What Is The Dead Man’s Hand?

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What is a dead man’s hand?

The dead man hand is a combination of poker cards held by a player during gameplay. Although the actual cards and their significance differ greatly, it mostly refers to a combination of Aces and eights in this generation.

Putting aside the story behind the combination, which we will discuss shortly, from a poker perspective, it is not a great combination to hold during a poker game. The Aces and eights dead man’s hand is a hard combination to follow. Of course, there is a chance of a Full house if the dealer introduces either an Ace or an eight to the table. Nevertheless, the Dead man’s hand in Texas Holdem is a fool’s errand really. Thus it is considered a very unlucky hand even if we put aside the fabled tables.

In a five-card stud, however, the hand can easily yield a Full House or at the very least, three of a kind.

Wild Bill Hickok dead man’s hand - Origin

A dead man’s hand is a hand combination in poker that is varied through time. This hand combination came to be called a dead man’s hands after a very peculiar incident. The Dead man’s hand story dates back years to a very old tale of the murder of lawman and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok who held a certain hand combination when he was killed. To this day, there is no concrete source that can tell us the exact 5 card hand combination that Wild Bill Hickok held when he was killed. All that is known about that 5 card hand combination is that it contained a 2 pair. The Dead man’s hand meaning is hidden in the 5 card hand combination that he held when he was killed, which came to be known as the Dead man’s hand.

The dead man’s hand has been referred to multiple times in the 19th and the 20th century but was not linked back to Wild Bill Hickok until the early 1920s. The dead man’s hand has had many different combinations that have been changed throughout history. For example, in the year 1885, the dead man’s hand consisted of a full house consisting of three jacks and a pair of 10s; in the year 1903, it consisted of two pairs of jacks and 7s and in the year in the year 1907, it consisted of a 2 pair of jacks and 8s. As of today, the dead man’s hand consists of two pairs of black aces and black 8s.

This particular combination has become a reference in a game of poker as the Aces & eights dead man’s hand.

The Aces and eights poker hand is considered to be a very unlucky combination to hold in poker. The legend behind it justifies this statement. As mentioned above, Wild Bill Hickok was murdered while holding this hand combination and playing poker. That is partly the reason why the Dead man’s hand aces and eights are considered to be a very unlucky hand combination. In the year 1876, on August 2, Wild Bill Hickok was playing against a drunk who went by the name of Jack ‘Crooked Nose’ McCall. McCall lost almost every game against Hickok and eventually ran out of money to play. After noticing this, Hickok gave McCall money to buy himself food. This act of Hickok’s insulted McCall to his very soul. The next day McCall saw Hickok playing poker again and in a fit of rage ended up shooting him in the back of his head. This legend is what makes the dead man’s hand appear to be so unlucky.

The dead man’s deck playing cards

The dead man’s deck doesn’t hold much significance given that it is a hand combination in poker with a certain blend of aces and eights.

To be fair, when we talk about Dead man’s poker we actually refer to Wild Bill Hickok poker hand not a particular kind of deck used to play the game. As we have mentioned before, the legend is unclear about the exact Wild Bill Hickok cards that he was holding but the black 8’s and Aces pretty much sum it up. The Ace of spades and the Ace of clubs along with the 8 of spades and the 8 of clubs comprise the dead man’s hand in today’s poker games, given how unfortunate the amalgamation really is to make a high-ranking combination despite having two Aces.

How to play dead man’s poker hand?

We have discussed at length how this hand poses a challenge for most players at the poker table. However, it is noteworthy that Hickok dead man’s hand offers an Ace at the ready. This means, particularly in Texas Hold ‘Em, that a player was dealt an eight and an Ace at the beginning of the game. Therefore, you can play the cards in dead man’s hand already have a high-ranking card at their disposal. Now all you have to do is use that high card to draw in the best possible combination.

If a player is in Big Blind or small blind position, then the Wild Bill poker hand isn’t so wild after all. You should consider it as a high-card draw and continue to play. Put all the myths of the legend aside along with the superstitions and focus on the high-card Texas Hold ‘Em combination you can make with these two cards. Don’t consider it a dead hand in poker, see it as an opportunity.

So here’s how you play the Deads man hand or Dead man’s hand cards as we popularly call it:

  • When you are dealt the dead man hand in hole cards, simply consider the possibilities of making a high-ranking combination. You stand a chance towards a Full house, three of a kind, or even four of a kind at this point depending on what community cards are revealed thereafter.
  • If you are in the Small Blind position, you should definitely call. If you’re in any position other than a blind, you can call but don’t raise yet. First, you need to know where this is headed. Wait for the Flop before you make a concrete decision about your hand.
  • If another player makes a small bet, then you can participate. Remember, you’re holding a high card as it is and the game can change at any moment. If, however, a player goes all-in, maybe it’s time to get defensive and back out right now.
  • Once all the calls and raises for the first round are finished, the dealer will introduce the Flop. A flop is the dealing of three cards in the center of the table, facing up so all the players can see. These are part of the 5 community cards that all the players can use to make possible combinations.
  • When the community Flop cards are dealt, check to see if there is an Ace or an eight among them. If you see one Ace, you already got one pair with a high card, although your singular eight is a liability. Nevertheless, the fourth or fifth street could still reveal an 8 to help you out with at least a two-pair combination.
  • If there is more than one Ace in the Flop, then you are lucky you stuck around because you got a three of a kind with Ace. Even if you get two 8s in the Flop then you have Three of a Kind 8s with a high card Ace. It is still possible to win.
  • At this point of the game, you can call any bet raised by other players. If everyone is playing safe even when there are 2 Aces or 2 Eights showing, that means they do not have a possible combination. Given the probability, it is hard for any player now to get a Straight, Flush, or Royal Flush. Your chances are good so you can consider raising now but only if you possess three of a kind already. If you only got one pair or two pairs, sit tight for a while and wait for the Fourth and Fifth Street Cards.
  • Now begins the nail-biting gameplay when the fourth street card is revealed. If you see another Ace or an eight at this point, you either have Three of a Kind in a leading position or a full house. If you had two Aces or eights showing in the Flop apart from your hole cards, then you got a four of a kind.
  • Needless to say that if there are three of a kind on the table, and you’re holding the fourth, the other players don’t have a royal flush which is the only possible hand that can beat yours. Even if you have a Four of a Kind of 8s, you still win. So, go ahead and raise if you’d like.
  • In order to bluff other players into bluffing their hands to gain a bigger pot, you can wait to see if someone raises the bet. If they do, then re-raise. Your opponents may be stumped and fold, thus eliminating the need for the Fifth Street card or if they do call, then you’ll know that they’re bluffing. You can re-raise again if the chance arises.
  • When the Fifth street card or last community card is dealt and you have the balance of probability entirely on your side, feel free to go all-in. You are guaranteed to win the hand if you have a Four of a kind.
  • Keep in mind, the re-raise and All-in scenarios are only favorable if you have four of a kind at this point with your death hand in Poker. If you have a three of a kind or a full house, play a little safer because there is a chance that another player has four of a kind with the cards that you’re missing.

