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Dead Man’s Hand
The Doyle Brunson
The Johnny Chan Trap
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Top 7 Famous Poker Hands in History

Explore the legendary moments and strategic brilliance behind the most iconic poker hands ever played, from televised tournaments to high-stakes underground games

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Poker is a game full of excitement, skill, and memorable moments. Throughout the decades, there have been many hands that have gone down in poker history as some of the most famous and remarkable ever played. From high-stakes tournament showdowns to insane bad beats, these hands have created legendary stories that poker players still talk about today.

In this article, we’ll go through 7 of the most iconic and talked-about poker hands to ever happen. We’ll start with the Dead Man’s Hand, the most mythical poker hand of all time. Then we’ll travel through decades of poker history, revisiting epic tournament showdowns, monumental bluffs, catastrophic coolers, and more. 

By the end, you’ll have a new appreciation for these 7 poker hands that left an incredible impact on the game. So get ready to relive some of the biggest poker moments and the excitement of most unforgettable moments! 

Dead Man’s Hand

The Dead Man’s Hand originates from the untimely death of one of the earliest poker legends – Wild Bill Hickok. In 1876, Hickok was playing five-card draw poker at a saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, when he was shot dead from behind by Jack McCall. According to eyewitnesses, Hickok was holding a poker hand of the ace of spades, ace of clubs, eight of spades, and eight of clubs when killed.

While the identity of the fifth card is unknown, the black aces and black eights have claimed in bad luck as the Dead Man’s Hand. The story spread like wildfire as Hickok’s infamous “dead man’s hand” became cemented in poker lore. To this day, no poker player can hear the term without instantly thinking of Hickok’s death hand of black aces and black eights.

The Dead Man’s Hand is undoubtedly the most legendary poker hand in history. No other poker hand combination evokes such mystique and intrigue. More than a century after his death, poker players everywhere still remember Wild Bill Hickok through this iconic hand that now bears his namesake – the Dead Man’s Hand.

The Doyle Brunson

10 and 2 for poker players is an immediate fold-hand in any tournament. But for poker legend Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, this worthless starting hand led him to back-to-back World Series of Poker Main Event championships in 1976 and 1977. Brunson demonstrated that even bad cards can make poker history when wielded by a master.

The Doyle Brunson is a poker hand consisting of a 10 and 2, just like the cards that Doyle used to win the 1976 and 1977 WSOP Main Events. Brunson’s back-to-back championships with starting cards cemented his reputation as a poker legend.

In the 1976 final hand, Brunson pushed all-in with 10-2 offsuit against his opponent Jesse Alto’s A-7. Look at Brunson’s chances to win before the flop!

An unlikely 10 landed on the river, giving Brunson a winning full house and his first WSOP bracelet. The next year, Brunson found himself heads-up against Jesse “The Body” Ventura, holding the 10-2 once again. Lightning struck twice as Brunson made another full house to crush Ventura’s A-9 and win consecutive WSOP titles.

The improbable Doyle Brunson 10-2 hand will be remembered by poker fans and pros for generations. Anytime a player tries winning with rags like a 10-2, it’s known as “pulling a Brunson.”

The Johnny Chan Trap

At the 1988 WSOP Main Event final table, poker legend Johnny Chan set a brilliant trap that would cement his reputation as a master strategist.

The action folded around to Chan in the small blind. He calmly limped in with J-9, exuding an air of harmless passivity. Young hotshot Erik Seidel sat in the big blind and looked down at his cards – Q-7 offsuit. Sensing weakness, Seidel raised it up, trying to steal the pot away from the two-time champion. But Chan was merely lying in wait. He called to see a flop of 10-5-2 rainbow, every inch the harmless fish.

Chan checked his hidden monster hand. Seidel bet out confidently. In an instant, Chan struck – check-raising all-in for nearly $1 million! Seidel was stunned. He went deep into the tank, pondering if Chan could really have a hand. After an eternity, Seidel reluctantly called, only to discover Chan flip over the crushing pocket nines. The board bricked out and Seidel was eliminated, falling victim to Chan’s masterful check-raise ambush.

In an instant, the “Johnny Chan trap” entered poker lexicon, describing Chan’s artful baiting of Seidel into betting big when he actually held an unbeatable monster. One of his famous quotes, which only proves that he is top-level poker player sounds:

Not too many players try to bluff me. If there's any bluffing or stealing, I'm going to be the one doing it.
Johnny Chan

It demonstrated Chan’s flair for theatrics and timing as he delivered a knockout punch right when it mattered most. This legendary hand propelled Chan to back-to-back WSOP Main Event titles in 1987 and 1988, cementing his status as a poker legend.

