Born in Longworth, Texas, on August 10, 1933, he grew up in the dusty surroundings of West Texas, where all around him was farming and career prospects did not stretch any further than agricultural labor. An excellent athlete, he realized his best chance of escape was an athletic scholarshop, which he achieved when he made the All State basketball team and won the Texas State Championship mile run. He had more than 100 college offers, but elected to attend Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, just 40 miles from his home.
From college, Brunson was selected in the draft by the Minneapolis Lakers (as they then were) but soon suffered a career destroying knee injury. Searching for another way to satisfy his competitive instincts while completing his Master’s degree in Administrative Education, he found poker. On leaving college he worked for two weeks in what was to be his only ‘normal’ job, selling book-keeping equipment. He tells that when he saw his first paycheck and realized he could make more in a night playing poker, he decided to quit.
He found he was naturally gifted as a player and joined what then passed as the poker circuit, travelling Texas (and much of the rest of America) to find a good game where his opponents would not realize Brunson would always be getting the best of the game. This was the world of other poker legends like Sailor Roberts, Johnny Moss and ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston, all of whom would end up as Las Vegas residents and World Series of Poker champions.
Brunson moved to Vegas in the 1960s, having run out of easy games in Texas, and has remained there ever since. He is widely agreed to be one of the best cash players in the world and has been playing in the highest level games for more than five decades. He is also well known as a golf bettor – strictly on his own play where he used to play for hundreds of thousands of dollars a round – as well as a sportsbook player, where it was not uncommon for him to put half a million dollars of bets on over the course of a weekend.
He outraged fellow poker players by publishing “Super/System”, a thick volume of poker strategy which gave away many of the pro players’ methods. Brunson himself came to regret publishing it, saying that what he had lost (or failed to win) at the table was many, many times more than what he had achieved from royalty payments on the volume (even though it cost $100, a not insignificant cost for a poker book at the time). Brunson’s work on poker strategy – all achieved using manual calculation and without the aid of a computer – has laid the groundwork for the modern game.
His other great influence has been to imbue the modern poker game with an understanding of the importance of honor and respect in the game. Without him, and a handful of pro players, instilling that character in the early game it is hard to imagine that a game in which so much money is stake can be played with such gentlemanly values.
Regular players will know that the hand ’10-2’ is known as ‘Doyle Brunson’ on the basis that his back-to-back World Series of Poker victories were both achieved with that hand. On both occasions, he sealed victory with a house of 10s full over 2s, thereby earning him the right to have the hand named after him.