In a no-limit hold em cash game, only two players remain live in the hand. Who claims the pot if both of these players muck their cards simultaneously?
There are no verbal declarations - both players simply toss both of their cards into the muck.
I Made a ruling on this exact situation. The pot was small (1/2 NL, $5), there was an ace high straight on board, the ruling was that the pot was split.
The ruling was technically incorrect. I made the ruling I did because the pot was small, and it was not a big deal to rule this way in the best interest of the game. However I also announced to the table, that the rules say plainly that you must table your card to have a claim to the pot, and that if this happens again, the pot will stay in the middle and be awarded to the winner of the next hand.
Technically, under the rule that a player only has a claim to a pot if they table their card face up at showdown no one at the table has a claim to the pot. Under the rules, no one has a claim to the pot!
So there you go the floor person has to decide what is going to happen with this pot when no player at the table has a legitimate claim to the pot. The really bad thing in this situation is that there is no totally correct ruling. The ruling is totally a judgment call. The rules cover the conditions under which a player may be awarded the pot, very little is said about what should happen when no one qualifies to win the pot. Here is what the floor person can do.
In the interest of fairness when there are no other strong factors like a player having been cut up this ruling works.
If something looks fishy, like players may be colluding, are they are just needling and being jerks I like this option.
This is the option that might work best in the nightmare scenario. I could maybe sale this to Lyle, Doyle and the whale and keep my job. I think this is the one that upper management would try to work with them. It might keep everyone content since nobody really lost.
Technically leaving the pot to be decided by the next hand is most supported by common rules of poker. Jacks or better requires antes, and that you must open with a pair of Jacks or better or the pot remains in the middle to be decided by the next hand. To make the context generic so that it might apply to another game as a poker rule, the precedence is that if no one has a claim to the pot within the rules of the game, the pot stays in the middle to be decided by the next hand. Unfortunately, accept perhaps in rules about jacks or better, there is no rule that says what happens when a pot has no legitimate winner. This is not to say that leaving the pot is not a option, it just means that it is not the only option. However making this decision may not fly with anyone at the table if the pot was really huge and a lot of innocent players had large investments in the pot.
How this ruling is actually going to go is dependent on many factors. The politics of the game is the main one. By that I mean how up in arms are the players about this? Who are the players that folded? How big is the game? How big is the pot? Who is making the complaint? The examples I could give are endless. With this you just go with what you think is right and hope it works. How good the decision is actually going to be just depends on your experience and how well you can sale it to the players.
The ruling I made was simple, it was a small pot and nobody really cared how it was ruled. I did however pause for a bit before I ruled and seriously considered leaving the pot in the middle. The two players involved were father and daughter, experienced and just simply ignoring the rule. I just took the path of least resistance and controversy and let it be split, and gave a warning that it would not be split again if this happened.
I could also imagine a night mare scenario where the game was an ultra large NLHE with a pot that was hundreds of thousands, the players involved well known names like say Doyle and Lyle, cutting up money from some whale that drops millions in the pit every year. In this case if I am the floor person, I am taking the decision to the poker shift manager. If I am the shift manager I would call the Card room manager. If I could not get a hold of a manager I might consult the pit manager or casino manager if possible before making a decision.
Also going to add that this situation is very rare. I only recall seeing it once or twice. Some might think this is dealer error. It is never the dealers job to refuse to muck a hand a player is mucking. In low limit games the dealer may remind players to turn up their hands, in a higher limit game one should dummy up and deal.
Note that this type of ruling is going to be very dependent on where you are playing and the discretion of the floor staff. Having said that, there's really only one answer that makes sense since the pot has to be awarded, it can't just sit there!
So, I think the ruling would be that both players share the hand on the board and that it's a split pot. Effectively, the best hand that is still available is the board itself and the pot is split among remaining players.
I really can't think of anything else that makes sense in this scenario.
In addition to the other answers, another solution would be for each of the players that mucked to whisper to the dealer the cards they had and the dealer to try to retrieve them from the muck. That way, the hands can be reconstructed and the pot can be awarded to the deserving player.
It may not work, however, because the players may lie and say they had a better hand (although in that case the cards won't be in the muck).