Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine


Poker Training

Newsletter and Magazine

Sign Up

Find Your Local

Card Room


Doyle Brunson

On Patrik Antonius, Politics, and the Past

by Brendan Murray |  Published: Jul 01, 2008


Doyle Brunson is sitting somewhat uneasily in his chair in the lobby of the hotel in Dublin, where he has come to play in the Irish Open. Passersby do a double take when they see the great man and his trademark Stetson hat. They nudge their friends, nod in his direction, raise a hand and wave. Mostly, they're open-mouthed, trying hard not to stare, but they leave him alone.

He smiles, just a little wearily, and occasionally lifts a hand in greeting. He carries the air of a man who's used to being stared at, but is clearly possessed of a deep reserve of good grace, which sees him through awkward and trying moments like these.

It turns out that he is uncomfortable, but not as a result of being the centre of attention. "All my joints are hurting just sitting here," he explains, bemoaning the damp Irish spring weather that has prevented him from playing on the hotel's golf course.
Later that evening, he will spend several hours signing copies of his magnum opus, Super/System, with all the serenity and patience of a saint.

With 10 World Series of Poker bracelets to his name, including two main-event wins in 1976 and 1977, his career has taken as many twists and turns as the dusty Southern U.S. roads he and his buddies Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts travelled in search of action back in the 1950s.

As a promising collegiate basketball player, his sporting career was cruelly cut short one summer when a heavy weight fell on his leg, breaking it in two places. Basketball's loss was poker's gain, and Brunson has since cast his imposing shadow over the modern game. To this day, nudging his seventh decade as a poker player, "Texas Dolly" is without question its most iconic star.

Brendan Murray: Whom did you look up to as a young poker player?

Doyle Brunson: Without question, it was Johnny Moss. He was the premier player back when I first started. And to this day, I think he was the best no-limit hold'em player I ever played with.

He could play lowball, and no-limit games. He could not play limit games. He was a very bad limit player.

BM: Was he frustrated in limit?

DB: I don't know; maybe it was just that we grew up in Texas, and everything we played was no-limit. When I first came to Vegas, I was a bad limit player. It took me several years to master the game.

BM: What do you miss most about the days of being on the road and the Texan road lifestyle?

DB: I miss the guys more than anything else. The lifestyle, while it was a little bit dangerous, was exciting, and there was always a new challenge every day. But I think the camaraderie that the players had back in those days was really special and really unique. A lot of those guys were just dear friends, and most of them are dead now. The few who are left now, I talk to them regularly, in Alabama and Tennessee and Texas.

BM: You're a family man and a man of faith. Were there difficult years when you were trying to provide for your family, when there were threats when you were a road gambler?

DB: It was a problem. It wasn't like you could just go out and find a game, like today. We had to travel a lot, so I was away from home a lot. And there wasn't a lot of money to be won. I mean, we had to work and play just as hard as we could. My wife was a pharmacist, and when we got married, she worked for two or three years to supplement our income.

Finally, I got to be well enough known that I got invited to enough games around the South and I started making more and more money. So then after our third child was born, she quit work and has never worked since. We've done well financially since then.

BM: Do you think the younger generation of players tends to overplay the romance of those days, or do you think they tend not to appreciate the difficulties you guys had?

DB: The younger generation of poker players is a bunch of spoiled brats. They don't appreciate what we went through. And I think that if we hadn't gone through those times, poker never would have got to where it is.

BM: When did you start to notice the change in poker?

DB: When we came to Las Vegas was when things changed. The World Series had already started when I moved there, but back in those days, there was a different element in Las Vegas. They watched after everybody. You didn't see any robberies or anything. If anybody got out of line there, he got punished. So, consequently, it was a unique experience, not to have to worry about getting cheated, robbed, and arrested. It was nice.

BM: You first visited Ireland in the early 1980s and were great friends with Terry Rogers the bookmaker, who started the Irish Open after meeting you guys in Las Vegas, correct?

DB: Yeah. Terry came to Vegas and was just a very charismatic person, and I got to know him. I was interested in sports and everything, and he explained to me some of the procedures for establishing the line, and I just found it really interesting and spent a lot of time with him, and got to know him; what a lovely man he was.

He came back several years after that, and I think it was in 1982 when he asked us to come over here; I think that was the second Irish Open. So, we came over and had a great time, and in 1987, we came back.

I remember that Terry put up a line on a golf match -- Seve Ballesteros against some guy I'd never heard of. I made him a real big bet on Seve, and he just kept taking the bet and I kept betting him. Of course, he knew what a great player Jose Maria Olazabal was going to be, and he beat Seve pretty handily that day.

