Pro Online Poker: How to Get the Most out of Your Multi-tabling Experience
This article is part of my series 'Poker Culture, Strategy & Commentary'.
Online poker allows a player to effectively play as many tables as they want. Yet there are still many serious players out there who stick to the old-school approach of playing 1-3 tables at a time. Let's explore some of the pros and cons of multi-tabling and discuss the best ways to go about it. I'd also like to clarify that when I use the term 'multi-tabling' in this article I don't mean playing only 2-6 tables. Playing 2-6 tables is pretty standard and doesn't require too much discussion, you just load them up and play. I'm referring to playing 6-24 tables, or what many players commonly refer to as 'mass multi-tabling'.
Some people love to multi-task on the computer, while others need to focus on things individually or they won't get any quality work done. This depends on your personality, and it definitely translates to how you should view playing online poker. If you're a multi-tasker then you'll undoubtedly be attracted to the idea of multi-tabling when you play poker. If you hate multitasking then you're probably best to stick to playing very few tables at once and refining your game from that standpoint. For the multi-taskers among you I've created a list of 5 tips dealing with the mind-set and strategy necessary to achieve success multi-tabling, as well as some discussion of the practicalities involved.
Keys To Multi-tabling
1- Play a much lower stake.
Nobody can do ten things at once as well as they can do one thing. We dilute our focus a little bit more with each new table added into the mix. This is why the skill level of your opponents must be significantly lower than yours if you expect to make any money. Also, the lower the stake you play, the more significant the rake becomes. This is because the ratio of rake paid to bet size becomes a little bit worse for the player with each step down in limits (with some possible exceptions). When you begin multi-tabling at a lower stake, remember that your skill edge is likely shrinking while simultaneously the rake is becoming a bigger factor.
2- Play shorter sessions
When you only play a couple tables at a time, poker isn't very taxing on the mind and body. You can play much longer sessions than when you're multi-tabling. Some live poker players can even stay sharp and beat a game for days on end! When you enter a multi-tabling grind and the action starts to feel like it's coming at you in rapid-fire succession you have to be super-focused just to keep up with all of the hands you're being dealt. This is much more tiring and requires much more frequent breaks, especially for the player who is new to the task.
3- Be aware that short-term swings will be more extreme
When you're playing few tables the swings are usually small and only rarely do you win or lose a significant amount of chips in a very short period. All of this goes out the window when you start multi-tabling. The long-term swings of the game manifest themselves more quickly, which means that: A- You will get hit with bad runs all at once and feel like the sky is falling. And B- Your bad runs will be much shorter (in terms of days or weeks) than they would be if you weren't multi-tabling.
4- Avoid all distractions
Even small distractions like instant messages, radio or briefly scoping out your web browser can affect your bottom line significantly. In order to be a good at multi-tabling player you have to always pay 100% attention and avoid all distractions. If you feel like your attention is shifting, close out your tables and come back to the games a little later.
5- Don't play too many tables
This last piece of advice is the most valuable of the whole bunch. Every player has a breaking point, if they try and play more than a certain number of hands per hour they stumble and their results falter significantly. This fail point may manifest itself drastically in a player's results, like they fall off the edge of a cliff when they go from 10 to 12 tables, or it may be just a slow degradation of their win rate as they increase the number of active tables. The bottom line is that there's a sweet spot in terms of how many tables you should try to play. When you get comfortable playing many tables you might think it's only natural to try to play even more. This is flawed logic. When you get comfortable is when you should focus on your play and try to improve your game. If you're doing really well, then you should probably just move up in stakes one level and cut back the number of tables. While multi-tabling may be a good method of grinding out a profit with little risk, it's not a good way of improving your game and is unlikely to be the best way of maximizing your earning power in the long run.
Third Party Software
All multi-tablers use some form of third party software to facilitate play. The most commonly used programs are the tracking programs, PokerTracker and HoldemManager. These programs compile all of your hand histories and allow you to go back and look at all of the hands you've played, as well as analyze all kinds of statistics. The benefit of these for multi-tabling is their 'heads-up display' software, often referred to as a 'HUD'. This allows you to see real-time updated statistics directly on each of your tables. When you're playing poker with dozens or even hundreds of different players all at once, it's handy to be able to see how many pots a certain opponent has been opening, how often they go to showdown etc... These programs are widely used and fully legal on all major poker sites, including PokerStars & Full Tilt Poker.
Other programs exist that facilitate the mechanics of multi-table play. My favorites right now include Table Ninja (created by the Holdem Manager people) and Table Of Interest. Table Ninja has a bunch of hot-keys that help with betting, opening and closing tables and dealing with the lobby. Sit-n-go players also have an invaluable tool called 'Sit-n-go Sensei' included. It also has built-in functionality to deal with many of the annoyances you encounter with your poker client's software. Table Of Interest is a program that first sets all of your tables up in a stack and then repositions individual active tables into a pre-defined grid. This allows you to focus in on your hand while you're betting it. When you don't have a hand the table gets buried in the stack, out of sight and out of mind. There are some drawbacks to playing this way. You lose all history and feel for the table. While it's a very robotic way to play, it can be a very handy tool if used correctly. These programs both provide a host of hot-keys which allows you to customize your interface in just the right way to maximize your efficiency.
The important thing to make sure of is that you're enjoying yourself playing poker, and that you're comfortable betting all of your hands to the best of your ability. If you have any poker related questions please feel free to contact me or reply in the comments below.