Recently while covering the 2015 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, I witnessed several hands in which players would make a bet on the river, get called, and then muck their hands. Doing this then allowed the player who had made the call also to muck his or her hand and collect the pot without having to show any cards.
Rules governing such a situation differ depending on where the tournament is, with some tournaments requiring a hand to be shown in order to win the pot. This wasn’t the case at PCA, and since it wasn’t it brought about an interesting strategic question: When should you show or not show at a river showdown if not showing affords your opponent the opportunity to muck his or her hand? And why?
When and why to not show
I’ll make this real easy. There is never a time not to show in these situations.
The only argument for not showing would be because you don’t want your opponent to know what your hand was. Some players would argue that this is reason enough. However, the truth of the matter is by not showing you’ve already given away that information you’re trying to reveal — namely, the fact that you were bluffing.
Yes, your opponent won’t know your exact cards if you muck, but he or she already knows that you have no showdown value and therefore you had to have been bluffing. Whether you let your opponent know that you were bluffing with king-high or four-high is mostly irrelevant.
When and why to show
Having established that you should never not show your hand in these spots (and thus allow your opponent also not to show and collect the pot), let me explain why you should show.
First of all, you might actually have the winner. Usually this won’t be the case when your river bluff is called, as your opponent will generally have a hand with showdown value (most likely a pair or better). But there will be rare instances when an opponent might be looking you up light with something as weak as queen-high or jack-high, meaning your king-high would take the pot. But you don’t know if you don’t show.
Secondly, the most important reason for showing in this situation is because it allows you to acquire information about your opponent’s tendencies. You get to see your opponent’s cards and learn what he or she had when calling you. This is such a huge part of poker that it’s worth revealing what your bluffing cards were in order to see what your opponent had. It will help you in future hands with this opponent because you’ll be able to define his or her range of hands more accurately, especially when similar postflop scenarios develop between you and the player.
Now that you have shown
One other important consideration to make when you do show a bluff in order to view your opponent’s hand is to recognize how doing so will affect your table image going forward.
If you’ve been playing relatively tight, you’ll have to adjust your opponents’ perception of your play as they are no longer automatically going to give you credit for having a strong hand. If you’ve been playing loose, then showing the bluff won’t change your image, but may enhance the impression of your looseness even further.
Remember how you bet the hand, though, and use that pattern in a similar situation later when you have a legitimate hand. It’ll keep your opponents off balance and guessing, and having others feel uncomfortable when they are in a hand with you is always an advantage.