Top Stories of 2023, #1: Poker World Loses Its Godfather, Doyle Brunson

Top Stories of 2023, #1: Poker World Loses Its Godfather, Doyle Brunson

While 2023 was an overwhelmingly positive year for poker, it was also a tragic one. On May 14, the world celebrated Mother's Day, Doyle Brunsonpassed away at the age of 89.

Brunson's passing hit the poker community hard as countless players mourned the loss of the Godfather of Poker, who rose to poker fame in the 1970s and played poker into the final weeks of his life. Texas Dolly left behind an unmatched poker legacy that included ten WSOP bracelets, two Main Event titles and endless tales about the Texas road gambling frontier.

Brunson's death, the poker community's response and the memories that emerged about the adored poker icon make for PokerNews' biggest story of 2023.

PokerNews paid tribute to Brunson and reacted to his passing on an episode of the PokerNews Podcast, which can be heard below:

Poker World Learns Of Brunson's Passing

The poker world learned of Brunson's death through an announcement from his longtime manager, Brian Balsbaugh. It is with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our father, Doyle Brunson," Balsbaugh wrote in a statement. "He was a beloved Christian man, husband, father and grandfather. Well have more to say over the coming days as we honor his legacy. Please keep Doyle and our family in your prayers. May he rest in peace.

Within no time, poker players from every era paid tribute to the Poker Hall of Famer, two-time world poker champion and ten-time bracelet winner.

"There will never be another Doyle Brunson," Daniel Negreanu wrote on X.

"Doyle always played hard: the man absolutely hated losing!!" wrote Phil Hellmuth, the only player with more bracelets than Brunson. "Doyle ruled the high stakes cash games in Las Vegas for 50 years!!"

The two fellow Poker Hall of Famers were hardly the only ones to pay tribute to Brunson. Others who paid their respect on social media in the hours after Brunson's passing include Scotty Nguyen, Josh Arieh, Jen Harman, Jennifer Tilly, Daniel Zack, Brad Owen, Andrew Neeme, Jonathan Little, Gabe Kaplan, Erik Seidel, Liv Boeree, Greg Raymer, Brian Hastings, Mike Gorodinsky, Robert Mizrachi and Ari Engel.

Related: Doyle Brunson Proves He Still Has it Despite WSOP Main Event Exit

Doyle Remembered By His Peers

During the 2023 WSOP, PokerNewsspoke with 13 players who knew and played with Texas Dolly. They shared their first memories of playing with Brunson, spoke about how he impacted their playing style and articulated what made him the Poker Godfather.

Televised poker pioneer Mori Eskandani shared a memory of filming a "high stakes at sea" promo with Brunson, while David Williams spoke about connecting with Brunson over their shared Texas roots. Meanwhile, Tom McEvoy recalled besting Brunson in the 1982 Main Event, and Eli Elezra reminisced on their short-handed, high-stakes Chinese poker during the pandemic.

"He played at an elite level for seven decades," Ben Lamb told PokerNews. "I mean, seven fucking decades this guy played at an elite level. And no one's ever really come close to that."

Here are a few of the best memories to emerge from those conversations:

Andy Bloch Shares a Memory Off the Felt: I remember going to a New Year's party that he was at and he kept having people come up and do shots with him. And then someone had to drive him home. I would not want to bet against Doyle in anything, whether it's golf or poker or doing shots of tequila. He was a lot of fun. I don't have a lot of social memories with him outside of poker, but there are a couple. He was the greatest at that, too.

"He was a lot of fun. I don't have a lot of social memories with him outside of poker, but there are a couple. He was the greatest at that, too."

Ben Lamb Wins An "Old Groovy" Prop Bet: He had this sand wedge, this lob wedge that someone had taken a tool to the grooves and made it much sharper so it got a bunch of spin. Obviously an illegal golf club. But back then a lot of the guys I played with played with similar golf clubs, and it was just allowed. Obviously, you had to say, "Hey, I've got this thing," you couldn't just go play another game. But anyway, he had this wedge called Old Groovy, and I wanted the wedge. And I said, "Doyle, you play golf anymore?" "No, I'm too old, I can't play anymore." I said, "I'll give Old Groovy a good home, can I get that from you?" He said "Sure, I'll give it to you." And I threw him three black chips and he said, "No, you don't have to pay for it; it's free." I said, "No, no. Keep the three black chips, bring me the wedge tomorrow, because we were playing the next day, and if you forget it, you owe me a hundred bucks and every time I see you and you don't have it, you owe me a hundred bucks." Well, he just kept forgetting it, kept forgetting it. I bet he paid me $4,000 a hundred at a time. I'd be at dinner at the Bellagio with my wife and I would walk into the poker room just to collect my hundred dollars and see the pain on his face. And he couldn't find it. I think he lost it. He gave me some old putters and some other stuff that I still have and I'll keep forever, but Old Groovy was gone. I finally let him buy out, I think.

