RIP Texas Dolly. Doyle Brunson was one of the most important figures in professional poker which is why he's known as the Godfather of Poker. For over fifty years, Brunson blazed the trail, and poker players all over the world followed. Brunson was a larger than life figure -- both physically and historically -- in the gambling world which had no shortage of wacky and dubious characters over the last century.
Brunson's death quickly made the rounds on social media on Sunday night after his long-time agent and fried, Brian Balsbaugh from Poker Royalty, shared the news of his passing.
Balsbaugh shared a statement from the Brunson family.
"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. Sincerely, the Brunson Family."
Brunson was born in the tiny town of Longworth in Fisher County in west Texas in 1933. Brunson was initially known for his athletic prowess. The stout and tall Brunson was swift on his feet, and he won a one-mile track event in high school in 1950.
Brunson attended Hardin–Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where excelled in basketball. He harbored dreams of one day playing professional basketball in the fledgling NBA, even though there were only eight teams in the NBA in the early 1950s. Brunson, 6-foot-3 forward, caught the sights of NBA scouts including the Minneapolis Lakers. His hoop dreams were crushed due to a broken leg, but the competitive Brunson languished for several years before he found another outlet where he could compete at the highest level.
Brunson graduated from college in 1954 and put his master's degree in administrative education to good use by becoming a principal. When he got bored in the educational sector, he entered the sales realm.
As the legend goes, a young Brunson tried to live the square life. But the 9-to-5 world never suited him. He spent his days selling business machines like typewriters, but spent many late night playing five-card draw. He made more money on the felt than as a salesman and recognized that poker and gambling was his true passion. He quit his job and hit the road.
Brunson was one of the first notable Texas road gamblers during an era when poker was deemed uncouth, and gamblers were outlaws and part of the criminal underworld. He was a regular in illegal card rooms in Fort Worth, Texas. He befriended fellow gamblers Sailor Roberts and Amarillo Slim Preston, and they hit the road in search of the juiciest games all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Brunson followed the money and sought out the fishy oilmen and other wealthy types with deep pockets that wanted to play cards with the young Brunson.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, gamblers had to worry about getting robbed by criminals while they constantly evaded the police. Brunson eventually made it to Las Vegas, but it took a couple of visits before he conquered Sin City.
Brunson relocated to Las Vegas in the late 1960s, and the rest is history. Brunson established himself as a regular in the biggest cash games in downtown Las Vegas. He also was a participant in the earliest days of the World Series of Poker at Benny Binion's Horseshoe Casino.
Brunson won his first WSOP bracelet in 1976 with a victory in $,5000 Deuce to Seven Draw. He also took down the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event for his second bracelet in the same year. The Main Event attracted only 22 runners in 1976, and Brunson banked $220,000 in a winner-take-all prize pool.
Brunson won two more bracelets in 1977. He shipped the $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split for a $62,500 score. He also successfully defended his WSOP Main Event title when he outlasted a field of 34 runners and banked $340,000 for first place.
Brunson won his fifth bracelet in 1978 with a victory in $5,000 Seven-Card Stud. In 1979, Brunson won a sixth bracelet in the $600 Mixed Doubles - Seven-Card Stud event. In a span of four years at the WSOP, Brunson snagged six bracelets.
After a well-documented fallout with the Binion family, Brunson was a no show at the WSOP for the better part of the 1980s. He stepped away from tournament poker and focused on becoming a supreme cash-game specialist.
When Brunson made a triumphant return to the WSOP in the 1990s, he won a seventh piece of hardware in 1991 with a victory in $2,500 NL Hold'em, which paid out $208,000.
Brunson added an eighth bracelet in 1998 with a win in $1,500 Seven-Card Razz.
At the turn of the century, poker started to gain legitimacy and popularity. The introduction of internet poker generated a global boom of epic proportions, and Brunson was celebrated as one of the pioneers of the poker. Although he was a regular in the "Big Game" in Las Vegas – playing mixed $4K/$8K stakes in Bobby's Room at the Bellagio – Brunson won his ninth WSOP bracelet in 2003 with a win in $2,000 HORSE.
In 2005, at the apex of the online poker boom, Brunson binked his tenth bracelet with a victory in the $5,000 NL Hold'em 6-Handed. Little did anyone know at the time, but Brunson won his last bracelet. Even though Brunson needed the assistance of a single crutch, everyone just assumed Brunson was going to live forever.
Even though he was reaching his 70s and playing against online wunderkinds a half-decade younger, Brunson more than held his own against the new generation of pros. For a while, Brunson owned his very own online poker room called Doyles Room which popped up in 2004. Brunson later distanced himself with the online card room after Black Friday in 2011.
In 2004, Brunson won his first and only WPT event. He took down the WPT Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles.
In 1979, Brunson published "Super/System: A Course in Power Poker," which was considered the Holy Bible for card players during a time where there were very few educational materials about poker. In 2005, Brunson issued a long-anticipated sequel called Super System 2. During the glorious online poker boom in the mid-2000s, pretty much every player devoured both of Brunson's books.
Like a grizzled gunslinger and cowboy, Brunson rode off into the sunset just shy of his 90th birthday. RIP Texas Dolly.