According to Doyle
Bluff Feature Interview
He´s the Godfather of poker, a living legend and all-round southern gentleman. When Bluff met Doyle, we overcame our nerves just enough to throw the grandmaster a curveball or two. Ensure you read Doyle´s responses in a warm Texas drawl to get the full effect.
What first got you into playing poker?
When I was a Junior in college I broke my leg. I´d been an athlete all my life and I was making an effort to get into the NBA. The Minneapolis Lakers – it´s the Los Angeles Lakers now, but then it was the Minneapolis Lakers – they came down to see me and had a definite interest in me. But I broke my leg severely and was on crutches for two years. I went back to school and got my degree, and was still on crutches. I didn´t know what to do with myself, so I went back to get a Masters degree and I had to play poker to pay for the tuition and room and board. So I started playing.
Did you ever have a ‘real´ job, or did you go right into poker after your Masters degree?
I was going to be a teacher and a coach, but the pay was so bad that I went to work for Burroughs Corporation, which was a bookkeeping machine company. I was a salesman and I had the north side of Fort Worth, Texas as my territory. I started traveling around and everywhere I went, I kept finding these poker games. I started playing in them and realized I was better than almost anyone I played. I worked for Burroughs for about a year, but I didn´t like selling, so I quit. I started playing poker professionally at the age of 23.
You´ve said before that the poker scene was pretty dangerous when you were a young man…
There were a lot of volatile people around. It wasn´t supervised in any official capacity. It was just played in a bunch of pool halls and nightclubs and there were plenty unsavory characters hanging around all the time. I saw five people get killed out on the street where I was playing – it was just a way of life to those people. It´s a completely different animal now. Everything´s supervised. You´re in a legal atmosphere and everything´s regulated. It´s just an entirely different experience.
What song was on the radio when you started playing?
(We get Doyle chuckling) I think Young Love by Sonny James was my favorite back then – it may have been a little later, but I really liked that song.
What car were you driving?
I was driving a 1955 Chevrolet. A lot´s changed for you since then.
What does Doyle Brunson drive now?
I drive a Lincoln Town Car. I love them. I wouldn´t trade it for any other car in the world. I wouldn´t trade it for a Bentley or Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce. Lincolns are the greatest cars on the road.
You´re currently writing a book about your 50 most memorable hands. Could you tell us about one of them?
I remember when I first started playing poker on the Texas circuit; I called Johnny Moss with a Jack high – no pair, after the cards were out. That stands out more than anything else because it gave me credibility amongst the pros. They saw me do it and they knew I understood the game very well. I was treated with a lot more respect after that. I can picture that hand like it was yesterday.
What´s the largest amount of money you´ve ever won in one sitting?
I think it was $770,000 and that was a long time ago. It was a cash game. I´m not counting tournaments.
And you´re sure you don´t want a Bentley?
(Laughs) Me, I stick with my Town Car.
Who lost the $770,000 at that game?
It was back in the late sixties, early seventies. There were some drug dealers in town who were throwing money around like crazy; and some of the hotel owners back in the early days of Las Vegas, they all played poker. They were really the only people who could afford to play for the stakes we were playing for. There were a lot of big games back then.
So it sounds like poker was still dangerous – with drug dealers running around and all?
Not in the way that it was back in Texas. It was still in a controlled environment – you were protected to a certain extent, whereas when you were out on the road, you didn´t have any protection from anything. The law was after you, as were the robbers and the highjackers and the cheaters. Once it came into the casinos where it was legal, it became a totally different thing.
It was the real Wild West, then. How did you keep yourself safe?
Well, I didn´t. When I think back on it now it does sound kinda dangerous. But, I was a young man, I was single, didn´t have any real responsibilities. I was traveling all around the South and you had to be on the lookout all the time. I was robbed four times in Texas. I remember up in Oklahoma, we played out on a farm once, and when we drove up, these guys called to us up off the rooftops, “Who is it?” and we replied who it was – it was Sailor and Slim and myself – and they said, “Okay, go on in,” and they had two guys sitting up on the roof with machine guns to protect us from the robbers. It was that bad sometimes.
You mention Sailor Roberts and Amarillo Slim. But who´s the best poker player you´ve ever seen?
