Do You Have to Show Your Cards in Poker? The Rules Explained


Many poker players play by different rules. Some require that all players show their cards after every hand, while others don’t abide by this rule. 

So, do you have to show your cards in poker? Standard poker rules dictate that you must show your hand if you win, but you don’t have to show your hand if you lose. However, at many competitive tournaments, all players in an all-in situation typically need to show their cards. 

do you need to show your hands in poker
You must show your cards if you win, but don’t need to if you lose. But there are different rules in place.

Despite this simplistic answer, there are plenty of scenarios where it can get a little more complicated. Instances with bluffs, accusations of cheating, and zero bets made are up to the discretion of the table. 

This guide will go through the rules in detail and clear up any confusion you might have about showing your cards in poker. 

When do players have to show their cards?

There are a few situations in which poker players need to show their cards. 

The showdown

The showdown is the name for that time in poker when all the rounds of betting have been completed, and there are two or more players still have their cards in play. In terms of showing your cards, this is the time when there can be the most arguments.

Without any specific rules in place here, each player would be hesitant to be the first one to show their cards. Thankfully there are some set rules in place to help the order, but there can be subtle differences between casinos or card games.

show hand in poker
There are the most arguments who need to show their cards first and who doesn’t need to show them at showdown.

The person who has the last action of either betting or raising will be expected to show their hand first. Once they’ve shown their cards, the order of showing goes in a clockwise direction. So the person to the left of the player who had just revealed their cards must show next, and so on.

If you want to know why some players show their cards when they don’t need to, then read more about it in this article.

When no bets happen

The rules can be a little different in terms of when that last action is determined. Some believe that it only counts after the river card (the last one to be revealed), whereas others will have the rule that it counts throughout the whole of the hand.

It’s essential to set this rule in place beforehand to let everyone know who should show first. If there have been no bets made, or if you only count bets made after the river and none have been made, then the order for that is clear too.

In these situations, the person to the left of the button must show their cards first. The order of showing will then follow a clockwise direction. This rule applies to every hand as the button gradually makes its way around the table.

Who has to show their hand?

As we have seen here, there are rules in place to indicate who should be the first to show their hand. If you were the last person to bet you have to show first or if no-one bet, then you’ll have to show if you’re to the left of the button.

The other time that you have to show your hand is if it gets to the showdown, and you want to win the pot. If the person to your right was the last person to bet and has shown their cards, you must show your hand to win the pot.

Giving your cards back to the dealer face-down is called mucking them, and you can do this in pretty much all other circumstances.

If you see that the person to your right has a better hand than you, then you can throw your cards away.

What if someone asks to see my cards?

Unless you want to annoy someone on the table, don’t request to see their cards for tactical advantage. If you’re with a group of friends, then you may be more relaxed about this, but asking to see someone’s cards is bad etiquette and very much frowned upon.

Depending on the type of place you are in, the dealer may warn you about this and possibly ask to have you removed from the game. If someone has lost, then it’s seen as their right not to have to show their cards even though they can technically be asked too.

There is an exception to this, though. If you suspect a player of colluding with someone else or cheating, then request to see their cards and explain to the dealer your reason for suspicion. If no foul play is found, then apologize for the misunderstanding and move on. 

Why you should (almost) always muck

When you’re playing at a high level, a player will not want to show their cards unless they have to. There are several reasons for this.

Tactical advantage

You don’t want your opponent to know what your thought process is.

If you were waiting on a flush, for example, you don’t want them to see that this is how you play. A high-quality player will build up knowledge of how you play, and you want to limit the amount of data they have.

Bluffing 

Possibly the biggest reason for not wanting to show your cards is if you were bluffing, as this could give your hand away.

If you bluff well, there should never be a reason for anyone to see your cards, as you would have either won the hand before the betting round was completed or folded.

Satisfaction 

Only just being beaten by a stronger hand or being outplayed can be highly frustrating for the player and gratifying for their opponent. There will be times where just want to muck your hand to avoid giving your opponent the satisfaction of knowing how close you were to winning. 

When you shouldn’t muck

As a contradiction to the previous statement, there are times where you may want to muck. 

The most obvious reason to do this would be when you want to mess with their head. If you’re bluffing on a low-value pot, for example, you may want to throw them off of how you play.

Also, the cards speak for themselves. If you’re not fully confident in the rules of poker, then showing your cards even when you think you’ve lost might be a good idea

It could be that you forgot 3-of-a-kind beats a two pair, or perhaps you completely missed a straight. It happens.

When we say the cards speak for themselves, it means that it doesn’t matter what anyone says at the showdown; the cards determine who has won the hand. This is obviously different from folding, where you forfeit any right to win the hand before the showdown.

Another reason to show your cards is to try and tempt others to show theirs. This may give you more information that you can then use. It can be a good tactic when you’re trying to hide the way that you’re playing with your cards. 

show both hands at showdown
It is not enough to show just the A of hearts. You need to show both cards.

Who can muck their cards?

We’ve looked at who must show their cards, but it’s worth clearing up when you don’t have to show. As we mentioned above, you don’t want your cards to be seen unless the rules stipulate that you have to.

If you know that you’ve lost the hand, then you don’t have to show your cards. If any of the players to your right have shown their cards and they beat yours, you can simply muck your cards and concede the hand.

