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The Queen of Soul

by Todd Brunson |  Published: Apr 09, 2008


I know you're wondering why I let that donkey Phil Ivey win the L.A. Poker Classic, so I'll recap my short-lived tournament before getting to what this column is really about. It was about halfway through day one. A guy in middle position raised my big blind, one player called, I called with the 7 5, and the flop came A-6-4 with two clubs. I checked, the raiser bet 3,000, the other guy folded, and I moved in for 18,000 total. He had a bit more in chips than I did, and studied awhile.

"I know you don't have ace-queen or ace-jack," he said. Hmm … Good guess; what would I do with these hands, I wonder, throw them away in the big blind? Raising 10,000, leaving myself with 5,000, would make no sense. Mucking, calling, or moving in were my only real options with the chips as they were. He finally called me with A-10! Nice call, buddy! I guess he thought I put all of my money in there with A-9. C'est la vie.

Anyhow, the month of February is the busiest of the year for me, because that's when Commerce Casino holds its L.A. Poker Classic. I play more poker during this month than I do during the entire World Series of Poker. I know that's hard to believe, as the WSOP is twice as long and I play every day while it's going on, but some days I bust out after only a few hours and have the rest of the day off.

During the LAPC, I play only the main event, but I play in the side games every day for as long as I possibly can. Here's a normal day for me in L.A. I wake up after sleeping three or four hours and call the top section to get my name on the list, and then I go back to sleep. When my seat opens up, I get a wake-up call in my room, whereupon I jump up and take my chips from the day before from my safe, put on my clothes from the day before, and run down to lock up my seat.

To keep my seat locked up for more than 15 minutes, I have to play a round, and then I'm allowed 45 minutes away from the table. I take this time to go back up to my room, and take a shower and make myself look pretty. Then, it's back to the felt for as long as the game lasts or as long as I can stay awake while playing reasonably well.

That's pretty much it! No hanging out with friends, no going to movies, no playing with my dogs or wife, no drinking (well … almost none), and no TV, for God's sake! The one pleasure I allow myself is that I occasionally will go out to a nice dinner with friends (which I did all of three times, when there was no game or an extremely long list).

I love the eateries in Beverly Hills! Restaurant row is the nuts. Matsuhisa, Spago, Lawry's, The Stinking Rose, and Wolfgang Puck's newest spot, Cut, located in the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel, are my favorites.

I was at the last spot with some friends, and we were moving from the main dining room to the bar when two baby-blue Rolls Royces pulled up to the flashes of multiple paparazzi. Security quickly surrounded the last car, creating a path through the doors and up the stairs directly next to us.

A large crowd of press and gawkers quickly gathered, but were held back behind the doors. Who was this important person? The Pope? The President? Phil Hellmuth?

No, even better; it was the "Queen of Soul," Miss Aretha Franklin! It was unreal, as we were actually talking about her over dinner. I'm not exactly a huge soul/R&B fan, but I give credit when credit is due, and I have been in awe of her voice since childhood.

I'm often asked what I like most about poker, and my answer's always the same – the money. That sounds kinda bad, but money gives me the freedom to live my life however I want to. For example, the reason I work so hard during the Commerce tournament is that if I have a halfway decent month, all of my bills are paid for the rest of the year.

Anyway, there's another perk to poker that I secretly love. It's partially fame, but not completely, as I could live with or without that, in general. It's meeting another celebrity (if you consider me a celebrity, that is; I think I'm at least on the Z list), and finding that he/she knows me, and sometimes is even a fan of mine.

This is what happened next: Aretha's husband escorted her into the hotel, then up the steps. He scanned the entire crowd a time or two, then zeroed in on me. "Where do I know you from?" he inquired. I told him I am a poker player and he asked if I had been on TV. I told him I had, and he asked my name.

I told him, and he said, "Ah, yeah. Doyle's your father, right?" I admitted it, and Aretha smiled at me. He wished me luck, and they were through the crowd and off. We went to the bar and had a drink to celebrate.

As we talked, I told my friends how much I'd have loved having my picture taken with a legend of her stature, but I didn't want to seem too forward. Oh well, maybe in my next life. It was too loud noisy at this bar, and someone suggested that we try the hotel bar in the front, where there was a pianist playing, so we set off for the quieter locale.

Along the way, whom did we run into but the Aretha entourage! We again exchanged pleasantries, but this time I found my courage and asked for a quick photo. She quickly agreed, and my good friend Lenny Martin whipped out his camera phone and took not one, but two great shots of us together.

Aretha then asked me, "So, you're Doyle's boy?"

I have punched several people for asking this exact same question, but to her, I answered "Yes, ma'am."

"Well, you tell him I said to come see me."

I again said, "Yes, ma'am, I will."

We later pondered what she meant by, "Tell him I said to come see me." It couldn't have been like Mae West saying, "Come up and see me sometime," as her husband was right there, and they're not exactly spring chickens, anyway. I thought it was a saying that I remembered from my youth in the South, when you would arbitrarily invite someone to come see you, to be polite, when it was understood that you had no real intention of having that person over.

The other possibility we came up with was that she was inviting him to one of her upcoming concerts in L.A. That was probably it. My dad didn't make any of them, but my friends and I did. My wife flew in for the occasion, and on Valentine's Day, we saw a great show that I will remember for the rest of my life.

I've often referred to myself as the Rodney Dangerfield of the poker world (I can't get any respect). Now that I'm good buddies with the Queen of Soul, maybe I can get a little R E S P E C T. Then again, I probably still won't.