BM: What do you remember about the first game you played here?

DB: I remember there was a jeweler in town -- Melvyn the jeweler -- and some Las Vegas guys had come over with us. They were playing the cash game, and I played with them for 24 hours or so. Then, I went back and slept and came back, and they had never been to bed. I just sat back down and started playing, and then some other players tried to come in. They said, "No, no … no more new players. We're all tired and wore out," and I said, "Yeah, that's right …" [laughing] We played a couple more days, and those guys sat there for three or four days.

BM: What drives you in terms of personal goals? You said in an interview recently that you wanted to give something back and that your ego was more or less gone now.

DB: I think it's just the fact that I like to compete. It's not necessarily just in poker. I mean, I love it when I play golf. I'm a terrible businessman, so I try to stay as far away from that as I can.

BM: Presumably, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act has set the game back in the U.S. What would you ideally like the U.S. authorities to do in terms of online poker?

DB: I wish they would regulate it -- and tax it. I think that everybody would be open to that. All of the big sites would be open to taxation. It would mean a lot of money for the government

Because poker is a game of skill, I think it should be carved out from the other games (sports, the casino, and so on). If the American public wanted to ban poker, that would be fine with me. I'd say, "Well, they don't know what they're talking about," but I wouldn't object. But the manner in which they passed this bill, and I hate to get back on my soapbox, was the most underhanded thing I've ever seen. I don't know what the agenda was.

I'm a lifelong Republican, but I won't vote for McCain -- even though I think he's a great American. I think he's against Internet gambling, and for that one reason, I won't vote for him.

I think that if someone would take a stand on Internet gaming, Obama or Hillary, they would get a lot of votes. It might sway the election.

BM: You've recently challenged Patrik Antonius. Tell me a little about the background of that.

DB: I didn't challenge him, he challenged me. I think he might have made a mistake when he said he would play me any game. I mean, I know some games that he might not even know of, but I'm not going to bring anything … I mean, every game I'm going to bring, I'll have played in the Las Vegas casinos. So there won't be any Dr. Pepper, and all that stuff.

I wasn't looking to play Patrik Antonius. I think he's a good player. We have played in the "big game," but I think the jury is still out on his game, to tell you the truth. He's done really well online, and I think he's probably a winner in the big game. But, he's still a young man. Come back in 20 years and see if he's still playing. Then we'll know how good he really is. There's a couple of games that I'm certainly not interested in playing him. I don't want to play him any pot-limit Omaha, and I don't even care about playing him any hold'em, because I know he plays those games well. So, ya know, why flip a coin?

BM: It's obvious that you're still massively challenged by the game. You still have a strong competitive spirit.

DB: If it's a big poker game, I still do get excited. I'm a poker purist. I'm a bit disenchanted with the way these tournaments are now, and these guys putting on their "TV show," as I call it. But it seems the public likes that. So, I guess they'll keep doing that. I don't intend to do it [laughing]. I'm a purist, and I like to play because I love the game.

BM: Will TV forever want to make stars out of these guys?

DB: I don't think it will change, because I think that's what people like to see. I think they like to see people making spectacles of themselves. If it's genuine, it doesn't really bother me. For example, Phil Hellmuth. Phil doesn't bother me, because that's who he is. That's truly Phil. If there's no television, that's the way he is. He's just a jerk at the poker table. But when I see a guy who's putting on a show just to get on television, that bothers me.

BM: You've seen a lot of players come and go in your time. Which European players do you respect at the moment?

DB: I get asked that a lot, and to tell you the truth, anybody who antes up and puts his feet under the table, I respect. Some of the more high-profile guys are obvious -- Gus Hansen, Patrik, David Benyamine, Devilfish.

BM: Do you have more respect for guys who have learned and developed in a live environment as opposed to online?

DB: Well, I think that's where Patrik got that information [laughing]. I have made the statement that I would swim a river to play with the Internet players. If I had to choose, I'd wanna play the Internet player.

BM: Of all your achievements in poker, of which are you proudest?

DB: I dunno. There have been so many moments, it's hard to distinguish which was the greatest one. Certainly, the bracelets didn't mean as much at first, so not those. But, probably, winning my 10th bracelet was pretty memorable, and winning a World Poker Tour event was also memorable.

BM: Will we ever see the authorized biography?

DB: It'll be out this fall. It's just about written. I had a lot of reservations about releasing it. Are we due some bombshells? Yeah, there are a lot of things in there that I'm really not proud of, but they happened. I've got approached about making moves and everything, but to tell you the truth, I'm as famous as I wanna be. I'm flattered about being known and recognised, but it gets aggravating.

Doyle plays online regularly at