We hear a lot about the importance of “balance,” but it’s usually approached in a mathematical way. If we were playing against computers, this would certainly be the proper approach, but since we aren’t… it’s not.
What we are seeking isn’t balance, it’s the perception of balance, and these are not the same thing.
Humans remember some things while forgetting others. Some actions, like audacious bluffs, are more memorable, thus carry proportionally more weight than value bets, which are expected, thus easily forgotten. Actions that are memorable also have greater persistence simply by being more memorable.
Anyone who doubts this need merely read the “fairness debate” thread, which is full of anecdotal “evidence” that the site is rigged. Losing with AA 3 times in a row is more memorable than winning with aces 3 times in a row, so the perception is that aces get cracked more than they should.
In practice, this means we don’t have to bluff 50% of the time in order to give the appearance of bluffing 50% of the time. We don’t have to check half of our strong hands to give the appearance of checking strong hands half the time, and so on.
Strategically showing (or not showing) your hole cards is one of the ways we can take advantage of this idea of proportionality and persistence, but there are others too.
At the end of the day, it’s not what you are doing that’s important, it’s what your opponents think you are doing that counts. By controlling perceptions, we can weight our actions towards the desired results while apprearing to be perfectly balanced.