The term “legend” fits only a handful of individuals in any sport, and 1988 Poker Hall of Fame Winner Doyle Brunson is certainly one of them. Not only was he the first back-to-back World Champion of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 1976-77, the final hand with which he won both tournaments was the ten of spades and a deuce, so that today the pocket 10-2 is known as a “Brunson.”
Born in tiny Longworth, Texas in 1933, Doyle Brunson was an outstanding athlete in his youth. He won the one-mile event at the 1950 Texas Interscholastic Track Meet with a time of 4’43” and attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, where he played basketball. Only a career-ending knee injury kept the young hoopster from going pro.
After finishing up his Bachelor’s degree in 1954 and obtaining a Masters in Business a year later, Brunson took a took a job selling business machines. But on the very same day he started work, in less than three hours the new graduate won more than a month’s salary in a poker game playing seven-card stud. Not long after that, he quit the company to become a gambler fulltime.
There was only one small problem with Brunson’s new career choice. Gambling was strictly forbidden in Texas and the surrounding states, which meant he had to play in illegal games, frequently on Exchange Street in Fort Worth with his buddy Dwayne Hamilton. Soon the duo was traveling to bigger games conducted by professional criminals in Louisiana and Oklahoma as well as their home state, meeting up with Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts along the way.
Brunson could tell story after story of having guns pulled on him, being robbed and beaten, and how in the 1960s he lost over six figures in funds pooled with Slim and Roberts while playing in Nevada casinos. By the time Benny Binion organized the very first WSOP event in 1970, Brunson had settled down in Las Vegas with his wife Louise, son Todd and daughter Doyla.
Brunson’s first WSOP bracelet came while playing $5,000 No Limit Deuce to Seven Lowball at the 7th Annual WSOP confab in 1976. The first-place finish was worth a cool $90,250. The win was soon followed by the two World Championships and three more bracelets in 1977~79, making the Texan the first poker player to succeed at WSOP final tables in four consecutive years.
Perhaps even more remarkable than his card-playing success was his biggest win of all—beating cancer. In late 1962, Brunson had developed a tumor that spread the disease and was declared inoperable. To prolong his life through the birth of his first child, Brunson’s doctors went ahead and removed the malignant growth. Amazingly, the cancer disappeared after that, a recovery that the survivor attributes to the power of prayer.
As the world’s reigning king of poker, in 1978 Doyle Brunson self-published his first book, entitled “Super/System.” It has been widely acclaimed as the guide that showed ordinary poker players how to win like pros. Brunson likes to joke that it “cost me a lot of money” by increasing the level of competition at tournaments.
Prior to his induction into the Poker Hall of Fame at the age of 54, Brunson published “Poker Wisdom of a Champion” with the help of Lyle Stuart under the original title “According to Doyle.” One might have thought that by this time his name would be cemented in the minds of all gambling pros, but when Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder once went to introduce him at an event, the TV commentator slipped and called the poker star “Texas Dolly” instead of “Texas Doyle.” Brunson has been known as “Dolly” ever since.
In his illustrious career spanning half a century, Texas Dolly has amassed ten WSOP bracelets and two dozen additional cashes worth a total of $2,966,053. As prolific as that may seem, it is overshadowed by his prowess in cash games and non-WSOP tournaments, where he has claimed an estimated $6 million or more in earnings, including a $1.1 million payday for winning the Legends of Poker World Poker Tour event in 2004.
Quite appropriately, Brunson’s latest book, “Super/System II,” is subtitled “How I made one million dollars playing poker.” At the ripe young age of 79, Dolly spends most of his card-playing time at “Bobby’s Room” inside the Bellagio in Las Vegas, where he enjoys $4,000/$8,000 limit games, from Hold’em and Omaha to Razz and H.O.R.S.E. His alleged ambition is “to play poker until I’m 85 years old,” meaning six more years of relieving lesser players of their money and teaching the great lessons that the legend has learned.