The poker world honored the late Doyle Brunson on Sunday at the Horseshoe during a special celebration of the legendary player’s life during the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
One of the most respected players in the game, Brunson passed away on May 14 at age 89. The event featured friends, family, fans, and players paying respect to the Texas road gambler who won 10 World Series of Poker bracelets, a World Poker Tour title, and played at some of the highest stakes into his 80s.
“For someone like Doyle, to do it decade after decade and continue not just playing in the biggest games, but still winning, is something that I think we can all admire and aspire to,” poker pro Daniel Negreanu noted. “When you think of the Poker Hall of Fame, I think one of the key aspects that Doyle always stuck to … was just standing the test of time. And if he's the barometer, then nobody ever will because (his legacy) is just remarkable.”
Titan at the Table
After graduating from Hardin-Simmons University in 1954, Brunson found he could make more money at the poker table than a regular job. He traveled the state and the south looking for high stakes action.
When the WSOP debuted, Brunson was among the first players and won the Main Event in 1976 and ‘77. He later transitioned to televised poker and became a fan favorite. Poker pro Phil Hellmuth offered his thoughts on Brunson and his importance to the game.
“To me, Doyle was like an oasis,” he said. “He sat there and ruled the high stakes room at the Bellagio ever since the Bellagio opened. You were always comfortable with him. Everybody loved him … he had an amazingly keen sense of humor.”
Hellmuth spoke of Brunson’s honesty, but also joked about getting bluffed by the Texan on numerous occasions.
“This man bluffed me in the ‘80s,” he said. “This man bluffed me in the ‘90s This man bluffed me in the 2000s and now in the 2000s it was recorded. So I got to see all these freaking bluffs he put on me because it was on Poker After Dark.
“Well done Doyle, I’ll miss you. But I'm not sure I’ll miss being bluffed by you.”
Much More Than Just Poker
Fellow players not only recognized Brunson’s contributions to poker, but his life beyond the table. Longtime poker pro and friend Dewey Tomko said Brunson’s Christian faith was a major part of his life. That even included hosting regular Bible studies among poker players in the 1970s when the WSOP was held at Binion’s Horseshoe.
Tomko noted that the Brunsons were “a very, very religious family, and spent countless hours, time, energy, and money trying to bring people to the lord and do good things for the community.”
Some of those contributions included helping build hundreds of water wells in impoverished countries in Africa. His wife Louise was a major part of the effort, building “Brunson wells” for those in need. Many were even named after some of his poker-playing friends.
“After all the comments we've made about Doyle Brunson, greatest poker player of all time,” he said,
“if he could spend his life doing things like that for the world, why can't we?”
Comedian, actor, and poker player/commentator Gabe Kaplan offered more light-hearted moments about his own friendship with Brunson. In 1978, Brunson gave the comedian an inscribed copy of his famous Super/System strategy book. Kaplan read the book in hopes of bettering his own game and became infatuated with Texas Hold’em.
“It was a great gesture,” Kaplan said. “That free hundred-dollar book over the last 40 years has cost me $35 million.”
Kaplan echoed the thoughts of many in the room about the poker legend.
“There will never be anyone like him again. If you knew Doyle, you loved him.”