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Home / Poker / The Godfather of Poker, Doyle Brunson, dies at 89

Doyle Brunson, widely regarded as the “Godfather of Poker”, passed away in Las Vegas on Sunday, May 14, 2023. The icon was 89 years of age.

One of the greatest and most influential poker players of all time, ‘Texas Dolly’ leaves a legacy unparalleled in the sports and gaming world. Throughout his legendary career – which spanned the entirety of poker’s modern era – Brunson literally wrote the book on poker, became a hero to millions, and played in the highest-stakes cash games for more than 50 years.

“It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our father, Doyle Brunson,” read a statement shared on behalf of the Brunson family by Brian Balsbaugh, Brunson’s longtime agent. “He was a beloved Christian man, husband, father and grandfather. We’ll have more to say over the coming days as we honour his legacy. Please keep Doyle and our family in your prayers. May he rest in peace.”

Brunson was a fan favourite wherever he went, from receiving standing ovations upon entering the World Series of Poker (WSOP) to his legendary appearances on televised cash games such as the PokerStars Big Game and High Stakes Poker.

The entire poker world, including everyone at PokerStars, is mourning the loss of the game’s iconic ambassador. 

RIP Doyle.

SIMPLY INCOMPARABLE

Doyle Brunson’s impact on poker is incomparable. He never disappointed, from his early days as a Texas road gambler alongside Johnny Moss and Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, to being idolised by aspiring poker players of all ages during the poker boom of the noughties.

In 1977, the same year he won the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event for the second consecutive year, Brunson self-published what would go on to be referred to as the ‘Bible of Poker’: Super/System. The book truly changed the game, showing amateur players around the world the strategic secrets Brunson shared with only a handful of the world’s best players.

He won 10 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets across four decades (tied for second place with Phil Ivey and Johnny Chan on the all-time list) and reached 26 WSOP final tables. In 2004, at the age of 71, Brunson also became a World Poker Tour (WPT) champion, winning $1.19 million – the largest score of his career.

Brunson only played one European Poker Tour (EPT) event, but cashed it, finishing 77th at EPT London in 2011 for £9,000.

He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988, having helped set up the institution back in 1979. His son, Todd, was later inducted in 2016, making the Brunsons the only father-son duo to line the hall.

Brunson had $6,176,737 in recorded tournament earnings throughout his career, but it was his remarkable consistency and longevity in the toughest Las Vegas cash games that was perhaps his most impressive feat. Age was just a number with Brunson. He never stopped battling and never stopped winning.

A REMARKABLE LIFE

Doyle Brunson’s life outside of poker is just as remarkable.

Born in Longworth, Texas in 1933, Brunson was a gifted athlete who excelled in basketball and track, making Texas’s all-state boy’s basketball team while also winning state running titles. He was on the verge of joining the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers before a devastating leg injury quashed his hopes of turning pro.

Brunson focused on his studies and graduated with a degree in education administration in 1954. After spells as a school principal and a business machine salesman, he quit to play poker professionally after winning more money in a single session than his sales job paid in a month.

Brunson was 29 years old, living with his pregnant wife Louise in Fort Worth, Texas, when he found a lump in his neck. After eight hours of surgery, his doctor told him the bad news. “I can never forget the words,” Brunson said. “He said melanoma is like a black corruption. You can see it with your naked eye.”

Brunson’s cancer was advanced and he was told to get his affairs in order. In a bid to stay alive long enough to see his daughter born, Brunson was sent to MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston. Doctors operated on Brunson’s neck, removing the lymph nodes. 

And amazingly, his cancer had disappeared.

When doctors shared the astonishing news, Brunson suggested that maybe the cancer was never there. But this was no mistake. “They said sometimes they see one or two cases of spontaneous remission,” Brunson said. “They had no explanation for it.”

Six months later, Louise gave birth to their daughter, Doyla, and Brunson went back to dominating the southern poker rooms as part of the legendary Texas Rounders. 

Doyle Brunson is survived by his wife Louise, son Todd, and daughter Pamela.

WSOP BRACELETS

Here are the 10 World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets won by Doyle Brunson between 1976 and 2005, including back-to-back Main Event championships.

1976 – $5,000 Deuce to Seven Draw – $80,250
1976 – $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship – $230,000
1977 – $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split – $62,500
1977 – $10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship – $340,000
1978 – $5,000 Seven-Card Stud – $68,000
1979 – $600 Mixed Doubles Seven Card Stud (with Starla Brodie) – $4,500
1991 – $2,500 No Limit Hold’em – $208,000
1998 – $1,500 Seven-Card Razz – $93,000
2003 – $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. – $84,080
2005 – $5,000 No Limit Shorthanded Texas Hold’em (6-Max) – $367,800

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