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Show and Tells

Hi folks. Mr. May here, bringing you more May-ey goodness.

Today's post is merely a reiteration of what I believe to be one of the most common misconceptions about live poker: showing your cards is always a mistake. As I have said before, this seemingly standard belief is just plain wrong. But before I explain why it is wrong, let me drop a quote in here that I found via Poker Grump, taken from Tommy Angelo from Elements of Poker, p. 100:

"When you fold face up, the message that is sent to the table, whether you intend it or not, and whether you realize it or not, is this: "Dear table full of people. It is very important to me what you think of me. It is so important that I am willing to give you the most generous gift of information I can--I will show you my cards--just so you know that 1) my decisions were justified, and also that 2) I am unlucky. I know it will cost me money to reveal my cards and feelings to you. But that's okay. That's how much I value your opinion of me."

If you always fold face down without ever showing even one card to anyone, the message that is sent, and received, whether you intend it or not, and whether you realize it or not, is this: "I don't care what you think about how I play. I don't even care what I think about how I play. Oh, and by the way, I am impervious to everything."

This is the usual explanation, with some additional psychological analysis, of why you should never show your cards. The argument, summarized, is simply that by showing cards, you are providing free information that can be exploited by your opponents later, and to a lesser extent, you are also demonstrating a level of insecurity. And I call Bullshit!

Look, folks, let's start by saying that there are no universal truths in poker strategy. So right off the bat, I cannot agree with the command that All Showing is Bad! Why? Because it is not always bad. In fact, if used correctly, showing your cards can often be good.

Angelo's quote suggests that showing cards can only be used to validate one's play ("See? My raise was good because I had a good hand!") or to seek sympathy for bad luck ("Aw, look at what I had and I still didn't win!"). In those situations, I would wholeheartedly agree with Angelo: showing your cards is not recommended and will only hurt you in the long run. In fact, I also agree with Angelo's overall proposition that you do not want to show weakness at the table by seeking out the approval or sympathy of those around you. That is why I am loathe to discuss bad luck or bad runs at a poker table. Those statements merely wet the appetites of the sharks and cause more losses.

BUT there are other times to show cards. This, once again, falls back to the issue of controlling the flow of information. When you show your cards, you are releasing information to your opponents, but you have COMPLETE CONTROL over the information you release. For some players, releasing no information is ideal. I have no problem with that strategy. But for some players, there is a serious benefit to releasing information if it can help set up an image or later plays.

For instance, if you make an odd sized bet and then show the hammer (72o) after you win the pot, there will be a conscious or subconscious connection drawn in the minds of your opponents that the particular-sized bet indicates a weak hand. So, when you get KK an orbit later, you can bet the same odd amount as you did with the hammer and likely get the action you crave. The flow of information (and keeping track of the information available to your opponents) can be a useful tool.

In other instances, showing your cards could get opponents to loosen up (if you show bad cards) or tighten up (if you show good ones). If either of those scenarios are beneficial to you, then go ahead and show your cards. Naturally, you have to be aware of the flow of information and see how your opponents react, but if you can really understand the flow of information and its effects, then showing your cards could help control an entire table.

Of course, there is also the tilt-factor. For instance, in one hand a long while ago, I pushed all-in with a straight flush draw, 43s in my hand and As2sXc on the board. I got one caller, and after I missed the turn and river, my opponent mucked after his friend said, "Well, he must have something to have pushed." After the muck, I won the hand with the worst possible hand. So, I showed. I already won the pot, but I wanted to get value from the tilt-factor. I simultaneously knew that the other players not in the hand now knew that I was willing to push on a draw and play 34s preflop. So, I adjusted my play tighter against most of the table, hoping to get paid from players who thought I was unnecessarily loose; I also tried to play more hands with the mucker, hoping to benefit from his tilt.

If you can think of other good reasons to show your cards, feel free to add them in the comments.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 12:38 PM,


At 3:31 PM, Blogger BWoP said...

When your cards match, it's pretty. And there is so much ugliness at the poker table sometimes that you need a little pretty.

Ummmm . . .

Sorry. Haven't had caffeine yet today.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger darko said...

Showing cards, and the psychological turmoil it inflicts... game on!

Reasons for showing cards: cash game, heads-up, river action - bet big, and show one (your 'weaker' hole) card! Or, better yet, if your opponent is that strong, dare him/her to show one card.

It transcends stakes. And, it's good TV!

Intelligence and counter-intelligence is instrumental in warfare (per Sun Tzu), why not at the poker table?

At 9:45 AM, Blogger BLAARGH! said...

The quote is a little out of context.... it's embedded in a chapter about information... how not to give your opponents ANY information; movements, talking, cards. So not showing your cards makes perfect sense if you are playing that style. Angelo makes it very clear that there are many different ways to play.

Listen to the 2+2 podcast with Angelo. Very entertaining story about a friend of his who was a chronic shower.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger jjok said...

don't show!

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Dawn Summers said...

Never show!! Unless they pay.

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Blinders said...

Showing only works if you are willing to change your play after you show, or if it was an non-standard play. If you have a solid game, you should not be making non-standard plays, and you should also NOT want to change your play based on cards that you have shown earlier. Your 72o example is perfect. Sure you might get KK later and make the same play, but I also know for a fact that you will make the same play again with 72o. I doubt you have ever not open raised with 72o when given the chance in a blogger game. So showing 72o only works if you are willing to change your game after that and stop playing it, but you don't change. You probably would have won 8 seats with your skillz alone if you were not constantly showing your crappy cards.

At 7:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blinders, the hammer is different. I don't show that for any other reason than the fact that its a blogger tourney and its a funny gimmick.

Your point is well made, though. I suppose it is all about the different approaches to the game. But there are 1,000,000 paths to poker and what you express is very true and is good advice.

Let's me also point out this: you come from an online poker background and I come from a live poker background. In fact, I've got enough on that subject alone for an entire post. That's what's coloring our disagreement about showing cards...

At 12:44 PM, Blogger StB said...

You have to show cards to only the cute busty chicks at the table. Then you bring in the old comment "I've showed you mine, now show me yours!"

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Blinders said...

Point taken about live poker. You should never show when multi-tabling online, because it is impossible to keep track. That puts me in the no-show camp big time. Live is different, but my points still apply. You need to change your game after showing if it was a standard play. That may be worth it live.


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