What is a Dead Man’s Hand in Poker?


Dead Man’s Hand refers to Two Pairs, Aces and Eights formed from black Aces and black eights. This hand has a special place in the history of poker – and we’re going to reveal why. Read further for the full story:

What’s Dead Man’s Hand in Poker?

Who Was Wild Bill Hickok?

So the dead man’s hand has two pairs of black aces and eights. It’s linked to Wild Bill Hickok. Why? Well, because it was in his last poker game before he was killed.

This hand is famous because of that event, and it has become part of the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. The story of the dead man’s hand is well known in Western films and video games, and it’s connected to his legacy. People who like poker and historians find this hand very interesting due to its composition and the tragically bad luck associated with it.

The story started long before the era of online poker sites, Sweepstakes with Vegas Gems Casino, online slots & other similar modern gambling games you might find on the internet today. Let’s look at that part next:

When Did This Poker Game That Made History Occur

On August 2, 1876, Hickok, holding what is believed to be aces and eights of black suits, was fatally shot by Jack McCall in Deadwood’s Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon. This event made the “dead man’s hand” well-known and part of Western folklore. Hickok was a skilled gambler and gunfighter from the American frontier and the Civil War. His legacy and dramatic death have kept the “dead man’s hand” popular.

It’s been featured in many Western movies, books, and culture. You might even state it is a symbol of poker and its history. Biographer Joseph Rosa suggests the hand comprised the ace of spades, ace of clubs, two black eights, and the queen of clubs as the kicker, but also notes a lack of contemporaneous evidence. It wasn’t until the 1926 release of Wilstach’s book, 50 years after Hickok’s death, that the notion of the Dead Man’s Hand as black aces and eights firmly took root in gaming culture.

Is the dead man’s hand a good hand?

We’d hate to give you the general answer to all poker hand questions here which is ‘it depends’. Instead, what you should know is that against your average hand at the showdown in a heads-up pot (facing a single opponent), you’re pretty strong holding it. The Dead Man’s Hand, comprising a pair of aces and a pair of eights, is generally considered a strong hand in poker, particularly in games like five-card draw and No-Limit Hold’em. In the context of poker hand rankings, a two-pair hand, which the Dead Man’s Hand is, ranks above a single pair and below three of a kind. Also, among Two Pair hands, it’s a powerhouse.

However, its strength can vary depending on the variant of poker being played. For example, in Pot-Limit Omaha, the value of this hand can be more situational, depending on the community cards and the actions of other players. The presence of two aces, which are high-value cards, typically blocks other high Two Pair hands and some Straights & Flushes. On the other hand, Two Pair is not that strong in PLO once the board makes it possible for someone to hold a Straight or a Flush (or both).

So, a general thing to keep in mind for dead man’s hand and any hand in poker: Strength of the hand is often contextual. The strength of your hand depends on factors like:

Specific game variantNumber of players involvedHow many community cards are visibleBetting actions of the players in the hand.

Despite its historical and cultural significance, in practical play, the Dead Man’s Hand is treated like any other two-pair hand. And this is what you should do if you play poker with the aim of winning money: You think about your estimated value and optimize your strategies and moves to make the most out of every hand.

The Mystery of the Fifth Card in Dead Man’s Hand

The fifth card in Dead Man’s Hand is significant because it’s surrounded by mystery and speculation. The Dead Man’s Hand often varies in its fifth card, which is sometimes depicted as the five of diamonds, or occasionally as the nine or jack of diamonds. However, the core of this hand always remains the same – the two black aces and eights.

It’s crucial to note that this hand doesn’t include an additional ace or eight, as this would transform it into a full house. This mystery started from the story of Wild Bill Hickok’s assassination, linking the hand to bad luck and death. The ongoing speculation and folklore about this card have made it remain somewhat mysterious.

Modern film & video game references of dead man’s hand

In contemporary culture, the Dead Man’s Hand has continued to leave its mark in films and video games. For instance, the 2001 movie “Along Came a Spider” features this iconic hand of aces and eights in a pivotal poker scene, where it leads to the exchange of a family shotgun. This shotgun later becomes central to the resolution of a kidnapping plot.

In the gaming world, the Dead Man’s Hand is a key element in the “Fallout: New Vegas” expansion, “Dead Money.” Players in this post-apocalyptic setting embark on a quest to gather the famous hand’s cards. By playing through the quest, they can find the cards scattered throughout the abandoned ruins of the Sierra Madre casino.

Deadwood Poker sceneDeadwood Poker scene

HBO series Deadwood

The HBO series “Deadwood,” which aired from 2004 to 2006, is one of the more recent dramatizations featuring Wild Bill Hickok and his iconic final hand. This acclaimed series, spanning three seasons, depicted the transformation of Deadwood from a mining camp to a bustling small town, and eventually into a part of the U.S. territory, culminating in its integration into South Dakota.

Set in the 1870s, “Deadwood” provided a vivid portrayal of the Old West, focusing on life in this distinctive town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The show vividly captured the dynamics of a gold rush town, marked by burgeoning industry, lawlessness, ex

cessive drinking, and even murder.

The saloons of Deadwood, frequented by miners flush with gold rush earnings – these are the elements that offered ample opportunities for gambling and card playing. It makes an ideal setting for a skilled player like Wild Bill Hickok to try and take his share of the pot!

A standout feature of “Deadwood” was its integration of historical figures such as Hickok (portrayed by Keith Carradine) and Calamity Jane into its narrative, with gambling and poker serving as a continuous backdrop. The first season presents a dramatized version of Hickok’s life – basically tracing his journey from a revered gunslinger and lawman to a poker player.

Jack McCall’s assassination of Wild Bill during a poker game is a central storyline in the first season, bringing a piece of Wild West poker lore to a contemporary audience. In May 2019, HBO released a “Deadwood” movie to conclude some unresolved storylines from the series.

Is Dead Man’s Hand Lucky or Not?

Definitely very unlucky! The Dead Man’s Hand is a two-pair poker hand with aces and eights and the player got shot in that hand. If you could choose any poker hand to play with, players who have heard this story might go with some other hand instead!  After all, it’s linked to Wild Bill Hickok’s assassination.

Why Do People Call It the Dead Man’s Hand?

This hand was literally held by a dead man at the end. Wild Bill Hickok was a famous figure in the Old West known for his skills with a gun. At his last poker game, he was shot in the head, holding this hand.

Author: Justin Watson