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When I Was A Donk: With Doyle Brunson

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Nov 07, 2018

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In this series, Card Player asks top pros to rewind back to their humble beginnings and provide insights regarding the mistakes, leaks, and deficiencies that they had to overcome in order to improve their games.

After winning back-to-back World Series of Poker main event titles in 1976 and 1977, Doyle Brunson found himself on top of the poker world and seeking a new challenge. Noticing a void in the literary market for poker books, Brunson could think of no one more qualified than himself to fill it.

“It was originally titled How I Made Over $1 Million Playing Poker,” recalled Brunson. “It sold quite a bit, but we had incurred a lot of expenses.”

A lot of expenses, is an understatement. Unsatisfied with a proposed publishing deal, Brunson opted to take on the entire project himself.

“The funny part of that is that they approached me. I think it was Doubleday [Publishing], they wanted to [publish] the book and everything. I said, ‘Okay, what percent do I get?’ It ended up being just six percent of the sales… Well, why couldn’t I publish it myself? So, I set up a publishing company, and hired a staff like we were going to be some big outfit. I bought printing presses, and all kinds of stuff. I hired people with big salaries.”

In total, Brunson spent upwards of $400,000 on salaries and equipment. He teamed up with noted sportswriter Alan Goldberg for the project and then got his talented friends involved, getting strategy content from minds such as Mike Caro, Chip Reese, David Sklansky, and Bobby Baldwin.

The 600-plus page book, which would eventually be known to the poker world as Super/System, sold relatively well despite its hefty $100 price tag. (That’s worth $370, today.) But not nearly enough to offset the newfound business expenses and a sometimes-unscrupulous staff member or two.

“We printed about three books, I think, before we stopped,” said Brunson. “We printed Bobby Baldwin’s Winning Poker Secrets and I think one of Mike Caro’s books. (There was also a blackjack book.) It was just too much.”

To make matters worse, not only had Brunson initially lost money on his project, but it also cost him at the tables.

“After I wrote Super/System, I had to change my game completely. All the pros got a copy of that book, and they read it. So, they knew the aggressive style that I recommended, and they started calling me, and raising me all the time. I had to change my play at the high-stakes games.”

Of course, you can’t keep the Godfather of Poker down for long. After making an adjustment, he was winning more than ever.

“I had several bad sessions, and I realized I had to make a change. So I went back to playing ABC poker. I’ll tell you, I won 15 straight times, and I didn’t have to bluff once.”

The book ended up turning a profit as well. Once the poker boom hit, a re-print of the book sold out almost immediately, forcing more copies to be made. The book made it to the no. 1 spot on Amazon and even no. 1 on the New York Times best seller list for how-to books, moving as many as 15,000 copies each week. The original printing of the book was fetching as much as $600 on Ebay, with a signed copy selling for $2,500.

Eager to capitalize on the demand, Brunson released a sequel in 2004. Super System 2 featured chapters from poker pros such as Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Jennifer Harman, Todd Brunson, Steve Zolotow, Lyle Berman, and Crandell Addington. ♠