Remembering Poker Legend Doyle Brunson

Written By Aleeyah Jadavji on May 18, 2023

When most poker fans think about the game, they are reminded of a moment when they were drawn to the game or a player they idolize. For many, Texas-born Doyle Brunson was one of those iconic players.

The poker world was shattered by the sad news Sunday that “Texas Dolly” passed away at age 89 in Las Vegas. The Texas poker legend touched the lives of many and will go down as one of the most iconic poker players in history. Brunson played poker for over half a century.

Known to everyone as the “Godfather of Poker,” Brunson was also an athlete, author, educator and family man. He battled and beat cancer several times, even when told he might not. Resilient is a word often used to describe Texas Dolly.

It all started in Texas

Brunson was born Aug. 10, 1933, in Longworth and attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.

He was a runner and a talented basketball player. Brunson won the one-mile event in the 1950 Texas Interscholastic Track Meet by running it in 4:43. The Minneapolis Lakers also wanted to give him a shot playing in the NBA. Still, Brunson suffered from a knee injury, and his basketball career eventually ended.

Texas Dolly earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954, followed by a master’s in administrative education in 1955. A career as a school principal followed that.

Before his injury, Brunson dabbled in some poker games, beginning with five-card draw. After he was sidelined and sports needed to be put on pause because of the injury, he increased the amount of time he played poker and eventually managed to pay for his expenses this way.

Brunson tried to get into sales, but on his first day of work, he was invited to gamble in a seven-card stud game. He made more than a month’s salary and eventually left the company to become a professional poker player.

Brunson was one of three children and married his wife, Louise, in 1959. They had three children – Doyla, Todd and Pamela. Unfortunately, Doyla passed away at age 18 because of a heart-valve condition. Todd is a professional poker player and restaurant owner in Las Vegas. He also won a World Series of Poker Omaha Hi-Lo bracelet in 2005 – the same year Doyle won his last bracelet. Pamela also plays poker occasionally.

The “Godfather of Poker”

Brunson played in the highest of cash games and competed in big tournaments, mainly in Las Vegas. He traveled to many stops early in his career with cashes in England and the Isle of Man.

There was a time when Brunson created his own online poker website, Doyles Room. It was initially on the Tribeca Poker Network, but it eventually changed hands a few times until it was acquired by Americas Cardroom, now under the Winning Poker Network.

The long tournament grind became too much for Brunson, and he decided to focus on family while also playing in some of the biggest cash games available in Las Vegas. Most of these games were played in the iconic Bobby’s Room at the Bellagio.

Brunson was also the star of the show High Stakes Poker when it was filmed years ago. Many high-profile players exchanged millions of dollars with stacks of cash in play at any given time. The show was brought back to life in Las Vegas at the PokerGO studios at Aria, and Brunson has played on many episodes over the past couple of years.

A decorated career with 10 WSOP bracelets

Brunson was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988 at age 54. He played in the biggest cash games in Las Vegas and amassed over $6 million in career earnings playing tournament poker.

Arguably the most prestigious achievements in poker have been tied to the World Series of Poker, particularly from winning gold bracelets. Brunson won 10 WSOP bracelets in his career, tied for second all time with icons Phil Ivey and Johnny Chan. Phil Hellmuth’s 16 bracelets are the most all time.

Texas Dolly won his first WSOP bracelet in 1976 after he won the $5,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball event for $90,250. That same season he won the $10,000 Main Event for $220,000. He won two more bracelets in 1977, with one in the $10,000 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo and then the $10,000 Main Event in back-to-back years.

Here is a look at Brunson’s World Series of Poker bracelet wins:

  • 1976: $5,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw Lowball – $90,250;
  • 1976: $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event – $220,000;
  • 1977: $10,000 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi-Lo – $52,500;
  • 1977: $10,000 No-Limit Hold’em Main Event – $340,000;
  • 1978: $5,000 Limit Seven Card Stud – $69,000;
  • 1979: $600 Mixed Doubles Seven Card Stud;
  • 1991: $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em – $208,000;
  • 1998: $1,500 Limit Razz – $93,000;
  • 2003: $2,000 Limit H.O.R.S.E. – $84,080;
  • 2005: $5,000 No-Limit Hold’em 6-Handed – $367,800

Poker will continue for generations, but very few players will go down in history as the best in the world. Doyle Brunson is one of those icons.

“We don’t stop playing because we get old,” Brunson said. “We get old because we stop playing.”

Photo by Isaac Brekken / AP photo; illustration by Play Texas
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Aleeyah Jadavji

Aleeyah hails from Toronto, Ontario in Canada and has been working predominantly in the poker industry since 2015. From writing articles, to interviewing big winners and live reporting on poker's biggest stages, she's seen it all. She currently covers legal gaming's legislative pathway for PlayTexas. Aleeyah loves to cook and create content to showcase her passion for food and travel. She also loves sriracha, and doesn't trust anyone that believes it's not a top-tier condiment.

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