Doyle Brunson Anniversary Tribute: The Life of Poker’s Much-Loved “Texas Dolly”

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Doyle Brunson
Image: CardsChat

On the one year anniversary of his death (August 10, 1933 – May 14, 2023), today we look back at one of poker’s all-time legends, the one and only “Texas Dolly”: Doyle Brunson.

Doyle will forever be one of the most popular players in the history of poker because he was an iconic figure that was firmly one of the best in the world from the late 1970s all the way until his final days.

His 10 WSOP bracelets still rank second all-time, even though his last came all the way back in 2005.

Doyle Brunson’s Athletic Roots

Doyle Brunson was born in 1933 in Longworth, Texas, about three hours west of Dallas.

The town of Longworth was so small that by the time Brunson was in high school in 1948, the population sat at roughly 200 people (47 as of 2009).

He was one of three children and attended nearby Sweetwater High School, home to Pro Football Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh and Clyde “Bulldog” Turner.

Brunson grew up as an elite athlete of the times, excelling in track, baseball, and basketball.

In fact, at the 1950 Texas Interscholastic Track Meet, Brunson ran a mile in just four minutes and 38 seconds to win the state championship.

He would eventually lower his time to 4:18 before his high school days were over.

Doyle Brunson in College
Image: Basketball Reference

His basketball career was even more impressive, taking Sweetwater to multiple state championships before all was said and done.

It was during the Texas basketball championships that Brunson was introduced to poker. Brunson impressed so much on the court that he was chosen to play at the University of Texas.

Unfortunately, Brunson waited too long to fill out the paperwork and was forced to instead accept an offer to play at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.

Brunson’s star season came in 1953, as HSU defeated Arizona in the conference title game to send HSU to the NCAA tournament. Brunson won conference MVP that season, averaging 15.2 points per game in his junior year.

According to Texas Monthly and to Brunson himself, the Minneapolis Lakers had scouted Brunson and were determined to pick him in the first round of the NBA Draft the following year at the end of his senior season.

Unfortunately for Brunson and the Lakers, he would never get the chance as a stack of sheetrock fell on him while he worked at a Gypsum plant. The accident caused his right shin to be completely crushed, snapping his tibia and fibula.

While this ended his athletic career, it certainly allowed for him to pursue other interests, though his rise to poker stardom would not happen overnight.

Brunson Starts Hustling

Brunson would return to Hardin-Simmons University to try to figure out what he wanted to do with his career.

Brunson would get his Master’s degree in administrative education, dead set on eventually becoming a school principal.

While Brunson had dabbled playing five-card draw before his injury, he started picking up the game more afterwards. During his Master’s training, he would go to college towns on the weekend and start making enough money playing poker to pay for his school expenses.

Brunson would keep his poker endeavors to himself, however, as playing cards was much more stigmatized in those days.

It was a far cry from today’s world where we play at online poker sites freely and the game is more respected.

Shortly after finishing his Master’s, he would get a job with the Burroughs Corporation as a salesman for their business machines, something which he admittedly hated.

Legend has it that he ran into a seven-card stud game in the back of a pool hall on his very first day on the job and won more than a month’s salary.

It’s believed that he quit working shortly afterwards to go pursue poker full-time on the road.

Brunson, along with friend Dwayne Hamilton, would start playing illegal poker games in Fort Worth, Texas, before eventually traveling across the state, Oklahoma, and Louisiana in search of the biggest games.

Most of these games were run by criminal enterprises and came with some huge risk, with Brunson being present at a game where a player was shot and killed at another table.

Hamilton would go back to Fort Worth while Brunson teamed up with Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts, pooling their money to hustle all across the country.

Whether it was poker, golf, pool, or anything related to gambling, they were trying to add to the fund. They accumulated six figures over the course of six years before heading out to Las Vegas for the first time, losing nearly the entirety of their money.

The three would split up, remaining friends, while Brunson took the money that he still had and settled in Vegas.

Doyle Brunson at WSOP

Brunson would become one of the very few regulars at the World Series of Poker ever since it started in 1970.

By that time, Brunson had established himself as one of the best poker players in the world and rightfully so.

In fact, the 1970 World Series of Poker was incredibly unique as Jack Binion invited seven poker players from all over the United States to determine who was the best.

After a lengthy cash game session, Johnny Moss was voted the best in the world by Brunson, Amarillo Slim, Sailor Roberts, Puggy Pearson, Crandell Addington, and Carl Cannon.

Legend has it that everyone had to vote and voted for themselves, having to perform a second round of voting in which they voted on who was the second-best player.

Famously Taking a Dive in 1972

1972 WSOP Final Table
Image: WSOP

Few people had the money or the skills to compete in the early days of WSOP but Brunson was one of them.

Events, including the WSOP Main Event, would routinely have around or fewer than 10 players and would be a winner-takes-all event. This was the case in the famous 1972 WSOP Main Event, which was a $10,000 buy-in with eight players.

Brunson had amassed an insane chip lead over the field and got to three-handed when he suddenly started to fold every hand.

A crowd had gathered and there were cameras and reporters everywhere. What started as a relaxing single-table tournament had, all of a sudden, turned into a media circus.

Binion’s Casino president Jack Binion saw this and took the three players off the table into a separate room to yell at the players, barking that this sort of behavior was going to cause a scandal.

Brunson admitted that he didn’t want the publicity and didn’t want his family name to be shamed, saying that he was “the son of a farmer, a former state-champion athlete, and a master’s graduate from a Baptist college.” He also didn’t want to be subjected to a tax audit.

Funnily enough, Walter “Puggy” Pearson also did not want to win the event either for similar reasons.

Binion did not want Pearson as a champion either, as Puggy was known to have screwed over much of the poker community and it would not have been good for publicity.