It´s kinda like when you start talking about who´s the best fighter: is it Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis or Cassius Clay, or these guys today? You have to judge players according to the time they played. I think Johnny Moss was probably the best No Limit Hold ‘em player that I ever played with. He was well ahead of his time. Moving on a few years, Crandall Addington and Jack Strauss were great players and, when I came to Vegas, Puggy Pearson was an outstanding player. Chip Reese and Barry Greenstein are probably the best players today.
Is today´s game tougher now there are so many players around?
Not in the cash games, but in the tournaments now, there are hundreds of good players. Most of them are young kids, and they´re all pretty imaginative and they all know the moves, and it´s tough. You got to be very lucky to win one of these major tournaments.
Does luck have more to do with it than it used to?
It´s got a lot more to do with it. At the World Series there are 2,600 players and you´ve got to be lucky to win. You have to be lucky not to run a big hand into a big hand. When those blinds and antes get up so high, I don´t care who you are – if you get two Kings and someone else gets two Aces, you´re more than likely finished.
Since Super System was the definitive poker book, what was left to go into in Super System II?
A lot of the games we talked about in the first book, 7 Card Hi/Lo Split, Limit Lowball, they´re kind of extinct today. So, I put in all the new games that are being played in the casinos – Omaha, Omaha 8 or Better, 7 Card Stud 8 or better, I re-did the Limit Hold´em with Jennifer Harman, and there´s a chapter about internet poker, a chapter about tournament strategy and the history of poker. There are a lot of different things. If you´re buying it for the No Limit Hold´em section, well it´s updated a little from the first one, but there wasn´t a lot I could change. I hadn´t read the original in years and when I did, I said to myself: “Damn, that´s good.” I didn´t change a lot because I´d be a hypocrite, and because I still believe that that´s how you should play poker. But there´s lot´s of good new stuff. I think it´s better than the first one.
Some ‘older´ pros seem to look down on the internet game. But you seem to have embraced it.
Well, the internet, along with the media, is what´s started this whole poker explosion. The internet creates a lot of new players – people who are too shy to go into the casinos to play in person when they start off. They can practice the game and play what I call the ‘microlimits´, and they can advance that way as fast as they want to. The internet´s invaluable in creating players and generating interest in the game.
Which type of spam email is more annoying: Poker ads or Viagra ads?
(Laughs) I think poker ads. I´ve actually got a book coming out about internet poker. It´s finished and on it´s way to the printers right now. It should be on the bookstands in a couple of months.
You´ve certainly been energetic recently. We hear you´re writing your autobiography too. What´s the title?
No title yet. It´s almost finished, but I´m so busy that I don´t have time. There´s this great writer in Texas who I actually went to college with, and he´s helping me put it together. Hopefully it´ll be finished by the end of the year.
Will we see ‘Doyle Brunson the Movie´ coming out soon?
Well, there are some scripts that they´ve done, but I´ve never given approval. You know what film people are like – because I was a professional gambler they bend the truth and try to make out that I was some kind of gangster or hoodlum, and I wasn´t.
Who would play you in Doyle Brunson the Movie?
(Laughs) Robert Duvall. He´s from the South and he´s a great actor.
Who would play your leading lady?
Ashley Judd. I like Ashley.
How many leading ladies would we need?
Well, I‘ve been happily married for 43 years. But before that…(Laughs)
We could get Angelina Jolie as one of the early ones…
She would fit right in.
Who´s the sexiest poker player on the tour today?
That´s a loaded question. I think I´ll pass. No wait – I´d have to say my son´s wife Angela. She plays at the Bellagio. Angela Brunson. She´s a total fox. My son, Todd, trained her to play. He´s the best young player around, in my opinion.
Which casino has the best steak, which has the best buffet and which has the best rooms?
The Horseshoe, Tunica has the best buffet – it´s the best buffet I´ve ever eaten. Most casinos have good steakhouses, but I think the Bellagio is probably the best. I think they´ve probably got the nicest rooms too.
Tell us about DoylesRoom.com
I think Doyle´s Room is going to be one of the premier sites. We´re signing up hundreds of players every week. If everything keeps going according to plan, we´re going to be a major force out there. I´m very pleased with the software and we´ve got some great promotions going on.