It’s more likely that you have decided to leave the hand before the showdown. If that’s the case, you are under no obligation to show your cards. If you’ve folded, then you can simply return your cards to the dealer and wait for the next hand.

All-in rules

When two or more players are all-in at the showdown, the rules can vary from one place to another as to whether the person behind the winning hand will have to show their cards.

It’s common practice for the dealer to ask everyone in the all-in situation to show their cards at the same time. This allows for a quick resolution of the all-in bet, and there is also a possibility that the loser must then leave the game. 

There can also be side-pots where a player with a smaller chip stack goes all-in, and other players continue the betting. In this situation, the side pot is settled first. If there are two or more players involved, they will be expected to show their cards first before moving on to the main pot.

Real-life vs. Online

If you’re using an online poker platform, then it can be quite difficult to hide your cards. A lot of platforms out there will simply show the hands of everyone who is a part of the showdown. This can be annoying for those who don’t like showing their cards.

There are platforms out there that will give you the option of hiding your cards in the settings tab. If this is something you want, then make sure to look for this option. There is a caveat to this: the other players may be able to see your cards anyway.

You can often see a losing player’s hand in the ‘hand history’ segment of the menu, and there are some that will use a hand replayer to see the losing hand on their HUD. Do remember, though, that this is the same for everyone, and you won’t be at a disadvantage because you can look at the other players’ cards too. To read more about HUD and why poker players love using it, read this article.

Other rules of the showdown

As well as these standard rules, there are some other aspects of showing your cards which you should be aware of to be able to play fair.

Don’t stall 

There are rules in place about who should show their hand first, and any delay of this is seen as bad behavior. You should lay down your cards as soon as the betting is finished if it’s your turn to show.

Trying to get other players to show their hand first or delaying for any other reason is not usually accepted. Simple mistakes will be let off, but make sure you learn from them.

Avoid slow-rolling 

nut flush on river slowplay
Don’t slow-roll the nuts on the river.

There’s not a lot more frustrating for poker players than slow rolling. This is where you deliberately take too much time showing your cards. This could be putting them down slowly one by one or talking about your hand before anyone has seen your cards.

This can be done to either gloat over a great hand or to make people around you to think that you are going to muck your cards when instead you slowly turn them over. Whatever the reason, don’t do it. It’s a great way to never be invited back to a game again.

Don’t request a mucked hand 

You always have to respect someone’s decision to muck their cards. Just be happy that you have won the pot and move on. The importance of this does depend on the situation that you’re in.

If you’re playing with your buddies that you may ask in a joking way, but in a professional game, it’s rarely done

If you’re asking just because you’re curious, let them know that they’re under no obligation to show otherwise they could think you’re accusing them of cheating.

Show both cards 

Picture this: there are four hearts on the table, and you have an ace of hearts in your hand. Everyone has turned their cards over and you know you have the nuts, and you know that you’ve won with a flush. Just turning over the ace card to show you’ve won is bad etiquette.

In this situation, you should immediately turn both of your cards over, even if the other card has no value to the hand. Not only is showing only one of your hole cards against the rules, but other players will also find it very irritating.

FAQs

Q: What if I raise and everyone else folds?

A: If this happens, then the hand doesn’t head to a showdown, and you have won the hand regardless of the cards you have. In this situation, you can muck your cards and hide the fact of whether you had great hole cards or were just bluffing.

Q: Are all card rooms and casinos the same?

A: While a lot of the same basic rules are in place, there can be variations. One of the trickiest rules is whether bets before or after the river affect who must show their cards after the hand. If you have any queries, make sure you get them answered before the game.

Q: Can you ask to see a hand at showdown?

A: Technically, you can ask to see the hand of anyone who was dealt into the game. As we’ve discussed, this is seen a poor etiquette, and you should avoid it. The only circumstance where this is allowed is if cheating is suspected.

Q: What if a mucked hand is a higher value?

A: If you fold, then you can muck your cards with no problems at all. If you get to the showdown and you muck your cards, then you are forfeiting any chance to win the hand. While cards speak for themselves, this only counts if they are in play and if the dealer can see them.

Q: What happens in an all-in scenario?

A: This is another place where rules can vary slightly. You can reveal your cards in the usual way and muck them if the person to your right has a better hand. The much more common scenario is that the dealer will request that everyone in the showdown will flip over their cards.

Q: What if I show my cards before the showdown?

A: If you’re in a cash game, then you can do this without a penalty, but it will be frowned upon if done intentionally. If you do this accidentally, then apologize. If you do this in a professional game, whether intentionally or not, then the hand is declared dead, and you will either be warned or asked to leave the game.

So, do you have to show your cards in poker?

Anyone new to the game may be surprised that in the majority of circumstances, you don’t have to show your cards. If you’ve not made the showdown then you don’t have to show them and if you’re behind the winning hand, you don’t have to see them either.

There are slight variations that we have looked at but if you’re playing in a large group you can keep your cards hidden in the majority of circumstances. It prevents your opponents from having a tactical advantage and allows you to concentrate on your own game.

Conclusion: treat others like you want to be treated

While the above heading may be a clichéd line, it’s true in poker. It can be a stressful game at times, and you also have the potential to lose money. You shouldn’t antagonize other players or lack courtesy when you are playing.

The rules are in place to prevent in-fighting and speed up the game. These rules are usually automatically implemented in online poker, but if you’re at a physical table, then make sure you know the playing conditions beforehand.

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