In poker, “mucking” refers to a player folding or discarding their hand face-down into the middle of the table, usually towards the dealer, and signifies their exit from being further involved in a hand.
The action of mucking can be done either(1) during any betting round when it’s that player’s turn to act, or (2) during showdown at any point if a player does not wish to show his cards.
NOTE: Although slightly different in meaning, sometimes “folding” and “mucking” are terms that are used interchangeably in poker.
The poker term “mucking” is derived from what the discarded pile of cards is called in a poker hand, which is the “muck”. The muck is inclusive of:
- Any accidentally exposed cards during a hand
- The burn cards (discarded cards from the top of the deck before the flop, turn, and river are dealt, done in an attempt to prevent players from gaining information from card backs that have been marked)
- Any folded or discarded hands from players involved in the hand
As such, when a player folds and subsequently contributes his cards to be a part of this muck pile, he is considered to be “mucking” his hand.
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The Artistry of Mucking Your Cards
Every player will develop his unique style of how he wants to muck his cards during a hand. But the result will always be the same. He will discard his cards face-down towards the dealer and the centre of the table.
Here are some common mucking actions:
- The Push: This move resembles someone shoving a plate of food they would rather not have away from them. To execute it, with either the heel of the hand, the fingertips, or a combination of multiple fingers, the player pushes his cards from the side closest to him toward the centre of the table, having the card faces remain on the table the whole time, never getting airborne.
- The Slide: This move is where a player spreads apart his hole cards face-down (usually with his index and middle finger of the same hand). Then with these fingers remaining on the centre of the backs of the two respective cards, he slowly slides his cards into the middle.
- The Toss: Picking up your hole cards on the side furthest away from you with your index and middle fingers, you then “toss” them towards the middle of the table, having a bit of a circular motion as they pass through the air.
- ️The Flick: Here, a player picks up the short end of his hole cards (stacked one upon the other) between his thumb on one side and fingers on the other. With the bulk of the card remaining directly under his palm, he uses a combination of an inverted/inner twist of the wrist and a pushing forward of his thumb to propel his cards forward, circling slightly through the air until they land on the table.
- The Helicopter: This muck action is an extreme version of either the toss or the flick. Players show their mucking finesse by adding either an elevation of the arm and/or a vertically directed flick of the wrist to propel the mucked cards vertically into the air before descending triumphantly back down again. In essence, the cards remain parallel with the tabletop and spin horizontally through the air until they land on the table. It should be noted that even though this mucking technique is by far the fanciest, players shouldn’t try to launch their cards as high as possible into the air in performing this move. If they get above eye-level of other players while in the air, then opponents might be able to see one or both of the mucked cards. This result is terrible, as it could influence action for the rest of the hand for the remaining players if any of their hole cards were exposed.
While there are undoubtedly other ways to muck cards towards the centre of the table, these are the five most common ways to do so.
Beginners and Mucking: Picking Up Poker Tells
Sometimes you can tell how inexperienced an unknown player likely is in live poker just by witnessing how they muck their cards. From a personal standpoint, I’ve seen many players sit down at a casino poker table, buy-in for a full-stack, have a hoodie and sunglasses on, not order a drink from the bar, make themselves seem entirely like a competent poker player based on looks and appearance.
Then they give a glaringly obvious tell that they’re inexperienced and a huge fish, just based on how they for/muck their hand – preflop, even! (Normally, amateur or beginner poker players will use “the push” mucking motion described in the previous section, as they’re not comfortable quite yet with how to hold their hole cards in general and also when mucking.)
Then, after I realise that they’re likely an inexperienced player, I look to quickly make a point of gaining info as fast as possible on their play style. That way, I can exploit them to the max and run up my profits with chips coming flying at me from their direction!
The similar idea of looking for experience tells coming from mucking motions can be made on the opposite side of things, too. If a player is capable of fancily helicoptering his cards into the muck (or even doing elaborate tricks or shuffles with his poker chips), it might be indicative that he’s a well-seasoned player in the game of poker. He’s likely to have had practice doing those things to get good at mucking.
Good Poker Strategy: To Show or To Muck?
Say, a poker player is heads-up, facing a bet or raise, the action is on them, and they are last to act. If they want to fold, they have the option of either mucking their cards face-down or exposing them face-up when folding. (If they wanted to show everyone how “big” of a fold they’re making). This play is legal because it’s not influencing any other player’s future action in the hand. After their fold, the hand has now come to an end.
