Doyle Brunson, the “Godfather of Poker,” Passes Away at 89

  • Brunson won ten WSOP bracelets, including two for the Main Event
  • He wrote Super/System, arguably the most influential poker book ever
  • His presence was felt in every poker room in which he played
  • I covered his tenth WSOP win in 2005, snapping a photo of him for a magazine cover
  • Brunson’s enjoyment of my photo gave me the confidence that I belonged in the poker world
Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson, a legend to top all poker legends, passed away May 14 at the age of 89. [Image: / World Poker Tour]

Unrivaled in poker history

Doyle Brunson, the first poker player everyone would put on the game’s Mount Rushmore, passed away Sunday, May 14 at the age of 89. The “Godfather of Poker” was one of poker’s trailblazers, helping bring the game out of the seedy Texas back rooms and into the light as a legitimate form of entertainment.

His son, fellow Poker Hall of Famer Todd Brunson, confirmed the news Sunday night:

“Texas Dolly” played in the very first World Series of Poker in 1970, ultimately winning ten gold bracelets in his career, two of which were for the Main Event. Only Phil Hellmuth, with 16, has more total bracelets. Brunson was a fixture in the highest stakes cash games in Las Vegas for half a century, even well into his 80’s, both intimidating and soft-spoken at the same time. His Super/System is probably the most important poker book ever written.

My first WSOP, his last bracelet

But you can read about Doyle Brunson’s poker accomplishments anywhere. I want to take a moment to talk about what he meant to me at the beginning of my career in the poker world. After I earned my MBA in 2004, I ended up in a consulting job with an awful company. I quit after a few months and was fortunate enough to join up with an online poker affiliate to help launch its poker news site.

 learning to swim by jumping into the pool

Within just a couple months of starting, I flew out Las Vegas to cover the World Series of Poker. I had watched poker on television and played micro-stakes games online, but other than that, I knew very little about the poker industry or community. But there I was at the Rio, media badge around my neck, learning to swim by jumping into the pool.

But I knew who Doyle Brunson was. Wandering around the tables, snapping pictures and taking notes, I took every opportunity I could to linger by his and other famous pros’ tables, as if I could soak up knowledge just by sharing the same atmosphere.

I spent a lot of my time in the bleachers at final tables so I could report on them as soon as they ended. So there I was in late June, sitting there with my notepad and new fancy camera that my boss bought once we realized my little point-and-shoot wasn’t cutting it, watching Doyle Brunson compete at the final table of the $5,000 Short Handed No-Limit Hold’em Event. Going into the 2005 WSOP, he was tied with Johnny Chan for the all-time lead in bracelets with nine, but Chan scored his 10th that series to pull ahead.

Even though forces like Jason Lester, Minh Ly, Scotty Nguyen, and Layne Flack were at the table, everyone, including me, was rooting for Doyle. And sure enough, he beat Ly heads-up to win his tenth and final WSOP bracelet. Though I was new to the poker world, I could feel the importance of the moment. With the super-duper camera, I took as many photos as I could of Brunson as he held up the bracelet in triumph, hoping I could get something suitable for my article.

Doyle Brunson gave me confidence

That summer, I also started writing for Canadian Poker Player magazine and, along with my media outlet, agreed to share the pictures I took with the periodical. To my great delight, a WSOP article I wrote was the cover story and even more shocking, one of my photos of Doyle Brunson made the cover. In the grand scheme of my career and the industry, it didn’t matter – the article wasn’t very good, nobody knew I took the picture, and if they did, they wouldn’t have cared – but it was a proud moment for me, one that made me feel like I belonged.

The following year, Brunson was signing autographs one day in the Doyle’s Room lounge, the room near the main poker room at the WSOP where fans could go sign up for his branded online poker room and grab some swag. I actually had the aforementioned issue of the magazine with me in Las Vegas, so being the unprofessional “journalist” that I was, I decided to go stand in line and get it signed.

to have Doyle Brunson’s approval as a still-novice 30-year-old poker writer meant everything to me

As I handed Doyle the magazine, I told him that I took the cover photo. He paused, examined it, and said in his soft Texas drawl, “This is really good. You took this?” He then proceeded to take a moment to flip through the pages, nodding in approval. He even had me talk briefly with his publicist, who took my information. Nothing came of it, but to have Doyle Brunson’s approval as a still-novice 30-year-old poker writer meant everything to me. To have a legend like him know I existed, even if for just a minute, made my summer.

Doyle Brunson meant a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, in those early days of my career in the poker industry, he was the one who told me I belonged.

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