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Poker legend Doyle Brunson dies at 89

Updated May 15, 2023 - 7:27 pm

Doyle Brunson, widely regarded as the “Godfather of Poker,” died Sunday in Las Vegas. He was 89.

Nicknamed “Texas Dolly,” Brunson won 10 World Series of Poker tournaments, including the Main Event in 1976 and 1977. His book “Super System” influenced a generation of poker players, and he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.

Brunson’s agent, Brian Balsbaugh, posted a statement on Twitter from the Brunson family. The cause of death was not announced.

“It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our father, Doyle Brunson. He was a beloved Christian man, husband, father and grandfather. We’ll have more to say over the coming days as we honor his legacy. Please keep Doyle and our family in your prayers. May he rest in peace.”

As he detailed in his memoir, “The Godfather of Poker,” Brunson saw poker grow from illegal games in Texas backrooms, with players often shunned by society, to nationally televised broadcasts that made players, including Brunson, into celebrities.

Born Aug. 10, 1933, he grew up on a farm with no indoor plumbing in Longworth, Texas, where he was a standout athlete. He won the Texas Class 2A state championship in the mile in 1950 and was named to the 2A state basketball all-tournament team.

Brunson attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and helped the basketball team reach the NCAA Tournament in 1953 as a junior. He was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2009.

Brunson was scouted by the Minneapolis Lakers, but he sustained a broken leg while working a summer job that ended his basketball career. Instead, Brunson went to graduate school and traveled to college towns across Texas on the weekends to play poker.

After he earned a master’s degree in business and education, Brunson took a job selling Burroughs business machines. While on his route, Brunson sat in a poker game in the backroom of a pool hall.

“I cleared a month’s salary in less than three hours,” he wrote. “I didn’t need one of Burroughs machines to tell me those numbers didn’t add up. So I quit.”

Brunson played in illegal poker games in Fort Worth, and he teamed up with famed Texas road gamblers “Amarillo Slim” Preston and Bryan “Sailor” Roberts, traveling the state in search of the biggest poker games. Following a cancer scare in 1963, Brunson used his poker winnings to pay his medical bills.

In 1972, Brunson conceded the WSOP Main Event title to Preston, as he believed the publicity would ruin his chances to play in high-stakes cash games.

Brunson moved to Las Vegas in 1973 and earned the first of his 10 WSOP bracelets in 1976 when he won the $5,000 buy-in 2-7 Lowball Draw.

That same year, Brunson won the Main Event and repeated in 1977. He is one of four players to win the Main Event in consecutive years.

Each time, Brunson’s winning hand was 10-2, and the holding is known as the Doyle Brunson.

Brunson’s last WSOP victory came in 2005 in the $5,000 buy-in No-limit Texas Hold’em six-handed event. His 10 bracelets are tied for the second-most in history.

“I’m so lucky I had the opportunity to truly understand Doyle’s greatness by sitting across the table from him,” professional poker player Phil Galfond wrote on Twitter. “‘Legend’ feels inadequate. We don’t have a word for what Doyle Brunson is to poker.”

Brunson announced his retirement from tournament poker in 2018 after a sixth-place finish in the WSOP $10,000 buy-in No-limit 2-7 Lowball Draw Championship.

He continued to play in high-stakes cash games in Las Vegas, and in 2021, Brunson participated in the $1,000 buy-in Super Seniors No-limit Hold’em event and the Main Event.

Brunson had planned to play the 2022 $10,000 buy-in Main Event No-limit Hold’em World Championship but opted to sit out after multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 during the series.

During his career, Brunson cashed in 37 WSOP tournaments for $3,038,079. He also won a World Poker Tour title in 2004 and had more than $6.1 million in live tournament earnings, according to the Hendon Mob Poker Database.

“Legend. There will never be another Doyle Brunson,” six-time WSOP winner Daniel Negreanu said on Twitter. “… He will be missed by many.”

Brunson is survived by his wife, Louise, son, Todd, and daughter Pamela. Daughter Doyla died in 1982.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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