Online Poker and the Multi-Tabling Effect

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sean Lind over at Positively Nerd Street did a nice writeup on Excel formatting tips and tricks for poker players. Because yes, even in this era of PokerTracker and Hold'em Manager goodness, Excel still has its uses:

  • Tracking live play.
  • Graphing PokerTracker data.

So I thought I'd pick up on that theme and talk about an interesting PokerTracker + Excel graph I put together a while back, which gets to the heart of one of the major problems facing online poker today: the prevalence of short-stacked "nit" multitablers in today's games.

Here's a graph of player VP$IP vs. PFR in the $1/$2 NLH games on one of the major sites; doesn't matter which one; all major online poker sites show the same pattern, as anybody can verify for themselves by heading over to PokerTableRatings.com and downloading a couple million hands, as I did.

[Update: Somebody just emailed me asking "hey, forget about your rant, but how do I build a graph like that?" Stay tuned and I'll show you one of several ways to graph any PokerTracker data set. The Subscribe button is to your left. :)]

[Update: Several people have complained that a couple major online poker sites recently changed their formats specifically to address this problem. I mentioned this below, but it's sort of secondary to the point, which is that the MT effect is a natural "phenomenon" that happens in any poker economy whenever the conditions are right: widespread multitabling, wide range of legal buy-ins for a given table, and volume-based "player points".]

For those of you who don't have the PokerTracker database schema or statistical reference guide tattooed to the back of your eyelids, interpret the graph as follows:

  • Each player is a dot.
  • The vertical axis measures the frequency with which the player raises preflop (PFR).
  • The horizontal axis measures the frequency with which the player voluntarily puts money into the pot preflop (VP$IP).

Those of you who do have the PokerTracker statistical reference guide tattooed to the back of your eyelids will recognize the clustering of tight "nit" players towards the bottom-left of the graph, with VP$IP/PFRs of 10/10, 12/15, 14/14, etc. Nit city.

Furthermore, these players are drastically under-represented in this graph, because a majority of players who play this way usually play multiple tables. Which means that when you actually log on to a poker site and start playing, those players are 4x or 8x or 12x or 16x as common as shown here.

That's the Monkeytabling Effect—er, Multi-Tabling Effect—in a nutshell.

The Multitabling Effect: The propensity of players to play ever more tables with ever shorter stacks in order to limit their downside, minimize variance, and maximize the accrual of player points.

Now, different players have different opinions about what the Multitabling Effect's actual effects are. Some players even think short-stacked multitabling is good for the game!

  • View: Playing against uber-tight, uber-aggressive short-stacks is equally profitable, or even more profitable, than playing against "normal" players who buy-in for a respectable amount.
  • View: Anybody who buys in short-stacked is a fish, therefore, I can take their money.

The first viewpoint is naive. The second is downright arrogant. First of all, slick, the guys who are playing 8x or 12x tables with a 20BB short stack are not fish. You might be a fish. Those guys are some of the hardest-working people in poker, and they're mostly playing a solid, strategically sound game.

Second, there are few difficult decisions and no big mistakes in short-stacked poker. Which is why I have repeatedly and endlessly stated that poker bots are most effective in short-stacked games. Ad nauseum.

So:

You've got a bunch of tough angle-shooters who know the game, play eight times your volume, never risk more than 20BB in a single throw, and are playing a style of poker which gives them fundamental advantages vis-a-vis the medium and large stacks at the table.

And you think you're going to pay your rent off these guys?

You think these guys are good for poker, long-term?

This is why I believe, and others believe, that the Multitabling Effect is a killer of online poker profitability. (For the players. For the sites, it may well have the opposite effect—in the short-term.) Which is why threads like this crop up on TwoPlusTwo and other poker forums all the time:

View: 20bb minimum tables are destroying the profitability of online poker

Which is also why, when Full Tilt and some other sites recently increased their buy-in minimums on certain tables, it made some players very, very happy. Because aside from its harmful side-effects: playing against short-stacks isn't a lot of fun. It's a great way to leech all the sublety and much of the skill out of the game.

And if you're accustomed to playing deep, and everybody else is playing short, you're not really playing deep at all. Effectively, you're being forced to play short by fiat, because nobody will pony up and play big-boy poker with you.

Congratulations, you've just been banished to the realm of dweeb poker:

"Hey, I've got two high cards. Do you have two high cards? Maybe a pair? Let's put all our money in and see who wins. ICM says I'm good here. Now let's flirt and be coy and Hollywood about it, even though we're two grown-ass men playing a $0.25/$0.50 game of no-limit Hold'em 20BB deep. Tee-hee!"

Short-stacked cash games (tourneys of course work a little differently) should be a way for new players to get acclimated to the game, not a way for pros and wannabe pros to angle-shoot, maximize their FPPs and VPPs and FTPs, and completely sidestep the elements of large-grained risk and variance which are crucial to a properly functioning game of poker.

And for those who disagree?

