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Dead Man's Hand - What Is The Dead Man's Hand In Poker?

Poker has been around for centuries, so much so that it is steeped in history and contains legends that have carried over to things outside poker. Among poker's most famous legends is that of the Dead Man's Hand, a hand combination that includes Ace of spades, Ace of clubs, eight of spades, and eight of clubs, also known as black Aces over black eights.

So, what exactly is the Dead Man's Hand, and how did it get so famous? Most importantly, how did it come to have this name? Let's dive into the story of the Dead Man's Hand in this Wizard Slots blog post.

What Is The Dead Man's Hand In Poker?

The Dead Man's hand was not a thing until one fateful day in Deadwood, South Dakota 1876, when a famous US veteran and gambler, Wild Bill Hickok, was shot dead after one of his poker escapades. It is believed that Wild Bill, whose real name was James Butler Hickok, had played a hand of Aces and eights.

His hand consisted of an Ace of clubs, Ace of spades, eight of clubs, and eight of spades. Unfortunately, as the story goes, one of the people who had previously lost to Wild Bill in a poker game shot and killed him while he was in the middle of playing another potentially winning game.

He fell while clutching a pair of Aces and eights in his hand, so cue the Dead Man's Hand. Today, players view this hand in many different ways, with many believing it is a bad luck hand.

But, one thing is for sure, the Dead Man's Hand is one of the strongest hands in poker. But, for the hand to be a true Dead Man's Hand, it must be precisely black Aces over black eights.

Why Is It Called A Dead Man's Hand?

This hand combination came to have its name simply because it was held by a man who was shot dead. Perhaps if Wild Bill had had a chance to reveal his hand before being shot, it wouldn't have had the name.

However, no one knew what hand he held until he was shot and fell. So, by the time his fall revealed his hand, he was dead, ergo, a Dead Man’s Hand. As a result, Hickok's hand is believed by some to be cursed, while others regard it as a tribute to him as an American Wild West legend.

The Story Behind The Dead Man's Hand

Before his untimely death, Mr Hickok was a respected man, both at poker tables as a skilled poker player and as a US Civil War veteran. He used to dominate on every poker table he was on, preferring to sit somewhere where he could have the view of the entire saloon. Perhaps he suspected some of his sour opponents might sneak up on him.

On the second day of August 1876, Wild Bill headed to a saloon in Deadwood, a town in South Dakota, for another game of poker. The previous night, he had played against his would-be killer, Jack McCall, and raked considerable amounts of money from him.

Unfortunately for Mr Hickock, that day, he could not find a seat that would allow him to have his back against the wall and face the entire saloon, including the entrance. So, he could not see Jack McCall charging for him and shooting him point blank from the back of his head.

Mr Hickock died instantly, falling from his chair and in his hand were the black Aces over black eights, the Dead Man's Hand.

However, some historians question the legitimacy of this hand, postulating that some accounts before 1920 were telling a completely different story with a completely different set of cards.

Be that as it may, the story behind the Dead Man's Hand took hold, making its way into pop culture through films like Stagecoach, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, In Frontier Marshal, Badlands of Dakota, Along Came a Spider, and a video game called Dead Money.

What Is The Fifth Card In A Dead Man's Hand?

It has yet to be determined what the fifth card in Mr Hickock's hand was. Some accounts suggest the fifth card in the Dead Man's Hand was the nines of diamonds, while some suggest it was the five of diamonds.

Other accounts suggest that it was a queen of hearts. But, the majority think it was a five of diamonds. However, the fifth card in the Dead Man's Hand is less important than the other four. So, it does not matter what fifth card you hold (as long as it is not another Ace or eight); if you have Ace of spades, Ace of clubs, eight of spades, and eight of clubs, you have a Dead Man's Hand.

Dead Man's Hand Tattoo Meaning

Though the Dead Man's Hand originates from a war veteran and an avid gambler, not everyone with the tattoo today resonates with either. Indeed some people may have this tattoo as a sign of respect to the legend, or are poker players. 

However, some people may have them in memory of a loved one who has passed on or as a sign of power and prosperity. Others may have them simply because they liked the design and associate no meaning with it. 


The popularity of the Dead Man's Hand has some sinister history behind it, but history is never made by goodness only. 

If you hold this hand today, it does not mean you will die shortly after, but it does mean you have a high chance of potentially winning the pot.