Aces and Eights

What is ‘Aces and Eights’

‘Aces and Eights’ is a poker term. It is used to describe a two-pair hand made up of black eights and black aces, along with an unknown face down card (hole card). It is commonly referred to as the ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ as this was the hand that was reportedly dealt to ‘Wild’ Bill Hickok when he was murdered.

‘Aces and Eights’ Explained

The story of ‘Aces and Eights’ concerns James Butler Hickok, a renowned gunslinger and lawman in the Old American West. His legend was built on stories ranging from him winning the first ‘quick draw duel’ to him killing a bear with nothing but his bare hands.

In August 1876, Bill Hickok arrived at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10. As a regular in the establishment ‘Wild’ Bill was used to sitting with his back to the wall. On this occasion, however, there was only one stool left and it meant Bill had to settle for having his back to the door. This arrangement didn’t sit too well with Hickok as he settled down to play five-card-draw and the story goes that he asked fellow player Charles Rich to switch seats with him twice.

Rich’s refusal to swap places with ‘Wild’ Bill would prove fatal as, during the game, John McCall entered the saloon. A former buffalo hunter, McCall quickly noticed his opportunity and drew his pistol on Hickok. Bellowing ‘take that!’ as he fired his gun, the bullet killed Wild Bill instantly.

Popular legend stated that Hickok had two black eights and two black aces in his hand at the time of his demise, but the fifth card remains a mystery. Some believe it was the nine of diamonds, others state it was the queen of hearts, while some believe that there was no fifth card at all: believing that Hickok was in the middle of drawing his fifth card when he was shot. Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure, the term ‘Aces and Eights’ or ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ has become a legendary hand in poker.