I’m just getting word that the one and only “Godfather of Poker” passed away at 89 years old. I don’t think there is anyone in the poker world who doesn’t owe a tremendous debt to this man. Whether you are in the poker business like I am, or just someone who enjoys the game, where would poker be without Doyle?
Although I saw him in Las Vegas many times, I only had one meaningful conversation with him ever, and that was at the 2016 WSOP Hall of Fame banquet. We only talked for a few minutes, but he genuinely gave me his undivided attention; he was a real gentleman that way. I took this one blurry selfie of us that day:
To call him the greatest of all time isn’t going to be a revelation to anyone, in fact it’s not even really making a statement in any way. But it’s obviously the truth. How does one transcend the changes in poker over the course of more than 60 years and still stay at the top of the game? He started in sketchy Texas backrooms, and was still playing into the days of GTO solvers, and yet… he kept winning. It’s inexplicable really. No one can really be that good, and yet he was.
If you want to really get to know him, let me recommend a couple books. If you’re looking for a fun, easy read, I recommend Doyle Brunson: My 50 Most Memorable Hands.
And actually, my favorite Doyle Brunson book isn’t by Doyle himself. That book is Amarillo Slim In a World Full of Fat People, probably my favorite poker book of all time. Slim and Doyle were really close friends, and traveled together quite often “making the rounds”. The book features Doyle prominently. Chapter 5 tells the tale of a now legendary train trip to Mexico that Doyle, Slim, and Sailor Roberts took sometime around 1960. The three of them promised not to gamble with each other, but of course that didn’t last. The entire trip they gambled on about everything, from how fast the train was going, to whether Doyle could run up a mountain in the Mexican countryside in under 3 hours (he won that bet).
Even Amarillo Slim, not known for his humility, calls Doyle the greatest of all time in his book. The picture at the top of this article is from the book. That’s Sailor Roberts and Crandall Addington (another Texan) shaking hands at the 1976 World Series of Poker. Doyle calmly looks on (he busted both of them).
I don’t know if we should all play ten-deuce one more time in his honor, or retire that hand forever. Either way, I’ll end with this: I’d probably have a normal job if it wasn’t for you, Doyle. I wouldn’t be writing this now, because I’d be in bed, getting ready to clock in tomorrow morning and make somebody else rich. I’ll never get to pay you back, Doyle, but I owe you one. We all do.