The same option of mucking or showing one’s cards applies to showdown, as well, whereby players can choose whether to muck or show their cards, either right from the get-go or when it’s their turn to reveal their holding.
The question that’s stood the test of time, though, is should players show if they don’t have to, or should they just muck? If another player shows a winning hand at showdown, should another player even bother to reveal their second-best hand?
My recommendation is no! As a default (99.99% of the time), players should almost always muck their hands instead of showing, if the opportunity presents itself. Poker is a game about making the best decisions with incomplete information.
If you’re always unnecessarily showing your cards, then other players can gain information on your style of play, including which hands you have in your ranges and how you play them. Smart opponents can subsequently use this newly-gained info to exploit you in future hands or instances!
When You Should Show Your Hole Cards in Poker
The only time in live play I would recommend SHOWING a hand when you have the option of mucking is: (1) If there is a High Hand bonus or promotion at the cardroom in which you’re playing and by showing your hand, you either will win or will have a chance of winning this bonus; or (2) If there is a Bad Beat Jackpot in effect for your cardroom, showing both the winning AND losing hands is required for the jackpot to go off and the players to be awarded the prizes.
When I’m in more of a relaxed, friendly game and there aren’t too dire consequences of showing.(i.e. If EVERYBODY’s doing it.)The only other times I might consider SHOWING instead of MUCKING are:
- If I wanted to establish a particular image now that I can use to my advantage later on, like to make players think I’m tighter or crazier than otherwise. It might help allow me to influence another player’s action(get the result from them – a call or fold – that I want to elicit from them)in a later hand.
- To put a player on tilt(i.e.If I have a bluff and I know that by showing, it’ll make the other player super angry and emotionally affected, inducing them to play recklessly from then on out, then,of course, I’ll want to show my hand!)
Online Poker Options: Show, Muck, Auto-Muck
Many online poker rooms give the option in the Settings for players to “auto-muck” in certain situations, like if they’re folding when they’re last to act in a betting round, or if they’ve arrived at showdown but have a losing hand.
My recommendation is to tick this “auto-muck” setting to “ON” for the reason listed in the previous section (to not give information unnecessarily to your opponents) and also because it’s going to promote faster gameplay.
If it’s turned “OFF”, you’ll often have the option to “Show Your Cards” or “Muck Your Cards” after you fold, and while in 99.99% of cases (as we discussed) you’re only going to muck your hand anyway, it doesn’t make sense to waste time with these pointless decisions. In poker, time is money, so speed up the game and tick-off that “Auto-muck” option.
Additionally, on most sites, if (after showdown) a player really wants to see what cards you had after you mucked, they’ll usually have the ability to do this any way by immediately looking at the Hand History (HH)that’s produced right after the hand.
While good players will go to the HH right after a hand finishes to gain info on their opponents, fish aren’t necessarily guaranteed to know or take advantage of this aspect of online play. So, protect your mucked hole card info from these uninformed fish: simply auto-muck and don’t show your cards if you don’t have to do so.
Mucking Aside, When Should You Fold in Poker?
As mentioned at the beginning, “mucking” and “folding” are two terms that are frequently used interchangeably in poker. In distinguishing the two, though, hopefully, by now this article has shown that mucking more so refers to how exactly one folds their cards or keeping their cards face-down when they fold.
So, in this article so far, having covered many facets specifically about mucking, not much attention has been brought to folding in poker (including when exactly one should do this), or the strategic considerations to make and thought processes to filter through when deciding on whether or not to fold.
To assist you with this, here are two articles, previously written for our 888poker Magazine to help you with this topic:
- Five Factors to Consider Before Folding in Poker: These are more “bigger picture” concepts to ensure you’re making sound and logical folds during gameplay, when appropriate.
- The Ultimate Poker Folding Guide: A comprehensive guide about when to fold in poker, including nuanced details regarding pot odds, and an array of 6 specific considerations to make before folding, relative to the particular hand.
Mucking in Poker Summary
While mucking your cards in poker is a relatively straightforward concept; hopefully, this short but in-depth article has helped shed some more light on the topic.
In terms of the biggest takeaways, remember to seldom (if ever) show your cards face-up when you fold in poker. And, if you play online, ensure the “auto-muck cards” setting is turned ON to help speed up game play and the number of hands you ultimately get to playing per hour.