book Ghosts at the Table, Des Wilson tells a famous poker story which has
always troubled me. It's one of the legendary tales of the Wild West, but
nobody who ever wrote it up (including Wilson) has pointed out the problem. So
I'm going to run the story by you as a little poker quiz; see if you can spot
Wild Bill Hickok, the notorious gunman and gambler, was
playing five card draw with a man named McDonald. Needless to say, this was
taking place in a Dakota saloon; no doubt there were swinging wooden doors and
a brothel upstairs.
The game had been raging for hours, and our hero
couldn't win a pot. Wild Bill Hickok started to suspect that his opponent must
be cheating. Eventually, Hickok moved his last dollars into the pot. McDonald
called immediately, saying, "I've got three jacks."
Hickok replied, "I have a full house. Aces
full of sixes."
He turned over his cards, and McDonald said, "But
there's only one six."
Narrowing his eyes, Hickok whipped out a pistol.
"Here's the other six," he said.
McDonald went white and
muttered, "Take the pot. The hand is good."
Great story, huh? A famous
gunslinger, a surprise pistol, a dodgy poker game, a saloon, a fiendish
revenge; it's got everything. So what's the problem?
The problem is, of
course, that there's no need for the gun. And there's no need for a "second
six". Because surely, even in 1869, three aces beat three jacks?