They say: “Don’t show cards in poker.” Why not?


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2006) in Casino Player.


Look, I’m not a tournament player. In fact I’ve just begun my serious quest for World Series of Poker bracelets this year. They tell me it’s too late, because I’m 62 and the fields of opponents now number in the thousands.

They say I should have played years ago when there were tournaments with fewer than 100 players, sometimes fewer than 30. Then, maybe, I would have acquired enough bracelets to seem like a “credible tournament pro.”

Maybe. I played half the events this year and managed to get into the money four times, including one final table. Since I don’t intend to run myself ragged chasing the tournament trail, playing 300 events a year as some pros do in quest of titles, I’m at a disadvantage. Fine. Maybe I’ll just revert to simply declaring that I’m the best. Not everyone will believe me, but I’ll save a lot of energy.

Supplying information

Here’s the point. I played the way I always do, giggling, engaging my opponents in conversation, bonding with the table, and sometimes showing cards when nobody called.  Many experts preach that you should never show cards if you don’t have to, that the practice only supplies information about how you play to alert opponents.

Well, I think showing cards appropriately accounts for a measurable share of my profit. Let’s reason this out together. Suppose the rules were that you couldn’t show cards you folded after you won a pot. OK, then you wouldn’t have the option of either hurting or helping yourself by exposing cards.

Now suppose the rule was that your opponents could look at your cards after you bet and took the pot uncontested. They’d gain information not afforded by poker tradition. Would that be an advantage  to them? Yes!

Optional

But, instead, suppose the option were that you could optionally show your hand. We would have added a rule – an option – bringing our theorized game of poker into line with the way it actually is today. This option cannot possibly hurt you if you exercise it prudently. If using that choice is always detrimental, it should never be used.

But voluntarily exposing cards isn’t always detrimental. On the recent ESPN Pay-Per-View WSOP 2006 final-table broadcast, Phil Gordon (an expert I agree with on almost everything else) kept commenting that the eventual winner Jamie Gold and others were making a key mistake by exposing cards after winning a hand.

I disagreed so strongly that I sent several e-mails to him and his colleague Ali Nejad. Phil had said that when you show cards, it gives information to opponents that they can use against you in the future. I pointed out that when I show cards, it actually gives me information that I can use in the future.

Manipulating the audience

What did I mean by that? If things are done correctly, it’s the broadcaster (or the advertiser) that manipulates the audience, not the other way around. If this were not the case, we’d be standing upside down thousands of years of evolved promotion and psychology.

When you broadcast cards selectively, you’re sending out a planned message to your audience, your opponents. You’re not showing them how you play. Ideally, you’re instilling in them a false (or sometimes true) impression of how you play – and you’ve gained information about what they probably think.

For instance, I’ll sometimes show opponents that they made a correct laydown. Some pros believe that this just makes your opponents feel good. That’s fine with me.

Confused

I like my opponents feeling comfortable, as long as they’re confused. Occasionally — when I can do it in a friendly way — I’ll even show a bluff. After doing this, I will try to gauge an opponent’s reaction. When I know what opponents have seen, I have a better command over them than if they had seen nothing at all. My style of poker is intensely psychological and I use all weapons at my disposal. Showing cards sometimes is one of them.

Another time I choose to show cards, which is generally legal in non-tournament play when you’re heads up against a single opponent, is after an opponent has bet. I’ll lay my cards face-up on the table and ask, “What would you do if you held this hand.” It’s much easier to read my opponents if I do that, because instead of them wondering whether they want me to call, they know for sure whether they hold the best or worst hand and that makes tells more reliable.

If you show all your hands, that helps opponents; and if you show some hands indiscriminately without understanding psychological poker warfare, that helps your opponents. But if you have the right people skills, showing cards occasionally gives you the edge by eliciting information about what your opponents think they know. It works for me. — MC

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.

17 thoughts on “They say: “Don’t show cards in poker.” Why not?”

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  1. Like you Mike, I occasionally show a hand at showdown that I could have just mucked. Often, if I think I have a tight image at the table, I’ll show a bluff…whether or not I win the hand. I’m trying to change my image. When people start calling me too much, I’ll show nut hands to convince them that when I play back at them, I have the goods. Both situations are designed to either change or perhaps enhance my table image. We agree on this point in spite of what Phil Gordon and some other pro’s might say.

