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The poker legend Doyle Brunson wasn’t only a symbol of poker’s past but was a statesman of its present until the moment of his passing. The 10-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner will no doubt be viewed as a founding father of poker’s future too, but at this moment in poker’s glorious history, everyone is struck by the sudden loss of one of the touchstones of the game. Texas Dolly has played his final hand.
Doyle Brunson’s career in poker now seems like the obvious choice given his luminous achievements in the game, but the early years of Texas’ favorite son were spent dreaming of a sporting legacy to come. A natural on the basketball court, only a tragic knee injury prevented Doyle from being scooped up by NBA scouts. His recovery from the physical impact of the injury gave him time to play poker and the rest is history.
Building his bankroll, the young Doyle became one of poker’s earliest pioneers, carving out a career in a profession that to that point in time hadn’t been one. Poker professionals, indeed, professional gamblers of any sort, were looked down on rather than revered in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and Doyle fought for the game’s reputation as the WSOP was formed in 1969 ahead of crowning its first world champion the following year.
Just six years after the World Series of Poker was created, Brunson won its centerpiece, the WSOP Main Event. It was in 1976 that he captured the crown with the winning hand of ten-deuce. One year later, Brunson returned to the limelight and not only won the Main Event again, becoming the first to do it in open events (Johnny Moss having been voted the winner in its inaugural year), but did so with the same winning hand. From then on, Brunson’s infamous ten-deuce was known as the ‘Texas Dolly’.
Doyle Brunson won two bracelets in both the 1976 and 1977 festivals, including back-to-back Main Event titles, but he wasn’t finished there. Scooping two more in Seven Card Stud and Mixed Doubles, Doyle had won six in less than five years at the tail-end of the 1970s. His popularity shot through the roof, and during the 1980s and 1990s, his name was synonymous with poker.
Seen in some ways as bridging the gap between the ‘Wild West’ origins of the game and the new, intuitive, math-based era, Doyle straddled poker history, aiding the growth of the game through his passion and literary power, as he penned Super System 1 and Super System 2, two books which propagated an entire branch of the poker industry teaching others new tricks at the felt.
By becoming a sponsored poker player, Doyle Brunson was the perfect fit for poker brands such as Full Tilt Poker and latterly the World Poker Tour. The WPT in particular have benefitted from having Doyle as one of the faces of their brand and in recent years, he has reinvigorated their expansion and hugely successful WPT World Championship, which he helped to make so special.
Doyle’s success at the WSOP felt ended at 10 bracelets, behind only Phil Hellmuth on 16. Winning in No Limit Hold’em, Seven-Card Razz, H.O.R.S.E. and Six-Max – his final title in 2005, Doyle Brunson not only entered poker history, he became it in 1988, when he entered the Poker Hall of Fame. His fellow HOF alumni Daniel Negreanu paid tribute to his friend in the early hours of the morning.
LegendThere will never be another Doyle BrunsonDoyle was @RadioAmanda favorite player by a mileHe will be missed by many, the Godfather of Poker#RIPDoyle pic.twitter.com/Y88BsrDhhP— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) May 15, 2023
There will never be another Doyle Brunson
Doyle was @RadioAmanda favorite player by a mile
He will be missed by many, the Godfather of Poker#RIPDoyle pic.twitter.com/Y88BsrDhhP
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) May 15, 2023
Another to speak about his love for the ‘Godfather of Poker’ was Phil Galfond, who played cash with Brunson at Bobby’s Room.
I’m so lucky I had the opportunity to truly understand Doyle’s greatness by sitting across the table from him.“Legend” feels inadequate.We don’t have a word for what Doyle Brunson is to poker.Rest in Peace ♥️ pic.twitter.com/IjCDrNG96c— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) May 15, 2023
I’m so lucky I had the opportunity to truly understand Doyle’s greatness by sitting across the table from him.
“Legend” feels inadequate.
We don’t have a word for what Doyle Brunson is to poker.
Rest in Peace ♥️ pic.twitter.com/IjCDrNG96c
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) May 15, 2023
While his age makes Doyle’s death less shocking than sad, living without the poker legend will be hard for many. To have passed on the eve of the 54th World Series of Poker is a crying shame; Doyle’s presence at the yearly get-together for poker’s finest made the WSOP so special. The world will miss him from May 30th to July 17th.
The only player ever to win more WSOP bracelets than Doyle, Phil Hellmuth, posted a series of touching photographs in homage to the poker legend.
Poker lost its biggest Legend today: @TexDolly. He inspired 3 generations of poker players w his play, his award winning book “Super System,” and his fabulous style and grit. Doyle always played hard: the man absolutely hated losing!! Doyle ruled the high stakes cash games in Las… pic.twitter.com/L4CKzvzbIF— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) May 15, 2023
Poker lost its biggest Legend today: @TexDolly. He inspired 3 generations of poker players w his play, his award winning book “Super System,” and his fabulous style and grit. Doyle always played hard: the man absolutely hated losing!! Doyle ruled the high stakes cash games in Las… pic.twitter.com/L4CKzvzbIF
— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) May 15, 2023
Doyle’s life and legacy were naturally intertwined. His son, Todd, also won a WSOP bracelet and became the first to follow their parent into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2005. Doyle’s gambling profession, established over a career that spanned over half a century, might have looked at odds with his devout Christianity, a faith that often caused friction for some who followed him. But true to himself and his maker, Brunson’s beliefs were staunch and held until the end.
Having left the World Series swiftly a couple of years ago to care for his wife, Louise, Doyle is survived by his son Todd and daughter Pamela. The couple’s other daughter, Doyla, tragically died aged just 18 from a heart problem. Doyle, who credited his own recovery from cancer in 1962 as an act of faith, was a family man throughout his long life.
The lights will dim over the next few days as poker reels from the loss of a great player, a great man, but far more. Doyle Brunson influenced not only the formative years of poker’s rich and entertaining history, but its future too. His books will be read for as long as words appear on the page. His actions at the felt will echo forever.
Many poker players are known for an action, a catchphrase, or a crowning achievement, such as becoming world champion. Doyle Brunson achieved that lofty goal not once but twice, and yet his legacy is far greater than the sum of his achievements.
Ask almost any poker fan to name a famous poker player and their mind will likely conjure up an image of Doyle Brunson in a cowboy hat. Texas Dolly. The Greatest.
This week, poker mourns the Godfather of Poker. But in truth, he’ll never leave us.
Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of PokerGO, the home of the 2023 World Series of Poker.
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