Photos provided by Doylesroom.ag
Childhood and career
Doyle grew up in Longworth, the village he was born in: a remote place of approximately 100 inhabitants in Fisher County, Texas. Even at an early age, Doyle was a passionate athlete. To get from his hometown to neighbouring communities, he did not take a bus, but relied on his legs as his only means of transportation instead. He regularly ran long distances and because his father worked at the local gymnasium, Doyle had plenty of opportunities to exercise.
Eventually, Doyle joined the “All State Texas Basketball Team” and also began training with the “Texas Interscholastic Track Meet” Track and Field team. He was a very promising runner, a natural talent, who won the one-mile run at the Texas State Championship.
Doyle Brunson discovered his talent for poker during his studies. Even before the accident he occasionally played Five-Card Draw. But it was not until he had to give up sports that he devoted himself to cards completely. After only a short while, poker was no longer just a pleasant pastime but an important source of income which put him through college. He owes a large part of his success to his knack of observing. He learned a lot about the game by carefully paying attention and eventually he worked out how to read his opponents accurately.
A dangerous profession
After university, Doyle took a job as a business machines salesman, yet compared to his poker winnings this job did not turn out to be very lucrative. He quit his job after only a few weeks and decided to become a professional poker player. This career choice involved substantial risks, though. At this time, poker was illegal and was played only by criminals and other roughnecks in gloomy and grimy hidden back rooms. Doyle Brunson also had to go “into hiding” to earn his living. The illegal games in Fort Worth, Texas were his territory. Hence, Brunson has a lot of exciting tales to tell when asked about the beginning of his poker career. He was even forced to watch as a player beside him was shot in cold-blood. Doyle himself had to look into the barrel of a gun more than once.
“To start with you had to keep from getting arrested by police. Then, you had to keep from getting cheated in games. You also had to worry about collecting the money if you won. Then finally, after all that was said and done — you had to keep from getting hijacked.”
Today, with poker being played legally in luxurious casinos, it is hard to imagine what it was like back then but at least it kept things exciting, explains Doyle. He has lost track of the number of times he was mugged.
Ups and downs in his private life
In 1960, Doyle fell in love with Louise, who he married two years later. Doyle was sure right away that he had found the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He wanted to marry her as quickly as possible, but she was not sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life with a man who earned his living playing poker. Doyle was finally able to convince her that marrying a professional gambler was no sin. The couple had four children: Pamela, Todd (who was also to become a successful poker player), Cheryl and Doyla. Due to a heart disease, Doyla passed away at the age of eighteen. After the death of his daughter, Doyle found strength in faith. He began reading Christian literature and eventually converted to Christianity.
His daughter’s death was not the only stroke of fate that Doyle had to struggle with in life. In 1962, shortly after their wedding, as Louise was expecting their first child, a malignant tumour was found at the nape of Doyle’s neck. He had to undergo surgery immediately, but the cancer had spread to his brain and the doctors declared him incurable. The only option remaining was a risky medical operation that would make it possible for him to at least see the birth of his first child. Doyle decided for the operation. He survived it and, miraculously, the doctors were able to remove the tumour completely. Doyle attributes his recovery to his wife and friends, who faithfully prayed for him during this whole ordeal.
It seems that Doyle’s son Todd Brunson has inherited his father’s talent. He also plays poker and won the 2005 World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Omaha Hi Lo. This makes the Brunsons the first ever father-son set to have won the WSOP.
After winning the battle against cancer, Doyle hurried back to the poker table, since he wanted to provide his ever-growing family with a good life. He gradually began to make a name for himself in the poker scene and soon became a feared opponent. Doyle found a mentor in Johnny Moss, from whom he learned a lot. Together with his friend Dwayne Hamilton he travelled through Texas, from one game to the next. Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston and Brian “Sailor” Roberts eventually joined the duo. Dwayne Hamilton then split from the group and the trio, comprised of Brunson, Amarillo Slim and Roberts, continued to gamble straight across Texas. The infamous gambling group was soon known as the reputed “Texas Rounders”. In pursuit of new challenges the three players moved to Las Vegas. However, they lost all their savings there, a six figure amount. Thereupon, they decided to remain friends, but to no longer play as partners. These initial losses did not rob Doyle Brunson of his enthusiasm for playing poker. On the contrary, Doyle began to train more intensively and managed to improve his game. He finally convinced his wife to move to Las Vegas, where he could poker legally.