They struck a reported ICM deal and allowed Brunson to cash out his chips and leave with a reported “stomachache” for between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on who you ask.

Pearson threw the heads-up affair and the famous Amarillo Slim was declared the victor, though rumors have it that he only took home $15,000.

Slim enjoyed the publicity and went all over the country appearing on TV shows to promote himself and the game of poker, changing the landscape of the game forever.

Back-to-Back WSOP Main Event Titles

Doyle Brunson Wins the WSOP Main Event
Image: Tony Korody/Sygma

In 1976, Doyle Brunson would begin his dominance of the World Series of Poker by winning the two biggest prizes and the first World Series of Poker bracelet ever awarded.

Brunson won his first WSOP title, claiming the $5K Deuce to 7 Draw and earning $80,250 for his efforts.

Of course, he would win the 22-man winner-take-all $10,000 WSOP Main Event, making a full house on the river with 10-2 to make $220,000 and the first-ever awarded bracelet.

The following year, Brunson would win his third title, winning the $10,000 7-Card Stud Split for $62,500.

Naturally, Brunson would go on to win the 34-player winner-takes-all $10,000 WSOP Main Event, earning an incredible $340,000 for the feat en route to becoming the first poker player in history to win $1 million from poker tournaments alone.

Doyle, again, won the event with 10-2, making a full house on the river after getting all in as an underdog for the second year in a row. 10-2 offsuit is now colloquially known in poker slang as “The Doyle”.

Doyle Brunson
Image: Twitter/hitchariide

An Incredible 10 Bracelets

Over the course of his career, Doyle Brunson won 10 bracelets, second only to Phil Hellmuth and tied with legendary players Phil Ivey, Johnny Chan, and, most recently, Erik Seidel.

While many will argue that bracelets are much more difficult to attain in today’s large-field tournaments, few will argue whether or not Brunson was the most dominant player of his era.

Year Event Entries Prize
1976 $5,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Draw 26 $80,250
1976 $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship 22 $220,000
1977 $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Split 7 $62,500
1977 $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship 34 $340,000
1978 $5,000 Seven-Card Stud 23 $68,000
1979 $600 Mixed Doubles Seven Card Stud (with Starla Brodie) 25 $4,500
1991 $2,500 No Limit Hold’em 208 $208,000
1998 $1,500 Seven-Card Razz 155 $93,000
2003 $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. 113 $84,080
2005 $5,000 Short Handed No Limit Hold’em 301 $367,800

Before he passed away Doyle Brunson had a net worth of $75 million, which makes him one of the richest poker players of all time.

One Final Deep Run

Memorably, in 2018, long after he retired from tournament poker, Brunson’s Poker Hall-of-Fame son Todd convinced him to enter on Day 2 of the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Lowball Championship, by far his favorite game.

Doyle tweeted out that it would likely be his last WSOP event ever and poker fans young and old flocked to get one last glimpse of the superstar.

The Brunsons would put on a show that would live long in the memory. Though expectations were low, the two would both pile chips sky-high and reach Day 3 of the 95-player competition.

While Todd finished in 10th, Doyle reached the final table and finished in 6th place for $43,963, earning an incredible ovation that is difficult to replicate.

Shock Comeback

Brunson returned one last time in 2021 at 88 years old to play the WSOP Main Event, his first WSOP Main Event since 2013.

Though it was seen as a curtain call, Brunson still was able to dominate the field on Day 1, even with masters such as JJ Liu on the table. Even when he was beat, he would find a way to make spectacular folds.

Though he was able to accumulate a fantastic stack on Day 1, he would, unfortunately, bust late on Day 2.

Thankfully, we were able to enjoy his last days on the felt fully as PokerGO had him on the feature table for the entirety of his run.

Doyle Brunson Poker Accomplishments

Doyle and Louise Brunson
Image: PokerNews

On top of the 10 WSOP bracelets, Doyle Brunson was a fixture on the biggest televised high-stakes poker games ever since poker first appeared on the air.

Even against the best players in the modern game, Brunson continued to crush the competition.

According to a number of independent televised poker cash game trackers, Brunson won over $750,000 playing a 34% VPIP for just under 400 hours of televised cash games, good for nearly $2,000 an hour.

He also destroyed no-limit hold’em and mixed games as a regular in the famous Legends Room (formerly Bobby’s Room) at the Bellagio, where the biggest and most competitive cash games routinely take place with the world’s best players.

Brunson has $6,176,737 in recorded tournament cashes, still good for 277th on poker’s all-time money list (as of May 14, 2024) and 6th on the Texas all-time money list.

While this may not seem that incredible compared to many of today’s professionals, you have to remember that he was accomplishing this with cheaper buy-ins and smaller fields.

He also won a WPT title in 2004 for $1.2M and finished third the following year at the $15,000 Five Diamond World Poker Classic for $563,485.

Finally, his biggest accomplishments may have been off the felt.

Brunson was married to Louise Brunson since 1962, a marriage that lasted 61 years.

He also had three children: Pamela, Todd Brunson (Poker Hall of Famer), and Doyla, who passed away at age 18 in 1982.

Unfortunately, just months after Doyle passed, Louise died, knowing that she always took precedence over poker in Doyle’s life.

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Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert
Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert

Blaise is an Expert Gambling Writer and a professional poker player in Brazil. He has played and traveled throughout Latin America for the last four-and-a-half years and recently won his first WSOP Circuit ring! He received his Master's in Sport Management and Sports Analytics from St. John's University. Blaise also holds a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from SUNY Purchase, where he still holds the school's Men's Soccer record for goals in a season. Blaise has worked for Catena Media, OddsSeeker, WSOP, PokerNews, and Poker.Org in various capacities. He has a passion for extensive research and aims to provide accurate…