There are quite a few hands in poker that have become famous but perhaps none has more notoriety than the dead man’s hand. Play in any poker room in Houston and you’re certain to hear the story. In fact, if you play Texas Hold’em anywhere you’re probably going to hear about the events in Deadwood, South Dakota almost a hundred and fifty years ago. If you’d been there, you might have been surprised by the constant activity…
People move along the dusty streets with what looks like aimlessness, entering shops established as tents or stepping into some of the structures. There are horses everywhere and people avoid them with a practiced nonchalance that seems almost unbelievable. There’s one man who doesn’t seem aimless, though. He moves with purpose, his lank form and disheveled appearance draw your eye to him right away. You notice at the end of his long arm, a dirty hand extends from his threadbare coat and in his hand he holds a gun. You realize he’s headed for Nuttal and Mann’s saloon. That actually brings you a moment of relief because you know Bill Hickok plays cards in that saloon. If there’s anyone who can deal with a miscreant walking around with a gun, it’s Wild Bill.
You want to get a good look at the confrontation so you follow the man into the saloon.
Wild Bill isn’t sitting with his back against the wall like he normally does! Instead, he’s facing away and he has no idea what’s behind him. A shot rings out and the famed gunslinger and gambler is dead! Commotion follows and you make your way to where he sat. There on the table you see his cards by his lifeless hand…both black aces and both black eights. It was a fine hand but Wild Bill will never take another pot.
The truth is, nobody really knows for sure if aces up was really Wild Bill’s last hand. That was reported decades later in a pulp book about his life. What we know for sure is that when you get aces and eights, you might just want to glance behind your back before you bet it big. Sure, a poker club in Houston isn’t the wild saloon in a gold boom town that Nuttal and Mann’s was but who wants to risk it?