Despite his age, Doyle has kept himself informed of the more modern techniques and has occupied himself with online poker intensively. He not only wrote a book about it, but he also founded his own online poker room, DoylesRoom.
One of the first WSOP champions
In 1976, Doyle won his first two titles at the World Series of Poker, in no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball and in no-limit Hold’em (Main Event). Doyle Brunson captured the WSOP, at that time a fairly new addition to the professional poker scene, by storm and has successfully defended his spot at the top up until today. Doyle Brunson, along with Johnny Moss and Amarillo Slim, is one of the first WSOP champions ever. In 1977 he won two more WSOP Bracelets in limit Seven-Card Stud Hi Lo and no-limit Hold’em. Both wins in no-limit Hold’em went down in history. Doyle Brunson has even had a hand named after him. He won both Main Events in 1976 and 1977, with a hand comprised of a ten and a two, both times he went on to complete a full house. This hand, the ten and the two of any suit, is now known as the “Doyle Brunson”. Another hand that also bears his name is the Ace and Queen of any suit, because he never plays this hand.
In 1978 and 1979 Doyle continued his winning streak at the WSOP and won two more Gold Bracelets in limit Seven-Card Stud and no-limit Hold’em, so that he now had a collection of six of these coveted trophies. At the WSOP in 1980, he was eliminated by Sarge Ferris (no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball Rebuy) and Stu Ungar (no-limit Hold’em) and only placed second both times. During the next two years Doyle sat at numerous final tables at the WSOP and often placed second or third.
His next noteworthy win he celebrated at the 1991 WSOP. He eliminated poker professionals such as T.J. Cloutier, Andy Clark and Dan Stashriw in the Main Event of the no-limit Hold’em and so secured his seventh WSOP title. In 1995 he placed second and third at the WSOP and in 1998 he won his eighth Gold Bracelet, this time in limit Razz. That same year, he placed second in pot-limit Omaha and third in no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball.
Doyle hardly takes part in tournaments and concentrates mainly on the WSOP, yet he has also had several successes at the World Poker Tour (WPT). In 2003 he placed fourth at the WPT championships Season One “Five Star World Poker Classic” tournament. One year later he won the WPT Season Three “Legends of Poker” tournament in no-limit Hold’em and won over one million dollars in prize money. One WPT event even bears his name: the “Doyle Brunson North America Championships” is the main event of the “Five Diamond World Poker Classic” at the Bellagio.
Doyle Brunson, along with Gus Hansen and James Garner, make up the first three poker stars, who were inducted into the WPT Poker Walk of Fame in 2004. In addition to that, Doyle also appears in numerous tournaments broadcast on TV such as “High Stakes Poker”, “Poker After Dark”, or the “National Heads-Up Poker Championships”. In his hometown Las Vegas he often plays in the “Big Game” organized by the Bellagio, a famous cash-game known for its extremely high stakes.
Doyle owes his rather unusual nickname Texas Dolly to the American sports commentator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Snyder was supposed to announce Brunson as “Texas Doyle” at a tournament, but instead he pronounced it as “Texas Dolly”. Since then, most of his colleagues just call him Dolly.
At the 2003 WSOP, Doyle Brunson won his ninth Gold Bracelet in limit HORSE, setting a new record.