  2. I agree with most of what Caro says. However, in my experience, having a tight image has always been profitable in the long run. Statistically, you’ll be getting times where you will not hit anything and/or you will be getting bad beat. Showing your cards and portraying a tight image is fine, and I think pretty standard, however its showing bluffs and creating a loose image is the problem. With a loose image things become a little bit more difficult since you’ll get some players who will try to “outplay” you and reraise with junk hands. Furthermore, you’ll get players who will call you down more frequently with mediocre hands and hit a miracle 1-5 outer thinking you were bluffing.

    For the beginner and novice players, having a tight image is the best way to go. Even for us more experienced expert players, showing cards (mainly bluffs) to create a loose image makings things more difficult. While having a loose image is profitable when catching cards, it becomes enormously difficult when being card/opportunity dead. Statistically, you will be not be hitting as many cards as you’d like. For this reason, one must think about whether they do want to show their cards to create such an image.

  3. I agree 100%. Not that my comment means a whole lot compared to somebody who has done the things that you have Mr. Caro. I’m trying and starting to see the game through your teachings and its working but its a process. I really appreciate all the information you put on your web page. Not to mention the books you have wrote and the DVDs you have made. Thanks for all the help your knowledge is changing my game.

    1. You’re welcome, Steve. And thanks go your way for taking the time to let me know. It always means a great deal.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  4. Not sure why you need to defend yourself if somone says your not a pro,or why you have to tell someone why you show your cards. Saying your a pro is more of a ego thing. When that guy said ,"a pro would never show his/her cards", you should have just said,"I know".

  5. I show my cards only for the following purpose (and it works):
    1. Table is playing super tight and I want more action so I show a couple bluffs and start playing tight.
    2. Table is playing super crazy loose and I check raise, over bet, etc to force a fold from the loosest players then show big hands to get them to stop raising me and folding a little more.  (goal is to get 1 or 2 callers, not 5).
    3. Hot girl that I'm talking too, in an effort to get in her pants… 

  6. You are 62. And, feel too old to seek the WSOP. Never too old.

    I am 73 years young and play on line poker and seek to improve my game every day. Heck, 62 is young. Say, you live to be in your 80. Lets pic 85. That would give you 23 years to play and improve and make the WSOP. If you have the skills. Even if you dont have the skills, at this time, (I know not) you have time to develope them.

    Good luck and hope you make it to the Final Table.

    Mike Ange

    1. Hi, Mike —

      Just to clarify, that entry was written in 2006 (see note at the top). So, you’ll need to do the math on my age.

      I don’t believe I’ve lost anything as far as poker skill and probably play better now than I ever did. That might be wrong, but it’s my personal assessment.

      The problem with gathering bracelets and trophies today is that fields have grown so large that it would have been much easier decades ago. Plus, I only average two or three events entered per year — and have only played two in the last two years. That makes it impossible to compete with players who are doing little except following the tournament trail and playing up to 250 events each year.

      Straight Flushes,
      Mike Caro

  7. I think you have to be careful when you show your cards and who you show them too. In online play a common tell is that people who bluff too often like to show when they have the goods, and people who are too tight like to show their very rare bluffs.

    I rarely show my cards in online play and only when I have a very good reason, but show them more often in live play when it is easier to assess the psychological state of players.

  8. Stan, I agree with you , I usually pick the right situations and depending on the game. I remember showing a bluff in Omaha Hi-Lo but knowing I rarely bluff in that game.

  9. Showing your bluffs can get calls in future hands when you have a big hand.
    I do the opposite and it works too. I show all my good hands and when I do bluff ( which is not often) players often lay thier hands down. And I never show a bluff or chase cards if I don’t have too.

  10. Wow Mike,
    I was just in tourney came in 9th, I showed my cards a couple of times and a guy said to me ” A real pro never shows his cards” I was laughing inside cause it helped me to steal some blinds later on in the tourney from this guy. Good entry , Thank you

    Ron

  11. “My style of poker is intensely psychological and I use all weapons at my disposal.”

    That’s all the argument you need against someone saying you should NEVER show your cards.

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