Legendary poker icon Doyle Brunson passes away aged 89

Image courtesy of WSOP

The poker world is in mourning after news broke of the passing of one of the game’s true legends in Doyle Brunson. He was 89.

Brunson’s family released a statement on Monday which read, “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.”

Widely known as “Texas Dolly”, Brunson was among the first true superstars of poker, graduating from the highly dangerous world of underground card games in his home state to become one of the most recognizable figures on the planet and synonymous with the World Series of Poker (WSOP), where he amassed 10 bracelets, twice won the Main Event and became the first person ever to win US$1 million from tournaments.

In one famous story from his book The Godfather of Poker: The Doyle Brunson Story, Brunson tells of a private Ace-to-Five Lowball game he was playing when his opponent Red Dodson, who he had been successfully bluffing all night, finally got it all-in with an Ace, 2, 3, 4 and 6 – the second best hand possible – only for Brunson to turn over the one hand that beat him (Ace through 5).

“Red’s face turned white, his eyes rolled back and he started turning blue,” Brunson recalled. “Red fell out of his chair and was dead before he hit the floor. The doctor said he had a massive heart attack. There was nothing I could do but collect his chips and pull them into my stack … I felt bad, but that’s poker and bad beats happen.”

Brunson was one of seven players invited by Jack Binion in 1970 to the Horseshoe in Las Vegas take part in the inaugural WSOP, with the winner decided by player vote following a lengthy cash game session. Although Johnny Moss would win the approval of his peers on that occasion, the WSOP would change to its now-famous tournament model the following year with a series of smaller events leading into a Main Event. At that time a winner-take-all tournament, Brunson topped the field of 22 runners in 1976 to claim the US$220,000 top prize, then defended his crown in 1977 against a field of 34 players to take home another US$340,000.

Perhaps even more notable than those wins is the fact that on both occasions Brunson’s winning hand was 10-2 – etching that particular holding in poker folklore to forever be known as “The Doyle Brunson Hand”.

The last of Brunson’s 10 WSOP bracelets came back in 2005 – the same year Australia’s own Joe Hachem won the Main Event – and to this day he remains one of only four men to have reached double figures, behind only Phil Hellmuth (16 bracelets) and equal with Phil Ivey and Johnny Chan.

Having authored the ground-breaking strategy book Super/System back in 1978, Brunson also was one of the first to detail in print the strategies employed by top professionals and is credited by many for changing the way the game was played. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.

While the game has advanced immeasurably in the years since, Brunson continued to mix it with the best in some of the biggest cash games in the world right up until his passing.

The tributes to Brunson flowed thick and fast on Monday, with the WSOP posting, “Rest in Peace to the Biggest Legend of Them All. Thank you for being the consummate player and gentleman. No one will ever fill your seat.”

Phil Hellmuth posted, “Poker lost its biggest Legend today: @TexDolly. He inspired 3 generations of poker players with his play, his award-winning book Super/System and his fabulous style and grit. Doyle always played hard: the man absolutely hated losing!! Doyle ruled the high stakes cash games in Las Vegas for 50 years!! Doyle was married to the love of his life, Louise, for 62 years. Goodbye – and rest in peace – to the most beloved poker player in history…”

High stakes pro Scott Seiver added a story of his own, posting, “One of the first times playing with him I bluffed $40,000 in a hopeless spot because I had T2o and wanted to show him I could beat him with it. As he raked the pot, he just looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Do you know how many people have given me their $ trying to do that?’”

And fellow pro Daniel Negreanu tweeted, “Legend. There will never be another Doyle Brunson … He will be missed by many, the Godfather of Poker.”

Doyle Brunson, the Godfather of Poker – gone but not forgotten. 

RIP.

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