If at any point during the game, the balance of probability indicates that an opponent has a higher-ranking combination or an Ace or eight has not shown up since the Flop cards were released, fold immediately. Even if you think that a player went all-in on a bluff when you received your hole cards, don’t play the hand. It is considered risky up until you find at least three of a kind. As long as the players are all playing defensive strategies, participate until the Flop cards. You can decide after that if the hand is worth it.

How to catch someone who is bluffing when you have the Dead man’s hand in poker?

Remember what we discussed about allowing other players to bluff when you’re holding the Deadman’s hand poker?

Well, you can easily catch someone who’s bluffing and use it to your advantage.

You see, when the Flop cards are revealed, a player holding a pair of 6s, 7s, 9s, or 10s may bluff because they have two pairs now. However, if the community cards are showing one Ace and 2 eights then you have a full house with your hole cards already.

Even if you got one Ace and one 8 I the Flop cards, it is safe to assume that your opponent is bluffing based on a two pair with Ace as the high card. Still, you got two pairs with Ace which beats their hand.

If you recognize an opponent’s bluff at this point, feel free to call their raise or re-raise. Chances are, they will either call to add more money which you might end up winning given your high-ranking hand combinations, or they might fold, which is still beneficial in case they were holding a pair higher than 10s.

After the fourth and fifth streets support your mathematical deductions, you can safely assume that your opponent is bluffing and manipulating the outcome of the game to your advantage.

Can it be used to win a game of poker?

If we look at how the dead man’s hand is made, it can be used to win, if played properly. A dead man’s hand consists of a two-pair, which in a lot of cases, is a very good hand. Although it is not as good as a royal flush or a straight, it is still a very good hand to play with. Contrary to popular belief, holding this hand combination does not change the outcome of your game. Just because you hold a dead man’s hand does not mean that you are fated to lose the game. As a matter of fact, the LAPD, Los Angeles Police Department CRASH Squad along with the Armed Forces Medical Examiner bear the dead man’s hand as this insignia.

Pop-Culture references of the Dead Man’s hand

When it comes to talking about popular culture, there are many references that have been made to the dead man’s hand, mostly when talking about or trying to portray impending doom. Along Came A Spider, a book written by the author James Patterson, used the dead man’s hand as a reference. In this book, the protagonist’s father used the dead man’s hand hand combination to win a game of cards. The protagonist uses the dead man’s hand as their computer password as well. Also, in the book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest written by the author, Ken Kesey, the protagonist has the dead man’s hand tattooed on their shoulder. This is a very famous trend, tattooing the dead man’s hand combination on someone’s body. The famous film director, John Ford, uses this hand combination to foreshadow impending doom. A lot of TV series and novels movies, made especially on supernatural and paranormal themes, also use the hand combination to do the same.

A lot of songs also feature the dead man’s hands in their lyrics. These are-

  1. Dead Man’s Hand – Ha Ha Tonka.
  2. Ace Of Spades – Motörhead.
  3. Rambling, Gambling Willie – Bob Dylan.
  4. Aces & Eights – Uncle Kracker.
  5. Alligator Blood – Bring Me the Horizon.
  6. I Am The Storm – Blue Oyster Cult.
  7. Aces & Eights – Michael McDermott.
  8. Dead Man’s Hand – Moonshine Bandits.

These are just some of the examples that use the dead man’s hand in their scripts and lyrics to foreshadow death and show impending doom.

The use of a dead man’s hand is very important in popular culture. People have been using this famous and legendary hand combination to add effect to their work. The use of this hand combination is tattoos, movies, books and tv series is made just to add an ominous theme to the work.

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About The  
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Kanchan Sharma Author
Kanchan Sharma Author
Kanchan Sharma

Kanchan Sharma started her career as a learning designer at an MNC while pursuing poker as a hobby. However, she soon pivoted to becoming a professional MTT (Multi Table Tournaments) player. She is currently a leading player, who has taken the male dominated poker world by storm. During her stint as a poker player, she has bagged many titles including India Online Poker Championship (IOPC) for Rs. 17,98,906, Winter Celebration Series for Rs. 6,62,500 and has final tabled multiple tournaments. She continually seeks to improve her poker game and work on her mindset to win the WSOP title soon. Her journey from being a recreational player to a poker pro is inspiring for many people out there.

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