LAS VEGAS – Poker icon Doyle Brunson disliked fame so much he walked away from a big payday to protect his family’s reputation.
It happened at Binion’s in1972, the third year of the World Series of Poker.
Texas Monthly included the story in an exquisite feature about Brunson about a year ago.
Brunson, who won back-to-back WSOP titles in 1976 and 1977 and was the first player to win a million dollars in tournament play, died last week in Las Vegas. He was 89.
Only eight players were involved in 1972, with a buy-in of $10,000.
“This tournament wasn’t broadcast on cable TV or treated like a sport. It wasn’t even treated like a game,” according to the magazine.
“Texas Hold ’Em, now the most played poker variation in the world, had been in Vegas casinos less than a decade. In 1970 there had been only fifty poker tables in the entire city. This world series was a sideshow meant to drum up business for the casino, and the competitors were as strange as if Mark Twain characters had jumped off the page and found their way to the desert for a piece of the action.”
Brunson was “perhaps the best player in the world, wielding a domineering strategy few had ever seen.”
He tried to avoid reporters “and when he did speak to them, he used the pseudonym Adrian Doyle and said he came from Texas and that some people called his Texas Dolly.”
As the field was whittled down, Brunson “amassed a war chest of chips. Three players remained. Soon, a champion would be crowned. The crowd grew. The cameras flashed.
“That’s when Brunson started to lose, folding each hand without even trying to win. Jack Binion, the casino’s president, saw what was happening. He paused the game and marched the players into into a private room, where he tore into Brunson.
“You’re going to cause a big scandal here,” barked Binion. “You just can’t do this.”
“Jack,” Brunson explained, “I just don’t want the publicity.”
Raised in Longworth, Tex., with a population of 200 in the 1930s and 47 in 2009, Brunson was concerned the conservative town would shun his entire family.
“They knew him as the son of a farmer, a former state-champion athlete, and a master’s graduate from a Baptist college,” the magazine said.
Brunson walked away from a potential world title and the fame that would come with it.
“He told himself there would be other fortunes to win, other chapters of his legend to write. And maybe, one day, they would come without the guilt.” He never told his father how he made his money.
Late in life, Brunson was often seen driving his blue Cadillac Escalade into the Bellagio’s north valet and trading it in for his mobility scooter.
“I’m afraid I drive like a NASCAR driver,” he told Texas Monthly.
Sports were his passion. He was the 1950 state champion in the mile, with a time of 4:38, eventually lowering it to a personal best of 4:18.
A year earlier he nearly led Sweetwater to the state tournament. He was introduced to poker on that trip to Austin by some classmates. His team lost but he caught the eye of the University of Texas, who offered him a scholarship but Brunson waited too long to fill out the paperwork.
Instead, he went to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, close to home. In his junior year, he led the school to a conference championship win over the University of Arizona. He was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player.
According to Texas Monthly, the Minneapolis Lakers sent scouts to Abilene and informed the school’s coaches they planned to select Brunson in the first round of the following year’s draft.
That dream died the next summer when Brunson was working at a Gypsum plant. A stack of sheetrock fell on him, crushing his right shin, snapping his tibia and fibula.
He returned to Hardin-Simmons to figure what he wanted to do. He picked up side money playing poker on weekends in college towns. He considered teaching. He became a salesman and hated it.
“One day, while making his rounds, Brunson ran across a poker game in the back room of a pool hall.” Before the day was over, he “cleared a month’s salary in less than hours,” he said.
And the rest is history.
Michael Block’s choked-up, teary interview after the PGA tournament ended Sunday was one for the ages.
Block, 46 and the club pro at Mission Viejo’s Royal Traduce golf club, was the tournament darling before final round. Playing inspired golf, he was one stroke off the lead at one point in the third round. It was the first time he made the cut of a major tournament.
His Cinderella story got even better Sunday, when he sank a hole-in-one—on the fly— on the par-3 15th hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. He was playing with tour vet Rory McElroy, who hugged and high fived Block. The biggest cheers of the day went to Block, who was born in Reno.
An emotional red-faced Block could barely speak.
“I’m living a dream… it’s not going to get any better than this,” he said. “No way in hell.”
He showed his grit last September as a member of the U.S. team at the 2022 PGA Cup in Surrey, England. He rallied from a four-hole deficit with five birdies in the final six holes in the opening singles match on the final day to earn a crucial point and help the U.S. win its first overseas PGA Cup since 2009.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngganou, celebrating his new contract with executives of The Professional Fighters League with lobster and steak at Barry’s Downtown Prime Steakhouse at Circa last week. Ngannou, 36, is currently the No. 1 ranked fighter in MMA. He was 17-3 with the UFC before his shocking departure…Speaking out punch-out artists, Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage, Major League Baseball’s first relievers to record 300 saves, dined at Barry’s a few nights earlier.
‘KINGS OF LAS VEGAS’
UNLV basketball legend Larry Johnson shared a bit of news on Facebook that included a photo with former teammate Moses Scurry— standouts on the Rebels’ 1990 Final Four title team. “I’m sitting here in the Tarkanian Room at Piero’s,” Johnson wrote, “with our enforcer and my good buddy Moses Scurry telling stories of our time at UNLV. We are doing the prep work for the best UNLV Run-in’ Rebels documentary that you will ever witness. We were Kings of Las Vegas and now we are ready to tell our stories.”
THE LAST WORD
“We really didn’t have an answer. We were playing without emotion.” — Chandler Stephenson, on the Golden Knights’ lethargic play against Dallas on Sunday. They came from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to send the game into overtime. Jonathan Marchessault tied it with 2:22 left the third period and Stephenson added the game winner 1:12 into overtime for a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference finals. No NHL team has more third period comeback wins this season.