Poker is a game of information, or rather, a game of incomplete information. Each player knows some things, like their own cards. Learning about another player’s poker playing style, betting patterns, fears, and techniques can help you determine what another player might hold and help fill in the blanks when it comes to the lack of information you have there. The more you study an opponent, the hands they show, and how they played them, the better your chances of correctly determining this information.
Therefore, to protect yourself from giving more information to your opponents than necessary, you should not reveal your cards to other players when you don’t need to. If you win a pot uncontested, take the chips and lay down the hand face-down. Let them wonder if you had a monster or were bluffing. Players love to show everyone when they make a big hand. If you don’t have to show it, don’t. What purpose does it serve, other than to show your opponents that they were right to fold?
This leads to another downside to showing a hand. By not allowing your opponents to know what you had, they might sit and wonder whether they made the right decision or not. It can be turmoil inside of them, causing them to pay less attention on the current hand because they’re still wondering about the last one. If you show them that you were ahead when you won the pot, they can pat themselves on the back for folding and not give it another thought.
Now, with all that said, there are times when it can be advantageous to show your hand. The key time to do this is when you want to change your table image. Table image is how the other players at the table perceive you as a player. For example, if you have folded every hand for an hour except when you had pocket aces, you likely have a tight table image. If you’ve re-raised every hand for an hour, your table image is likely that of a maniac. Now let’s say that you are a tight player and you have a very tight table image and can’t get any action, because players know that when you are in a hand you have a solid holding. To help this situation, you could play a “poor” hand as if you had aces or something. If you take the pot, show the bluff. Now you have demonstrated that you are capable of making a move and might get more action when you do have a strong hand. Some players will even lose a pot just so that they can showdown a poor hand and create more action against their good ones. On the flip side of these examples, a loose player could show a few strong hands to try and earn more respect with future bets.
A final word of caution with this tip; if you are playing against good and observant players, you must be careful to pick and choose your moments to reveal hands in this manner. If you always show your good hands or always show your bad hands, you are actually giving away more information than you might think. If I see you show a pair every time you take an uncontested pot with one, then I can pretty well determine the number of times you play with unpaired cards based on the number of hands you don’t show. The idea is to give information intentionally only a time or two, not every time you deviate from your norm.