The Natural Optimist

Doyle Brunson got his natural optimism from a sporting background. The young Doyle was a prodigious basketball player and rumors abounded during his college years that NBA teams were circling with a view to signing him up. Then he got injured.

The knee injury that ended Doyle’s basketball career was a kicker, but he used the break to get into a new game – poker. The rest is history, with ‘Texas Dolly’ – the nickname gained from the winning hand of ten-deuce that Doyle used to win back-to-back world championships in 1976 and 1977 – becoming a poker legend.

So how can you play like Doyle? Well, the truth is, you can’t. Sorry. He’s a one-off. But if you want to be inspired to become the best poker player you can, then his advice is priceless.

1. “The key to no-limit hold’em is to put a man to a decision for all his chips.”

This quote is all about the No Limit Hold’em version of poker that has decided every WSOP Main Event since 1971.  It places great importance on aggression which since Doyle said these words, has become a key factor in the game. It tells you that if you’re able to put players to the ultimate test, then you’ll get the biggest rewards.

2. “Poker is a game of people. It’s not the hand I hold; it’s the people I play with.”

Taking on the player and not the cards is something that so many people tell you to do, but Doyle Brunson lived it. Texas Dolly was famous for being able to get into players’ heads but further than that, he actually made people want to sit down and play with him. A raconteur of the highest order, Doyle was a man of the people and he was much loved by everyone in the game. To take people’s money and make them want to play you again right away? That’s not a skill; it’s an art.

3. “If there weren’t luck involved, I would win every time.”

This one is very tongue-in-cheek, something Doyle always was. Religious, passionate, opinionated he might have been, but there was an element of humor to so much that Doyle Brunson said in his lifetime and this quote about how if poker was a game of total skill then he’d win every hand was a great example of the 10-time WSOP winner’s sense of humor.

Doyle and Phil H
Doyle Brunson (left) and Phil Hellmuth enjoying a joke at the poker felt.

A Man for All Seasons

Doyle Brunson enjoyed, in many ways, the ultimate life. Once dealt cruel luck to scupper his chances in sport, he adapted to a new game and proved that one’s destiny is not bound by early hopes and dreams – it can become something even better.

4. “The most important aspect of my personality, as far as determining my success, has been my questioning conventional wisdom, doubting experts, and questioning authority.”

Poker was important to Doyle Brunson but as this quote shows, it wasn’t his life. Far from considering himself – or anyone else – an authority, Doyle questioned everything and that led to his life forging new paths, opening up avenues that might have been closed off before and genuinely pushing poker’s boundaries. The Godfather of Poker is the reason we all enjoy the game the way we do today.

5. “In poker, you make your own luck.”

This quote belies Brunson’s certainty that skill and good decision-making in the game would always outrun luck in the long race. Texas Dolly relied only on himself and perhaps his late wife Louise. The couple were married for 62 years, and Louise passed away just a few months after him. If life, Doyle was someone who made things happen. If he was in with a chance of victory, whether in a WSOP bracelet event, a World Poker Tour final table, or a sponsorship deal, then he grabbed it with both hands.

6. “The key to winning at poker is to bet aggressively when you have the advantage and fold when you don’t.”

These words from Doyle are perhaps the best single piece of poker advice ever given. Money saved is money earned, as another quote once detailed, but making hay while the sun shines is another, and both are encapsulated by this more relevant maxim from the two-time WSOP Main Event winner. If followed, then it is almost impossible to lose money playing poker.

Doyle RIP
The late, great Doyle Brunson’s words will be passed down future generations who love poker.

Advice for Life and  Poker

Doyle Brunson’s innate ‘quoteability’ didn’t stop at the poker felt. Texas Dolly lived a life that was rich in its nearly 90 years. From schooling in a different age to sport, and even witnessing two players being shot dead at the poker table over the years, Doyle saw it all at the felt.

7. “You can’t let emotion get in the way of making the right play.”

Poker is a game that is full of emotion. From bad beats to euphoric highs, the greatest game is a rollercoaster ride for anyone mentally. Doyle Brunson advocated that emotion had no place in the actual hand of poker that anyone was playing, and it was a belief that served him tremendously over the years. Maintaining composure and making rational decisions that have a solid strategic reason for being made  instead of allowing emotion to cloud judgement was huge in helping him become the poker legend we all love.

8. “The mark of a great player is being able to disguise the strength of your hand.”

Having low-ranking hands and making the most of them is one thing, but as Doyle suggests here, disguising strength and getting paid is even bigger. Making the most of any hands when you have the goods is massive, and Doyle knew it.

9. “Limit poker is a science, but no-limit is an art. In limit, you are shooting at a target. In no-limit, the target comes alive and shoots back at you.”

Doyle understood the differences between all poker formats and for decades was the Godfather of Bobby’s Room, playing cash at the highest stakes in Las Vegas. Winning millions, he was in the know of every variant, but especially No Limit. When any player puts all their chips in the middle, they need to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Doyle Brunson always made sure that he had a reason for putting his chips in the middle.

One Final Thought from The Godfather of Poker

Poker was a serious business to Doyle Brunson. He ran with the best, from the ‘Wild West’ era of travelling poker players living a life of gamble on the road to the neon-lit later stages of the game, where online poker brought the card game above the surface and into the world’s brightest spotlight.

Poker players became superstars somewhere along the way and there was never a brighter star than Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson. He was humble and he summarised poker by comparing it to another popular hobby.

10. “Poker is a lot like sex. Everyone thinks they’re the best, but most people don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”

Did this article deal you a winning hand?

Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!

Looks like you’ve been dealt a bad beat. We’ll shuffle the deck and try again.

Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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