Dead Man's Hand

word type: noun

  1. Aces and eights.


Wild Bill Hickock was a legendary gambler, gunfighter and lawman in the 19th century. As the story goes, he was murdered on August 2, 1876 by Jack McCall in a poker game while holding two pair, Aces and eights, which became known as the "Dead Man's Hand." The event is depicted in an episode of the HBO show Deadwood as well as the Bob Dylan song, "Rambling, Gambling Willie."

Exact Hand

While there is no definitive account or proof of exactly what Hickok was holding, it is generally accepted that he held both black Aces and both black eights. The kicker is unknown, but is supposedly either the Jack or Queen of Diamonds. Oddly, no well known display or recreation of the hand uses either of those two cards as the kicker. Even the Saloon no. 10, which is where Hickok was shot, uses the nine of Diamonds.

Importance of Position

When Hickok played poker, he would normally position himself in the corner of a room so that nobody could attack him from behind. On the day he was killed, he was unable to find such a seat, so he sat with his back to a door. McCall entered through that door and shot Hickok in the back of the head.