Poker is renowned as one of the most entertaining and difficult card games that you can play. At its highest level, people even win eight figures during tournaments.
One of the most interesting things about poker, though, is the 'Dead Man's Hand,' a two pair of black eights and black aces. But, not everyone knows the history surrounding it.
Not sure where to start? Don't worry, we’ve got you covered.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know.
So, What Is The Dead Man's Hand?
Although the name immediately suggests something related to zombies or skeletons (or even the afterlife), it refers to a gambler named "Wild Bill" Hickock. Legend has it that he was shot to death while holding a pair of black aces and black eights in his hand, and continued to clutch them as he passed away.
As a result, having this hand (and especially winning the pot with it) is considered notably unlucky in the game of poker.
Of course, it's all but impossible to prove this scenario occurred in the same way people like to tell the story. But, this doesn't mean that this particular hand of cards has no interesting backstory.
Surprisingly, The Dead Man's Hand has been described in multiple ways over the years. In the late 1800s, it was referred to as a full house with a pair of tens and three jacks. Two decades later, its meaning was said to be made up of jacks and sevens (and also said to bring significant bad luck).
Within a few years, it was once again referred to as a hand of jacks and eights.
It wasn't until the 1920s that the modern definition finally came into play. A biography called Wild Bill Hickok: The Prince of Pistoleers detailed the origin story, and so the term became exceedingly popular afterward.
So, What Happened?
In 1876, gambler 'Wild Bill' was participating in a game of poker at a saloon. A man named Jack 'Crooked Nose' McCall, who was locally known as being boisterous and frequently inebriated, sat down to play with Wild Bill.
Evidently, McCall didn't win a single hand while Bill was at the table. Desperate in his attempt to reclaim his lost money, he continued to play.
Eventually, though, McCall ended up losing all of his money through his games with Wild Bill.
Wild Bill then gave a small bit of cash to McCall, telling him to get something to eat and to leave the game until he could afford to pay the money that he owed from his losses. Whether or not Bill's actions were meant to patronizing is still left up to debate.
Regardless of Wild Bill's intentions, McCall was deeply insulted and left the game in a state of anger.
One day later, a disgraced McCall returned to the same saloon to find Wild Bill once again playing poker. Bill was more than aware of the effect his poker skills had on people— he likely dealt with many scenarios involved disgruntled players who were frustrated both at Bill's ability and their own losses.
As a result, he always sat with his back to the wall so that he could see a confrontation brewing before it occurred. This day, however, Bill sat with his back exposed due to another player refusing to change seats with him.
Shortly after entering the saloon, McCall approached Bill with a Colt .45 revolver and shot him, killing him instantly. Those who witnessed the crime say that Wild Bill was clutching two black aces and two black eights when he died.
McCall was arrested, and less than a year later he was executed for the murder of Bill Hickock.
Is It a Good Poker Hand?
Despite all of the mystery and intrigue surrounding The Dead Man's Hand, it isn't particularly notable in terms of value.
Although a two-pair of aces isn't a terrible hand to receive during a game, there are far better hands that greatly improve your chance of coming out on top. In general, The Dead Man's Hand is more or less a group of cards that won't significantly impact the probability that you win the round.
In Popular Culture
As you may expect, The Dead Man's Hand has been incorporated into many works of fiction,s including books, movies, and TV shows.
This is especially true during films set in the American West, such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Vance. In this movie, one of the main characters draws The Dead Man's Hand shortly before being killed.
For tattoo enthusiasts, it also serves as a popular subject matter. It was even used as a form of branding for the infamous 'Jump Out Boys' group that once existed within the LA Police Department.
Music seems to be the most popular medium it's incorporated in, though, as there's a large handful of songs that make direct reference to the cards. These even include works by iconic artists Blue Oyster Cult, Bob Dylan, and Motörhead.
Modern shows that are set in the American West (such as Westworld) are sure to incorporate The Dead Man's Hand in some form, even it's subtly during a panning camera shot of a bar or saloon.
Poker's Nuances Can Seem Confusing
But they don't have to be.
With the above information about the Dead Man's Hand in mind, you'll be well on your way toward developing an increased appreciation of the game.
Want to learn more gambling tips that can help you out in the future? Be sure to check out the rest of our blog.