"Ace" Speaks Online (2): Multitabling - Yes or No?
Whenever you hear people talk about the advantages of playing on the Internet, they will almost always say the same things: "You play many more hands than in real life. You won't have to wait for your cards all the time, for the dealer to shuffle, etc. Because it is faster, you will have more fun, and you will also be able to make more money." People who play on more than one table at the same time (in other words, multitablers) will sometimes get over 100 hands an hour, as opposed to only 30 or 35 in a regular cardroom. So, it would seem that good players who multitable should be able to make much more money than people of equal skills who play in regular cardrooms. But is this true?
I have a friend who always talks negative about my regular poker game, the 500 Euros buy-in pot-limit Omaha game in Amsterdam. He says things like: "Why on earth would I want to play in that game of yours. On the Internet, I play four tables at the same time, while in your game I get maybe 20 or 22 hands an hour. (By the way, he is right about this. Quite a few dealers, and also some of the players, are extremely slow. Combined with the fact that pot-limit games are always a little slow, and that Omaha is a slower game than hold'em, it does take quite a while for a hand to finish, and for the next one to begin.) On one night of poker, I get to play only 100 or 120 hands, which on the Internet will take just one hour. So, for me, the decision is simple - I play on the Net." Well, while it seems he is right to be playing in a much faster (and thus, potentially more profitable) game, there are a few things that he seems to forget:
- By playing three or four tables at the same time, one will miss out on a lot of important information. Only the very best players are capable of still having a decent enough edge playing under these circumstances. People who are only moderately good might not have much of an edge left now that they are playing multiple tables, and for some they might now even play with a negative expectation. (Remember, if you are playing one table at the time like in a 'normal' cardroom, your hourly rate will be a relatively small amount when you compare it to the amounts of money wagered. In addition, your variance / standard deviation is rather large in relation to the size of your earnings. What this means is that most of the time even good and successful players will actually have a rather slight edge when playing poker, and when because of changed circumstances like the multitable setting you are missing out on a lot of information, it will be very hard for you to keep even this relatively slight edge. Of course, if a $20-40 player who beats his normal game for $30 an hour will now be playing four $20-40 tables with an expectation of $15 each, he will have doubled his hourly rate. But once his hourly rate per table drops to $10 or so, then he might actually be better off just playing one table at the time. And in fact, it is my guess that most players would not even be able to reach that $10 in the multitable setting described.)
- If people are playing in a setting where they get only 30 hands an hour instead of 100, it is probable that overall play will be significantly looser. People will be more enticed to get into the action when they have to wait longer for a new hand to begin. In general, looser games make for more profitable games, sometimes to such an extent that playing one relatively slow game in a B&M cardroom may well be more profitable than multiple fast games on the Net.
- One main advantage of playing in a 'real' cardroom is that you get to see your opponents, whereas online you do not. While this does not help the average player much (because he will be facing good or excellent players who will probably read him much better than he reads them), if you are the very best player in your game, you are giving up an important part of your edge. This is especially true if you are playing in pot- and no-limit games, where one good read per session may make a huge difference.
On the other hand, it should be clear that playing multiple tables on the Internet does have some major advantages. In addition to 'general' Internet advantages like higher speed, constant availability of good games and the possibility of taking notes, I see the following important benefits when it comes to playing more than one table:
- As mentioned above, you get to play a lot more hands per hour. If you are capable of still playing with a decent edge under these circumstances, it is likely that your total hourly rate is now much higher than in the 'normal' one-table setting (either in a B&M cardroom or online).
- If you have a problem fighting boredom in a normal game, meaning that on occasion you may get lured into playing some bad hands, then playing multiple tables on the Net may very well help you play a tighter and 'better' game. It may be much easier for you to throw away marginal hands knowing that if you fold your cards, your next starting hand is already waiting for you. Actually, this may very well be the case for the player that I mentioned above. While in real life, he often plays 50 or even 60% of his starting hands, by multitabling he almost never plays more than 20 or 25%. For him, this may very well turn him from a break-even player into a slight winner, or from a slight winner into a solid winner.
Some final words
To tell you guys the truth, I am not a very big advocate of multitabling. I think that in general it is better to first try to become excellent playing one table at the time, and only once you have gotten to know all of your regular opponents, know all of the features on the site, and know how to play well under all circumstances, to only then start slowly adding a second table. Actually, it takes a hell of a player, a truly excellent top pro, to play just two tables at the same time with a large enough edge. So, for anyone of slightly lesser quality, playing three or even four tables at the same time will probably be too much of a burden, unless maybe if he is playing in some really soft games.