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What is Dead Man’s Hand in Poker? – Why Aces and Eights Got This Name

Dead Man's Hand

What is Dead Man’s Hand in Poker? – Why Aces and Eights Got This Name

What is the Deadman’s Hand? How did it get that unique name? The hand is generally regarded as two Aces and two Eights – AA88 – a nice two pair. But there is much more to this hand.

There is a deep history behind it that traces the game’s roots to the Old West. Poker has a deep background and the story of Deadman’s Hand remains makes it a unique beyond the cards on the table.

Those two Aces and Eights derive from a game involving famed lawman “Wild Bill” Hickok. He was shot dead at a poker table more than a century ago holding that hand. Since then the hand has been branded “Dead Man’s Hand”. The lawman remains a legend of American Old West and gambling lore.

His demise remains a poker story told at tables around the world among players.

The Story Behind the Hand

Dead Man’s Hand dates back to the halls of the Old West

Born in Illinois in 1837, Hickok was a lawman, gamer, gunman, folklore hero, and actor. He spent much of his life shooting criminals and arresting outlaws. But he also spent much of his time subsidizing his income with poker winnings.

Later in life, Hickok moved to Deadwood, located in the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory. The region was not yet a state and the law enforcement officer suffered from glaucoma and other ailments. He planned to settle in the mining town to play poker and earn a living.


In August On February 2, 1876, Hickok was at a Five Card Stud game at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon. The arcades were what you would expect from the Old West. There was probably a lot of cigarette smoke in the air and a lot of whiskey drunk. As the cards swept across the table and the chips were thrown into the pot, a player named Jack McCall walked into the room.

What is Dead Man’s Hand in Poker? – Why Aces and Eights Got This Name 2021

McCall walked to the bar and stood behind Bill, where he couldn’t be seen. McCall raised the pistol and pointed it out of sight of the game. He shot right in the back of Bill’s neck.

The law enforcement officer died instantly at age 39. He supposedly had two black aces and two black 8s, an excellent hand in this old-fashioned form of poker. Whereas Hickok usually sat with his back to the wall to keep an eye on the others in the room. But he had only one seat available with his back to the room.

Whether Hickok took that hand has been debated for years, but the story remains as does the name of the hand. Wild Bill Hickock was killed holding the dead man’s hand.

No one is quite sure why McCall committed the crime, but theories abound. Those ranged from a perceived personal slight when Hickok told McCall days before that he would stop gambling until he could pay his gambling debts. The accusation also revolved around Hickok shooting and killing McCall’s brother.

The hand has become synonymous with poker and an iconic Old West story. A jury of miners acquitted McCall. But then the federal government tried him again and found him guilty of murder. He was hanged on March 1, 1877.


Why is Dead Man’s Hand so famous?

As traditional poker derived from the days of the Wild West, this fact highlights where the roots of poker lie. It tells the story of the small tables in the living rooms where the atmosphere gave off that classic western touch. Someone falling dead at the poker table is uncommon.

What makes this story even more remarkable is the strength of Hickok’s hand when he was shot. He probably would have won a healthy size pot if this situation had not occurred. Hickok’s likeable character also helped make this story so famous. Stories about him as a person (not just how he died) were passed down and popularized from generation to generation.

How to Play Dead Man’s Hand?

In a game of Texas Hold’em, Ace-Eight may only be a marginal hand. How to play it will vary depending on the player. A player in late position might make a call or even raise if there are no callers in front of him. Other players might send it to the muck, especially if players behind have large chips stacks.

If there is a raise in front, most players will probably fold A-8 depending on their reads of these players. Playing this hand after the flop can also be tricky. If the board completely misses, with a flop like K-10-2, a player will be left to bluff or check. Ultimately it might be wise to let it go with an opponent’s bet on this board.


But even if an Ace hits the table on the flop, a player is in a bit of limbo. It doesn’t take much to get outkicked because of that weak 8. A reraise will have a player stuck in limbo about whether to make a call.