Bracelet no. 10
In 2005, he won the WSOP Main Event in no-limit Hold’em, a golden moment, literally, as Doyle accepted his award with the words, “Records are made to be broken”. With ten bracelets, he now tied with Johnny Chan, although this record was later broken by Phil Hellmuth. After Brunson had won his ninth bracelet, critics were already wondering if this had been his last big tournament win. After all, Doyle had already been in the business for the last five decades and, being in his seventies, he was no longer a spring chicken.
Yet Texas Dolly did not even think about quitting, and proved once more he belongs to the cream of the crop and is one of the best players ever. The whole poker world held their breath as Doyle, at the 2005 WSOP, eliminated some of the biggest names in the poker scene, such as Jason Lester, Ayaz Mahmood, Layne Flack, Scotty Nguyen and Minh Ly before winning the tournament.
Even though there were $ 367,800 in the winning pot, nobody took any notice of the pile of cash on the table as all eyes were on 73 year old Doyle, gazing awestruck at the Gold Bracelet that was being put around his wrist. In response to the question what it felt like to still be able to compete with the big leagues, after day-long “marathon” tournaments, and to compete against much younger colleagues full of energy he answers,
“It’s hard to substitute for experience. No one has more poker experience than I do. Then again no one here is as old as I am.”
Tips from the founding father of modern poker
For many, Doyle Brunson is the founding father of modern poker. His aggressive playing style and his no-limit Texas Hold’em strategy was adopted by most successful players consciously or unconsciously. Doyle published his poker wisdom and secrets in 1979, two years after his second WSOP win in the form of a book called “Doyle Brunson’s Super System: A Course in Power Poker”. “Super System” was the first book of its kind and for many it is a sort of poker bible. Generations of younger players have been inspired by Doyle’s book and attempt to imitate his aggressive style.
On one hand, Doyle’s book is very informative, but it can also be taken the wrong way: Brunson’s style is based on aggression and willingness to take risks, yet this alone is not enough to make for a good poker player. He calculates his every move, and only to an outsider does it seem as if he is just playing aggressively without thinking first. Doyle always makes sure he keeps two doors open: Either he gets his opponent to pass or he secures the card he needs to win. With his cleverly and calculated placed bets, he forces his opponent to reveal important information while he himself makes sure not to reveal anything. Since Super System was first published though, Brunson has changed his style a little bit. He is no longer the over-aggressive daredevil player of old; now he prefers a much more balanced, versatile strategy. He warns up-and-coming poker talents to always think first before making a move.
On his previous website, Texas Dolly explained how important it is not to bring personal problems to the poker table. He does not tolerate this type of behaviour. He gives one example as a short anecdote about what happened to his poker colleague Craig: Craig was known for the fact that he could not be distracted by anything and that he would play well in any situation. Yet when his girlfriend broke up with him during a poker tournament, his game started to go downhill from there. Although on the outside it seemed as if everything was fine, within only a short space of time he had lost all his chips. After the tournament his girlfriend reappeared, hugged him, and apologized. When she asked Craig how it went, all he said was that he had lost some money and she told him not to play if he was that upset. Doyle felt very sorry for Craig’s misfortune, and – since this incident – “Don’t take your troubles to the table” has become one of his most important poker principles which he wants everybody to remember. He also thinks a poker player should be completely indifferent towards money.
In 2004, “Super System 2” came out, a new updated version of “Super System”. In addition to that, Doyle has written many more poker books such as “According to Doyle”, which was published a second time as “Poker Wisdom of a Champion”. In 2005, “Online Poker: Your Guide to Playing Online Poker Safely and Winning Money” came out, a book that Doyle dedicated to the recent trend towards online poker. Furthermore, Doyle writes the poker column for the renowned British newspaper, the “London Telegraph”.
Doyle’s most impressive bluff though did not take place at the poker table. In an interview he recounts how he scared away two criminals. As Doyle came home to catch two burglars in the act, he faked a heart attack. They were so frightened that they left as quickly as possible.
Texas Dolly clearly understands how important it is to be present in the virtual world. His personal homepage is designed very appealingly and contains interesting information about the poker star, as well as a photo gallery, and a forum for discussion.
