What is the Dead Man’s Hand? 6 Things You Need to Know About this Poker Phenomenon

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If you’ve been around poker for a while, you probably heard of a phenomenon known as the {{Dead Man’s Hand}}. It would be hard to miss this popular poker concept, whether you play in live poker matches or online games on sites like GGPoker, the world’s largest poker room. Many fear it, thinking it’s some sort of poker curse. But is it?

If you count yourself among the curious and want to know more about the Dead Man’s Hand, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for six interesting things about this infamous poker hand that might surprise you.

1) It stems from a real-life poker legend.

The Dead Man’s Hand is a poker hand consisting of two black aces and two black eights. It gets its name from the fact that it was the hand held by American folk hero James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok when he was assassinated while playing poker on August 2, 1876. The murder suspect was Hickok’s poker rival, Jack McCall, who claimed to have done it to avenge his brother’s death.

This grisly legend is the primary reason for the Dead Man’s Hand’s reputation as an unlucky poker combination. Its infamy has been further cemented by its appearances and references in popular culture.

American Western film director John Ford used it to foreshadow death in his films like Stagecoach (1939) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), both of which starred John Wayne. The hand has also been referenced in 21st-century crime and suspense shows like Midsomer Murders, Criminal Minds, and The X-Files.

2) There is some debate over what cards were actually in Wild Bill Hickok’s hand.

Most accounts agree that Hickok was holding two black aces and two black eights when he was killed, but there is some debate over the identity of the fifth card. Some say it was the queen of hearts, while others claim it was the 9 of diamonds.

The murder of Wild Bill Hickok did happen that fateful day in Deadwood, South Dakota—there is, in fact, a sign to mark the “historic site” where it happened. However, there is no evidence to prove the exact cards he was holding when he was shot.

3) It’s not actually cursed.

As mentioned, the Dead Man’s Hand’s infamy is primarily due to its association with the death of Wild Bill Hickok. But poker experts will tell you that it’s not actually cursed. However, it is a tricky hand to play.

The Dead Man’s Hand is believed to be a losing hand because of the weak combination of cards. The odds of winning with this poker hand are objectively low simply because of the breadth of strong hands that can beat it.

Some poker players will choose to play Dead Man’s Hand because of its notoriety, while others will avoid it altogether because they believe it to be unlucky due to its weakness.

4) There are ways to win with it.

The value of a Dead Man’s Hand will vary depending on the type of poker you’re playing. It would be a strong combination in a Five Card Draw, but a weak one in Texas Hold Em, where the flop, turn, and river can make or break your hand. If you find yourself with this hand in a Hold Em game, the best course of action is to generally play it safe and fold early if you don’t feel good about the round.

However, despite its reputation, the Dead Man’s Hand is not an entirely lost cause. It’s possible to win with this poker hand in Texas Hold Em, you just have to know how to play it right. For one, you can bluff your opponents into thinking you have a stronger hand than you actually do and make them fold.

Another way to win with this infamous poker hand is to play it aggressively and defensively. That is, don’t be afraid to bet and raise if you’re confident you have the best hand on the table. This will make your opponents reconsider challenging you.

5) You can use it to your advantage.

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If you find yourself with the Dead Man’s Hand in a poker game, don’t fret. You can turn the situation to your advantage with the same techniques you would use with any other poker card combination.

For one, you can use it to bluff your opponents. If you’re the last to act on a hand and are confident about your chances, betting high with the Dead Man’s Hand can make other players fold, allowing you to steal the pot.

Alternatively, you can play it defensively. If you’re reasonably sure none of your opponents have a stronger hand, you can call or raise their bets or even go all-in with the Dead Man’s Hand. This aggressive play can make your opponents think twice about betting against you.

Taking calculated risks is one key to turning this notorious poker hand into a possible win. That is, you should consider crucial factors such as your opponents’ tells, playing style, and betting patterns before deciding the best way to play it.

6) It’s not the worst hand you can have in poker.

Contrary to popular belief, the Dead Man’s Hand is not the worst poker hand you can be dealt. In fact, several poker hands are much weaker than the Dead Man’s Hand.

For example, a hand consisting of 2-7 offsuit is considered the worst possible starting hand in Texas Hold Em poker. This is because there are notably few ways to make a strong hand out of it. In comparison, the Dead Man’s Hand gives you a chance to make a full house.

There’s also the Brunson (10-2), which is considered to have no potential value. It’s worth noting that poker legend Doyle Brunson won the WSOP Main Event in two consecutive years with that very hand. The card combination was named after him in honor of that victory.

Dealing with the Dead Man’s Hand

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The legend of the Dead Man’s Hand is undoubtedly fascinating, but that’s all there is to it—a story. In reality, this infamous poker hand is just like any other, and it can be used to your advantage if you know how to play it right.

So the next time you’re dealt the Dead Man’s Hand, keep your poker face on. Remember that poker is a game of skill and strategy, and if Brunson’s WSOP victory can teach us anything, it’s that you can always turn a weak hand into a winning one with the right moves.