Thursday’s kickoff of the 2021 World Series of Poker Main Event featured a special bonus for railbirds and fans of the game, as “Texas Dolly,” Doyle Brunson, showed up to take part in Flight 1A action. It’s the first time in eight years that Brunson, a 10-time WSOP bracelet winner, has played in the celebrated Main Event.
Brunson won the Main Event in consecutive years, 1976 and 1977. Brunson won four of his six bracelets — still tied for second-best overall with Johnny Chan — in a four-year stretch from 1976 through 1979.
Despite having won the Main Event twice, Brunson has played the Main only infrequently since it moved to its current home, the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino. In recent years, the 88-year-old Brunson has cited the endurance factor involved with playing the Main Event as one of the reasons he’s usually skipped it. Even with off days, the Main Event will require its eventual winner to put in at least seven 14-hour days of mentally grueling competition.
Nonetheless, Brunson’s surprise appearance at the Rio on Thursday continues his recent promise that he’d play “a few” events during the 2021 WSOP. It’s the last year that the Rio will host the series. Though Brunson has never won a bracelet at the WSOP’s current venue, he’s come close on multiple occasions. The most recent of those came in 2018, when he placed sixth in one of his favorite tourneys, the $10,000 No-Limit Deuce-to-Seven Lowball Draw Championship.
Brunson also played earlier this week in Event #58, the $1,000 Super Seniors Championship. The event was open to players age 60 and up. Brunson did not cash in the event.
Jack Effel, Damian Salas kick off Main Event festivities
Brunson’s surprise Main Event appearance added to the Main Event’s opening-day festivities. Day 1 action began just a few minutes after its official 11:00 am start time. As is tradition at the WSOP’s Main Event, the opening includes welcomes from WSOP vice president and lead tournament director Jack Effel, plus the traditional “Shuffle Up and Deal!” from the prior year’s winner.
Argentina’s Damian Salas authored a first of his own in helping kick off the day’s proceedings. Salas, who speaks little English, gave Day 1A attendees — and some online viewers as well — a welcome of his own, but in Spanish. Salas also played on Day 1A but was eliminated very early in the action.
The several hundred players who chose to play in the first of six starting flights included quite a few prominent players. Just two hours in, with several more hours of late registration available, several dozen well known pros were on hand. Besides Brunson and Salas, that prominent list included Tom McEvoy, James McManus, Perry Friedman, Mustapha Kanit, Eric Kurtzman, Asi Moshe, Jason Koon, Michael Tureniec, Kelly Minkin, Adrian Mateos, Jerry Wong, and many others.
The opening flight traditionally offers the Main’s smallest overall player registration. However, pandemic-related changes made to this year’s event offered players unusual choices. Many pros not based in Las Vegas normally opt for the Main Event’s final starting day. If for no other reason, it’s to compress their travel schedule and save a bit on expenditures.
This year, the United States’ easing on international travel restrictions forced the WSOP to add two extra starting days, especially to accommodate international players. Non-U.S. players participating in the Main Event tend to be elite pros, and with many of them forced into the Day 1E and 1F starting flights, it could make those flights arguably a notch tougher than the Main Event’s first four starting days. It’s an extra consideration for those attempting to make a deep run in poker’s most famous tournament.
Featured image source: Haley Hintze