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Doyle Brunson

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Brunson was born in Longworth, Fisher County, Texas, a town with a population of approximately 100, and was one of three children. Because of Longworth’s small size, Brunson frequently ran long distances to other towns, and became a promising athlete. He was part of the All-State Texas basketball team, and practiced the one-mile run to keep in shape in the off-season. Although he was more interested in basketball than running, he entered the 1950 Texas Interscholastic Track Meet and won the one-mile event with a time of 4:43. Despite receiving offers from many colleges, he attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, because it was close to his home.

The Minneapolis Lakers were interested in Brunson, but a knee injury ended his playing days. He had taken a summer job and was unloading some sheetrock; when the ton of weight shifted, Brunson instinctively tried to stop it, but it landed on his leg, breaking it in two places. He was in a cast for two years, and the injury ended his hopes of becoming a professional basketball player. He still occasionally requires a crutch to get around because of the injury. Brunson changed his focus from athletics to education, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1954 and a master’s degree in administrative education the following year.

Brunson had begun playing poker before his injury, playing five-card draw and finding it “easy.” He played more often after being injured and his winnings paid for his expenses. After graduating, he took a job as a business machines salesman but, on his first day, he was invited to play in a seven-card stud game and earned over a month’s salary in under three hours. He soon left the company and became a professional poker player.

Poker career
Doyle Brunson on the way to his 1976 WSOP Main Event title.

Brunson started off by playing in illegal games on Exchange Street, Fort Worth, Texas with a friend named Dwayne Hamilton. Eventually, they began traveling around Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, playing in bigger games, and meeting fellow professionals Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts. The illegal games Brunson played in during this time were usually run by criminals who were often members of organized crime, so rules were not always enforced. Brunson has admitted to having a gun pulled on him several times and that he was robbed and beaten. Poker was not a socially accepted career path during this time and, given the reputation of those running the games he was playing in, he had little legal recourse.

Hamilton moved back to Fort Worth, while the others teamed up and travelled around together, gambling on poker, golf and, in Doyle’s words, “just about everything.” They pooled their money for gambling and after six years, they made their first serious trip to Las Vegas and lost all of it, a six-figure amount. They decided to stop playing as partners yet remain friends.

Brunson finally settled in Las Vegas. He has been a regular player at the World Series of Poker, since its creation in 1970, playing in the Main Event nearly every year since then in addition to many of the other preceding bracelet-awarding events. He made some WSOP championship event final tables before his back-to-back wins, but since this was when the event was winner-take-all, they are not counted as cashes. Besides his two championship wins in 1976 and 1977, Brunson’s other main event cashes are: 1980 (runner-up to three-time champion Stu Ungar), 1982 (4th), 1983 (3rd), 1997 (16th), and 2004 (53rd).

Brunson authored Super/System, which is widely considered to be one of the most authoritative books on poker. Originally self-published in 1978, Super/System was the book that transformed poker by giving ordinary players insight into the way that professionals such as Brunson played and won, so much so that Brunson believes that it cost him a lot of money. An updated revision, Super/System 2, was published in 2004. Besides Brunson, several top poker players contributed chapters to Super/System including Bobby Baldwin, Mike Caro, David Sklansky, Chip Reese and Joey Hawthorne. The book is subtitled “How I made one million dollars playing poker,” by Doyle Brunson. Brunson is also the author of Poker Wisdom of a Champion, originally published as According to Doyle by Lyle Stuart in 1984.

Brunson continues to play in the biggest poker games in the world, including a $4000/$8000 limit mixed poker game in “Bobby’s Room” at the Bellagio. He also plays in many of the biggest poker tournaments around the world. He won his ninth gold bracelet in a mixed games event in 2003, and in 2004, he finished 53rd (in a field of 2,576) in the No Limit Texas hold ’em Championship event. He won the Legends of Poker World Poker Tour event in 2004 (garnering him a $1.1 million prize) and finished fourth in the WPT’s first championship event. Early in the morning on July 1, 2005, less than a week after Chan had won his 10th gold bracelet – setting a new record – Brunson tied the record at the 2005 WSOP. He is currently three bracelets behind Phil Hellmuth, who earned his 13th bracelet at the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe.

Brunson’s nickname, “Texas Dolly,” came from a mistake by Jimmy Snyder. Snyder was supposed to announce Brunson as “Texas Doyle,” but incorrectly pronounced the first name as Dolly. It stuck and many of Brunson’s fellow top pros now simply refer to Brunson as “Dolly.”

Brunson has two Texas hold’em hands named after him. One hand, a ten and a two of any suit, bears his name because he won the No Limit Hold ‘Em event at the World Series of Poker two years in a row with them (1976 and 1977), in both cases completing a full house. In both 1976 and 1977, he was an underdog in the final hand. Another hand known as a “Doyle Brunson,” especially in Texas, is the ace and queen of any suit because, as he says on page 519 of Super/System, he “never plays this hand.” He changes his wording in Super/System 2, however, noting that he “tries to never play this hand.”

As of 2011, his total live tournament winnings exceed $6,000,000. He has totaled $2,945,053 in earnings from his 34 cashes at the WSOP.
World Series of Poker bracelets

Year Tournament Prize (US$)
1976 $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw $80,250
1976 $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship $230,000
1977 $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split $62,500
1977 $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship $340,000
1978 $5,000 Seven-Card Stud $68,000
1979 $600 Mixed Doubles (with Starla Brodie) $4,500
1991 $2,500 No Limit Hold’em $208,000
1998 $1,500 Seven-Card Razz $93,000
2003 $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. $84,080
2005 $5,000 No Limit Shorthanded Texas Hold’em (6 players per table) $367,800
Family life

Brunson met his future wife, Louise, in 1960 and married her in August 1962. Louise became pregnant, but later that year, a tumor was discovered in Doyle’s neck. When it was operated on, the surgeons found that the cancer had spread and declared it incurable. They felt that an operation would prolong his life long enough for him to see the birth of the baby, so they went ahead with it. After the operation, no trace of the cancer could be found. The doctors said that his recovery must have been a miracle, and Brunson has attributed his cure to the prayers of friends of his wife and their correspondence with Kathryn Kuhlman, a self-proclaimed Christian faith healer. Louise developed a tumor shortly afterwards and, when she went for surgery, her tumor was also found to have disappeared. In 1975, their daughter Doyla was diagnosed with scoliosis, yet her spine straightened completely within three months.

Doyla died at 18 when she took too much potassium for a heart-valve condition. Over the following year, Brunson read Christian literature and converted to Christianity.

His son, Todd, also plays poker professionally. Todd has won a bracelet in Omaha Hi-Lo at the 2005 WSOP, making the Brunsons the first father-son combination to win World Series bracelets. His daughter Pamela played in the 2007 World Series of Poker and 2009 World Series of Poker main events, outlasting both Doyle and Todd both times.