ArticleThere will never be another Doyle Brunson

Doyle Brunson has been a pivotal figure in the world of poker for decades, and his influence on the game is unparalleled. With a career spanning over 50 years, “Texas Dolly” was one of the most successful players to ever play the game. A few days after the death of the ‘godfather of poker’, we […]

By Doro | 19 May 2023
Article featured image

Doyle Brunson has been a pivotal figure in the world of poker for decades, and his influence on the game is unparalleled. With a career spanning over 50 years, “Texas Dolly” was one of the most successful players to ever play the game.

A few days after the death of the ‘godfather of poker’, we are exploring his legacy and contribution to the game more deeply. We aim to portray him not only as a iconic poker player but also as an individual who revolutionised the game forever. Through looking at how he will be remembered by those who had the chance to play with him and meet him in person, we want to gain a more insightful understanding of the impact he had.

He was supposed to be a basketball player

Doyle Brunson was born in 1933 in Longworth, Texas. His father was a farmer and cotton gin manager, his mother a homemaker. He was the third child of John and Mealia Brunson. As a young man he was an avid basketball player and runner, but his career was cut short when he suffered a major accident at one of his summer jobs; his right knee was crushed by a metal sheet and the resulting injury meant that he could never return to full fitness.

He then decided to focus more of his time on playing poker, and by the mid-50s he was making enough money at the tables to support himself. He pursued other day jobs too, but quickly realised that nothing compared to winning big in poker. His main speciality became No Limit Hold’em, and he began travelling Texas to play at first in saloons, and then in private games with lawyers, businessmen and other high-flyers. Sometimes he visited Oklahoma and Louisiana where he met Thomas “Amarilo Slim” Preston and Bryan “Sailor” Roberts. Together they formed a poker partnership which eventually led them to the “Sin City”.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so smoothly when they first visited Las Vegas – the trio lost their entire nearly 6-figure bankroll, effectively ending their partnership but not the friendship.

Young Doyle Brunson with a basketball and clutches after the accident.
Young Doyle Brunson

Miracles

Brunson’s personal life was in disarray. Soon after marrying very religious Louise Carter in 1962 he was diagnosed with cancer but astonishingly recovered. His wife then became sick with a different kind of the same disease, yet fortunately she also made it through. In addition to this, their twelve year old daughter Doyla had serious spine problems but managed to heal without having to have surgery, which was considered a miracle as well.

Brunson flourished in his poker career and after winning 54 consequent sessions was able to financially provide for his family for years. He predominantly played in Texas, however gradually travelled to Nevada and eventually settled down in Las Vegas with his family in 1973. He became the first person who won 1.000.000$ in tournament poker.

In the mid-seventies, Brunson won two WSOP Main Event tournaments (76 and 77) and consequently gained a lot of attention. Eventually he wrote his much acclaimed book ‘Super System’, which in following decades inspired a few generations of poker players from all around the world.

Why Doyle Brunson is considered as one of the greatest players in history?

Doyle Brunson is widely considered to be one of the greatest poker players in history. His skill at the game has earned him respect from his peers, while his longevity in the industry – he competed for over 50 years in high stakes cash games and was an active player until his passing – has solidified his reputation as a poker legend.

Brunson’s major tournament successes have made him an inspiration and role model for aspiring poker pros all over the world. He was earned 10 WSOP titles and won a WPT championship. Over his career he amassed over 6.000.000$ in official tournament winnings.

YearEventPrize
1976$10,000 World Championship$220,000
1976$5,000 No-Limit Deuce to Seven Draw$80,250
1977$10,000 World Championship$340,000
1977$1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split$62,500
1978$5,000 Seven-Card Stud$68,000
1979$600 Mixed Doubles$4,500
1991$2,500 No-Limit Hold’em$208,000
1998$1,500 Seven-Card Razz$93,000
2003$2,000 H.O.R.S.E.$84,080
2005$5,000 Short Handed No-Limit Hold’em$367,800
Doyle Brunson’s WSOP titles

Doyle Brunson’s skill, courage, and dedication are what make him one of the greatest players in history. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988. Not only has he achieved success in the world of poker, but his legacy will live on for years to come. 

