In the world of poker, the game that took over America and become the third most watched sport on television, the first has always been and continues to be, the legendary Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson.
Brunson, now 78, is the Babe Ruth, the Michael Jordan, and the Arnold Palmer of poker. He virtually invented the phenomenon that is Texas Hold´em. He paved the way for a sport once viewed to be played by only roughnecks and criminals, but is now played by today´s world leaders and top executives.
He was the star of the infamous band of traveling poker sharks, the Texas Rounders. He was the first of the high stakes hotel poker players in Las Vegas introducing his "power poker" to the world. He has won an unprecedented and record ten World Series of Poker events, including the two back-to-back world championships. In addition, he is a best-selling author and in the world of professional poker, he is king.
"Doyle learned early on in life, no matter what you´re dealt, anything can be turned into a winning hand. Raised dirt poor in rural Texas, he was a natural athlete who went to college on both a basketball and track scholarships. His NBA career with the then-Minneapolis Lakers ended before it began when he shattered his leg in an accident at the gypsum factory where he was working pre-season. The leg never did heal properly, and to this day, his place at a poker table is easily spotted by the crutch standing nearby.
Today Doyle is still crushing the high Stakes game and plays almost every day either at the new Aria Hotel and Casino's "Phil Ivey Room" or in "Bobbys Room" at the Bellagio.
In order to survive in Texas after the accident, Brunson took up the game that would prove to be his lifeblood, poker. His upbringing and early life as an outsider made him a lifelong observer of people, and his skill at reading faces was his ace in the hole; he got very good, very fast.
But then life took a turn for the worse in 1962 when he was diagnosed with cancer and given a mere three months left in this world. But he called that bluff and the other guy folded, and 40 years later, Brunson is still at the table, and still winning.
Considered the patriarch of modern poker and the person most responsible for its rise from smoky backrooms to the pop-culture spotlight, Brunson was the leader of the Texas Rounders, a group of men who, in the words of The History Channel, "cleaned Texas dry" playing high-stakes poker in the 1950s and ´60s. Outrunning both the law and the hijackers who preyed on winners of illegal big-money card games, he eventually landed in Las Vegas where he became one of the city´s earliest tourist attractions: audiences would gather in awe to watch him play.
In 1978, Brunson changed the game of poker forever with his book Super System, a complete guide to Texas Hold´em and other games of poker. Essential reading for everyone from weekend dabblers to high-stakes gamblers, the book remains the bible of poker, the top-selling poker book of all time, still selling 14,000 copies a month. Following the books success, Brunson recently published a sequel, Super System 2, which includes new games, new strategies and insight from not only Brunson himself but also some of the other biggest names in poker today. As well, Brunson has an autobiography, a recently released book specifically on online poker, and the tales of the greatest hands he´s ever seen all scheduled to be published in the coming months.
Doyle, at the ripe young age of 75, continues to play at the elite level. Where most poker players´ skills usually deteriorate with age and time, Brunson is sharper than ever still eliminating the competition day in and day out. In 2005, he won both his record 10th WSOP bracelet, and hundreds of thousands more in tournament play.
He is a spokesperson for the online poker website DoylesRoom.com, an avid blogger, and writes a syndicated poker column in the London Telegraph. He plays poker every day and often hosts high-stakes Texas Hold´em games that cost $100,000 just to sit down. He´ll win, and sometimes lose, $50,000 or more on a single hand. But as he recently told the History Channel, "to be a successful gambler you have to have a complete disregard for money." That and a keen eye for what´s happening in the eyes of the other guy.
Most recently, in January 2006, ahead of ESPN, the World Poker Tour, and the rest of the world, BLUFF magazine voted Brunson the #1 most influential force in the world of poker. Despite all these accomplishments, Doyle shows no signs of slowing down. He still has the eye, the nerve and the skill and just in the fall of 2004, won another million-dollar World Poker Tour event at the Bicycle Club in Los Angeles, CA.
Doyle continues to defy the odds and play with the best, but he´ll be the first to tell you, it´s not always what you´re dealt, but how you play the cards.