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Poker legend Doyle Brunson dies at age 89

The Godfather literally wrote the book on poker that still is the basis for the game.

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Poker Hall of Fame Inductee Doyle Brunson attends the grand opening of Horseshoe Las Vegas on March 24, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Denise Truscello/Getty Images for Caesars Entertainment

Doyle Brunson led one of the most colorful and interesting lives in the history of professional gambling. And “Texas Dolly,” as he was accidentally named by CBS’s Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. The loss was confirmed by his son Todd Brunson on Twitter.

The back-to-back winner of the World Series of Poker main event in 1976-77, both times with his final Texas Hold ‘em hand being 10-2 that will forever be named after him, Brunson went on to win a total of 10 WSOP bracelets. His last victory in the 2005 $5000 no-limit hold ‘em shorthanded event. No one will ever question that he is one of the greats in terms of skill on the felt in the history of the game, coming of age before solvers and software helped the modern player learn in hours what took Brunson years of work and hundreds of thousands of miles driven looking for the best backroom games anywhere.

But what separated him from so many legends in any industry is voluntarily choosing to divulge all his secrets in a book. One that made him thousands as an author, but likely cost him millions as his competition read it, and grew the industry of poker by billions. Super System remains the greatest poker book of all-time, published in 1979 with a cost of $200 because it was filled with that much information.

Brunson’s advocacy of relentless aggression in poker, as well as some terrific anecdotes from his time as a road gambler, is the basis for most poker theory to this day. While today’s computers have helped hone the perfect way to play Dolly’s favorite game, no-limit Texas Hold ‘em, Doyle’s overriding theory that you have two ways to win if you just keep betting (you can have the best hand or your opponent can fold) as opposed to one allowed by more passive play (you must have the winning hand) has now been borne out by science.

Brunson was born in 1933 in Longworth, Texas, and grew up as an athlete in the wind-swept western town. He won a 1950 Texas high school statewide track meet with a mile time of 4:43, going on to attend Hardin–Simmons University on a basketball scholarship. After receiving a bachelors and masters, he was a school principal and a salesman, but nothing called to him like playing cards for cash did.

He relished his time as the first true elder statesman of poker in the modern era of the game, which begins after a Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker defeated Sam Farha at the final table of the 2003 World Series of Poker. That event was broadcast in previously-unforseen detail by ESPN, launching a million would-be poker careers around the world.

But why did a record 839 players descended on Binion’s Casino in Las Vegas that June in the first place? Most of them had read Super System, and all of them knew who Doyle Brunson was already.