KFC won’t tell you its secret blend of 11 herbs and spices; Coca Cola has guarded its secret recipe for over a century; when you’ve hit upon a winning formula – and it’s making you money – it makes sense to keep it to yourself.
So when Doyle Brunson first published his famous poker strategy book Super/System, this week in 1979, he was going against the trends of the time, not with them.
These days it’s extremely common for successful people in many walks of life to share their techniques in books, lectures, courses, training camps or video guides. It builds your brand and creates new, more predictable revenue streams.
PokerCoaching, PokerCode and UpswingPoker are all examples of successful poker pros ‘giving the game away’ in modern times. But it was Brunson who took that first, risky step back in 1979, opening his finely honed strategies up to the paying public and, in the process, educating those same players he would continue to face across the tables.
The ‘Million Dollar’ promise
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want your poker book to sell, particularly to beginners, you put the term ‘million dollar’ in the title.
It was in this spirit that Brunson’s book was first published under the title How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker. In this case, Brunson had the results to back it up: he’d recently won the 1976 and 1977 WSOP Main Events, back to back, becoming one of the most celebrated and visible players in the poker world as well as one of the few to break through to the mainstream.
It would be understandable if the book he put out in the wake of this success was a cash-in, much as how Amarillo Slim had hastily published Play Poker to Win following his triumph in the 1972 WSOP.
But Super/System, as the book was soon re-titled, was not aimed at the masses as a one-time cash-grab. Underlining the fact that it was designed as a professional tool for modern players, its first editions sold for $100 – over $400 in today’s money.
Brunson intended it to be the most practical, useful and advanced strategy guide for the popular poker games of the era. And while he was arguably the best NLHE player of the time, he was happy to call in some favors from peers who he felt were the best authorities on other games.
The 1979 ‘A-Team’ of poker
The result was a range of chapters taking in everything from Draw Poker to Lowball, Razz and more, as well as an expansive chapter on general poker strategy and an appendix filled with probability charts.
The team of co-authors Brunson assembled was filled with stars of the age, and included:
- ‘Crazy’ Mike Caro, who contributed a chapter on Draw Poker
- Pioneering poker author David Sklansky on Stud Hi/Lo
- David ‘Chip’ Reese on Seven-Card Stud
- Lowball expert Joey Hawthorne
- Bobby Baldwin on limit Hold’em
Together with Brunson’s own take on NLHE, Super/System became the bible for thinking poker players, and the seed from which grew an entire industry of poker strategy products.
Brunson was quoted as saying the book cost him more than he ever made from it, as in giving away his trade secrets he had armed his opponents with everything they needed to defeat him. And so, as it goes in poker, his game had to change and adapt.
The strategies in the book remain useful to know, but in the post-Super/System world it would become even more necessary to evolve.
What happened next
It was 25 years before Super/System 2 was published, following Moneymaker’s WSOP win in 2003 and with a whole new generation of players to inform, entertain and sell to.
As before, Brunson assembled an A-list of poker talent to create the guides in the sequel, this time including the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Johnny Chan, Jen Harman and Steve Zolotow.
It’s a great book, but could never have the impact of the original. The many eulogies we read last year upon Brunson’s passing spoke to what a kind and benevolent presence he was in the poker world. That’s how we’ll remember him, and how we should remember him, but readers of his book will understand that his legacy as a poker writer and strategist is all but unmatched.
And it all began 45 years ago this week.
Images courtesy of WPT; Phil Hellmuth product images courtesy of TMG/Big Vision