Poker may have existed long before Doyle Brunson was around, but in terms of competitive poker for big money and the WSOP, Brunson was one of the founding fathers of the game. An all-rounder of exceptional ability he amassed ten WSOP bracelets in his career, including back to back Main Event titles in 1976 and 1977. Having now lived the lion’s share of such a long and eventful life, Doyle Brunson’s time has been marked by many interesting stories.
Here is our collection of lesser-known gems from the life of poker’s greatest legend.
#1 – The business decision that cost Doyle Brunson $230 million
Back in early 2006 the poker boom was exploding and everything poker related was turning into gold. Brunson had used his highly respected name to open his own online poker room, of which he was the face. He brought a few pros on board as sponsored players and began gathering a pool of players who enjoyed playing on his site – Doylesroom.com.
It wasn’t long before an offer came in to buy up the poker room, with Brunson holding a 50% stake in it. If the deal had gone through, he would have instantly become $230 million richer. Brunson said no however, expecting the poker room to continue its growth. In April, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act arrived and threw online poker into chaos. Doyle’s Room plummeted in value and the opportunity had passed him by.
#2 – The WSOP Main Event title he gifted
Back in 1972, the WSOP Main Event title was still entirely new. The first edition was in 1970 and involved just 7 players, while the following year drew only 6. Nobody had any idea that this high stakes sit & go would grow to become the most prestigious poker tournament on earth. In 1972, there were just four players remaining from a starting field of 8 when the players went on a break.
As they sat drinking a coffee together in Binion’s, discussion turned to who seemed likely to win. Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston was very short-stacked, Crandell Addington and Doyle Brunson had plenty of chips but weren’t overly enthused by the attention that might come with being world champion. They played for money, not fame, after all. Walter “Puggy” Pearson remarked that he was hoping not to win as he’d already sold 200% of himself, and so a deal was struck. Amarillo Slim agreed to dividing most of the money between the others, and he would win the tournament.
Later of course, Brunson would go on to win two Main Event titles along with a 2nd,3rd and 4th place in the early 1980’s but has never expressed any regret at giving what could have been a legacy altering third title to his friend Amarillo Slim.
#3 – The injury that changed everything
In his college days, Doyle Brunson was an incredible athlete. While primarily interested in basketball, he took to running and attempted to work on his speed over the one-mile distance. At Just eighteen years old, Brunson ran a mile in 4:38 before going on to set a personal best of 4:18.6.
In the preface for his book “Super System” he said,
“I often wonder what would have happened if I’d trained as hard for Track as I did Basketball. I’m sorry I didn’t. I think I missed my true calling in sports. There’s no doubt in my mind that a four-minute mile was possible”.
This period of Brunson’s life was in 1950, with nobody in the world having run a four-minute mile yet. Nobody would do so until Roger Bannister in 1954. That summer, Brunson took a job in a local Gypsum plant which produced “sheet-rock”. While unloading the heavy sheets and stacking them one day, the pile began to topple. Brunson threw his body against the 2,000lb stack and jammed his knee against it to try to stop the inevitable. His leg was crushed and snapped in two places, with further complications meaning that he spent 2 years in a cast. In athletic terms, he was finished. But while on the long road to recovery Brunson learned poker and from there, his legendary life in the game began.
#4 – The violent robberies back in Texas
Most people will have heard something about Brunson’s early years earning money at poker and perhaps heard the quote about winning the money not being the difficult part in those days; leaving with it was the real challenge. But few will know just how brutal those games in Fort Worth, Texas were.
In an interview with PokerStars, Brunson said that he was once sat playing a poker game when a man burst in and shot the man beside him in the head.
Brunson said, “I remember the guy’s head falling off”. He added that he also had a knife held to his throat, was threatened with a baseball bat, beaten and was robbed “So many times I can’t even remember the number”.
Brunson used to play on a street the players called “Bloodthirsty Highway”, where “thieves, robbers and killings were commonplace… and everyone was some kind of an outlaw”. He added “I took a few scratches along the way”. Before long however, Brunson had befriended Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts and the three watched each other’s backs. They became close lifelong friends, with each of them going on to win the WSOP Main Event.
#5 – The cash games still being crushed
Now in his 80’s, Brunson has retreated from the tournament world for the most part, although he did finish 6th in the $10K NL 2-7 Lowball Draw Championship at the WSOP in 2018. After that result Brunson spoke of spending less time playing poker, especially in tournaments. The media immediately seized upon this as a retirement announcement, but the ageing Texan was by no means retired.
Just a couple of months later after crushing the high stakes cash games in Bobby’s Room, he tweeted a picture of the new Cadillac he had just bought, thanking his recent cash game opponents for paying for it. Now approaching 86 years of age, Brunson continues to be a regular in Bobby’s Room.
#6 – The terminal cancer that vanished
Through the course of his life, Doyle Brunson has beaten cancer six times. In 2018, he tweeted that about one of those brushes with death back in 1960. He said “5 doctors gave me 3 months to live, with terminal cancer. That was 58 years ago”. A proudly religious man, Brunson credits god with his survival, but he had two operations to remove the cancer at that time which appear to have played a role. Whatever the reason, his cancer vanished, marking one more fascinating chapter in the life of poker’s greatest legend.
5 doctors gave me 3 months to live with terminal https://t.co/1jF1tk4loM Anderson concurred. That was 58 years ago. 2nd operation it disappeared. Where did it go? Only God knows. The doctors called it a spontaneous remission, only 2 on record. https://t.co/x2n0vAo8Gj
— Doyle Brunson (@TexDolly) March 4, 2018
The last bastion of a bygone era, Doyle Brunson occupies a special place in the heart of the poker world, not only as a great man, but a great player who is one of the final living links to the earliest beginnings of professional poker and the World Series. His remarkable story is a permanent reminder that anything can be beaten or accomplished, and the history of poker is all of ours to write, regardless of age or circumstance.
Article by Craig Bradshaw