After sitting in on a few poker games one would be forgiven for thinking that every single poker hand has a nickname. Names such as ‘Ace Eight,’ ‘Big Slick,’ ‘Robert Varkonyi,’ ‘Doyle Brunson’ and ‘Oedipus’ have all been used to describe various famous poker hands. These names have become even more familiar to more people since the introduction of online poker.
Several of the most famous hands of poker have at least half a dozen different nicknames, which means that keeping track of them can be difficult. Here’s a list of some of the most famous poker hand nicknames and how they came about.
Dead Man’s Hand
Dead Man’s Hand, also known as ‘Ace Eight,’ is perhaps one of the most famous poker hands. The history of this hand dates back to the 19th century and the famous lawman James Butler Hickok, more popularly known as ‘Wild Bill.’
According to legend, Hickok was shot dead on August 2, 1876, during a Five-Card Stud game at Nuttal and Mann’s Saloon, Dakota. The assailant was a gambler named Jack McCall, who apparently had a bone to pick with the lawman and sorted out their issues by putting a bullet in Hickok’s head.
Neil Christy, who was at the scene, is said to have picked up Hickok’s cards from the floor, revealing two black aces and two black 8s — a fantastic hand in Five-Card Stud. Since the incident almost a century and a half ago, aces and 8s have been known as Dead Man’s Hand.
In the world of poker, the Doyle Brunson is just as famous as the Dead Man’s Hand. Brunson, nicknamed the ‘Godfather of Poker’ or ‘Texas Dolly,’ is among the greatest poker players. Overall, he has won 10 World Series of Poker bracelets, while his book on poker strategy, “Super/System,” became scripture for a new generation of poker players.
Brunson got a hand of poker nicknamed after him during the 1976 WSOP when he went head-to-head with Jessie Alto, a car dealer. In what was supposed to be a story of how an amateur car dealer beat one of the world’s top poker players, Brunson turned the tide with a pitiful 10-2 of spades.
Brunson won the event, taking home $220,000 in prize money. He went on to give a similar performance in 1977. This time, he faced off against Bones Berland with another 10-2 and took home $340,000, engraving his name in the history of poker forever.
Robert Varkonyi entered the WSOP tournament as a complete unknown and an amateur in the field. Prior to his famous game with Phil Helmuth in 2002, Varkonyi worked in finance, but this didn’t stop him from defeating Helmuth (also known as ‘The Poker Brat’) at the time.
Helmuth was beaten with a queen-10 hand, after which Varkonyi snagged one of the most talked about wins in the history of poker tournaments and $2,000,000 in cash prize. The famed match also led to Helmuth shaving his head to fulfill his promise if Varkonyi won.
Although that was his first and only appearance in the history of the tournament, Robert Varkonyi’s name continues to be one used to refer to the queen-10 combo.
Dolly Parton seems to have made it in the music, film and, apparently, gaming industry. The Texas Hold ’em hand 95 was given the nickname in reference to the artist’s 9 to 5 1980s movie. In addition to her acting role alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Parton also supplied the famous theme song “9 to 5,” which has since been associated with the hole cards of 9 and 5 in poker.
Like other famous hands, the Dolly Parton has a second poker name known to players. Due to its link with working 9 to 5 and giving your best at work, the hand is sometimes called the ‘Working Man’s Hand.’
This one is also known as Big Slick because it’s a slippery hand that can easily cost you your fortune. Exxon Valdez refers to holding an ace and a king as your two hole cards; it specifically applies when the cards are either clubs or spades.
The nickname originated on March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker at the time, spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil off the Santa Barbara coast. The incident involved a tanker with 21 crew members.
The Big Slick derived its nickname from the incident because the oil spilled was black and thick. In addition to Big Slick, this hand is also sometimes referred to as ‘Space Cowboy,’ ‘Machine Gun,’ ‘Santa Barbara,’ ‘Ass Kicker’ and ‘Walking Back To Houston.’
As is the case with many poker hand names, Maverick got its nickname from a television show. The 1950s television series “Maverick” featured James Garner as Bret Maverick, a poker player who was no stranger to trouble in the old American West.
The show’s association with poker hands came about as a result of its theme song, which Paul Francis Webster and David Buttolph penned. One of the lyrics in particular led to Maverick being associated with hole cards of queens and jacks of any makeup, ‘Natchez to New Orleans, livin’ on Jacks and Queens, Maverick is a legend of the West.’
This hand is sometimes also called ‘Oedipus,’ in reference to the Greek tragedy in which Oedipus murders his father in order to marry his mother. In this instance, the jack is doing the same by replacing the king at the queen’s side.
Enjoy Playing Your Favorite Poker Nicknames at BetMGM
There are likely twice as many nicknames as there are hands of poker, since some of these names are based on people or significant events. Besides the ones mentioned, several other poker hand names are used at poker tables worldwide.
For one, a 3 and ace is called ‘Baskin Robbins’ (the ice cream company) because it had 31 flavors. A pair of 2s is referred to as ‘Desmond’ (in relation to Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of South Africa,) while the 8 and 4 hand got the nickname ‘Big Brother’ from the 1984 novel by George Orwell.
The Dead Man’s Hand certainly has one of the most eerie backstories of the lot. But because it dates as far back as 1876, there are many different accounts of how the Dead Man’s Hand got its name. Whichever account is closer to the truth doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that it remains one of the most controversial hands in poker to date.
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