent experience without it taking up too much time, and because they’re smaller, the buy-ins are far more affordable.
  • Familiar environment – Players who play predominantly online will find online poker tournaments far less stressful than land-based tournaments. There is less noise, fewer distractions and less pressure than in-person events, making these especially helpful to newer players still developing their skills.
  • May act as a gateway – While some in-person tournaments are open to anyone who can afford the buy-in (which is often extremely high,) others are reserved only for those with an invitation. Certain online tournaments afford players the chance to gain access to these land-based tournaments, and those who win their way through may even receive full buy-in, gaining access to an otherwise highly-exclusive event.


  • Limited time – The average live Texas Hold’em poker hand takes around two minutes to play out, which is halved in online games. This allows players less time to recognize their opponents’ betting patterns and hand ranges. In live tournaments, you also get to know people, making them easier to read over time.
  • Less social  – Poker games online are undoubtedly less social than in-person games, which can be seen as either a disadvantage or an advantage depending on your focus. This certainly removes the inherent excitement in large tournaments, though it may also offer a more focused environment for those looking to practice their competitive skills more regularly.

Land-based poker tournaments

Generally, land-based tournaments are much larger and more prestigious. This is where you’ll find the poker pros, as the prizes are significantly larger. The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is by far the most famous poker tournament in the world, with the 2021 prize pool for the main event coming in at $8 million.

Player betting chips at a casino with poker cards on the table.


  • Social atmosphere – Much of what makes poker, and especially competitive poker, so engaging is the social aspect of the game. During offline tournaments, players get to meet new people both at the event and as they move to different tables as eliminations occur and the player pool shrinks. This gives players the chance to connect with like-minded folk and even meet backers or tournament travel companions. In-person events also make it possible for attendees to enjoy casino amenities on the side, making for a more memorable experience.
  • Offers more tells – While poker tells may not be as obvious or dramatic as they’re portrayed in films, a good player can certainly learn to read other players based on their mannerisms and table talk. These subtle cues allow players to gain information from opponents that could help their game. This aspect of the game is mostly absent in online play, making it a compelling aspect of in-person tournaments.
  • Larger prizes and more prestige – Because in-person events are generally larger, their prize pools are too. As such, these events are best suited to competitive and professional players, rather than those who play casually or as a hobby. The largest tournament payout went to Antonio Esfandiari in 2012 at the WSOP Big One for One Drop where he won $18,346,673.


  • More travel time and expenses – Poker tournaments are often held in popular gambling cities like Las Vegas, making them far less convenient than online events. Of course, treating a tournament as a mini trip has its perks, but for players looking to advance their skills, travel and hotel costs, time off work and other expenses certainly add up. While this may be worth it for professional players, who have a chance of winning any expenses back, more casual players are more likely to consider such events as special occasions.
  • Requires different strategies  – If you’ve been predominantly playing poker online, in-person tournaments can be a very different experience. Not only do you have to work reading body language into your strategy, you’ll also be placed in a far busier environment, which could affect some players’ state of mind and concentration.

Preparing for a poker tournament

As you can see, though online and offline poker tournaments have a few key differences, both serve an important purpose for poker players, and serious players will find value in both. As mentioned, online tournaments serve as a highly convenient and accessible platform for developing skill, while in-person tournaments are reserved for more serious games. If you’re ready to enter the realm of poker tournaments, discover our top poker tournament tips on how to prepare and what to expect.

Play poker online at Borgata Online

Borgata Online hosts a variety of poker games online, from live poker online to Sit and Go Tournaments. Whether you’re into Texas Hold’em, Omaha variations, or Spins and FastForward, you’ll find over 70 tournaments daily when you register with our world-class online casino.