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Doyle Brunson makes return to WSOP Main Event at 88

For many poker players, entering the World Series of Poker Main Event is the dream of a lifetime. For Doyle Brunson, it was a chance to get out of the house.

Brunson — the “Godfather of Poker,” the 10-time WSOP bracelet winner, two-time Main Event champion and Poker Hall of Fame member — decided to enter the first starting flight of the Main Event, the $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em World Championship, on Thursday at the Rio.

Brunson, an 88-year-old Las Vegan, had not played in the Main Event for several years.

“Well, they asked me to come,” he said. “I hadn’t played in a while, and I thought it could be a relief to get out of the house for a while. I’ve been in the house for a year without hardly coming out. They asked me, and I’m glad I came.”

The Main Event is returning to fully in-person play this year after being held in a hybrid online/live format last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Brunson was still alive with 86,000 chips (from a starting stack of 60,000) at the dinner break Thursday night, with play expected to continue deep into the evening.

The Main Event will have five more starting flights every day through Tuesday. A total of 518 players entered Day 1A on Thursday, and 1,514 so far have registered for one of the flights.

The champion will eventually be crowned at the final table Nov. 17.

Brunson arrived about an hour and a half into play Thursday.

WSOP bracelet winner Perry Friedman joked that people were paying attention to him and his digital mask that had “WSOP 2021” displayed on it — until Brunson sat down at his table. (The WSOP awards trophy bracelets for tournament victories.)

“It’s a little surprising to see him,” Friedman, who lives in Henderson, said. “To have him show up at my table, it’s fun. It’s fun to have him there. I think it’s going to be a little bit of a wild table now.”

Friedman, who was among the chip leaders at the dinner break with 200,500, changed the display on his mask to read “Hello Dolly” to greet Brunson, also known as “Texas Dolly.”

Brunson is one of the few people alive who played at the first WSOP in 1970, and he has been a fixture of high-stakes poker ever since. But Brunson said he had played poker perhaps six times since the pandemic started.

“I’ve been binge-watching the soap operas,” he joked, citing “Yellowstone” and “Bosch” as two of his favorites.

Besides Brunson, the return of the Main Event brought two other fixtures: first-time hopefuls and bad beats.

Dan Finnegan of New York was supposed to play the Main Event last year after winning his seat at a charity tournament, but he was forced to wait a year because of the pandemic.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “It’s always on the bucket list for every poker player out there. Just very excited to be here, and very intimidated by the amount of players and the quality and the skill of some of the players out here.”

Damian Salas of Argentina, who won the hybrid Main Event last year for $2.55 million, gave the introductory “shuffle up and deal” announcement, then was one of the first casualties.

He called all-in on the turn with an ace-high flush, the best possible hand at the time, but his opponent had two pair and made a full house on the river. Salas was eliminated a short time later.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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