Anybody who has been following poker for more than five years likely knows Doyle Brunson as perhaps the biggest name in the history of the game.
Much of his success came before the poker boom of 2003 so his career earnings do not stack up with the current totals, but as one of the few two-time winners of the World Series of Poker Main Event, Brunson is known as one of the all-time greats.
Known by the nickname “Texas Dolly,” Brunson won his main event titles in 1976 and 1977. Brunson held ten-deuce on the final hand of each tournament and made a full house both times to win the hand and the tournament. That’s why that hand is named after him.
He has won eight other WSOP tournaments to give him 10 for his career. That ranks second all-time, tied with Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey. Only Phil Hellmuth (15) has more.
Brunson has won two bracelets since 1998, with his last coming in 2005.
Brunson grew up in Longworth, Texas, and was a standout athlete. He made the all-state team in basketball and won the title in the mile run at the 1950 state championship meet. Brunson had a dream of playing in the NBA and was good enough that the Minneapolis Lakers showed interest in him. A broken leg cut Brunson’s dream short.
Brunson had begun playing poker before that injury, and after graduating from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, he began playing poker with coworkers.
It didn’t take long for Brunson to leave his job as a salesman to play poker on a full-time basis. He traveled around Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana playing in illegal poker games and gambling on everything he could.
He pooled his money with several friends, and they went to Las Vegas for the first time. That trip didn’t go so well as the group lost their entire six-figure bankroll.
Brunson eventually settled in Las Vegas by 1970 and was a regular player in the WSOP for more than 40 years before retiring from poker in 2018.
He made a lot of his money while playing one of the highest stake games in the world – the $4,000/$8,000 limit mixed game in Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. One of his biggest wins came in 2004 when he won the Legends of Poker World Poker Tour event for $1.1 million.
Brunson’s biggest contribution to the game of poker is his book Super System, which was given credit for transforming the game. He self-published the book in 1978.
It gave others insight into how he thought about the game and some of his tactics. It also discusses how to control your emotions, watching your opponents, and thinking about the game. The book includes sections written by other legendary players such as Mike Caro, Chip Reese, David Sklansky, and Bobby Baldwin.
Even though the book is 40 years old, even players today consider it a big influence on their success. A sequel – Super System 2 – was published in October 2004.
None of Brunson’s poker accomplishments and contributions would have happened had he not had good fortune with his health in 1962.
He had just married his wife, Louise, and she became pregnant. During that pregnancy, doctors found a cancerous tumor in Doyle’s neck. Doctors thought an operation would keep him alive long enough to see the birth of his baby so Brunson agreed to it.
Miraculously, cancer completely disappeared following the operation, and the future of poker had an icon in the making.
Doyle Brunson stats
Total live tournament winnings: $6,176,737
World Series of Poker
26 final tables
Highest main event finish: 1st (twice)
Total WSOP winnings: $3,038,079
World Poker Tour
3 final tables
Total WPT winnings: $2,096,034