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Doyle Brunson Retires From Poker? Say It Ain't So!

Legend of the felt Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson is calling it quits after more than six decades of playing poker. On Monday, June 11, 2018, the 84-year-old poker pro announced his retirement via Twitter:

Doyle Heads to Twitter to Announce Retirement

In an interview with PokerCentral.com on the same day, Doyle clarified that his wife of 56 years, Louise, was having health issues. He's retiring from poker in order to spend more time with her. “I’m going to stop playing completely,” Doyle explained. “This will be the last time that my wife and I have to spend together, and right now, every day that I leave the house I feel guilty.”

Doyle's Final Event

The NL 2-7 Lowball Draw tournament that Doyle referred to in his tweet actually began on June 10, so he skipped a day of play before registering on the second day. He and his son, Todd, both ponied up their $10,000 buyins, and they both chipped up significantly and made it to the third day of play.

When Todd eventually exited the tourney in 10th place for $18,955, his old man was still going strong, and Doyle made it to the final table. Everyone had his eyes on the “Godfather of Poker,” and applause erupted from the audience whenever he won a pot. They were doubtlessly rooting for Doyle to prevail and collect his 11th WSOP bracelet in his last attempt at winning one.

Alas, it was not meant to be, and Doyle finished in sixth place (of 95 entrants) after his all-in bet with 8-6-3-2 was called by James Alexander who held T-9-6-4. Both players drew one card, and Doyle caught a K while James received a 2 to complete his T-low. Doyle was thus eliminated from the contest, picking up $43,963 in this, his 37th WSOP cash. This final table result allowed Doyle to cap off his lengthy poker career in style.

Photograph of Doyle Brunson
Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson

Doyle Brunson's Poker Biography

Doyle Brunson was born in Longworth, Texas, in 1933. Athletic from a young age, he was a promising basketball prospect during his college years. However, any hopes he might have had of becoming an NBA star were dashed when Doyle suffered a knee injury.

Brunson turned to poker to satisfy his competitive instincts while recuperating, and although he didn't take up basketball seriously again, he continued playing poker. Doyle did graduate from college, earning a master's degree in 1955 and accepting a job as a machine salesman. Pretty soon, however, his earnings from the poker tables outstripped his wages from his job. After one evening of seven card stud, Doyle found that he had won more than a month's salary. It was shortly thereafter that he elected to abandon the 9-5 work world and instead become a professional poker player.

Early Texas Road Games

In those early days, there wasn't enough action in Vegas to really support a vibrant poker economy. Instead, Doyle and his friends, like “Sailor” Roberts and “Amarillo Slim” Preston, would hit up live games during road trips across Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. Many of these games were not exactly legal, and they were sometimes busted by law enforcement. Even worse were occasions when criminals would rob the games, and sometimes violence erupted.

Doyle has stated that he has had guns pulled on him at times during these games, and he was robbed on more than a few occasions. Many of these adventures are chronicled in his biography, “The Godfather of Poker.” Fortunately, Texans today don't have to put up with such shenanigans because there are licensed cardrooms in selected locations across the state, such as Houston. Also, there are plenty of sites for online poker in Texas. Both of these developments probably would not have happened had not road grinders like Doyle first paved the way.

Vegas and the WSOP

In 1973, poker in Las Vegas had developed to the point where there was enough action to appeal to Brunson, and at the same time, his invitations to private games in Texas started to dry up. Therefore, he made the decision to move to Las Vegas.

He had been participating in the World Series of Poker at Binion's Horseshoe since its beginning in 1970, and he wound up winning two bracelets in '76 and '77. Incredibly, Doyle's hole cards in the final hands of both of those events were T2. Ever since, this hand has been known as the “Doyle Brunson.”

Now, the field sizes in those days were much smaller than today, consisting of no more than a few dozen participants, but the caliber of the players was high with such luminaries as “Puggy” Pearson, Johnny Moss, and Bobby Baldwin taking their seats. For a taste of what high-stakes poker was like back then, watch the below footage of the 1973 World Series of Poker Main Event. Doyle appears in the video, but he was eliminated pretty early on:

Other Endeavors

After winning a couple of bracelets, Doyle Brunson decided to write a poker strategy book, and “Super/System: A Course in Power Poker” was released in 1979. It was one of the first volumes explaining how high-level players thought about the game, and it became an instant classic. He followed up with a sequel “Super/System II” in 2004. Doyle has actually authored or co-authored a number of tomes over the years, including the anecdote-laden ”Poker Wisdom of a Champion” in 2003 and “According to Doyle” in 2008.

Most of his other business ventures failed to achieve much success. He claims to have never made a penny from his online poker site, Doyles Room, which failed and was bought out by Americas Cardroom in 2011. In 2005, Brunson was the target of an SEC investigation regarding alleged improprieties in his bid to purchase the World Poker Tour, but nothing ever came of these inquiries, and the case was dropped.

Screenshot of Doyle's RoomHome Page of Doyle's Poker Site, DoylesRoom, as It Appeared in 2010, Courtesy of InternetArchive.org

Continued Achievements at the Tables

Although some players seem to lose a step or two with age, Doyle Brunson has continued to play very skillfully against top competition. His last WSOP bracelet came in the $5,000 Shorthanded Event in 2005 when he was in his '70s. He last cashed in the WSOP Main Event in 2013 just shy of his 80th birthday. He's a regular at Bobby's Room in the Bellagio where some of the highest-stakes games in the world take place.

In total, Doyle Brunson has amassed more than $6 million in live tourney winnings with more than $3 million coming from World Series of Poker events. There's no telling how much he has made in private, untracked cash games, but it's probably a good deal more than this. Doyle's longevity, consistency, and excellent play have earned him a spot in the Poker Hall of Fame to which he was elected way back in 1988.

Community's Reaction to Doyle Brunson's Retirement

Brunson has accumulated a legion of fans over the years and very few detractors. Most commentators supported Doyle's decision albeit with a note of sadness at the departure from the tables of one of the true greats of the game. Here are a couple of responses to Doyle's announcement:

Redditor Finds Doyle Inspiring
“russianbear13” Sad at Doyle's Departure From Poker

Will the Retirement Stick?

Because poker is a game that one can play in one's leisure time and there are no set hours or mandatory games, it's pretty tempting to return to it even after swearing to stop playing. Just look at the recent example of Vanessa Selbst who “retired” from poker at the end of 2017 – only to join a tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino two weeks later! In response to the ribbing she received on social media, Vanessa replied: “come on man, it's been more than a week and it's been really hard. Cut me some slack.”

It seems that Doyle's feelings may be similar to Vanessa's. After witnessing the big fuss that everyone was making over his retirement, he posted a statement on Twitter on June 13:

Brunson Not Quitting Poker Altogether

So now, “I’m going to stop playing completely“ has turned into “probably no more WSOP tournaments.” And even that watered-down statement “isn't written in stone.” We suppose that in about a month or so, the rule will transform to “no poker on Sundays” or maybe just “no tournaments longer than three days.” We can't really fault Doyle with not sticking to his announced retirement. After all, this is the same man who said in the intro to “Poker After Dark”:

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.

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