In 2006 though, Doyle hit the headlines, but not in a positive way. That July, rumours came to light that Brunson’s company DoylesRoom wanted to buy the World Poker Tour for the astronomical sum of 700 million dollars, twice the amount of its market value then. As a result, the price of the stocks went up notably. The offer though was never confirmed, and it turned out that Doyle did not want to buy the WPT, making the stock-market price fall drastically. Now the suspicion cropped up that it might all have been a case of fraud, a belief that was strengthened by the fact that the chairman of the board of the WPT was a close friend of Brunson’s. The United States Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) took over the investigation but it has never been resolved whether or not DoylesRoom’s offer and the consequent release of this information to the public was a violation of the law. His friends and fans of course are convinced that Doyle would never knowingly do anything like that.
At peace with God and himself
Doyle is generally known to be a downright honest and good-hearted man. It means a lot to him to be at peace with God and himself, and he does not attempt to hide the fact that religion plays an important role in his life. There are even stories of poker games, where Doyle just got up and left because he had to go to church. In an interview he explains how he strengthened his connection to the spiritual world.
Once he started playing poker, he slowly forgot about this part of his life though. It was only after the death of his daughter that he started once more to concern himself with spirituality. He realized what was really important in life. Yet he himself would never call himself religious in the traditional sense,
“I definitely have Christian beliefs. You know what they are. You don’t have to sit in the front rows at church every Sunday to have those beliefs.”
Doyle does not have anything to say during discussions on the topic of religion. He feels that everyone should believe what they feel is right and not criticize the beliefs of others.
Doyle Brunson names honour and trust as the most important values in the poker scene and for gambling in general. The importance of these values to him he traces back to the beginnings of his poker career. As he slowly worked his way up in the scene, checks and credit cards were not around yet, and people did not walk around with lots of money on them. Yet they would play poker anyway and the only thing there was to rely on was a man’s word.
The whole game was based on mutual trust. Doyle assures that for him and his poker colleagues, this has not changed. At cash-games played by the true poker elite, you can still find that deep sense of trust among the players, regardless of the astronomical heights of the stakes. In this context, another story Doyle likes to bring up, is how a poker colleague lent someone else 1 million dollars without even knowing the guy’s last name. Nonetheless, just as Doyle would have expected, his colleague got all his money back, no questions asked. He knows it is difficult for people outside the scene to understand this but, “…real gamblers can be trusted when they give their word,” assures Doyle.
When asked whether or not Doyle encouraged his son Todd to follow in his footsteps, Doyle responds with a clear “no”. Todd discovered and learned the game on his own. Doyle watched his son’s first game in Las Vegas and immediately recognized Todd’s talent. Then one day, Todd announced that he wanted to play poker after finishing college, and although his mother was not enthusiastic, Doyle did not try to stop him.
A living legend
Doyle and his wife live in Las Vegas, Nevada. In his spare time he enjoys swimming and listening to country music. His favourite “celebrity” is Jesus, and when asked which poker players he respects the most he answers that there are “too many to list”. If he could change anything in the world he would change his age, which is also the only thing he would change in the world of poker.
For many, Doyle Brunson is a living legend and the best player of all times; the Arnold Palmer of poker: the king. To date he has won about $ 5,000,000. In 2006 he was named the most influential person of the poker world by “Bluff” Magazine. When asked if fame changed anything for him, he responds by saying that he is still a farmer’s boy, who knows how to enjoy the simple things in life. About his life he says,
“I’m a gambler. I’ll always be a gambler. I couldn’t be anything else. So, my life will always be full of wins and losses. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s exciting. There’s never been a dull moment in my life.”
Yet Texas Dolly is not thinking of retiring just yet. After playing poker for decades, he has trained his mind and kept it fit and sound. Sometimes though, when he sees himself on TV, he is surprised to see how old he actually is. He says,
“My mental image of myself was of the boy who grew up in Texas and set the record for running the mile. Deep down, I’m still that kid inside”.
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