“Poker is war. People pretend it is a game.” – Doyle Brunson
Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson was born and bred in Longworth, Texas in 1933. Doyle Brunson doesn’t just have one of the most recognizable faces in poker; he also has the most colorful nicknames. You’ll hear him referred to as Texas Dolly, Big Papa, and The Godfather of Poker. Brunson has played through poker’s evolution as an outlaw’s game in the 50’s to a game played by all ages worldwide today. The snippets of his past that have been revealed make his life story a compelling one.
When a natural poker player like Doyle comes along, you can almost picture him as the type who was playing cards in his diapers. However, this wasn’t quite the case. Doyle had other interests from a young age. He was a gifted athlete, with basketball and track being his standout activities. He ran a 4.43 mile earning him the Texas State Championship while in high school. Subsequently, hundreds of scholarship offers came his way.
He decided to attend Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, just 45 minutes from his tiny hometown of fewer than 100 people. It was the place where most of his friends were going. On arrival, the Minneapolis Lakers showed interest in his basketball ability. He made the All-Star State team, but his professional athlete ambitions suddenly came to an end when he injured his leg. The injury affected him throughout his life, and he can often be seen with a crutch at the poker table.
Many people would have let this get them down and would have gone on to a standard career. Doyle, however, switched his focus to academics, and in 1955 earned his Masters in Administrative Education. Brunson had started playing five-card draw before his injury but afterward started playing more frequently to pay for his education expenses. He lasted two weeks at a sales job upon graduation before realizing one pot was worth more than a week’s wages. Thus, he made the decision to become a professional poker player.
The poker world was a different world back in the 1950s. Criminals were organizing many illegal games across the USA. Doyle had his fair share of frights. He was regularly robbed, threatened at gunpoint, and suffered a few beatings. All of this happened while he was trying to avoid the cops who were intent on shutting down the games.
He got his start playing a back room game and raking in a month’s salary in 3 hours. He got an invitation from his friend Bill Douglas in the ’60s to play with one of Bill’s friends in West Virginia. Bill’s friend was a moonshiner, and as Doyle described him, “looked like a guy out of Deliverance.” Brunson agreed, and they got down to cards. As you can imagine, Brunson took the shiner for a spin, all while raking in about $40,000 over the course of the game. That was a lot of money in the ’60s.
The shiner, upon losing his money, nearly lost his cool as he pulled out a pistol and lay in on the table. He told Brunson that he’d better not win any more of his money, or else things would get ugly. Brunson didn’t know what to do, which is where his pal Bill stepped in. He told the shiner, “If he keeps playing, he’s gonna beat you, and he’ll give the money to me and it’ll be between you and me then.” Brunson continued to win, broke the shiner for what he was worth, handed the money to Bill, and both the shiner and Bill drew their guns and pointed them at each other.
The air was thick with suspense, as Brunson was caught in the middle of a stand-off. Bill said, calmly, “either you pull the trigger, and we both die; or you put your gun down, and we both live.” The shiner, after considering his options, lowered his weapon. Bill then came up and smacked him in the mouth with his gun. Needless to say, Brunson hasn’t returned to West Virginia since the experience.
He eventually met two other poker players, Sailor Roberts and Amarillo Slim, and formed a partnership. They looked out for one another wherever they could. Together, they all became poker legends.
Doyle Brunson is quite the cowboy. With his cowboy hat often perched on his head, his presence at the table can easily be felt. There is a good chance he’ll beat you with whatever he has in his hand, but he has a real love of the hand 10 and 2. Suited or not, this had has worked wonders for Brunson over the years. In fact, he captured two WSOP bracelets with 10-2 as his last hand. Even more miraculous is the fact that the victories were back to back.
In 1976, Brunson was dealt 10-2 suited spades and saw AhJs10h2c on the table. Unfortunately, his opponent, Jesse Alto, was holding AsJh. As the river card was laid, the 10 Brunson needed was revealed. The following year, Brunson was dealt 10-2 yet again. This time, he had 10d8s5h2c on the table, giving him the high pair. His opponent held 8s5h, but luck was on Brunson’s side yet again as another 10 came down 5th street. This secured Brunson’s second WSOP bracelet in as many years. The 10-2 has since been dubbed “The Brunson”.
His bracelet victories are the $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw (‘76), $10,000 No Limit World Championship (‘76), $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split (‘77), $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship (‘77), $5,000 Seven-Card Stud (‘78), $600 Mixed Doubles (‘79), $2,500 No Limit Hold’em (‘91), $1,500 Seven-Card Razz (‘98), $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. (‘03) and the $5,000 NLHE 6-Max (‘05). In total, he has had 36 cashes at the World Series for $2,994,116.
