Doyle Brunson, gun poker legend who won millions, dies at 89

Doyle Brunson, a poker legend nicknamed “Texas Dolly” who dominated high-stakes games for 70 years, first in smoky back rooms where gunfire occasionally broke out, then later (and legally) at cable television during the World Series of Poker, died May 14 in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 89 years old.

His agent, Brian Balsbaugh, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

The arc of Mr. Brunson’s career parallels the history of poker in the United States, from underground to mainstream entertainment.

Ranked by Bluff magazine as the most influential player in history, Mr. Brunson won 10 World Series of Poker tournaments, including Main Event titles in 1976 and 1977. He was the first player to win $1 million tournament dollars and finished his career with $6.2. million in living earnings – although that’s exactly what he did in public view.

Until recently, Mr. Brunson also played private games with huge stakes, sometimes winning (or losing) millions of dollars a month. His wife found him more than occasionally infuriating.

“But that’s what I do,” he told Texas Monthly last year. “That’s what I’ve always done. And if I fall dead at the table in the middle of a monster pot, shit, I’ll die happy.

In the early 1950s, he played backstage at bars and other adult establishments in a seedy neighborhood along Exchange Avenue in Fort Worth.

“Exchange Avenue was perhaps the most dangerous street in America,” he told Texas Monthly. “There was nothing but thieves, pimps and killers. It was amazing.”

Mr. Brunson was still packing a gun. (When asked if he’s ever used it, he said, “No comment.”) One night, someone interrupted a game, put a loaded gun to a player’s head, and fired. Mr. Brunson left with his chips and hid in a stream.

Another night, this time in Austin, gunmen burst in, took the money off the table and lined the players up against a wall, ordering them to drop their pants. The bandits threatened that if the players hid money, their legs would be ripped off.

Suddenly players started throwing $100 bills on the floor.

Mr. Brunson was philosophical about chaos.

“There’s absolutely no need to worry about money,” he told The New York Times. “You have to think of it as an action and the money as units. What you’re trying to do is earn as many units as possible.

Mr Brunson eventually joined other players, traveling across Texas to play private games with doctors, lawyers and other professionals where there was always more money at stake – and certainly less violence .

In the early 1960s, he moved to Las Vegas, where poker was booming. He participated in the First World Series of Poker event in 1970.

A few years later, World Series events began to be televised. ESPN began broadcasting events in the 1980s and interest grew steadily. Mr. Brunson has become one of the most familiar faces in the game, a cowboy hat always snug on his head. He was fabulously wealthy, said to have invested millions to raise the Titanic and find Noah’s Ark.

Mr. Brunson has also written several books on poker, including “Doyle Brunson’s Super System”, in which he describes his methods. The book, and a subsequent follow-up, became the bible of the sport, appearing in the opening scenes of the game movie “Rounders” (1998) starring Matt Damon.

“More than any other game,” he writes, “poker depends on your understanding of your opponent. You need to know what motivates him. More importantly, you need to know what motivates him the moment you are involved in a pot with him. What is his mood…his feeling? What is his apparent psychological state of mind right now? »

The neck is the best place to look for a tell.

“On many people the pulse in the neck is visible,” he wrote. “If so, a man can’t hide it, because no one can control his heartbeat in (stressful) situations. When you see a man’s neck throbbing, you know he’s excited, and usually he’s excited because he’s bluffing.

Doyle Frank Brunson was born on August 10, 1933, in Longworth, Texas, a rural farming town consisting of a few houses, a general store, and no indoor plumbing. His father worked at a gin manufacturer and, in secret, Doyle later discovered, was playing poker to fund his children’s college education. Her mother was a housewife.

Mr. Brunson excelled in sports, primarily basketball and track and field. At Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Abilene, Texas, he played on the basketball team and played poker with friends on Saturday nights.

After graduating in 1954, he stayed at Hardin-Simmons and earned a master’s degree in education. He found a job selling commercial equipment. On his first day at work, he came across a game of poker.

“It was a Seven-Stud game where I cleared a month’s pay in less than three hours,” he wrote in “Super System.” “‘My God,’ I thought, ‘what am I doing trying to sell machines that no one wants to buy from me when I can sit at a poker table and win ten times as much? money in a sixth of the time?'”

He quit and headed to Exchange Avenue.

In 1962 he married Louise Carter, a pharmacist, at a funeral home where his brother-in-law worked. “The chapel was lovely,” Brunson told Texas Monthly.

Survivors include his wife; their children Todd and Pamela Brunson; one daughter-in-law, Cheryl Carter; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mr. Brunson was a master at deciphering the tell.

“I once had a testimonial about Puggy Pearson,” he wrote in “Super System.” “Every time he put his chips in the rack and bet them, he was bluffing. He must have done that six months before someone else found out and told him.

But he was just as good at bluffing.

“All top professionals have a defense against people who use stories against them,” Brunson wrote. “Sometimes when I’m bluffing, I say something in particular, like ‘gee whiz’, to make people associate that with (a) bluff. But the next time I say ‘gee whiz’, I won’t be bluffing.

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