Multi-tabling can be profitable without increasing your time at the tables, but can you cope with the potential pitfalls?

If you earn per 100 hands at four tables, that’s better than profit per 100 hands you’re earning at one table

Celebrated media theorist Marshall McLuhan was certainly not thinking about poker when he uttered the immortal line, ‘The medium is the message’. But, such words could not be any closer to the truth. New technology and new processes always impact the information they transmit.

Just as television manipulates content differently than radio, when it comes to poker played online instead of in a casino or a home game, it’s just not the same game – and it’s the internet that changes it. Online poker is played under an entirely different set of circumstances that could certainly not have been envisioned just a few short years ago.

Before the boom of online poker, it was impossible to play two or more games simultaneously. Can you imagine someone in a traditional casino running from table to table trying to play hands at each of them? But that’s precisely what you can do online. Not only can you do this, but most online players are engaged at more than one table for most of the time they’re playing. The game changes in more ways than you might imagine. In fact in many cases, the more tables you play at simultaneously, the more the game varies.

Speed kills – doesn’t it?

In a brick-and-mortar casino, even though the pace of the game is much quicker than you’d usually find in a home game, it pales in comparison to the pace of multiple games online. Some online poker experts play as many as eight games at the same time, usually using two monitors that are linked together with screens large enough to display four games on each.

Most players I know don’t multi-table to that extent, but two, three and four games simultaneously seems to be the rule of the day for many. Obviously the more games you play, the less time you have to make decisions.

When you play at two or more tables simultaneously you do not have the time to take notes on your opponents. Because of this, you relinquish the opportunity to learn how your opponent plays and what he’s likely to do in different situations. If you’re playing at four tables simultaneously, your challenge is to track the texture of four games and the playing style of 30 or more opponents. Moreover, you don’t have any visual clues online; you don’t have the time to write notes; your reaction time is less. As a result of these factors, the potential for mistakes to creep into your game when multi-tabling is much greater.

If your edge in poker is your ability to pick up tells combined with being able to deduce betting patterns and otherwise read players, then you may have to say goodbye to that if you multi-table. Some players shine when they have to make sharp, quick and instinctual judgments at the table. If you feel that you already do this or can adopt this style, then successful multi-tabling is just around the corner.

As easy as ABC

Ask anyone and the answer will pretty much always be the same: when you play in a large number of games at once, your edge in each individual game will drop. The aggregate yield, however, can rise because the total amount of money earned from playing at four tables simultaneously – even when each table is played sub- optimally – exceeds the amount you can earn from playing your very best game at only one table.

For example, if you are able to earn $5 per 100 hands at each of four tables, you will fare better than you would if you’re able to extract $10 per 100 hands at just the one. You’d earn $20 per hour at four tables, even when playing sub-optimally, and that’s a higher yield than earning $10 per hour at one table.

There is certainly a tendency for multi-tablers to play card-dependent strategies. If someone always seems to delay acting, it could be that they’re playing two, three, four, or more tables at once. You can verify this by searching for your opponent online. If your online poker room shows that they’re playing at a couple of tables at once, you can take advantage here, because you know that this opponent is playing ABC poker.

You can then bluff and watch this player fold hands they might have been tempted to play aggressively and creatively if only they didn’t have to pay attention to what’s going on at the other three games as well. If you raise and your opponent re-raises, the chances are they have a big hand.

Let’s face it, ABC poker is not scintillating or exciting, and sometimes it’s not enough to beat the games. One of the things you need to examine if you’re planning to play multiple tables simultaneously is the percentage of players voluntarily seeing the flop. The more folks who typically enter pots, the better the chances that your ABC, card-dependent, tight play will prevail.

On many of the US facing sites, games have been getting tighter in the aftermath of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Because of the difficulties in funding and cashing out of accounts located in the United States, many of the weaker players have gone broke and this leaves a residue of tighter, tougher players. When you play an ABC strategy against players who are as tight as you are, and also have the advantage of paying attention – assuming your opponents are playing less than four tables simultaneously – you’re going to have a difficult time.

