The alleged Trope Namer
on display at the No. 10 Saloon, in Deadwood, South Dakota.
A Dead Man's Hand, also known as "aces and eights", is a poker hand containing two black aces and two black eights. It was supposedly the hand drawn by Wild Bill Hickok before his death, although this is unsubstantiated. (No-one knows what his fifth card was; there are various conflicting claims as to what it was, and some believe he discarded it to draw another, but was shot before he could make the new draw.) This hand is now considered unlucky, despite being better than over 95% of five-card hands. It is the lowest/weakest hand in poker to have a name.
In modern fiction, this particular hand is often used as a type of Portent of Doom
, often signifying that the character who drew it is soon to die.
Particularly likely to be found in The Western
. For cards that are literally deadly, see Death Dealer
Subtrope of Portent of Doom
If you're looking for the book in the Wild Cards
series, it's here
. Not to be confused with the Old West tabletop RPG, Aces & Eights.
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- In the prologue of Batman RIP, Batman speaks to The Joker in Arkham Asylum. The Joker taunts Batman with his upcoming destruction while dealing out a dead man's hand. This doubles as a Stealth Pun; the eighth letter of the alphabet is H; the manner the Joker dealt the cards spelled out "HAHA".
- In the appropriately-named Spider-Man one-shot comic-book Spider-Man: Dead Man's hand, a coroner turns himself into the third - and most powerful - version of Carrion, and unleashes a disease on New York using a virus that turns people into zombie-like creatures under his control. The only clue is his gloating of "aces and eights" right after turning himself into Carrion. (After Spidey consults the High Evolutionary, who was a mentor to Miles Warren, who created the original Carrion, it turns out that the virus alters the first and eighth gene of the human genome, which is important in finding the cure for it.)
- In one Justice Society of America comic, the villain Sportsmaster deals a dead man's hand, which he proceeds to throw at the heroes (the cards being razor-edged).
Film - Live-Action
- In Stagecoach, Luke holds this hand. He is shortly therafter gunned down by the Ringo Kid.
- In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the titular character Liberty draws this hand right before being shot.
- In Along Came A Spider, aces and eights is referenced as the winning hand that gave ownership of a Turkish hand-made shotgun to the father of Agent Flannigan and later in the feature was the clue that revealed her involvement with the kidnapping plot.
- The opening scene of Dick Tracy shows several gangsters are playing poker in a warehouse, and one of them mentions "aces and eights" several times — right before Big Boy's goons bust in and gun them all down.
- Dead Man's Hand is the name of the seventh book of the Wild Cards series by George R. R. Martin. Aces are the murderer's literal calling card.
- Alluded to in the title of Final Destination: Dead Man's Hand.
- The fifth book of the Kitty Norville series is named this. Considering the title character is nearly killed by Ax-Crazy bounty hunters, then sacrificed to a dark chaotic Babylonian Cult, the Portent of Doom aspect is apt. It also references the Big Bad of the overall series who first appears in that book, a vampire (a "dead man") whose hand is behind everything.
- In the novelization of the movie Dick Tracy, the opening scene with the gangsters playing poker is expanded. One of them draws this hand, and folds immediately after showing a bout of fear. The rest call him a fool, saying he could have won with that hand. (One of them saying, "This ain't Deadwood and you ain't Wild Bill Hickok.") Unfortunately, a few minutes later, Flattop and the other mobsters storm in with guns blazing, as they did in the movie.
- The J.T. Edson short story "Deadwood August 2nd 1876" in J.T.'s Hundredth is a fictionalised account of the killing of Wild Bill Hickcok. In it, he has just discarded his fith card and is reaching for another when he is shot.
- The X-Files episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose", has the titlular character playing poker with Agent Scully and holding a full house of aces and eights with the ace of hearts as the fifth card. As one might suspect from the episode name, he dies.
- Surprisingly averted in Deadwood, which featured Wild Bill as a character and dramatizes his murder at the hands of Jack McCall, but does not show what cards he was holding, possibly because there is little solid evidence that Hickok really was holding such a hand.
Mythology and Folklore
- The Tarot deck is the parent of the deck of cards used for gambling. The numbered suit cards have a one-for-one correspondence with each other and the gambler's cards may be substituted for those of the Tarot. The tarot equivalent of the Dead Man's Hand would be the Eight of Wands (swiftness) the eight of Swords (serious misfortune) the Ace of Swords (can connotate sudden unexpected violent force) and the Ace of Wands(a swift new direction your life is going to take). Or: you are about to receive a very sudden and unexpected violent blow with something either heavy and sharp, or heavy and blunt. Take your pick.