Late in a tournament or at a short-handed table, A-8 may become more valuable. A short stack may decide it’s worth the risk to move all-in. Also, a player with a nice stack at a short-handed table may decide to press the action with a raise. They many hope with a hand like this to take the blinds and antes.

Landing both an Ace and Eight on the board, giving a player the Dead Man’s Hand, can often bring a nice pot.

Dead Man’s Hand and Wild Bill in Pop Culture

Wild Bill Hickok was much more than a gunman. He was a gambler and poker player. That experience, combined with his role as a law enforcement officer, has attracted many fans over the years. Early in his life, Hickok was a hunter, hunter, spy, soldier, military scout, and sniper.

General George Custer once said of Hickok:

“Whether on foot or on horseback, he was one of the most flawless types of physical manhood I have ever seen. His skill in using a rifle and a pistol was unerring. “


A man of men, Hickok was remembered as tall, handsome, admired by many women. Wild Bill as a character, whether real or fictional, has been an important part of American pop culture for decades, including Dead Man’s Hand.

What is Dead Man’s Hand in Poker? – Why Aces and Eights Got This Name

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pulp novels and magazines featured stories of real-life western heroes and outlaws like Hickok, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Jesse James. Wild Bill stood out as a former Marshall and Sheriff who could also dominate a poker table.

Avon Periodicals published Hickok comic books throughout the 1950s, with exploits of him throughout the West. As an example, number 12 shows the representative of the law fighting a gang of outlaws on the cover. The comic announces the battle by telling readers: “Don’t miss the fiery story of hot lead.”

Separating truth from fiction is not easy. Many other stories and tales followed Hickok’s death in 1876, including radio, television, and the big screen. Guy Madison played Bill on the television series “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok” for seven years in the 1950s. He also starred in a radio series from 1951 to 1954. Josh Brolin played the hero on the television series “The Young Riders “from 1989 to 1992.

Dead Man’s Hand Summary

Dead Man’s Hand is one of the most iconic hand in poker. It harks back to the game’s roots in the American West and a real legendary lawman. 

Hickok probably spent more of his time at the poker table than in the sheriff’s office. 


  • We know that Dead Man’s hand is Two Aces and Eights – two pair. The famed lawman and poker player, Wild Bill Hickok, was shot dead in a poker game while holding that hand.
  • The shooting occurred in 1876 in the town of Deadwood in what would become South Dakota. He was holding two Aces and two Eights when he was shot and killed.
  • Hickok was one of the most iconic American heroes of the Old West – a former soldier, scout, lawman. He even worked some as a showman and actor. He is a bit of an Old West JamesBond. A crack shot, it’s also believed he shot and killed several outlaws during his time. 

Hickok was inducted posthumously into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979, the year of its inception. He remains an icon of American history. Ace-Eight can be a tempting hand, but beware. Hopefully, your fate ends up much better than Wild Bill’s.

What is the fifth card in a dead man’s hand?

Although there is some doubt about the actual dead man’s hand’s fifth card, the consensus was-and remains-that Hickok died holding two pair of aces and eights.

Where did the dead man’s hand come from?

Where the Dead Man’s Hand Comes From. Legend has it that its nickname comes from the death of lawman and gambler James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok in 1876. He was killed by local drunkard, Jack “Crooked Nose” McCall, in Deadwood, South Dakota.


Why are Aces & Eights a dead man’s hand?

Currently, it is described as a two-pair poker hand consisting of the black aces and black eights. The pair of aces and eights, along with an unknown hole card, were reportedly held by Old West folk hero, lawman, and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered while playing a game.

Dead Man's Hand
Dead Man’s Hand

What does 4 Aces mean?

Four Aces may appear in your Tarot card reading. If you hate your job, then four Aces can mean that something major will happen which will replace your income, allowing you to leave your job. For business readings, the four Aces can mean that you will do very, very well with regards to bringing money into your company.


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