In order to be a legend, you must loom large in the imagination of your peers. People will give you nicknames, write books about you, and places and things will be named after you. In the world of poker, it isn’t enough to just win big, you need to win big regularly, consistently, and with style. Poker legend Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson is one such man. Not only did he literally write the book on poker strategy, there’s even a poker hand named after him.
When Gambling Was for Outlaws
84-year-old Doyle Brunson has spent over 50 years playing high-stakes poker in every kind of tournament, championship, and casino there is. In the early days of poker, professional gambling was unheard of, and most wagering was done in hidden back rooms of dangerous bars run by pimps and thieves. A gambler could make hundreds of dollars per night with a solid strategy and a lucky streak, but he could just as easily meet the business end of a knife or a gun.
Doyle Brunson admitted to being beaten and robbed several times while gambling in joints along ‘Bloodthirsty Highway,’ the gambler’s chain of back-room card games in Texas and beyond. Eventually, “Texas Dolly” met up with “Sailor” Roberts and “Amarillo” Slim, and a Texas poker trio was born. While they all bore the nicknames of legends, their partnership was likely born out of necessity. There is much less danger when traveling in numbers; each player could watch the other’s back. Together, these three amigos were dubbed the original Texas Road Gamblers.
The Cadillac of Poker
Though he hails from Texas, Brunson was playing classic poker variants like 5 card draw and 7 card stud for years before he even heard of Texas hold‘em. In classic poker games, a player only bets twice. With hold‘em, there are four betting opportunities. Brunson called hold‘em a “thinking man’s game” and “the Cadillac of Poker.” He fully embraced the game, and began to prefer hold’em as his poker game of choice. He accurately predicted that Texas hold’em would one day become ‘The Game’ poker players would play the most.
But before Texas hold’em met with the popularity it enjoys today, the game was hard to find, even for professional poker stars like the Texas Road Gamblers. In the late 50s, Las Vegas was one of the only places a gambler could play hold’em professionally, and Vegas was hardly in its heyday. The famous Las Vegas Strip was in its infancy, and the Vegas mega resorts had not yet exploded onto the world gambling scene. The only place you could play hold’em was in the Golden Nugget Casino in Downtown Las Vegas. As the floor was covered in oily sawdust, the hold’em room in the Golden Nugget rarely drew any high rollers.
A Brush with Death
Soon after his hold’em epiphany, Brunson was holding on for dear life after a cancer diagnosis at the early age of 28. Doctors gave him only four months to live, but when they performed surgery a few weeks later, they found no traces of cancer. The ‘spontaneous remission’ spurred a new lease on life for Brunson, as well as a big change in his poker game.
Brunson’s brush with death put a different spin on the way he saw winning. He concentrated less on losing the pot, and more on aggressive playing techniques. He called more bluffs, and went ‘all-in’ on a regular basis. And his new style paid off. After decades of dominating the card room circuit, Brunson began winning big in Reno and Vegas casinos. In a casino called Binion’s Horseshoe, a new high stakes poker game sprung up from the oily sawdust: the World Series of Poker. The WSOP has gone on to become the premier poker tournament in the world, and “Texas Dolly” Brunson has played in them all, and holds one of the greatest all-time poker playing records in history.
The Doyle Brunson Hand
If you are dealt a weak hand in hold’em and you go on to win the championship with that hand, it’s a fluke. But if you are dealt the same weak hand the following year—and you win the championship again, that hand is yours forever. Such is the case of the Doyle Brunson Hand in Texas hold’em. In the 1976 WSOP, Brunson drew a 10 and a 2 as his hole cards. His opponent had A-J before the flop, which came up A-J-10, giving Brunson a pair of 10s and his opponent two pair. Brunson went all in with his weaker hand. The turn and the river showed a 2 and another 2, giving Brunson a full house to win $230,000 and the championship!
The following year in 1977, Brunson drew the exact same 10-2 hand in the final round of the championship. The flop of 10-8-5 gave Brunson a pair and his opponent (8-5 hole) two pair. Once again, the 2 hit on the turn, and Brunson had two pair. His opponent went all-in, and Brunson called. When the river card was dealt, it came up 10, and Brunson won the championship for the second year in a row (cash – $340,000), with the exact same full house of 10s and 2s. From that moment on, the 10-2 hand has been called the Doyle Brunson.
The Godfather of Gambling
Doyle Brunson has won over 6 million dollars in total live tournament winnings over his life. This figure does not account for his ‘unofficial’ card games casinos, back room bars, and dusty saloons. But needless to say, “Texas Dolly” has earned a jolly good living from playing poker. He has won 10 WSOP gold bracelets marking his 10 championship wins over the years. But perhaps his biggest contribution to the game of poker was his book on the subject. Doyle Brunson’s Super System: A Course in Power Poker, changed poker culture forever. Before he published his poker primer, a gambler’s strategy was a secret. Like a magician revealing his secrets, Super System revealed a wealth of tips and tricks to a hungry mob of new gamblers.
The Poker Bible
Super System not only explained Brunson’s personal gambling system and methods, it provided key insights into the psychology of the game. Such psychological strategies highlight the need to hide one’s emotions while playing (wearing a poker face), and the ability to pick up on other player’s ‘tells’ to gain information on the type of hand they are holding. A player unconsciously delivers this information via nervous twitches, a shifting of the eyes, or a scratch of the nose. All of these signs and more can be examined to give a gambler a winning edge over an inferior opponent.
Super System also explains how to apply reason while playing, and the book provides tons of statistics and facts surrounding poker play and poker strategies. The book opened up the poker world to amateur and professional alike, and contributed to an explosion in the popularity of poker, tournaments, and online gambling. Brunson said that by publishing the book, it probably cost him more money than he was paid to write it.
Doyle Brunson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, an honor originated in 1979 by Benny Binion, the owner of Binion’s Horseshoe and the birthplace of the WSOP. The Poker Hall of Fame lists the most prominent players of the game, whether they won great fortunes or otherwise left a lasting mark on the game of poker. Among the more notorious names in the Hall of Fame is James Butler Hickok, aka “Wild Bill.” A notorious Wild West figure and poker player, “Wild Bill” was shot in the back while playing a hand of poker. That hand included two aces and two 8s, which has since been called the Dead Man’s Hand. The Poker Hall of Fame also includes Bryan “Sailor” Roberts and Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson’s poker pals from his Texas Road Gambler days.