Dara O’Kearney: Why you should show your cards

A lot of poker players say you should never show your cards, but is this really always the best strategy?

In my last blog I talked about the first major hand on the final table of this year’s Irish Open, which saw Jon Lundy make a big river laydown – which was apparently correct and at least partially based on a physical read after interacting with opponent Tommy O’Shea. Tommy opened the next hand, this time from the hijack. Eventual winner Patrick Clarke opted to defend his big blind.

The flop came Q-3-7 rainbow and Tommy quickly c-bet when checked to. Clarke called. The turn paired the Three and Clarke check-called again. He checked when a King fell on the river. Tommy quickly fired again, throwing the chips in very aggressively. The first thing that struck me was that this bet was in sharp contrast to his river bet in the previous hand when he had taken his time and then eased in the chips quite deliberately. Clarke went into the tank and on commentary I also noted that Tommy looked a lot less relaxed and more uncomfortable this time. His body posture was stiff and rigid and he seemed not to want to engage his opponent. Eventually Clarke hero called with a pair of Fives, an excellent call that happened to be correct.

On commentary I said I felt that Tommy had made a mistake revealing information unnecessarily the previous hand, and this may have been a contributing factor in Clarke’s decision to call. When Tommy exposed the Seven of diamonds in the previous hand, both Daragh Davey (my co-commentator) and I concluded that he was strong. This was consistent both with his line and his physical behaviour and reactions.

Too much info

The other players at the table obviously saw what we saw, and may have been able to draw conclusions as to how Tommy looked, acted and behaved when nearer the top of his range. These two hands illustrate the dangers of revealing information unnecessarily at the table, particularly when there are experienced and observant opponents.

When I made this point, Daragh concurred and added this was why he never shows cards at the table. I know Daragh well enough to know this is indeed a hard line approach he takes. Despite my opinion that Tommy made a costly mistake in this situation, I think it can be okay to show cards in certain situations, for different reasons.

At a table of very inexperienced players, I tend to show a lot. One reason for this is I believe it encourages other players to show their hands. Lundy may have had this in mind when he elected to show his in the hand discussed. Perhaps Tommy would have showed anyway, but perhaps it was the show by Lundy that caused him to show one card. If I show cards at a table and it encourages inexperienced players to reciprocate, I believe I will gain more from this flow of information than they will.

Another point is that when you show some hands and not others, you essentially control the information flow to a greater degree than when you never show. You can show certain hands to project an image that you feel will be profitable in future. If the antes just arrived and you want people to think you are playing tighter than you are, you can show them all your strong hands after they fold to your open, three or four-bet to reinforce the view that you always have it. Conversely, if you are playing a nitty game by default, you may want to advertise a loose open or show a bluff.

All for show

You can also appear to be giving away much more information than you actually are. If you open Aces and they all fold and you show, what have you actually revealed? That you open when you get dealt Aces? Does anybody not? If like me you pretty much only show legit opening hands that even the biggest nit in Nitsville would open, you are not really giving away anything about your game. It’s the same if you flop a set and play it the same way any player who knows what he is doing would. You appear to be revealing information but in reality you are giving nothing away.

However, to get away with this, you have to be sure in your own ability to control and react to the flow of information, but also to control your own responses in the game. When you show all your strong hands, you may not be revealing anything non-standard about your betting lines, but you may inadvertently be showing your opponents what you look, sound and behave like when at the top of your range. If this is different from how you appear when bluffing or at the bottom of your range, observant opponents will get a read, and you’re better off going back to not showing.

This is something online players never have to worry about, which perhaps goes some way to explain why so many give off too much information when they first move into the live arena.

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