Doyle Brunson, a champion poker player who, in a long, lucrative and colorful career with a deck of cards, won 10 World Series of Poker events, including two back-to-back titles, and influenced countless players with his definitive guide to Texas hold ’em and other games, has died at 89.
His death was announced in a family statement posted on Twitter on Sunday night by his agent. It did not include further details.
On his website, Mr. Brunson was once immodestly described as “the Babe Ruth, the Michael Jordan, and the Arnold Palmer of poker.”
The comparisons were apt. The first person to win $1 million in tournament play, Mr. Brunson — nicknamed Texas Dolly — became a star to a new generation when poker became a fixture on television in the 1990s, his cowboy hat and no-nonsense drawl a gentlemanly foil to brash, talkative younger players.
“The testosterone that floods most of today’s games owes its existence to Brunson’s philosophy of attack, the outlaw whiff of his style, the cowboy jingle-jangle of his prose,” Sports Illustrated wrote in 2005.
Mr. Brunson, whose career in poker began in illegal games in the back rooms of Texas bars, won the World Series of Poker main event, the sport’s most coveted prize, in 1976 and 1977. His total tournament winnings exceeded $6 million.
Since the 1960s, he had presided over a high-stakes private cash game in Las Vegas known as “The Big Game,” reserved for the most fearless and well-financed poker players as well as wealthy amateurs.
Mr. Brunson “bridges the span between the dangerous road games of the 1950s and the safely legitimate mountains of money in the 21st century,” the poker journalist James McManus wrote in “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker” (2009).
When Mr. Brunson won the World Series of Poker main event, he wrote that people thought of him more as a professional gambler than a poker player. He acknowledged that he had made millions and lost much of it early on betting on other sports, especially golf.
But he became famous for winning at poker and then teaching it, especially no-limit Texas hold ’em, a variation of the game that he first played in 1958, when it was becoming popular in his home state.
Doyle F. Brunson was born on Aug. 10, 1933, and grew up in Longworth, in north central Texas, the youngest of three children of Mealia and John Brunson, a farmer and cotton gin manager. Doyle did not learn until his mid-20s that his father had secretly put his first two children through college by playing poker.
Initially an undersize basketball player, Doyle grew about six inches in a year and helped lead Sweetwater High School, in nearby Sweetwater, to the state tournament in Austin. The night before the semifinal game (which his team lost), schoolmates introduced him to poker, which he had seen played only in movies.
He also excelled at baseball and track. After missing the deadline to accept a full scholarship to the University of Texas, he attended the Baptist-affiliated Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and started playing poker there. Five times he faced a school disciplinary board for gambling but avoided suspension because of his success as an athlete.
After almost leading Hardin-Simmons to the N.C.A.A. basketball tournament, Mr. Brunson landed a summer job at the local gypsum plant. His athletic career was ended when a stack of Sheetrock fell on him, mangling his right leg.
He earned a master’s degree in education while playing poker for income. But shocked at how little school administrators were paid, he decided against an educator’s career and took a job selling business equipment. While making a sales call on a pool hall in Fort Worth, he stumbled on a poker game, joined it and in three hours equaled his month’s salary. He quit his job and started a life of illegal poker in Texas.
Mr. Brunson soon joined a betting partnership with Thomas Preston Jr., better known as Amarillo Slim, and Brian Roberts, known as Sailor, in which they shared bankrolls until they lost all their money in Las Vegas in 1970. Each of them would eventually win the World Series of Poker main event.
In 1962, Mr. Brunson married Louise Carter, a Fort Worth pharmacist. A list of his survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Brunson was among the three dozen players invited in 1970 to the inaugural World Series of Poker, a name that belied its modest beginnings. The tournament was the brainchild of the casino owner Benny Binion and Jimmy Snyder, then a public relations agent better known as Jimmy the Greek.
The World Series expanded its roster of poker contests to include several variants of the game, but Texas hold ’em remained the most publicized and lucrative event. Mr. Snyder called Mr. Brunson “Texas Doy-lee,” which reporters mistook for Dolly, and the nickname Texas Dolly stuck, though it seemed incongruous for someone who stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed well over 250 pounds.
After moving to Las Vegas in 1973 for steadier gambling opportunities, Mr. Brunson won the tournament’s main event in 1976 and 1977, widely viewed as the world championship, earning $560,000 in a winner-take-all format. His 10 World Series bracelets are tied for second behind Phil Hellmuth’s 16.
In 1978, he self-published his book “How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker,” which included chapters by other top pros. Later renamed “Super System: A Course in Power Poker” when it was picked up by B & G Publishing in 2002, the book and its follow-up, “Super System 2,” remain top-selling poker manuals.
“As a postgraduate guide to the intricacies of high-level, high-stakes poker the work has no equal,” wrote the English poet Al Alvarez, who covered the 1981 World Series of Poker for The New Yorker. “The grammar may be shaky in places, the punctuation baroque, but the voice is distinct and the message is clear: aggression, constant aggression.”
Mr. Brunson was inducted into the World Series of Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.
After steady growth, poker had its cultural moment in 1998 with the release of the film “Rounders,” in which Matt Damon’s poker-playing character recites Brunson maxims while wielding a copy of “Super System.” That same year, poker became a late-night and cable television staple, and Mr. Brunson became a familiar figure.
Competitive into his later years, Mr. Brunson won a 2004 legends event on the World Poker Tour and $1.2 million. In 2005, he won a hold ’em event for his 10th World Series title.
A few days earlier, his son Todd, also a professional player, had captured an event, making them the first father and son to each win at the World Series. Mr. Brunson reached the fourth day of the 2013 Poker Players Championship, though he confessed that the game was taking its toll.
“Sometimes, when I’ve been playing for a couple of days, I get into a position where I’m uncomfortable,” he said. “My leg, say, starts hurting a little bit. But I don’t change position. I’ll sit there and let it hurt, just as a reminder to make myself play good.”
Mr. Brunson thought that his legacy would be “the fact that I’ve played longer at the high levels than anybody else ever did,” he said in 2003. “I mean, I’ve been playing at the high levels — the biggest games I could find — ever since I was 23 years old.”
But he would not milk his age for sympathy.
“Would I like to win the World Series again for the old guys?” he said in 2002. “Nah, I’d like to win it for ol’ Doyle.”
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