Most serious poker players know that they should never show their hand when they don’t have to. But some players do it anyway, for a multitude of reasons. They are being nice, or making a joke, or showing the table how disciplined they are by folding, or how tricky they are with their bluff.
For whatever reason they choose, it should be clear that showing your hand has a secondary function – it gives the observant opponents at your table valuable information on how you play and a recipe for how to beat you. Here are two examples that allowed me to win pots I might not have been able to win otherwise.
Recently I was playing at a table with an old friend whom I’ve known for over 30 years. He’s very new to poker, however, and still learning the basics, and we talk often about the fundamentals and how to play hands. When I sat down, I was moving to an established table $1-$2 where he was already sitting. One of the first things I noticed was that several people were opening the pot for $7 or $8, which is a pretty small opening raise size for a $1-$2 game. My friend opened one or two pots to this size as well. In one such pot, he opened for $7, got only a single caller, and then opted to not c-bet on a 9 high board. Obviously, any overpair from tens up would have made some type of bet, so I guessed he had unpaired broadways or maybe a small pair that failed to hit a set. He folded on the turn to a bet, so I never got to see his holding.
A short time later, though, he opened for $13. This time nobody called and he won the blinds. “Just my luck, everybody folds when I finally have a hand”, said my friend, and flipped over pocket kings before sliding them to the dealer. He got a few chuckles from the table, and I got a valuable piece of information – he was tailoring his opening raise size to the strength of his holding – a frequent rookie mistake.
You can probably guess what happened next. On his next $7 open, I three-bet him to $22 and he folded. My holding? I can’t really tell you – not because I shouldn’t reveal my cards (as that’s the main point of this article), but because I didn’t ever bother to look. I decided I was going to 3bet his next $7 opening regardless of my cards, and looking at them would only give me reason to chicken out on when I peeked down at Jack-two off or whatever garbage one gets dealt 90% of the time in a Texas Holdem game.
…I didn’t ever bother to look…
As we often do, we discussed his play after the session. I don’t think he’ll be tailoring his raise size to his holdings anymore.
In another recent session, I was sitting with a real “show and teller” – a female player that couldn’t wait to show everyone how well she was running or what tough folds she could make. Within about 90 minutes, I had an amazingly complete picture of how she played. Here are some of the observations I made:
- Top pair was the nuts, regardless of kicker.
- If she had top pair+ on the flop, she would lead out for $20 regardless of who had raised the pot. The turn bet would be $30.
- If she had any smaller pair or a draw, she would lead out for a small amount (like $11 or $12), hoping to set the price to hit her draw or spike two pair/trips. I saw her do this with a bottom pair (three) at one point, and also with pocket sixes that were under all three cards on the flop.
- She would check/fold if she had nothing, sometimes telling or showing us she had nothing.
- She made one large-ish bet on the river after the turn went check/check. When her opponent folded, she showed a busted nut flush draw. “Still better than what I had” her opponent joked.
That’s a ton of information on a villain to observe within less than two hours. The combination of her playing way too many hands and then showing her cards after most of them basically allowed me to play against her with nearly perfect information – all I needed was a hand.
Fortunately, I was dealt one a bit later. A tight-ish player opened under the gun for $10. He only had $25 in his stack and was just donking it off before going home. I was dealt ace-king suited on the button, well ahead of his range, so I raised to the $25 knowing he would shrug and put the rest in. Before it got to him, though, our female friend from above cold-called out of the blinds. The original raiser stuck his last $15 in, and we went to the flop three ways.
I hit my top pair on a King-Queen-Three board, all different suits. My lady-friend lead out for $25. This was the “large-ish” raise size, usually denoting a top pair hand based on my observations. However, I wondered if her betting size was changing (as it should) in this three-bet pot. I considered making a value raise – I felt like should could be holding King-Jack and maybe King-Ten suited in this pot, but she wasn’t playing super-weak kings to a 3bet in my estimation. And of course, King-Queen was ahead of me. I probably missed value here, but I opted to call, knowing I would be learning more by her turn action.
The turn brought an 8, and she did something unexpected now. She checked. I had never seen her check the turn before after betting the flop – she usually kept up with the “price setting” smaller bets. Maybe this pot was getting too big in her mind. I was 99% sure I had the best hand now, and merely had to tailor my action to maximize value. Remembering back to her busted flush draw hand, I opted to check as well. I felt like she would bluff the river, and the larger size I saw on her earlier bluff suggested it might be bigger than the bet I would make here on the turn. (I would probably settle on $45 here).
The river brought another king, giving me trips but not changing anything. I was still pretty sure I was ahead and ready to snap off her bluff. She didn’t disappoint me, taking a few seconds to stack and re-stack some chip piles, and then sliding out $55 in red chips. I announced call and then waited for her to show (knowing she would). She meekly showed the table Ace-Queen, then mucked after I revealed my hand.
I think my bet-check-snap line ended up earning me a bit more money than a bet-bet-bet would have, and I got to make this decision based on her telling me exactly how to play for value against her. Against my old friend, I was able to win a pot without ever looking at my cards, based on the information he gave to the table for free. It should be pretty clear from these examples that showing your cards might get a laugh or pump up your ego, but it’s not going to do much for your win rate.