Moneymaker’s KO

The 2003 WSOP Main Event had come down to green pro Chris Moneymaker and seasoned veteran Sam “The Magician” Farha. 

The board read J-10-5-3 with two spades. Farha bet out 300k holding his pocket nines for a sneaky set. Moneymaker, with nothing but king high, shocked the poker world when he instantly moved all-in for his last 1.2 million chips. Farha fell deep into the tank. Minutes ticked by as he thought over the decision. How could Moneymaker show here with just one pair or a busted draw? Finally, Farha relinquished his set, folding with a disgusted look. The poker world erupted as Moneymaker’s outrageous bluff won it all!

Chris Moneymaker 2006

 

This was the key hand that cemented Moneymaker’s legacy and caused poker’s massive boom. Farha and other pros were left astonished that a mere amateur could pull off such a move. Moneymaker’s bravery inspired new players everywhere by showing that anyone could compete with the pros. His shocking bluff lives on as a symbol of the “Moneymaker effect” that brought hordes of new players flocking to live and online poker.

Phil Hellmuth – Pocket Nines

Phil Hellmuth, known for his exceptional poker skills and equally notorious for his temperamental outbursts at the table, has had several memorable moments throughout his poker career. The 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event was indeed a notable stage for one of his classic blowups, which are part of what has made him such a polarizing figure in the poker world.

In the 2003 WSOP Main Event, Hellmuth was eliminated in a hand against a relatively unknown player at the time, Robert Varkonyi, who would go on to win the event. The specific hand that led to Hellmuth’s elimination involved him with a big pair pre-flop against Varkonyi’s off-suit Q-10. Varkonyi managed to hit a straight on the river, beating Hellmuth’s pair and knocking him out of the tournament.

Hellmuth did not take his elimination well, leading to one of his famous tirades. He criticized Varkonyi's play, calling it terrible and even going so far as to say that if Varkonyi won the tournament, he'd shave his head.
 

Varkonyi’s eventual victory in the 2003 WSOP Main Event did not lead to Hellmuth shaving his head, but the incident is often recalled as a highlight of Hellmuth’s many public displays of frustration.

Aces Take Down Aces

Pocket aces colliding happens every day in poker, but the aces showdown between Chris Moneymaker and Perry Green at the 2004 WSOP Main Event was exceptionally cruel.

Perry looked down at the bullets and saw his chance at poker immortality. The flop came 9-5-2 rainbow. Moneymaker checked, Perry bet his overpair, and Moneymaker check-raised all-in! Stunned, Perry made the call, only to see Moneymaker flip over A-9. A 9 on the turn gave Moneymaker the winning trip nines, crushing Perry’s overpair. Look at these insane percents for Chris Moneymaker to win that pot:
 

 

Perry was devastated. He had nearly 90% for a win at that hand. The poker gods laughed as Perry’s dream crumbled in an instant.

This battle of hands exemplified how even aces can instantly become worthless in the cruel game of poker. Perry’s miracle comeback was shattered by fate in the form of Moneymaker’s trips. To this day, the hand reminds every poker player that in poker, you can do everything right and still lose it all on a single turn of the card.

Cooler City Quads

Tony G

The 2012 Aussie Millions $100K Challenge delivered one of the sickest coolers in televised poker history.

Ralph Perry looked down at his K-Q and saw a dream flop of K-Q-10. He flopped the nuts! Little did he know, Tony G had pocket kings and just flopped quads. Tony slyly checked, and Perry bet his two pair strong. Then, Tony sprung the trap, check-raising all-in! Smelling only a flush draw, Perry snapped it off…only to see Tony flip over the stone cold quads!

Tony G leapt up in celebration, playing up the drama for the cameras. Perry could only laugh in disbelief as he watched his two pair crushed by the 1-in-a-million quads. He had flopped incredibly strong, only to run smack into the ultimate cooler.

The insane runout and Tony’s theatrical antics made this hand an instant TV classic. Perry took the bad beat in stride, knowing he was doomed by fate the moment quads hit the flop. It was a lighthearted reminder that in poker, sometimes all you can do is throw your hands up and exclaim, “Cooler city!”

Try Play Live Dealer Poker

These famous hands showcase the endless exciting possibilities in poker. From dramatic bluffs to colossal coolers, you never know what can happen at the poker table. While your odds of being dealt a Dead Man’s Hand or quads are slim, you can experience the thrill of playing memorable hands yourself at live dealer poker sites.

Live dealer online poker brings the energy of a real poker room straight to your screen. You can enjoy your favorite poker variants like Texas Hold’em with a real human dealer and other players. With live video streaming, you can chat, interact, and be part of unscripted poker hands as they play out in real-time.

Experience poker hands worthy of the history books by playing live dealer poker online today! Stay tuned!