Showing a Hand … or Not?

After the betting round of the river — even if there’s no betting and all everyone has done is the boring action of “check” — there’s still the showdown. It’s that heart dropping moment when people expose their cards.

It’s not unusual, especially in games where tensions are running high, for players to be overly reticent to show a hand — even when it’s nothing more than a showdown. People are so protective of their hands that they don’t even show them when they’re supposed to. It’s also not usual when this happens for dealers to say something smarmy like, “First hand over wins.”

There is, however, a progression that is followed if the whole table suddenly gets deadlocked with the heavy task of just turning their friggin’ cards over.

  1. Technically,thepersonwhomadethelastraise(orinitialbet,ifthere were no raises) is the person being called, so he exposes his hand first.
  2. Thedealerdisplaysthishandtothecenterofthetableandcallsout what it is — for example, “Two-pair, 3s and 2s.” At least the dealer is supposed to do this — he doesn’t always.

3. Inaclockwisefashion,everyplayereithershowsormuckshishand.

Any hand that is mucked, without being shown, is officially dead and no longer eligible to win the pot.

If the newly exposed hand is beaten, the dealer turns it face down and mucks it, moving to the next hand.

If the hand exposed beats the first hand shown, the newly exposed hand is moved to the center of the table and declared — for example, “Three 3s.” The original hand that was shown is then turned facedown and mucked.

4. Theprocesscontinuesuntilonehandisleftfaceuponthetable(or multiples if there is a tie), the dealer pushes the pot to the winning player, and the hand is mucked.

If there are any side pots, a winner is determined for those first, working all the way back to the winner of the main pot.

During the showdown, you’ll want to keep in mind the following:

Unlike the rest of a Poker game, you do not have to expose your cards in order (unless no one else is showing, in which case you must when it’s your turn). If you think you have a winner, you can turn it over immediately.

Be sure to keep your cards in front of you. Don’t send them sailing out into the middle of the table (it’s also bad form to chuck them in your opponent’s face). You need to be able to easily prove the hand is yours.

You must expose both of your cards.

Even if you’re heads-up and the other player immediately mucks her hand but has gone all the way to the showdown on the river, you still must expose your hand.

You might have the rights to see another player’s hand if he’s made it all the way to the showdown. At some card houses, you must have a hand all the way to the showdown yourself to be able to ask and see it; at others, you merely have to have been dealt a hand. Ask your dealer what the house policy is. Strangely, asking to see the other player’s hand is always considered to be a mildly socially unacceptable thing to do in a professional cardroom.

The most important rule: Never believe a player has the hand he orally declares until you see it with your own eyes. Every day someone, somewhere, misreads his hand. And this is cutting your opponent slack, assuming you’re not dealing with someone who has sinister intent.

After you muck your hand, the hand is dead. Be certain you have a loser before you throw it away, or just let the dealer handle it for you.

Do not begin to scoop the pot toward yourself. Let the dealer make the first motion.

If you have a hand that has been declared a winner and you ask to see an opponent’s hand that is headed for the muck, you’re technically at a minor amount of risk. Because you’ve requested to see it, and you have a hand that has been declared a “winner,” the hand you’re asking to see is still considered to be live. If the hand that was going to be mucked beats yours, you lose the pot. Dealers will yap on and on about how dangerous and foolhardy this move is, and we’re sure it can happen, but we’ve never seen a winner come back out of the muck.

If you make it to the river and no one calls your final bet, don’t show your hand unless:

You’re convinced it will change (or enforce) an impression that you want to give other players about yourself, whatever that may be (you play tight, you play loose, you were bluffing, you weren’t bluffing, and so on).

There is a potential prize associated with it, such as a high hand.

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