With poker still ascending in Europe and other parts of the world, this kind of strategy can work to perfection. But in a tight, shrinking market like the US, where seemingly only the formerly winning players remain in action, it’s a much tougher environment.

What’s best for you

Playing online offers a variety of poker experiences. You can play fixed limit or no-limit cash games (either full tables or short-handed games), multi-table tournaments, or one-table sit&go events. While there’s no one-size- fits-all answer, here are some guidelines you might want to think about when considering multi-table play.

NINE OR TEN-HANDED GAMES: If all you’ve ever played is one table at a time, the easiest place to get your feet wet is to begin by playing two full tables simultaneously. Full tables – nine or ten-handed, it doesn’t really matter which – provide the best opportunity to do this. With nine or ten players there’s a lot of time before your blind comes around again, and you will probably have time to take and read notes on your opponents in this situation.

Once you can play two tables simultaneously and feel as though you are playing well, promote yourself to three games at once, then four. But once you reach four games, you will be playing sub-optimally and your edge will have to come from something other than your ability to read and figure out your opponents’ holdings. If the games are so tight that just playing solid poker doesn’t provide enough of an edge, you’ll have to find an edge somewhere else. Alternatively, you could drop down to a plate that’s not quite so full – or risk crossing the Rubicon that separates winning from losing.

SHORT-HANDED GAMES: If you want to play a number of six-handed games simultaneously, you’re going to be making decisions constantly. In a six-handed game you’re in the blind one-third of the time. If you compete at four games simultaneously, you’ll be in the blind almost all of the time. If that’s not enough, six- handed games are much more aggressive than full ten- handed tables. Players raise, re-raise, bluff raise, and make plays at the pot regularly. A card-dependent strategy won’t work in short-handed games because the blinds come around so frequently you don’t have the same latitude to wait for big hands that you have in full games.

If you’re the kind of player who loves to be in the thick of the action, multiple six-handed games may be the perfect solution for you. But, to succeed, you’ll have to adopt a strategy that’s more aggressive than sitting back and waiting for big hands.

Your success depends on what you can do to understand the playing style of your opponents. And, if you’re playing four tables at once, you’ll need to track five opponents at each table. That’s a total of 20 players you’ll have to track – not an easy task. In fact, taking notes on your opponents when you’re playing at four short-handed tables is close to impossible.

But if you’re a successful short-handed player, we recommend the same expansion strategy we suggested for full games. Begin playing two short-handed games simultaneously, then add additional games only when you are certain of your ability to beat the games you’re playing in regularly.

To beat six-handed games you’ll still have to be aggressive, make plays at the pot and defend against aggressors, even when you don’t have the time at your disposal to study them closely and learn which opponents are susceptible to certain plays. In short- handed games, you need to do more than just wait for good hands to play. This is tougher to pull off when you’re playing in so many games that you are unable to pick up information about your opponents and manage your own play accordingly.

The most successful short-handed multi-tablers are players who realise that they will experience substantial swings when they play this way. They have more money at risk in games that are more aggressive. When it’s not your day, your bankroll looks a lot more wrung-out than it does when you weren’t catching cards at a ten-handed game. But when you win, you can win big.

To play a large number of short-handed games simultaneously requires a psychological ability to handle a high degree of variance. Although you’ll win more in the long run if you are a winning player, it’s handling the rocky road that’s the real challenge.

If you play a number of tournaments at once, the adjustments you’ll need to make are not much different than those needed to succeed when you play multiple cash games. Of course, you’ll have to adopt a tournament strategy rather than a cash game strategy, but if you are in two or more tournaments at once, you’ll have the same challenges in acquiring and managing information that you’ll experience in nine or ten-handed games.

What’s difficult is making it to the final table in a couple of tournaments. As players are eliminated, you have to make decisions much more quickly and you’re forced into a fairly reactive mode because you won’t have all that much time to read and respond to the table.

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