Doyle Brunson passed away yesterday.
Saying those words out loud doesn’t feel real. He was and will forever be an icon, a legend, and an inspiration to me and so many others.
When you embrace the world of the written word for a living, there are some days you don’t feel good enough. Today is one of those days for me. There are no words that feel appropriate to capture what “Texas Dolly” means to me, to the poker world, and to those who haven’t even picked up a card yet. Still, we try.
The immediate reaction from the poker world
Last night, it felt like the poker world stood still in reaction to the news. Whatever drama, poker news headlines, or games of the day happening around the world felt insignificant.
Joey Ingram, understanding the collective sorrow of the community, took to a Twitter space to give us a place to connect. Some shared personal stories, some expressed what he meant to them, and some just listened. As I made my commute to the next stop on my schedule, I listened. Thanks, Joey, for letting us experience our emotions together yesterday.
Doyle was the exception to the rule
As I heard person after person take the microphone and pour out what was in their hearts, one thing became abundantly clear: Brunson made a positive impact on more lives than he could possibly know. Most of what I heard was bigger than poker.
People say, ‘Don’t meet your heroes,’ and usually with good reason. We set them up on pedestals that most could seldom reach. Personas crumble in person, celebrities may not have time for us, and the pedestal inevitably comes down a few notches or more.
Doyle Brunson’s pedestal usually went higher.
Story after story mentioned how Brunson was happy to talk about poker or life with anyone that had the pleasure to engage with him. Sit with him for a while, and he’d remember your name years down the road. Earning his status as a legend of the game via the way he played on the felt, it was how he treated you off the felt that solidified his legacy.
People remember how you made them feel, not the exact words you say. Somehow, Brunson broke that rule as well. He did make people feel appreciated, respected, and honored after interacting with him. Yet, his one-liners, quips, and fast wit inked their way into our memories and hearts. You probably have some favorites, but I bet you can hear his voice in the following lines.
“We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.”
“They tell me I’m intimidating. They tell me I can melt a man with my stare. Actually, we’re just all playing the same game. Well, almost.”
“Buddy, I’ve sat here all day and haven’t made a pair.”
Those are some of my favorites, and I’m sure you have yours too. His voice, smile, and love of the game resound in our hearts and our minds, especially today.
My first connection to the Godfather of Poker
Somewhere in the late 2000’s I was working at a bookstore, one of the many ultimately dead-end jobs of my past for which I am eternally grateful. At the time, I was in charge of the religion/spirituality/metaphysics section. My favorite section, though, was “Games,” but it was on the other side of the store. I’d find reasons to end up there often.
Amidst the shelves dedicated to chess, sports, and board games that I regularly picked through, there were two small shelves labeled “Poker.” I loved cards but I hadn’t yet played poker for real money. The first book that caught my eye was “Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker.” I read it straight through, enthralled and excited. Having temporarily moved its bookstore home, I’m sure many shoppers of metaphysical books wondered how a thick book on poker ended up in their section. But, surrounded by books on inexplicability, Brunson had reached through from the past and unknowingly changed my life course.
Whether it was my tendency to spend work time reading books or my newly-found passion for poker, I left that bookstore not long after. Without digressing too far, poker has played a part in my life since that day in some way or another. Now, I play full-time and am fortunate to write about the game that I love professionally. Would I have found this path without picking up that book that day? Maybe, in some alternate metaphysical world, I would have. But, in this one, I owe my life path to Doyle Brunson.
My story is small, but I know each of you has one that’s similar. He inspired us, taught us about the game, and made us laugh. Like a link to the past, he connected us to days of gun-toting, smoke-filled, backroom games that have evolved into the booming world we have today. I’d bet there isn’t a single poker player that hasn’t been affected, directly or indirectly, by the immeasurable impact of the legendary Doyle Brunson.
If this is how we all feel about him, I can only imagine those that had a daily connection to the man. My heart goes out to his wife, Louise, as well as his two children, Todd and Pamela. I hope they find joy and love as the poker community continues to share stories of Texas Dolly’s impact on all of our lives.
In the days, weeks, months, and years to come, I hope we all remember how much of a hero Brunson was to all of us and the game we play. His pedestal is raised higher than ever.
Feature photo credit: PokerPhotoArchive.com