Poker is one of the most popular games in the world, enjoyed by millions of players of all ages and backgrounds. Unlike many other games, poker is not purely a luck-based game – instead, it requires skill and strategy to win consistently. The object of the game is to make the best hand from the cards dealt, and players can bet on their hands to increase the pot. Poker is typically played with a standard deck of 52 cards, but some variations of the game will use a different number of cards or include wild cards. These variations are one of poker’s biggest strengths, as they ensure that the game is endlessly replayable, and the quantity of variants means everybody can find a form of poker that suits them. Whatever the variation, poker is a fun and challenging game that anyone can enjoy. 

Poker has been around for around two centuries. This longevity and its intense strategic depth has fostered a rich competitive scene. With million-dollar tournaments being broadcast worldwide, competitive poker is an integral part of the game. A rich competitive history leads to many legends and stories of players who have left their mark on the game even long after retirement. These players have changed the game, and it’s hard to find someone whose contributions to the scene outweigh Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson. This article will go in-depth about him, explaining his competitive history, his contributions to poker strategy, and even the hand named after him!

Player Background

Doyle Brunson is one of the most well-known professional poker players of all time. With over 50 years of competitive poker under his belt, he has had one of the longest-lasting careers of any poker pro. Throughout his time in the scene, he has accomplished numerous things other players will only dream of. He is a 10-time World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner, a member of the poker hall of fame since 1988, has won a World Poker Tour championship, and has over six million dollars in tournament winnings. His contributions to the scene do not stop at his wins. He also authored Super System, one of the first books on poker strategy and is still considered one of the game’s essential texts. Finally, the poker hand consisting of a 10-2 is known as the “Doyle Brunson.” It earned the name due to the extraordinary nature of his back-to-back WSOP main event wins with this exact hand.

Early Life

Brunson was born on August 10, 1933 in Longworth, Texas. He was an exceptional athlete in his youth, setting school records in long-distance running. Despite his skill on the track, he preferred playing basketball, in which he excelled. He was even invited to the All-State Texas basketball team and earned a scholarship to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. There, he was receiving interest from the Minneapolis Lakers. Unfortunately, this path would be shut to him because of a career-ending knee injury. Instead, he resorted to playing poker and got a job as a salesman, using the money he earned to pay for his medical bills. He won a seven-card stud tournament, earning him a month’s salary in a single night. Soon after, he quit his job entirely to become a professional gambler.

Early Poker Career

Brunson’s early experiences with poker were far from glamorous. He didn’t play in famous casinos but in illegal poker rooms across Texas. Still, the stakes were high, though not in the way that you might think. Poker was a dangerous career populated with criminals, thieves, and outlaws who would frequent the games. Brunson’s life was often endangered as many of his opponents were sore losers. Along his journey, he met Brian “Sailor” Roberts and Thomas “Amarillo Slim” Preston, whom he would frequently play with and befriended during his career. He eventually moved to Vegas, where poker was legal and a much safer career choice, particularly as a husband and father to four children. As poker evolved, Brunson did too. He never feared change or risks, stating, “I’m a gambler. I’ll always be one. I couldn’t be anything else. So, my life will always be full of wins and losses. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s exciting. There’s never been a dull moment in my life.”

The Doyle Brunson Hand

Brunson was a regular at the WSOP, the most prestigious tournament in poker, since it began in 1970. He finished third in the 1973 main event and won back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977, becoming one of four people in history to do so. How he won those titles is part of what elevated him to legendary status. In 1976, at the final table, he was dealt a 10-2 heads-up vs. Jesse Alto, who had A-J. The flop came A-J-10, giving Alto a strong two top pairs against Brunson’s singular bottom pair. Brunson knew Alto was an amateur and wasn’t accustomed to high-pressure situations. Looking to exploit that, he went all-in with the weaker hand. The turn came with a two, giving Brunson a two pair that was still weaker than Alto’s. Miraculously, the river came with another two, giving Brunson the backdoor full house to win the tournament. While winning the World Series of Poker main event with a bad hand like this was a lucky and miraculous ending, the hand was only named ‘The Brunson’ after the 1977 WSOP main event. As luck would have it, Doyle ended up in the same position the following year, with 10-2 against Gary Berland’s 8-5 on a board of 10-8-5. The turn came down with a two, which put him in the lead with a bigger two pair. He went all-in, and the river brought another 10, winning Brunson the event and solidifying his and the hand’s places in poker history.

Note from the Editor:
The world as we know it has changed immensely compared to what the gamblers of the first half of the 20th century experienced. There were no cell phones, or internet. Automobiles were just starting to become common and affordable trans-Atlantic flights were still a bit into the future. Computers and space travel were as far removed from society as dragons and fairies. Information was not as accessible as it is today. Because of this, and a gambler’s penchant to miraculously forget anything and everything as part of an unwritten code, many of the stories and anecdotes that come from the time could be full of hyperbole and may not be entirely faithful or accurately represent what occurred. However, the oral histories we have, as told through the years, are now all that remains of this ancient time. If any of the tales are inaccurate or outright lies, it is important to be aware that this was neither intentional, nor was it the intent of the article.

-The Wordsmith