Explanation of Dead Man’s Hand

The dead man’s hand is based on the legend surrounding James Butler Hickok (aka “Wild Bill”) when he was shot in the back of head during a game of five card stud. The cards were supposedly retrieved from the floor and revealed to be Aces and Eights all black with a Queen kicker.

Although many accept the above, one Hickok biographer Joseph Rosa says that there is no contemporaneous source confirming the exact hand. Any two pair Aces and Eights is commonly referred to as the “dead man’s hand” (regardless of kicker).

Furthermore, there are references to the “dead man’s hand” without connection to Wild Bill. One source refers to the dead man’s hand as a full house consisting of three jacks and two tens. Another refers to it as two pair, Jacks and Sevens. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the dead man’s hand was connected to Wild Bill, despite him being shot in 1876.

The truth is, no-one knows for sure which cards Wild Bill Hickok was holding on that fateful day, but if you listen to popular culture, it was almost definitely Aces and Eights, all black.

Example of Dead Man’s Hand used in a sentence -> We called the preflop 3bet and flopped the dead man’s hand, Aces and Eights.

How to Use Dead Man’s Hand as Part of Your Poker Strategy

The term is presumably not that important, although we might make ourselves out to be a poker novice if we are unfamiliar with the legend of the dead man’s hand.

Although Wild Bill was specifically playing 5-card stud, players now call Aces and Eights in any poker variant the dead man’s hand. 

In terms of history, Stud games developed from 3-card stud, to 5-card stud and finally to 7-card stud which was popularized in the modern era. 5-card stud was popular during the time of Hickok but is no longer played commonly. 

See Also 

Stud, Two Pair, Full House, Hand Rankings, Fish Hooks, Ducks, Belly Buster

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