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Texas Holdem Strategy: Showing Hands

Poker Strategy: Showing Hands
By Loki Luchs of

One of the things that makes poker such a complicated game is that there are multitudes of psychological layers that the game is played on. Advanced players engage in volleys of disinformation and subterfuge with the intention of creating a fog of confusion that keeps the opposition from understanding your tactics. One of the vastly debated questions is whether or not it is wise to show your hand to other players.

There is obviously no clear-cut answer to this question. I feel that there are times where it is extremely advantageous to show your cards, but every situation has to be judged on its own merit. The first thing that I usually consider is who my opponent is and who else at the table might be reaping the benefits. While it feels good to get under one playerís skin, itís more important to not give away crucial information to the eight other players who will negate any level of tilt the hot-head gets!


Itís also important to understand basic behavioral psychology in relationship to the card table. The best way to train a person to do something is to give them positive reinforcement. This is when you give a reward for someone performing a desired action. The other main form at a poker table is to train a person by administering punishment. What many people donít realize is that positive reinforcement does NOT have a place in showing hands! If you show a person your hand when they did what you wanted them to, you are punishing them for performing the desired behavior! This teaches them the opposite of what you want them to! Likewise, if they made a good play, for instance folding to your flopped flush, showing your hand reinforces them that their read on you is correct. Obviously there are ways to work that to your advantage, but in general, showing your hand is not helpful with positive reinforcement.

When it comes to punishment, however, showing your hand can be very useful. Punishment is not considered the best of the behavioral techniques, but thatís because it has the lowest long term retention of the rate. This doesnít matter, however, because any given session of poker is going to be a short term yield. When you show a hand to an opponent, it should be as a form of advertising. You should be convincing your opponent that you are playing the opposite of the way you normally do. If you can sell a false image of yourself by showing your cards, then you are punishing them into making further mistakes down the line.

1. Generally speaking, if my opponents are suspicious people, Iíll show a few early bluffs and then let their imaginations run wild. Paranoia of a tricky opponent is a far more effective tool than showing your cards.

2. If the players are rocks at the table, I will bluff and show at every opportunity in order to humiliate them all into calling me down at a later point in time.

3. I will NOT show when I have a hand. The way I play a winning hand is much more valuable to me than how I run a bluff.

4. I will NOT show a bluff when Iím playing against smart TAG players who read me as a rock. This reinforces a maniac to come over the top of me with a well-timed bluff.

5. I WILL show a bluff to a loose aggressive bully who might try to get revenge for his pride later. The next time heís in with me coming over the top of my bet will break his bankroll.

6. I will NOT show my cards to any player that I consider good enough to predict my strategy. This goes for bluffs or big hands. The less information that they have on my plays, the better off I am.

In the end, showing your cards is a potentially dangerous play for everyone involved. You stand the chance of giving away crucial information that could later devastate your opportunities. If properly performed, a flash of the cards can throw an opponent completely off the scent of your play. Just be certain that the player that youíre hurting isnít the one the cards belong to!

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