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dead man's hand

Is This The Most Gruesome Tale In Poker?

Settle in for a poker story of the spookiest proportions. If you’re in the mood for a scare, saddle up. We’re going to the Wild West to find out the true origins of the dead man’s hand. It’s a gory story full of murder and revenge, so be warned.

Wild Bill Hickok’s untimely demise

The year is 1876. We’re in Deadwood, Dakota in a bar called Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon. It’s a hot August night and there’s a poker game taking place. Wild Bill Hickok, legend of the Wild West, is at the table. He’s on a roll.

But a late-comer, Jack McCall, is not. McCall is drunk and is losing hand after hand. Eventually he loses so much that he can’t even afford to pay off his debts. Hickok tells the unfortunate to quit. He tells him to go sober up and get some breakfast into him, handing him some money to buy it.

McCall reluctantly leaves, but he’s furious. He feels like Hickok was insulting his honour.

The next day, Hickok goes back to the same saloon to play more poker. Because of his colourful past, he always likes to sit with his back facing the wall so he can see who’s coming in the door.

But there aren’t any of those seats available. He tries in vain to get one of his fellow players to switch with him, but they refuse. And that turns out to be incredibly bad luck.

McCall walks in and shoots Hickok point blank in the head. Hickok dies instantly at age 39 with five cards in his hand. Now these cards have come to be known as the Dead Man’s Hand.

What cards were in Wild Bill Hickok’s hand when he died?

When Wild Bill Hickok died at the table that day, people took note of his hand. He had two black aces and two black eights, followed by an unknown fifth card. On account of that story, this is the hand lives on as the Dead Man’s Hand.

Was this the first Dead Man’s Hand in poker?

Well actually no. The Dead Man’s Hand was a term used to describe multiple different types of hands over the years. In 1886, it was said to be a full house made up of three jacks and two 10s. Then in 1903, it was described as jacks and sevens. Just four years later, it became jacks and eights.

Finally, in 1926, the hand of black aces and eights became linked to Wild Bill’s murder and was dubbed the Dead Man’s Hand. This is the one that stuck.

The Dead Man’s Hand lives on

Almost 150 years after Wild Bill’s death, the Dead Man’s Hand lives on not only in poker parlance, but also in popular culture.

It appears in the Doomtown card game, the Batman RIP comic, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, songs by Motorhead and Bob Dylan and in police insignia of squads in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

So suffice to say, this is one story that has stood the test of time and lived on in infamy.

Looking for your own online poker saloon?

If you’re in the market for a bit of poker yourself, you don’t have to head to the Wild West. Instead, play from the comfort of your own home. Fancy trying bet365? It’s a very good online poker room with lots to offer new players, including this bet365 bonus code.


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