Definition of Dead Man Hand

The dead manís hand, also called ďaces and eights,Ē is a poker hand consisting of a pair of aces and a pair of eights.

Often, poker players will refer to any hand with aces and eights as a dead manís hand, but the term originates with five-card stud. A true dead manís hand consists of five cards, but the fifth and final card is inconsequential.

The origin of this term and its usage lies in legend: Aces and eights is the hand held by Will Bill Kickok while playing five-card stud when he was gunned down at Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, South Dakota on August 2, 1876.

Dead Man Hand - MeaningAs the popular story goes, Wild Billís aces and eights were all black suits: the aces of spades, the ace of clubs, the eight of spades and the eight of clubs. A dead manís hand, however, can be of any suite, including multiple suits.

According to some versions of the legend, Wild Billís kicker was a queen of clubs, although thereís much debate over this aspect. Some contend that there was no fifth card because Wild Bill was gunned down before it was ever dealt.

Due to its negative associations, novice players and those that donít play might expect the dead manís hand to be a playing hand of low value. That isnít the case, however, and the hand is actually quite good and often a winner.

Nevertheless, American popular culture often uses the dead manís hand to symbolize bad luck, dark omens, death and so forth. The HBO series Deadwood, which featured Hickok, integrated the hand into its mythology.


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