When you’ve been playing poker for a while, you get used to the lingo. Every big player has a nickname. There’s about four different ways to describe every playing style. It’s like a secret language. But chills might start to creep down your spine when you hear the words Dead Man’s Hand.
If you’ve never heard of the Dead Man’s Hand, you might think it involves 666 somehow, the devil’s calling card. But it doesn’t, my friend. The cards, as well as the story behind them, might surprise you.
Now that Hallowe’en is just a few days away, let’s indulge in what could well be the creepiest story in poker. The story behind the Dead Man’s Hand.
What is the Dead Man’s Hand?
These days, the Dead Man’s Hand is defined as a hand containing an ace and an eight of spades, plus an ace and an eight of clubs.
Eagle-eyed readers might spot that we haven’t included a fifth card. That’s no accident. In the Dead Man’s Hand, the fifth card is undefined.
But that’s not always what this hand was. In various different written accounts starting in the 19th century, the Dead Man’s Hand has been described as a full house made up of three jacks and two 10s (1886), and then jacks and sevens (1903).
The first time it was linked to aces and eights was in 1926. That’s also when it became associated with the death of Wild Bill Hickok…
Tell me more about this Wild Bill character
The fourth of six children, James Butler Hickok was born on a farm in Illinois way back in 1837.
Always a trouble-maker, he ended up on the run at the tender age of 18 after being accused of murdering someone in a fight.
He lived a colourful existence after going on the run. His wide range of careers included a spy, a stagecoach driver, a lawman and even an actor. At some point along the way, he got the nickname Wild Bill Hickok.
Now let’s get back to this whole Dead Man’s Hand thing
By 1876, Wild Bill Hickok had garnered quite the reputation in the Wild West. By this stage he was well known as both a lawman and a gunfighter.
But it was all to come to a head on 1st August in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon, Deadwood, Dakota.
Here Wild Bill took a seat in a poker game, where a drunk player called Jack McCall took a seat beside him. All good poker players know that you shouldn’t play drunk, but obviously Jack didn’t get the memo. He, unsurprisingly, ended up losing a lot of money to Wild Bill.
At a certain point, Wild Bill took pity on Jack. He told him to take a break a sober up. He even gave him a few quid for breakfast. Jack took the money, but he was raging nonetheless.
Seething with anger, he dwelt on the poker game until the next night. He tracked down Wild Bill, who was playing poker again. Then he shot him point-blank in the head.
The last hand of poker Wild Bill ever got dealt was black aces, black eights and the fifth card is often disputed. Some say it’s a queen of clubs.
Jack McCall didn’t get away with this crime. He was convicted for the murder of Wild Bill and executed.
The notorious hand in popular culture…
This hand has quite the reputation. It pops up in lots of unexpected locations. Both the Las Vegas and Los Angeles police use it for the insignia of particular divisions on the squad.
In literature, it can be found in the Batman RIP comic, as well as cult classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. And if you’re in the mood for a few creepy tunes, Ace of Spades by Motorhead and Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie by Bob Dylan both reference the Dead Man’s Hand.
Brave enough to risk encountering the Dead Man’s Hand yourself?
If the answer is yes, but you’re looking for somewhere to go to play a bit of online poker, we’ve got the perfect solution. Head on over to Coral Poker and get into the action over there. Whether cash games or tournaments are your bag, you’re sure to find something to interest you there.