Each sport has its legendary icons. In baseball, think Babe, Joe, and Barry. In basketball, think Michael, Shaq, and Kobe. In poker, think Doyle Brunson, Doyle Brunson, Doyle Brunson.
He’s been tagged the “Babe Ruth” of poker, the “Godfather” of poker, and “Texas Dolly” because he is from Texas (Longworth), of course, and because someone misspoke the name of “Doyle” and “Dolly” came out instead. It stuck.
No one has done more for the game that this gentle giant, now in his 73 rd year.
Brunson was an athlete, a common background for the top poker players. A star basketball and track star in high school, he went on to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene where he made All-State under the nets. He was drafted by the (then) Minneapolis Lakers. Then a summer work experience accident broke his leg in several places and his sports career was finished.
He completed his undergraduate work and took a master’s degree in education, hoping to teach and coach. Upon graduation he found that the pay for these positions was so low that he took a job as a salesman for business machines. Early on, invited into a back room poker game after a sales call, he found that he made more money there than he earned in a month of peddling equipment. His calling was clear: he was a professional poker player.
He teamed up with two others who would become legends along with Doyle: “Amarillo Slim” Preston and Brian “Sailor” Roberts. They would hit the road, “ride the white line,” as they called it, looking for high stakes games across Texas and Oklahoma. They were sometimes cheated by their opponents, hijacked by robbers, and fleeced by the police who would break up the illegal games and pocket the money.
Eventually, they headed for Vegas and soon went broke. Back to Texas to build up their bankroll, back to Vegas to stay. Doyle would go on to win two World Series of Poker championship events and Slim and Sailor each bagged one.
One of Doyle’s lasting contributions was a classic book on poker, Super System, published in 1977. In it, he told of unique poker strategies that he had developed over the years in games of No Limit Texas Hold ‘em.
“I’m sorry I ever wrote that damn book,” he says. “All my opponents have read it.”
Well, that always gets a laugh but in 2005, he revised the tome, called it Super System II, and the two together are considered the Old and New Testaments of Poker.
Doyle is a gambler. “Will always be one,” he notes. Says he’s bored to death watching a basketball or football game without a big bet riding on it. In his younger days he was a scratch golfer and loved to hustle others on the golf course. Says he bet more in a day than Palmer or Nicklaus made in a year.
Today, he is one of a handful of the top poker pros in the world whose idea of a fine Saturday Night Poker Game is to play against these other top pros (men and women) at the Bellagio in Vegas with starting hands of $4000/$8000. Just a friendly little game! Nothing serious!
When he saw an opponent drop only $45,000 in front of him at the start of a game, he chided, “Playing light today, eh?”
Doyle’s seen poker go from backroom, illegal games to the phenonomen of today that attracts an estimated 60 million people as players and a worldwide audience to the popular televised tournaments. He’s seen poker being played at home on a computer through online poker rooms. He’s seen his books become the “must reads” for anyone who is serious about poker.
And he is still a winner. In the 2005 World Series of Poker, many kinds of tournament poker are played over about a month. Each winner is awarded a jeweled bracelet and the pros measure success by the number of these in their trophy case. Last year, Doyle chalked up his tenth win, a record he holds with fellow pro Johnny Chan.
The win was doubly sweet because his son, Todd Brunson, also a poker pro, picked up his first bracelet, making this the first father-son team to score victories in the World Series of Poker.
It is only fitting that each bracelet winner bears the last name of “Brunson.”
© 2006 Murphy James