I recently had someone claim (on an unrelated SE site I won't link to) that it is the responsibility of a player to correctly identify their hand, that what you "call" your hand determines the winner:

For example, you have an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, and Ten. You call your hand and say, "I have a Straight!"

But that was a bad move on your part because you are a novice player and you did not notice that all of your cards are Spades. You actually had a Straight Flush, but now you have lost because one of the remaining players had a Full House.

Your hand has not been determined until you call your hand.

Is this true? Clearly you might play your hand differently if you misunderstand what you have, but I always thought that the cards speak for themselves once they are revealed.

Or would it depend on the specific poker variation/house rules?

  • Two question. Please revise it to one question. – paparazzo Feb 15 at 16:43
  • @Paparazzi Edited, does that satisfy? – BradC Feb 15 at 16:47
  • Works for me. I just did not want your question to get closed. Rules are not my expertise but there are some dealers on this site. There is video of Phil Ivy mucking the winning hand that he could have won. – paparazzo Feb 16 at 12:07
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    Nice question! Surprised we haven't had it before :D – Grinch91 Feb 16 at 15:49
  • the cards always speak for themselves. If you say you have a set but you have a full house, you still have a full house. If the players words count more than the cards....I would probably win every hand announcing that i have the nuts?! – RayofCommand Feb 16 at 17:19
up vote 18 down vote accepted

Casinos in the US generally have the "cards speak" rule. That is, when a hand is properly tabled--exposed to everyone at showdown--it is the responsibility of all players, the dealer, floormen, and anyone else present to see that the pot is awarded to the best hand shown, regardless of what the players might say.

Some players object to this rule: they believe that if a player or railbird says "Wait, Bob has a flush", that's unfairly helping a player. But the rule is clear: once the hand is tabled, others have not only the right but the obligation to help ensure the pot is awarded correctly.

There are a couple of caveats: if a player only shows his hand to another player, or to the dealer, or to any other person, without properly tabling it for everyone, that player has no rights yet and those to whom the hand was shown should remain silent to protect other players' properly shown hands. But once the hand is tabled, it's fair game and everyone can and should assist in reading the hands.

Finally, in some cases, if a floorman feels that a player has deliberately overcalled his hand to induce a player with a better hand to fold, he may penalize that player by awarding the pot to someone else, even possibly to a folded hand. Some California lowball clubs even had a rule that a player who remained silent rather than explicitly calling out a pair could be ruled against in this way.

  • Thanks for the detail. Any reason to think that casinos outside the US operate differently? – BradC Feb 15 at 21:47
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    None other than that I've never been to one. – Lee Daniel Crocker Feb 15 at 21:49
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    Just to add my 2 cents, because it's a really good answer, but yes major casino's and cardrooms, (ones that are worth playing in), will have a cards speak rule. When in doubt just turn your cards over at showdown, they cannot be mucked until a better hand is shown down against it. Reason I'm adding this is as I've dealt events across US, EU and one in Asia when I was dealing. Just to confirm about casinos outside of the US not operating differently. – Grinch91 Feb 16 at 15:52
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    @NicHartley, yes, I mean verbally declaring a hand better than you actually have at showdown, after all the betting is over. During the betting, of course, you are free to lie your ass off. :-) – Lee Daniel Crocker Feb 16 at 18:03
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    +1 This answer completely fulfils my curiosity about the subject. Thanks! – user45266 Nov 2 at 5:18

In casinos I’ve played in, it’s always “cards speak”. So if you have a straight flush but verbally indicate a straight, the dealer will acknowledge the straight flush.

  • Ah, thanks for the terminology, that gives me something to search for. Looks like the opposite of "cards speak" is "declare", which appears to be relevant for some high-low split variations. – BradC Feb 15 at 20:24
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    Declaring high-low is still not declaring the value of your hand, just your intentions as to which scale to value it on. Yes, the term "cards speak" is also used to describe non-declare games; this is an entirely different meaning from the "cards speak" rule as described here. – Lee Daniel Crocker Feb 15 at 21:51

In the several casinos I've played in the cards speak for themselves, but you have to be careful to show down or you can get burned.

In particular, I saw the following hand at Mohegan Sun where the apparent best hand lost:

Two players are all-in. The called player (who should have showed down) instead asks the caller what he has. The caller announced he had a set, but doesn't show. The called player throws his cards into the muck, touching folded cards. The mucked player then asks to see the winner's hand. The winner, however, didn't want to show.

After some discussion, the winner is forced to show his hand, revealing that he had only a busted straight draw. The floor ruled that a busted straight draw beats a mucked hand, and an extended argument disrupted the game for about 20 minutes.

However, the floor ruled that if the caller ever misrepresented his hand like that again he'd be banned.

  • to my mind playing these kind of jokes is part of the game. An experienced person wont fold until he sees the other players hand. – RayofCommand Feb 16 at 17:21

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