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  • Showing Your Hand

    By Cindy Blake

    It’s down to the two of you. You bet, he raises, you think. You fold. He rakes in the chips, smiles, and turns over a lousy, losing hand. He’s gloating, showing you what a bluff he pulled off. You’re kicking yourself.

    I’ve thought about the psychological ramifications of this move a lot. The Bluffer, by showing his cards, is doing what exactly? Proving that you’re a wimp and he knows it. Perhaps hoping to throw you into tilt mode. Announcing to the table that he has the advantage because he can read people’s play. Laying the groundwork to be called on another big bet when he actually has the nuts. It makes sense.

    Or does it? Not in my book of mental psych-outs. Yes, he may subsequently get a call when he has the best hand. But what if he gets dealt bad cards for a long spell after this unnecessary showing-off? He can’t bluff again, he can’t steal any pots; he has boxed himself into a corner in that one moment of silly pride.

    Rewind that tape. It’s down to the two of you. You bet, he raises, you think. You fold. He rakes in the chips, smiles, and turns over the winning hand. He’s kindly showing you that you made a good fold. You’re congratulating yourself. This is the scenario where card-showing actually works.

    He has, in that one moment of seeming generosity, established himself as the Guy With The Good Cards, at the same time as reinforcing the idea around the table that folding is a wise move, not a wimpy one. The best psychological gambit would then be to keep his cards to himself for a long stint and not show them again, even if he has the opportunity, until he really needs another shot of The Guy With The Good Cards image.

    In this way, he can mix up his play, pull some bluffs, and still be considered a Rock. I respect someone who sometimes shows his winning hand when he doesn’t have to; to me, he is a better mental player than the ones who never show anything. If I’m in a hand with the Occasional Winning Hand Shower, fold to him and then am proved I was right to fold, I can’t help it – I relax a little. I’m grateful to him for letting me off the hook of wondering whether I’d made a bad decision – and gratitude is not what I should be feeling towards anyone.

    I’ve been tempted, sure, to show a good bluff of my own. But I step on that desire to gloat. It might come back and slap me in the face. Pride comes before the unwanted call.

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    Comment from Richard
    Time: May 31, 2007, 11:23 am

    I think if you are a tight player, showing the occasional bluff is a decent attempt to get people on tilt when up against you in the future. But you are right in general. Players showing their cards to often has always given me the edge. Its not just the bluff that you recall but all the stages of their play that led up to it. You now have an identikit for a big part of their game.

    Comment from Nico
    Time: May 31, 2007, 7:57 pm

    I agree that you give yourself a table image as a loose player if you show a bluff, but if you use the ploy more tactically it can confuse players further: if you overbet the pot and show a bluff, and bet little and show strength, other players may think they’ve got you read: a typical beginner who tries to value-bet with the nuts while pushing people off pots with trash.

    I quite like this play, as it can lead regular online players into the comfort zone I myself often lapse into after a few hours: you see a few hands and assume everyone else on your table is incapable of changing gears or style of play. I reckon if you give everyone else on the table sufficient evidence to comfirm the suspicions they hold about all online players (that they’re predictable, have read super system, and don’t know how to mix it up) you may be able to use their naivety to your own advantage.

    Comment from Johnny Hughes
    Time: June 9, 2007, 4:41 pm

    In the tough West Texas games I play, I do not show my hand. We have a saying, “A monkey shows his ass and a sucker shows his hand.”

    When you show a winning hand, you provide comfort to the enemy. It is better to keep them guessing.

    A regular trick that most folks I know have done for half a century is to bluff the all-day sucker out of a pot and show your hand and mock him. He’ll chase you like a farm dog after the mailman.

    In casinos, with strangers, I wait until it is my button or cutoff position and raise with any connectors..9,8 offsuit. I make a little speech while pointing at my cards, “This is the best hand in Hold ’em. It will win more pots than any other hand. It’s my favorite hand. You hide and watch.”

    Then I make a raise and a follow-up bet and show the hand. This establishes the image that I am attempting to project. Conning strangers is one of the sweetest parts of the game.

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