Doyle Brunson

That charming old wit, writer and cigar smoker that was Mark Twain is often misquoted as saying “Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”  These days the quote is now most apt for poker legend Doyle Brunson (as reports of his death are still being greatly exaggerated).

Doyle Brunson

Doyle Brunson

Back in 1897 what Twain actually said was,  “It has been reported that I was seriously ill, it was another man. It has been reported that I was dying, it was that man again. It was reported that I was dead, still the other fella…As far as I can see, nothing remains to be reported. When you hear it, don’t you believe it. And don’t take the trouble to deny it.” And again he could well have been speaking about, the Godfather, Texas Dolly, Big Papa that’s Mr. Doyle F. Brunson

A little while ago, “Doyle Brunson is dead!” went the cry, and the internet being what it is the shout went viral in a way that would have shamed Paul Revere. In days of old, when the world was a much smaller place, news would travel slowly and people would look at “facts” a little harder. These days, time of deaths are more difficult verify, type “Doyle Brunson is dead” into a search engine and you get 190,000 hits. Some say he died in 2010, some day he died in 2009, some say he’s alive but is suffering a terminal illness, others say he has an incurable disease and has had his body frozen (in stasis) and kept in the deep freeze of the Binion’s Horseshoe Steakhouse Kitchens. The list goes on.

Some even have gone as far as to state that Brunson has wagered with some poker buddies that he will liver to see 2020, others say that he has bet that he will be dead by (insert random date here) and either way he has some cunning plan and clever trick to pull of the feat. He might just be betting on living for ever, because what’s he got to lose? Many so-called Poker toughs and professional gamblers are willing to take either side of that bet and may raise the stakes, or even throw in bluffs with additional uncertain information (see above). Some gamblers swear blind that he man lives, including Doyle himself. However I can’t be absolutely sure due to Doyle’s recent (reported) wager and the fact that he might be bluffing.

I was on a poker forum last week and got into an argument about Doyle and his life force, the goob I was playing (and winning) against swore blind that not only was Doyle dead, he was also buried (in Vegas, natch), and attempted to “prove” his point by saying a “friend” of his attended the funeral. At this stage I think it’s worth mentioning that any secondhand proofs like that one should be sent to their rooms till they learn to behave. For example I have a friend who dropped his sack into the lip of the The Golf Champion Trophy, (more commonly known as the Claret Jug). I do hope that Doyle Brunson wasn’t buried in Vegas (or anywhere else) because he’s very much alive and kicking. Maybe it’s Doyle’s fun-loving personality, or his various prop bets concerning to how long he’ll live, or just the fact that he is as old as old,  that give rise to  so many rumours about his death.

If Mr. Poker Doyle Brunson was to die right now, it would be a sad day for poker as he’s accomplished so much in his life already. He is the first two-time World Series of Poker main event champion to win consecutively, a Poker Hall of Fame inductee, the winner of ten WSOP bracelets, the first player to earn $1 million in poker tournaments, a member of both the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame and the World Poker Tour’s poker Walk of Fame, and the author of several excellent books on (excellent) poker strategy. What he’s done would fill a book, and indeed it has. The story of Doyle Brunson’s life “The Godfather of Poker”, is a must read book for all card players, poker fans, gambling doyens, poker historians, Vegas authorities or just those mere mortals who would like to read a cracking good story told with aplomb.

Doyle was born around Leviticus times, aka 1933 (one of three children) in Longworth, Fisher County, Texas, a town with a population of barely 100. A frequent runner (the easiest way to get around), Doyle became a promising athlete he once recorded a 4 minute 43 second mile, and he grew up to be was part of the All-State Texas basketball.  He was such a promising Basketballer that The Minneapolis Lakers showed interested in him, but a double broken leg that saw him in a cast for two years ended his playing days. The cane (occasionally crutch) that he sometimes carries is a relic of his injury. With athleticisms side-lined Brunson swapped his focus from sports to education, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1954 and a master’s degree in administrative education the following year.

Brunson begun playing cards before his injury, usually five-card draw and found it “too easy.” Laid up with his leg he played more often, with his winning more than covering his living expenses. After graduation, he took a job as a business machines salesman. Legend has it that on his first day, he was invited to play a seven-card stud game with his boss and some colleagues where he went and won over a month’s salary in under three hours. It was no surprise when he left the company to become a professional poker player. Back in the days before internet poker, Brunson was making a living in the illegal poker games run by organized criminals. Those days, he needed to sidestep police, hijackers and gangsters, and competing in hands worth more than a million dollars (in old money). It was during these days Doyle made friends with Dwayne Hamilton and fellow professionals Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts, with whom Doyle travelled across the states gambling with anyone on just about everything, golf, cards, trains and numerous prop bets.

Brunson finally settled in Las Vegas Nevada and has been a regular fixture at the World Series of Poker, since its inception in 1970, playing in the Main Event nearly every year since then. To go with his two championship wins in 1976 and 1977, Brunson’s other main event cashes are: 1980 (runner-up to three-time champion Stu Ungar), 1982 (4th), 1983 (3rd), 1997 (16th), and 2004 (53rd). His greatest achievement, away from the tables is probably his book, Super/System, which is one of the most respected and influential books on poker ever written. The book gave ordinary players insight into the way that professionals such as Brunson played. Brunson en jokes that publishing his book it cost him a lot of money.

The big man’s name will live forever in poker terms, even if he doesn’t, as he has the honour of having (not one but) two Texas hold’em hands named after him. A ten and a two of any suit, carries his name because despite being the underdog in the final hand he won the No Limit Hold ‘Em event at the WSOP two years back to back with them (1976 and 1977), both times completing a full house. In both 1976 and 1977. The other hand known as a “Doyle Brunson,” is the ace and queen of any suit because, he says in Super/System 2, “tries to never play this hand.” Although that could be a long term bluff.

Death is all around

Brunson is no stranger to the grim reaper and references in his book My Fifty Most Memorable Hands that he has witnessed three people die at the poker tables. One was sat next to Brunson, when he was shot at point blank range because of a domestic dispute (think on that next time your old lady criticizes the amount of tie you sped playing). He also states that he saw two others died of heart attacks, one from a cocktail of drugs and alcohol while the other appears to have died with shock after losing a massive pot to Brunson. Doyle himself managed to beat an (allegedly) incurable cancer way back in 1963. I would recommend you don’t bet on Doyle Brunson dying anytime soon. But keep watching his cards, when he gets dealt a two-pair poker hand, “aces and eights” it might be time to bet the limit on Doyle’s demise, as that is what’s known as the Dead Man’s hand. And I can’t think of a better way for the Godfather of poker to go out.


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