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To Muck Or Not To Muck?

After a hand is completed in online poker you'll never find me showing my cards, win or lose, to the rest of the table. I always muck. In fact my settings are pre-selected to "always muck". You pay to see my cards, and if I've lost a hand online there can be no reason to show my beaten hand. But now I ask myself if this is the best strategy? Because there are times in poker when it pays to show. That's certainly true in live-game poker, but what about the online variety, which is a very different animal? Let's look at this in more detail, especially as it pertains to online poker.

There are three very good reasons to show your hand when you have won a pot. The first is to create confusion in the minds of your foes. The second is to provide disingenuous information. The third reason is to get under everyone's skin, and hopefully push some poor rube over the edge and on tilt. An example is when you win a hand with a stone bluff. You advertise those rags. Players are wondering how you could stay in with such slop, never mind bet, raise, or re-raise. Players might wonder out loud, and even get slightly miffed. All the better.

There are times when you want to show only one of your hole cards, something you cannot do on any of the online poker rooms, at least not to my knowledge (as yet - note to poker software developers: add that functionality, namely "show one hole card only". It could be to online poker what the double-click was to computers, and if there are any royalties you know where to find me.) So this is a tactic of misinformation that only works in a live-game, and it can work very well.

Showing your cards can also be a forward-thinking strategy at your local card room in that it helps to create a table persona for you. Players now think you play very loose based on that bluff, and next time you come out firing it will be tough for them to put you on any hand. This is advisable if you're about to spend a long session facing a mostly unchanging table.

Now for the cons of showing your cards online. First of all the value of a table persona is diminished in online poker because of the incredibly high rate of player turnover. You're advertising for people who won't be there in five minutes time, let alone five hours time, and who probably are not paying attention in any case. The fact is that in a number of online games the only players who will notice your hand are those still in the pot. The others have run to the kitchen before the cards are in the air for the next hand. Showing your cards online frequently looks like inexperience and nothing more.

I think a good player gains a lot by seeing other player's cards at the conclusion of a hand, and my advice to rookies or even intermediate online players is to never show unless you are compelled. The good players already have an edge over you - why give them an even bigger advantage? There is no greater sign of weakness then when a beaten player still feels the urge to show the table his second-best hand. Your K9 outkicked by a KA? Don't show me that in the misguided hope that I'll feel sympathy for your plight. All I'll feel is delight that you handed me a glaring weakness in your game, and the next time you play with a weak kicker like that pathetic 9 I'll be right there to pick up the pieces.

You can read Marc's general musings about online poker at http://www.online-poker-insider.com. Marc is a poker nut, there's no other way to put it.

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