Fear not. A long and rewarding career in lotto, slots, and bingo awaits, once the rest of us have come to our senses and done what we should've done from the beginning: enforce mandatory 50BB or 100BB minimum buy-ins on all cash game tables except those exclusively earmarked for beginning players.

And if not?

Then ask not for whom the bell of online poker unprofitability tolls: it tolls for thee.

Tags: online poker, poker strategy, poker

19 comment(s)

PokerStars just split tables up into 3 different buy-in depths this week. I am made to understand the FTP has already done something similar. So essentially, the two major online sites have already assented to your thesis that shortstacking is a "solved" way to play NLHE. Good analysis, but it's a day late and a buck short, no pun intended!

@Conan:

True, but PS and FT aren't the only sites in the game.

He obviously waited until whatever site he frequents changed its policy, so he could rant without pissing off the trolls in his neck of the woods.

Still, a cool graph.

Not that I disagree with what you've said but I don't think the graph really adds anything without a corresponding graph when short stackers weren't as prevalent . Graph doesn't take stack size into account, it could just indicate that people have gotten tighter.

+1 MicroRoller. Though it's pretty evident to me that short-stackers are everywhere. James, you always post these graphs, never any stuff about how to build them. In 2 years.

Ignore the nay-sayers. I am so tired of this shit. From out the woodwork. One of the best pieces of poker writing I've come across in a long time. At least your shit is somewhat halfway interesting, even if you go out on the occasional limb and purposefully rile up your audience, many of whom (as you know damn well) are exactly the type of short-stackers you're taking aim at here. :) Which is just awesome.

Has anybody else checked out PTR for histories?

PokerStars just split tables up into 3 different buy-in depths this week. I am made to understand the FTP has already done something similar. So essentially, the two major online sites have already assented to your thesis that shortstacking is a "solved" way to play NLHE. Good analysis, but it's a day late and a buck short, no pun intended!

Haha. He said "buck". +1.

Lemme guess. JD had this post in the pipeline, notices that FT and PS beat him to the punch, so he shotguns it out there before so much time passes that it's irrelevant. Better late than never, eh, JD? So do I get a prize or what.

op is a moron you posted this just after FTP and now PS have made changes to their buyins. So you can avoid short stackers if you wish.

Also, the graph does nothing to correlate between tightness and shortstacking. Obviously most short stackers are tight, yes, esp if they are multitablilng. But the graph does nothing to show exactly what percentage of tight players are actually short stackers.

Also, depending on what type of FTP or PS table, could greatly affect your results here. Going on a 20cap FTP table, lol obv everyone is short.

PS nobody can sit 20bb deep on FTP unless it's a CAP table now. Also the same on stars unless its very low stakes 5nl and below or a 20-50bb table.

Other sites are also changing their policies, but I only play on PS and FTP so don't know about the other sites. So you just wasted X amount of hours on something that is now irrelvant/becoming more irrelavant to the game as it's actually now impossible to play 20bb on a fair few sites.

Anonymous: "Also, the graph does nothing to correlate between tightness and shortstacking. Obviously most short stackers are tight, yes, esp if they are multitablilng. But the graph does nothing to show exactly what percentage of tight players are actually short stackers."


the graph doesn't have to show that percentage you're missing the point. take each point on the graph, and replace it with N points, where N is that player's multi-tabling average. (PT3 has a stat for this, though it's broken.) you'll end up with a barrelweight of players in the nit ranges.

Nice post! Via reddit/poker

marked as for beginning players?

great, so all fishs to those tables, those beginning players are where the money comes from

they are unfortunatly already buying in short and on the 20-50bb tables

on the 100-250bb tables (which are great for skillpoker) you have to wait ages to get a fish playing those, they just dont want to (5/10+)

There's an add-on for Hold'em Manager called Hold'em Vision that lets you create this graph and many others...

Your blog is AMAZING. I think I read every single Poker article (except for the botting, because I'm not interested in it) and think your entries are the most awesome stuff I read in a Blog.

Keep it up, I hope you haven't stopped blogging!

LOVE the new site layout James. Hopefully we'll see some new content to go with it...?

little nitpick because i couldn't let it slide.... the term (or abbreviation) ICM is completely misapplied in that last quote. since cEV = $EV there really is no ICM in cash games. ICM just tries (and fails) to put a dollar value on your chips in tournaments.

you do make a good point and a good post although everyone is arguing that there are people playing full stacks (even big stacks) with nitty stats, and generally they also multitable, which goes back to james' original point that (and i quote) "This is why I believe, and others believe, that the Multitabling Effect is a killer of online poker profitability."

obviously if you're playing 200bb effective stacks and your stats are something like 10/10 you're leaving money on the table. and the multitablers are just exchanging expectation from the games for expectation from rakeback (this includes all poker site made incentives to pay more rake) by playing a less profitable strategy that is easier to scale.

Three years ago I built a successful bot with VB that won over 40$ a day, everyday. I had the bot running on 48 different computers in different houses. Yes, I was making 700K a year doing this until early in 2010, one of the sites sent a security team to my home and extorted $1m from me. It was disgusting

Somehow I don't think this is going to be a problem after Black Friday ;)

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