To Show or Not to Show...

There are several reasons why it might be considered a good strategy to show unforced cards during a poker game. Called Advertising, it can potentially be used to create a table image as a bluffer, or someone who raises with big hands, or even to change your table image at some later point in the game. It can be used as part of a psychological strategy over the other players at your table, or can be used to try and put another player “on tilt”. It could also be used to create false impressions of your style of play, and manipulate others into thinking a certain way about you. While all of these aspects are potential benefits to showing your cards, keep in mind that each time you show your cards you’re giving up information, and no matter how tricky you’re trying to be, this will always give anyone paying attention some insight into your game. Especially remember that even though each instance you show your cards may be very situational, no one hand of play exists in a vacuum, and the more information an opponent receives about you potentially makes him or her that much better at taking your money.

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player at the poker tables, there is always the question as to whether showing your cards when not forced to do so is a good move strategically. Most people have an opinion on this topic, but not even the pro poker players will agree on whether it is a good idea or a terrible one. Let’s look at some examples.

Showing A Bluff

Showing your cards after a bluff in which your bet forces someone to lay down their hand can really anger or frustrate that player. This may put them “on tilt” and may cause them to play much differently and hopefully more recklessly in future hands. Simultaneously, it can imprint an image in other players’ minds of you being a bluffer, which may cause them to call you more frequently and can be turned into profit for those times when you are holding a big hand.

On the other hand, this move may make it harder for you to bluff later if that’s a big part of your game. And even those times when you’re not bluffing, you may get looser calls from potential hands who may end up outdrawing and beating you when they might otherwise have folded. Even though showing a big bluff might temporarily tick off your opponent, you’ll have to decide if the information they gain may help them beat you in later hands. If you paint an image of being a bluffer, then be prepared to be taken as one – if, of course, they believe you in the first place.

Showing a Monster

Just as when you create an image of being a bluffer if you show your bluffs, you can create an image of being a ‘force to be reckoned with’ if you show your monster hands such as the nuts flush, a full house or even four of a kind. By showing your opponents that you weren’t bluffing, you may encourage them to fold more often which can make bluffing easier in the future, or can make stronger hands (say, two pair) fold to your weaker hand (one pair) in the future.

At the same time, you may risk discouraging those “what if” curiosity-callers who can profit you when you’re holding a winning hand. You may also make people less apt to play a pot with you “just because”. By showing when you’ve been betting a serious hand, you risk people taking you too seriously in the future.

Showing When You’ve Lost the Showdown

If you choose not to muck your cards when your opponent shows you their winning hand, you can advertise that you’ll play out a draw or a weaker hand down to the end. You may create a “sucker” image that you don’t know when to fold ‘em, which might encourage players to stay in with weaker hands (i.e. middle pair off the flop) into further betting rounds, hoping to catch you on a draw or a semi-bluff.

Keep in mind that the same thinking on the parts of your opponents will also show them that you’re willing to play hands that aren’t surefire winners, and they might not get scared away by bets in future hands. If you infrequently muck your losing hands, your opponents will be able to compile more information of what kinds of hands you’re willing to play with, and how you like to play them.

Showing When You’re Folding

If you lay down a good hand (like three of a kind or a straight) when there’s potentially a better hand that can beat you (flush or a full house), and you’re right, it shows the other players that you’re capable of making a smart fold. This makes you appear to be a tough player who others shouldn’t take lightly. If, on the other hand, you’re wrong, it can show your opponents that you can be scared out of a pot, potentially making them more likely to bluff, bet weaker hands strongly, or represent flushes or straights if the community cards suggest they’re out there. This can work to your advantage or disadvantage depending on how good you are at reading your opponents. Of course you’ll rarely get information about whether you made a good fold or a bad one (unless your opponents habitually show their cards too), so really it’s hard to tell just how the other players will interpret your fold, and what type of player they’ll think of you as for laying down a good hand.

You could also choose to show a bad hand when you decide to fold it (say one you were bluffing with, but couldn’t chase the other player out of the pot). This can show that you’re a smart player who knows when to call it quits. It can also show that you won’t call down to the end without a good hand (if you’re holding middle pair off the flop), so players should make sure they have a good hand if you’ve called their bet in the future. However, just as discussed above, showing a bad hand you’re folding advertises what kinds of cards you’re willing to play with and gamble for. And showing that you were trying to bluff can go either way.