Doyle’s Hendon Mob profile has a total of 93 cashes tracked dating back to 1972, only three of which were outside of the USA (England). His biggest victory outside of the WSOP was in 2004, winning $1,198,260 for taking down the $ 5,000 No Limit Hold’em Championship at the Legends of Poker, Los Angeles. His total tournament winnings are $6,131,775.
Partially due to his mobility he has preferred to stick to the cash games in Las Vegas. He’s an almost daily visitor to “Bobby’s Room” at the Bellagio or “Ivey’s Room” at ARIA. He still holds his own against the most methodical players of the day. Nothing beats experience at the live table, according to Doyle.
The online rush may have come too late for the old school players to take real advantage, but he still leveraged his brand by fronting the poker site, Doyle’s Room. The site never had a large share of the market as it jumped around networks before the .com domain was seized on “Black Friday”. The following day, Brunson immediately cut his ties to the room.
While Doyle may make waves from time to time with some controversial opinions, the biggest threat to his legacy was in 2005 when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed an action against Doyle in regards to an unsolicited offer to buy the WPT Enterprises. Doyle was accused of hiring a firm to announce the offer that saw the publically traded company’s price skyrocket, only to drop back down when the offer was withdrawn. There was no hearing ever held, and the SEC reported to have dropped the case in 2007.
There have been hundreds of poker books written, but perhaps none as groundbreaking as Doyle’s 1978 self-published book, Super System. Super System, at the time, was the only book to offer readers a glimpse into a professionals mind at the table and gave him legions of fans worldwide overnight. The book covered the entire game, with many of the concepts still applicable to today’s modern game. He re-released the book in 2004, as Super System 2, which included chapters by other leading professionals from around the world. Even today the book is a must read for any budding hobbyist, and reportedly continues to sell 10,000+ copies/month. When it comes to providing a poker education, Brunson says, ““Some poker players drink at the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargle.” Hobby players started drinking when his book was published.
Brunson, like many poker professionals, loved a bet and loved playing the angles. Mike Sexton tells a marvelous story of Doyle Brunson on the golf course. Howard Lederer and Huck Seed were egging Brunson to go golfing with them at some point. He accepted, but only if Sexton would be his partner. The catch was that they’d scramble from the ladies’ tee box while Lederer and Seed would scramble from the blue tees. The bet was a $20,000 NASSAU (separate bets on the front, back, and total 18 holes), with an automatic press aside. Brunson, upon being chided for taking the bet, upped the ante by calling upon them to raise the bet to $40,000.
Neither Brunson nor Sexton had played in several years. In Sexton’s words, “Doyle is an action man, but without us having played in so long, it seemed like a pretty daring bet.”
The bet was set to take place 30 days after that year’s WSOP. After scrambling a horrible 76 from the front tees, Brunson came back to the poker table to speak with Lederer and Seed. He called them out again stating, “I’ll tell you what. You can either double the bet or cancel it!” Brunson at this point was completely bluffing. The two, incredulous, agreed to double the bet. Sexton was confident he could get close to par from the front tees with some practice, so that’s precisely what he did. Sexton sought professional training in Florida and got as good as he was going to get. Brunson, upon hearing how skilled Sexton had gotten, again tracked down Lederer and Seed at a poker table. He gave them a spiel about how his “knees were bad” and that “it’ll be close”, and said, “Well, you can either double the bet or cancel it!” At that moment, the bet went to $160,000 per player.
Over the course of an action-packed round, filled with lipped puts, exchanges in the lead, and a throng of people following the high-stakes golf game, Sexton and Brunson won two bets on the day, amounting to $320,000. In Sexton’s words, “There are certain days in life that you put in a frame and hang on the wall. This was certainly one of them for me.”
Despite the wild days of the ’50s and ’60s, Doyle has maintained a family life through his career. He’s still married to Louise, whom he wed in 1962. When Louise first got pregnant, Doyle was told during the pregnancy that he had cancer and the only way he would be able to see the birth of his daughter was by having surgery. Miraculously, the cancer was completely removed, never to return. Sadly, their daughter passed away at the age of 18 years. They went on to have two more children, Todd and Pamela. Todd is a fellow poker pro, and while Pamela doesn’t play professionally, she still outlasted both Doyle and Todd in the 2007 WSOP Main Event.
Doyle Brunson is still old school in many ways. He makes his stance on guns very clear through tweets that often polarizes followers, in addition to various ‘traditional’ views. Regardless, the Hall of Famer is well known as the Michael Jordan of poker. Without Doyle, the game wouldn’t be where it is today. Every month he seems to have to clear up reports that he has passed away, and while he has acknowledged his health isn’t great, at 82 he will continue to play the game he loves for as long as he can and always to win. As he says, “A man with money is no match against a man on a mission.”