By Michael Craig
At 78, Doyle Brunson Continues to Dazzle with His Indomitable Spirit â€“ and He’s Not Finished
On Day 3 of the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic, Doyle Brunson flopped top pair, got in all his chips, but lost to opponent Darren Elias’s overpair. At 78, he knows better than any player in history the feeling of spending two-plus tournament days sitting at a poker table with nothing to show for it. In the 1960s, Doyle would spend two days at a poker table â€“ actual days, meaning 48 hours straight â€“ and if his leg would cramp, he would refuse himself the relief of standing to stretch. “I used the pain to make myself focus and play better,” he once wrote.
Nor did the record of past endurance, or of old triumphs, likely enter his mind. If his success and age have sated the hunger to outlast opponents, he can still, however, outplay them. One year ago, Doyle made the last two tables at his eponymous event. Since then, he cashed (for the second consecutive year) in the NBC Heads-Up Championship, made the last three tables of the WPT Championship, and collected another career first: his first cash in a European Poker Tour event, at the London Open.
If honoring him is a means of putting him out to pasture, someone forgot to tell Doyle. He was a rookie of 69 when he cashed in his first World Poker Tour event â€“ the 2003 WPT Championship â€“ and he made the final table. The next year, two weeks after his 70th birthday, the Bicycle Casino honored him with a roast the night before the Legends of Poker WPT event. Over the following four days, Brunson outlasted the biggest WPT field to date, on the way to a victory worth nearly $1.2 million.
Epic Poker should be as blessed with Brunson’s success as the WPT: cashing for the first time at 69, winning for the first time at 70, and then finishing third at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic at 72. The Bellagio named the tournament after him and he cashed in it twice since. Doyle has played 41 WPT events, cashed 8 times, made 3 final tables, won the Legends of Poker, and earned over $2 million.
Nolan Dalla, one of the great writers about the World Series of Poker, described the spectacle of Doyle Brunson winning at the WSOP: “For poker fans and players of all ages, it was the equivalent of seeing Jack Nicklaus in the Masters in the twilight of his career or watching Babe Ruth hit a home run in his final at bat. Many years from now those who witnessed this historic milestone will be able to look back and say, ‘I was there.’”
I consider these some of the most famous words written about Brunson or the World Series. That was when Doyle won his ninth bracelet, in 2003. Since that magical night, he has won his tenth bracelet, made four final tables, and earned over $1 million at the WSOP.
Doyle has been so good, for so long, that most of the players have known him only as old.
Was he ever better? Is it possible that this man who has terrorized the World Poker Tour for its entire history and the World Series of Poker since 2002 has been “past his prime”? Famously, he told me in 2004, “They ask, ‘how much of your game do you think you’ve lost? Have you lost ten percent?’ I say, ‘yeah, but I was twenty percent ahead to start with.’”
Like most tournament players, I’ve known Doyle only as the venerable legend in his seventies. But he’s still got it, in more ways than you can count. On Day 1 of the $3,000 HORSE at the 2009 Series, we shared a table for about five hours and I marveled at watching him work.
In my written account of that night, I acknowledged that “Doyle seemed a little cranky.” He registered late for the 5 PM event and started after 7 PM, complaining about a one-hour dinner break after just two hours of play. After we returned from dinner, he complained that he was tired. By 11 PM, he was yawning after almost every hand. I wondered if this was a signal that, finally, Doyle Brunson’s time had passed.
“But after a little while, I noticed a couple other things. First, all the other players at his end of his table were now yawning too â€“ like it was contagious. Second, once his end of the table seemed destined for narcolepsy, Doyle almost magically perked up. He didn’t say anything about being tired and I didn’t see him yawn again the rest of the night. Our table broke with a couple hours left to play but I noticed he chipped up pretty well late in the evening. I don’t know if all this was a coincidence but Doyle was just crafty enough to have planned it this way.”
Doyle has been honored for his lifetime achievements by the Bellagio, the WPT, the World Series, the Bicycle Casino, and countless other organizations. He has responded to these attempts to sum up his career with two more bracelets, a WPT win, and over $3 million in earnings.
Now, Epic Poker is awarding him its first Lifetime Card. If Epic’s other League members don’t recognize trouble coming, they soon will.
Taken from epicpoker.com