Eli Elezra Gets a Gift: After Doyle got to know me very good, he came one day to Bobby's Room, he gave me his book, and he said, "That's for you." So I opened the book and I see he wrote something like "For my friend Eli" I still have this book "I don't suggest you read this book. It's going to ruin your game." So I mean, that's how close we were that he knows that I have a different game than him. But of course we're talking about Doyle here. Definitely, I learned so much from him.

"That's how close we were that he knows that I have a different game than him."

Doyle Comes to Steve Zolotow's Rescue: When I was first coming there (to the World Series), I knew Doyle. And I don't think we were playing in the same games yet. But we had friends in common. You know, Chip played backgammon, too, and I was a backgammon player. And I played in some tournament. At first they had a buffet that was open 24 hours, then they changed it to a buffet that closed at 10:30. So I get knocked out of the tournament at 10, I go running up to the buffet, and I'm pretty vegetarian. And I go in, and it's full of people eating, all the food is still out, and the woman says, "We're closed." I said, "What do you mean you're closed? Food is out." I said, "All I'm going to do is just get a salad, sit down and eat it quickly." And she said, "I'm telling you, it's closed." So I went in, got a plate, got a salad, and I can see her on the phone. So now they call up two huge security guards. So the security guards come in to grab me and I run out the back way down an escalator or stairs or something. And I go into the high limit area and I see Doyle playing. And I know Doyle knows everybody there. So I said, "Doyle, the salad police are after me. Can you rescue me?" And he said, "He's OK." And the guy started laughing when I called him the salad police. It was a lot of fun.

Mori Eskandani Says $200/$400 Is Too Small For Doyle: The first time I played with Doyle was at the Mirage. We played $200/$400 half Stud, half Hold'em. And he got into the game, he didn't know many of us, and after 20 minutes he said, "This game is not worth anything," and he got up and left. But we were so, all of us were like, ah, he actually sat in the game! That small, even those days. It was I want to say 1991 maybe. The Mirage had been open a couple of years, that was the first time.

Doyle Brunson's Greatest Twitter Moments:

Louise Brunson Passes

Just five months after Brunson died, his wife of 62 years, Louise Brunson, passed away.

While she avoided the poker limelight, Louise Brunson gave a candid interview to PokerNews in 2018 about meeting her future husband and thinking he was a bookkeeper.

I didnt have any idea," she said. "But one day, the owner of the drugstore came to me and said: Louise, do you know what Doyle does for a living? And I said: Oh yeah, hes a bookkeeper. And he said, No hes a bookmaker. And I said, 'Yeah, he keeps books. He has a masters degree from Hardin-Simmons University.' Up until then, I didnt know what a bookmaker was.

The couple stayed together for more than six decades and dealt with serious medical conditions by each other's side.

We went through a lot in our lifetime, Louise said. But what doesnt kill you, keeps you together and closer. I knew that I loved him, and I knew that he loved me. And if we had a disagreement, it would just be minor.

Doyle Brunson Through the Lens

Doyle's Legacy Lives On

Though the poker world lost its godfather this year, his legacy was felt in the months after his death.

At the 2023 WSOP, a half dozen Poker Hall of Famers Todd Brunson, Lyle Berman, Hellmuth, Negreanu and others paid tribute to Brunson at a "Celebration of Life" inside the Jubilee Theatre at Horseshoe Las Vegas. Those in attendance were gifted with special Doyle Brunson decks containing only tens and deuces.

The poker community collectively agreed to declare Oct. 2 as "Doyle Brunson Day" and several poker rooms and operators offered special promotions to honor the poker legend. The Lodge in Texas offered a $10,200 prize to a player who won a hand with ten-deuces, while the Peppermill in Northern Nevada offered players $100 when they hit a flush or full house with the Brunson.

During the Premier Meet-Up Game at the WPT World Championship, dozens of players played the ten-deuce for a chance to win a seat in to the $40 million guaranteed Main Event.

There are surely more tributes to Brunson to come in the future, including a long-awaited biopic of the legendary poker player.


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