The Story of the 1977 WSOP Main Event

In 1976, Doyle Brunson won his first WSOP Main Event title. Just 12 months later, he would enter the lexicon of American heroes after bagging back-to-back triumphs. With more preliminary events than ever before, a young challenger, and an incredible final hand, the 1977 World Series of Poker went down in history as one of the most entertaining poker festivals ever to take place. 

Bumper WSOP Schedule the Biggest Yet

With 13 events on the ticket, it was a huge leap from the eight that were run in 1976, and the action began on April 28 – the earliest start date for a WSOP event in history. The premier event was the Limit Ace to Five Draw which saw a field of 36 runners. The event was won by Billy Allen who won the $10,800 top prize and the only WSOP bracelet of his career.

Winning Events #2 and #3, Bobby Baldwin, nicknamed ‘The Owl’, won two of his four lifetime WSOP events back-to-back. First, in the $10,000 2-7 Draw Event #2, Baldwin beat Billy Baxter to the top prize of $80,000. In Event #3, the $5,000 buy-in Seven-Card Stud event, Baldwin got the better of Ralph Levitt to score a top prize of $44,000. 

Baldwin, a bona fide WSOP legend, became the President of the Bellagio hotel and casino in 1998, the year that Rounders was released. As well as being a great poker player, Baldwin is also a world-class billiards player and was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2003.

Bones Shows His Class

In Events #4 and #5 of the 1977 WSOP, the two winners were Gary Berland and Doyle Brunson, the two men who would eventually become the last men standing (or sitting at the table) at the festival. Event #4 was a $500 Seven-Card Razz event and it was won by the younger man of the two, Berland. A fascinating character, ‘Bones’ as he was known moved to Las Vegas aged just 18 and initially was a passionate student at university. 

Soon developing an interest in poker, the young Berland dropped out of college to pursue a professional interest in the game during a period of history where to do so was generally ill-advised. Blending his work at the felt as a player with that of a dealer, however, Berland survived and built a steady bankroll. Strong in math, ebullient in personality, Berland was a natural and he dealt with any setbacks brilliantly. 

Berland’s bracelet win in 1977 was the first of five WSOP titles that he won during an all-too-short career. Thriving in the live arena, Berland’s dedication and vivacious personality marked him out as an early star. Tragically, his poker career – and life – was cut down in his prime when a rare blood disorder led to his death in 1988. He was just 37 years old.

WSOP Hold'em Event Gold Bracelet

Berland and Brunson Meet Again

The other preliminary events that led up to the Main Event featured eight different winners. Doyle Brunson won the first of his two bracelets in 1977 when he conquered seven entries in the $10,000-entry Seven-Card Stud Split event, toppling David Sklansky for the $52,500 top prize. 

Perry Green won the heads-up battle that alone contested the next event, the A-to-5 Draw, for $10,000. Next came the $1,000 No Limit Hold’em event, the Mini Main Event of the day, which was won by George Huber for $33,000. Another NLHE Event followed, this time costing $1,500, which was won by Louis Hunsacker for $34,200. The first-ever ‘Women’s’ event was next as an incredible 93 entries filled out the $100-entry Seven-Card Stud event. Three women alone cashed, with Jackie McDaniel ending up the winner for $5,580, beating Linda Davis heads-up. 

Wins for Fats Morgan in the $1,000 buy-in Limit Seven-Card Stud Split event, Jeff Sandow in the $500-entry Seven-Card Razz event and Richard Schwartz in the $5,000 Seven-Card Razz event concluded the preliminary events. Now it was time for the WSOP Main Event. With 34 entries, only one player would win the full $340,000 prize pool as the two defining stars of 1977 would meet again for it all. 

Brunson Banks Second Win in Epic Finale

The 1977 WSOP Main Event is an oddity in the poker canon in that so much is known about the final hand yet so little is noted about the play that led to its memorable finale. Doyle Brunson was the reigning champion and both the crowd’s chosen one and betting favorite among those running a book. 

One of the pivotal hands that helped Brunson on his way to victory came on the third day of poker drama. Winning with suited connectors, which weren’t played so often in 1977, Brunson took out Buck Buchanan and Ed Whited when he made trip sevens. Moving up the rankings consistently during the tournament, Brunson took a step back and watched as Berland took out Milo Robertson and it was the younger of the two men who eventually ended up with the lead heading into the final battle. 

Brunson recovered quickly. Slow-playing pocket queens, Brunson was on the receiving end of a full double-up that propelled him into the lead when a flop of T-8-5 landed. It was destiny that this would be the final hand. Brunson held ten-deuce, while Berland had eight-five. The younger man had flopped two pair against top pair and was favorite to double back into the lead. Both players checked and a deuce on the turn gave Brunson the superior two pair. Brunson bet this time, and Berland check-raised all-in. Brunson called with the same hand that won him the world championship in 1976 and when a ten landed on the river for the second year in a row, it gave ‘Texas Dolly’ – the name now given to ten-deuce forever – a fitting full house.

Doyle Brunson had won back-to-back titles, the only man to do so by playing a tournament after Johnny Moss’ double included a player vote. Could ‘Texas Dolly’ make it three in a row in 1978? The poker world held its collective breath. 

1976 WSOP Main Event                                          1978 WSOP Main Event

About the Author: Paul Seaton has written about poker for over 10 years, interviewing some of the best players ever to play the game such as Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth. Over the years, Paul has reported live from tournaments such as the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and the European Poker Tour. He has also written for other poker brands where he was Head of Media, as well as BLUFF magazine, where he was Editor.