Nearly two centuries have passed since Wild Bill Hickok’s death, but his story is still told today. The Dead Man’s Hand is a story about a 19th-century lawman, folklore hero, gunslinger, and gambler —Wild Bill Hickok, who was killed with aces and eights on his hand.
Hickok’s death as to whether he was holding the cards in his hand has been debated by historians over time. However, as far as we know, it is true. In today’s casino news, let’s consider the tale behind those aces and eights.
The Dead Man’s Hand: Who Was Wild Bill Hickok
Born in the heroic city of Illinois in 1837 as James Buckler Hickok. He spent most of his youthful days gunning down wild criminals. Hickok had tremendous shooting skills, which earned him accolades nationwide. He was a significant gunfighter in the American West Civil War, and his precise kills on scenes remained unknown. Some records say a dozen, others hundreds, and a few would say a thousand. He was good. James appeared gentle for the rough Old West, earning him the nickname “Wild Bill.” Hickok began gambling in his youth, winning big at poker tables, especially five-card stud.
The Story of the Dead Man’s Hand
The Dead Man’s Hand story originates from Old West saloons. Hickok frequently played poker there. This story is known to many and told in multiple online casino reviews.
In 1876, at the age of 39, Hickok was suffering from diverse ailments, including glaucoma. He relocated to Deadwood in Dakota’s Black Hills. There, he chose to earn his keep playing poker. On August 2nd, Hickok played Five Card Stud at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon’s card room.
Typically, he’d sit against the wall, facing the poker room for vigilance. But on that fateful day, only one seat was left, backing the room’s entrance. In the crowded room, gambler Jack McCall discreetly shot Hickok from behind. The lawman died instantly with two black aces and two black eights on his hand, leading to the moniker the Dead Man’s Hand.
McCall was later arrested and tried for a couple of months, and by March 1st, 1877, he was sentenced to death by hanging. The revelation of why he committed the murder is often traced to a personal beef. Hickok told McCall to quit gambling until he had enough money to clear his debts when he lost all his money playing against him at a poker table. Some witnesses said that McCall was a gambling addict who dwindled in losses and had no luck winning a single game or variants like the one we know today as Double Bonus. Aside from this, other witnesses said his rage resulted from Hickok killing his brother at some crime scene.
What is the Dead Man’s Hand
This hand refers to a specific hand combination consisting of two pairs: Aces and Eights, typically the Ace of Spades, Ace of Clubs, Eight of Spades, Eight of Clubs, and an additional unknown card. While Dead Man’s Hand is strong in modern online Poker real money games, it’s important to consider several factors when deciding how to play it.
Ace-Eight is a marginal hand in Texas Hold ’em, and its play varies by player and situation. Late-position players may call or raise if no one else has, while others might fold, especially if opponents have big chip stacks. If there’s a raise upfront, most players will fold A – 8. It can be tricky post-flop, especially if the board doesn’t favor it. Even if an Ace appears, the weak 8 can lead to tough decisions.
In late tournament stages or at short-handed tables, an A – 8 gains value. Short stacks might go all-in, and players with larger stacks may raise to steal blinds and antes. If both an Ace and Eight appear on the board, combined with your A – 8 hand, you would have the Dead Man’s Hand, which often leads to a nice pot. To play such a superstitious hand, you must adapt your strategy based on the context of casino games, position played, and opponents.
The Dead Man’s Hand goes beyond just a tragic tale, and people like Garrett Adelstein poker player have won significant cash prizes using this hand. Having two aces and two eights encoded A-A-8-8 puts you in a very good position to cash in on some chips, although other hands are considered better in most poker variants, like the Pai Gow Poker. Read our Pai Gow Poker Guide to get more insight into this game and practice the demo version to get to know the game rules, too.
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