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What’s a “Dead Man’s Hand”?

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Artie in New Bern, North Carolina, wonders why a poker hand consisting of a pair of aces and a pair of eights is called a dead man’s hand. Legend has it that when Wild Bill Hickock was killed during a poker game in 1876 in the Dakota Territory, he was holding two aces and two eights, thus the term dead man’s hand. However, there are problems with this story. First, there are no contemporaneous accounts of it — the term doesn’t show up for another 50 years — and second, the name dead man’s hand has applied to a number of different card combinations, including two pairs, three jacks and a pair of tens, or red eights. This is part of a complete episode.

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