Doyle 'Texas Dolly' Brunson

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Doyle 'Texas Dolly' Brunson

Over five decades after he first sat down at a poker table in Texas, the fact that Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson at 70 years old is still one of the most feared names in both cash and tournament play is testament to his legendary skills and unparalleled reputation as a poker strategist.

"It's a sense of recall that great players have. You recall what happened the last time you were in the same situation with a player of that calibre."

Born in Longworth, Texas in 1933, a small farming town with a population of less than 100, no one could have expected Brunson's rise up the poker ranks. A highly successful athlete during school and college, Doyle was drafted by the (then) Minnesota Lakers. However a crushing knee injury that left him needing crutches for the rest of his life robbed him of his hopes for a career as a professional athlete. Doyle began playing poker around the Texas colleges as a way of supporting himself while completing his Master's degree in Administrative Education.

Brunson then went on to become a 'Rounder' - a player making the rounds from one local game to the next. After a couple of weeks in his only ever 'regular' job selling bookkeeping equipment, Doyle realised he could earn far more playing poker and packed the job in, playing poker full time. While playing on the underground Texas poker circuit, travelling of up to 500 miles to a game, he joined up with the other poker greats Sailor Roberts and Amarillo Slim, forming a partnership to share a bankroll and the long nights in motels. Not an easy life by any means, as they had to avoid police, cheats, conmen and robbers. Doyle tells tales of seeing the man sat next to him shot dead, and being held up by a shotgun and a knife during robberies.

Doyle 'Texas Dolly' Brunson

Regardless of all this, Brunson spent this time honing his skills. The reputation he built up meant he was invited to fewer and fewer games in Texas, as he usually left with the most winnings. Moving his young family to Las Vegas in the 1960s, Doyle soon began to prevail at the tables there too, making the final table in the first World Poker Tour Championships, and going on to win the World Series of Poker Championship twice, in 1976 and 1977, the highlight of his career.

Bizarrely, Doyle clinched both his WSOP wins with the exact same hand: a Full House, Tens full of Deuces. Unsurprisingly, the hand is now nicknamed the 'Doyle Brunson'.

Despite his on-the-table success, Brunson will probably be best remembered by the poker world for writing the poker 'Bible': Super/System: How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker. A in-depth guide to poker strategy, which Doyle had perfected over many hours at the tables and during many hours in motels with Amarillo Slim on their travels, the book was the first of its kind. Even though some of his fellow pros were upset by Brunson 'giving away' the secrets of the game (and consequently making poker a harder game to play in the following years), Super System helped to revolutionise the modern game, and gave the profession some legitimacy which it had previously lacked. In this, and his second book According to Doyle, a collection of his articles for Gambling Times magazine, Brunson stressed the importance of honour and trust among his fellow pros, and that gambling could be a decent profession. Doyle spent every penny he had getting his first book published: not trusting the traditional publishing houses to pay him royalties, he bought nearly all of a printing press to publish the book himself.

Brunson is also notorious for his prolific gambling, both on his own golf games and sportsbook betting. Bets of five figures or more on single sporting events are struck on a very regular basis.

During his career, Brunson has gone on to clinch 9 WSOP gold bracelets: Deuce to Seven Draw in 1976; Seven Car Stud Split and 1977; Seven Card Stud in 1978 and 1998; Mixed Doubles in 1979; No Limit Holdem in 1991; H.O.R.S.E in 2003; and his two Championships in 1976 and 1977.

Even though he is a highly successful tournament player, it is undoubtedly Brunson's ultra-high staking cash games that have helped to build his fortune, never having had a losing year. Now into his 70s, Brunson shows no signs of slowing down, and his ambition is to continue playing at the top level until he hits 80. He has recently developed a keenness for online poker play, as well as storming back to form to win the Legends of Poker title (and his biggest ever prize pot of over $1 million) in 2004.

He is still one of the smartest players on the circuit. Everyone else has learnt from his book: he had to do it the hard way by himself. Known as the inventor of the big bluff, Doyle claims he had to change his style after his book was published since everyone now knew what a forceful bluffer he was. Brunson also refuses to look at his own cards until everyone else has looked at theirs. His cards can always wait; you only have a split second to catch the reaction of your opponents when they look at theirs.

He still struggles to explain what makes a good poker player, but believes the closest he can get is:

"It's a sense of recall that great players have. You recall what happened the last time you were in the same situation with a player of that calibre."

His son, Todd, has also gone on to become a successful poker player.

A first-class poker player, who revolutionised the game he loves, Doyle is often cited as the father of modern Texas Holdem. Brunson made poker a respectable modern sport, and even if his opponents curse him for making the game harder by revealing their secrets, they can only thank him for that.

See some of the stats from the Texas Dolly's career here:

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