“We don’t have a word for what Doyle Brunson is to poker”

Doyle Brunson’s greatness extends far beyond his impressive list of accomplishments; the character he showed throughout his five decades in the game can be seen through the remarks of those who interacted with him. Here are some people’s statements from the day of his death.

Jennifer Harman, one of the best female live cash game player in history, wrote: “Doyle Brunson was the Legend of Poker. But to me, he was more of a father. I will miss him dearly”. 

Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Harman
Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Harman

Jennifer Tilly, an acclaimed actress and renowned celebrity who frequents high-stakes poker games, has expressed her admiration for Doyle Brunson.

“He had a wicked sense of humor and always put a smile on my face – she wrote on the day of his passing. Even when he bluffed me out of a hand he did it in such a genial way, I felt like it had somehow been an honor for him to take my chips”. This sentiment of admiration and respect for Brunson has been shared by many poker players, both professional and recreational alike.

Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Tilly on the set of High Stakes Poker
Doyle Brunson and Jennifer Tilly

While we’re on the subject of a sense of humour. Check out this Doyle Brunson entry from 2018.

Doyle Brunson's Escalade

People who had the opportunity to meet Brunson at the table recall these events with great fondness.

“It was a dream come true for me to be play with him after watching him and rooting him on for 20 years. We will miss you Doyle. This is from one of my favorite moments when I cracked a joke and was able to make him smile” – wrote Brad Owen, a poker professional.

Doyle Brunson and Brad Owen during the WPT event at Wynn Las Vegas
Doyle Brunson and Brad Owen

Brunson’s signature poker hand was T2. He won the first ME WSOP Championship with T2 of spades and the next one with T of spades and 2 of hearts. Scott Seiver wrote on Twitter what happened when he tried to bluff ‘the godfather of poker’ with this hand in a cash game during their first meeting.

“I bluffed $40,000 in a hopeless spot because I had T2o and wanted to show him I could beat him with it. As he raked the pot he just looked at me and smiled and said “do you know how many people have given me their $ trying to do that(?)” – wrote Seiver.

In Phil Galfond’s words, to call Doyle Brunson a legend would be an immense understatement. “I’m so lucky I had the opportunity to truly understand Doyle’s greatness by sitting across the table from him” – wrote Galfond. “‘Legend’ feels inadequate. We don’t have a word for what Doyle Brunson is to poker”.

Leaving his mark on the poker world

Professional players generally agree that Doyle Brunson had a tremendous impact on the evolution of poker unlike any other individual. 

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today, if not for him growing the game” – wrote Josh Arieh. “He did a ton to make poker what it is today” – added Jonathan Little.

The most successful poker player in WSOP history Phil Hellmuth wrote: “He inspired 3 generations of poker players w his play, his award winning book “Super System,” and his fabulous style and grit. Doyle always played hard: the man absolutely hated losing!! Doyle ruled the high stakes cash games in Las Vegas for 50 years!!”

Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth staring at each other during a WSOP event
Doyle Brunson and Phil Hellmuth

Number one player on the All-time Money List Justin Bonomo bid farewell to Brunson with a memorable photo of the two of them together.

“This is my mom’s all time favorite photo of me. I was ~22 at the time, playing in the $50,000 Poker Player’s Championship – too egotistical and overconfident to realize what a privilege and honor it was to play next to this legend RIP Doyle”

Doyle Brunson and Justin Bonomo
Doyle Brunson and Justin Bonomo

The passing of Doyle Brunson

Doyle Brunson passed away on May 15, 2023 at the ripe age of 89, leaving behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten. His passing marks a sad day for all those who have ever had the pleasure of knowing him and playing against him. He will be greatly missed.

Join Poker AcademyGet access to world-class tools used by best in business.