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Showing Hands From Different Angles

It seems like the audience is split when it comes to whether it ever makes sense to show hands, but from the answers, two potential dividing lines seem to be the cause for the rift. The first is whether a player is an online poker player or a live player; the second is the style of a person's play or perhaps it is better worded as their overall theory on poker.

The first dividing line, the online vs. live divide, makes perfect sense. I come from a live poker background, from playing cards as kids to setting up homegames to eventually making trips to underground NYC clubs and AC (next trip, this Saturday). Online poker came into play after my home game had been running for a while, so my heart is in live poker. After all, I've repeatedly called online poker the methadone of my live poker heroin habit.

For an online player, showing cards makes a lot less sense than to a live player. This overlaps a lot with the next dividing line, so I will try to limit this analysis to the differences between online and live play, as opposed to the different playing styles between online and live play. For an online player, there is a lot less information available. There is some information and some online poker players may argue that there is a lot of information, but its of a different sort. In online play it makes little sense to show your cards because you can never be sure what the effect will be. Are the other players even paying attention? Are they six-tabling, such that when you think they saw your exposed cards and will play accordingly, the reality is that they missed the exposed cards entirely?

Also, if you are willing to accept that less information is available in online play, the incremental information given to your opponents by exposing your cards can be a lot more damaging. After all, if all they know is that your name is HighOnPoker (indicating loose play or an action junkie) and that your icon is a white, fluffy dog (indicating, potentially, an ironic sense of humor given the name or a softer image if you were to assume that the person loves fluffy little dogs) then showing that you are willing to call with 75o to defend your BB is a lot of incremental information. It can essentially verify that nebulous image (created by name and avatar, as well as play where cards were not exposed) of looseness that can be exploited later by your opponents. As Blinders correctly pointed out in his comment, if I show that I am willing to play the hammer, even if I adjust accordingly, at some point I will play the hammer again, and some players may be ready for it. (Note: I play and show the hammer for many reasons that are really irrelevant to this discussion, but the point by Blinders was well-made).

Also, there are a lot more hands in online play, so changing gears is a different situation. In a live game, over an hour, we may see 30 hands or so, whereas in an online game, we can potentially see twice as many. Plus, with players changing at a much faster rate online, one's image is constantly being reset as new players sit.

Consider this. In a live game, if you donk up an early hand and then show for tilt value, you are are also advertising that you are one loose mofo, meaning that when you play your AA later, you are more likely to get paid off. That might happen 3 hours from now, because once your opponent gets an image in his head, its hard to shake. Your LAG image may continue for a loooong while, even though you hadn't reached another showdown in a while. In contrast, at an online game, players cycle through a lot quicker and table image is a lot less certain. By acting a certain way in a live game, I can get my cards to have greater meaning in the eyes of my opponents (for instance, acting like a goofball). Online, that is a lot harder, since self-expression is limited to chat (which can be ignored or overseen) or play (which can be expensive).

The other dividing line, style of play, is somewhat related to online vs. live because those games favor different styles. Online poker may favor a more mathematical approach to the game, in which case showing your hands has little benefit and a lot of pitfalls. On the flipside, live poker, with additional information available (to give and receive) means that a player could play the players a lot easier, rather than the math or the cards. For instance, calling a raise with 47d in LP is a bad play mathematically in most circumstances, but if you know that the raiser is pissed at you for being a LAG donkey and he'll pay you off big time if you hit, then calling may be a proper play, live. All that information matters.

So, it comes down to strategy. A "feel" player (although, it's less about feel and more about reading your opponents and manipulating their mindset) may benefit from showing his cards. A "math" player will not.

There are 1,000,000 paths to success in poker. In some, showing cards is a cardinal sin; in others, it's a smart strategy. And I suppose that's all there is to it.

Until next time, make mine poker!

posted by Jordan @ 12:51 PM,


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