- The Motorhead song Ace Of Spades refers to this hand:
"Pushin' up the ante, I know you got to see me
Read 'em and weep, the dead man's hand again"
- "Rambling, Gambling Willie" by Bob Dylan contains a direct reference to this hand, as well.
- The Uncle Kracker song "Aces and Eights" is named for the Dead Man's hand.
- The Bring Me The Horizon song "Alligator Blood" contains a reference to it.
- The song "Aces & Eights" from the Lita Ford album Stiletto has the lyrics:
"The dead man's hand holds aces and eights"
- Reckless Kelly's song "Nobody Haunts Me Like You" also makes reference:
"...like a shot in the back holding aces and eights..."
- Brutal DLX also references this in their lyrics:
" I dreamed I was the dealer of a dead man's hand..."
- In the song "Fire Lake" by Bob Seger:
"who's gonna play those eights and aces?"
- Michael McDermott has written a song titled "Aces and Eights". The song says that life can make you feel like:
"Looking over my shoulder, holding aces and eights."
- In the song "Little Wille the Gambler" by Townes Van Zandt:
"Willie's cards fell on the floor they were aces backed with eights"
- "Dead Man's Hand" is the name of the latest album released by metal band Dezperadoz. Of course it's a Western Metal act, so that's a great name to go with the theme
- The biker gang that has been invading TNA as of summer/fall 2012 uses the dead man's hand as their calling card and actually goes by the name of Aces & Eights.
- The Acolyte Protection Agency (APA), who were usually shown playing cards backstage, would occasionally have the aces & eights on their tights.
- In the wild west supplement to the Munchkin card game, Dead Man's Hand is a curse card that forces you to discard your whole hand.
- Traveller. Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society magazine #14 adventure "Aces & Eights". A set of playing cards (two aces, two eights and the joker), will, when put in an X-ray machine, create a map to the location of a 20 million credit treasure. The money was the payroll of the 1188th "Aces and Eights" Lift Infantry Brigade. The man with the cards is killed by the bad guys and the cards stolen, and the PCs must retrieve them.
- In Deadlands, if you cast Soul Blast and draw a Dead Man's Hand, it becomes an automatic One-Hit Kill. Unlike the one mentioned in the trope description, it requires the Jack of Diamonds.
- The Deadlands Collectible Card Game Doomtown uses poker hands to decide who wins shootouts. The Dead Man's Hand outranks all other hands (unless countered with That's Two Pair!).
- KenzerCo.'s Western roleplaying game Aces & Eights takes its name from the dead man's hand.
- Hoyles Rules Of Dragon Poker takes the hand's bad luck to it's (il)logical conclusion and kicks any player who uses it out of the game.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas expansion "Dead Money", the player can get an achievement for getting the dead man's hand from the deadly, abandoned casino Sierra Madre.
- In The Curse of Monkey Island, if the player has Guybrush keep losing against King André and then looking at the losing hands, one of the random comments Guybrush will make is "Aces and eights... that can't be good." This being a LucasArts game, Guybrush of course doesn't die... though he does fake his death at one point.
- Happens twice in the Wing Commander series. In Wing Commander II, Spirit gets dealt the hand and later kamikazes a Kilrathi-controlled space station. In Wing Commander IV, Vagabond gets the killer hand, and dies later in a mission that goes badly wrong. Bonus points for it being one of the few times the card shark had lost... and to Maniac, no less.
- In one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the team was investigating a haunting in Tombstone, Arizona, which turned out to be none other than the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday. In one scene, Peter played cards with the four of them, and all four of the ghosts had this hand. After Peter ended up with four aces, Wyatt decided that someone obviously had to be cheating. (Given that it added up to twelve aces.) Naturally, that's when Peter decided to make a run for it.
- The evidence for Hickok holding such a hand is scant. The first documentary evidence comes in a letter written by a witness fifty years after the fact, and said letter doesn't specify the suits of the aces-and-eights pairs. Additionally, the phrase "dead man's hand" was attached to several different card combinations in the years after Hickok's murder. See Straight Dope column here.
- Historical displays in Deadwood, SD, depict the fifth card as the nine of diamonds.