Doyle Brunson may be a poker icon, says Jesse May, but maybe we shouldn’t call him a legend just yet
Doyle Brunson was sitting at an upstairs poker table during the dinner break of the first day of the WSOPE Main Event. He was sitting alone at the table with Eric Drache, another man who has been around Las Vegas long enough to have seen Vegas from the start and poker from ground zero. Doyle was there on his own during the dinner break because he has some trouble moving around, and London’s Empire casino wasn’t stretching itself in terms of VIP amenities. And Eric Drache was sitting with him out of sheer respect. Which is what we all have for Doyle.
I’m a big fan of poker history, and I wanted to ask Doyle about Johnny Moss and Benny Binion, and Chip Reese and Nick the Greek. When I was 21 years of age and living in Las Vegas, I would go out of my way and play over my head to sit down with Johnny Moss in the day shift $20/$40 limit Hold’em games at Binion’s Horseshoe casino. Johnny was way past it by then, sitting at the table in his motorised wheelchair and playing every hand. It was rumoured he was on a lifetime daily allowance from the late Benny Binion – his reward for services rendered in the past. Johnny was living in a room upstairs at the Horseshoe with his wife Vergie, who would almost always sit behind him while he played. Even with Johnny in the game it was probably too tough for me to beat, and way out of the regions of smart bankroll management. But I didn’t care. I was gonna sit there with the legend Johnny Moss.
Still A Player
Doyle, on the other hand, is so far from ‘past it’ it’s not funny. His health and age might make movement restricted, but his mind is sharp and the man can play. And the one thing I did ask him about was something Erik Seidel had said to me in an interview a few days before. Erik said that even though Doyle is called a legend and only spoken about by the poker world in the most reverent tones, Brunson is probably still the most underappreciated pure no-limit Hold’em poker player in the world. And Doyle gave me that piercing look and then he smiled and gave a long slow Texas chuckle. He said, ‘Well, I expect Erik might be right.’
Doyle was at the end of a four-week road trip that had taken him through Budapest and Nottingham. He said it was the last time he was ever leaving Las Vegas and all he wanted right then was to get on home. And he was on a short stack in a tournament where nothing really mattered save pride in his game. And Doyle managed to stay in for three more days before busting a more-than-credible 17th place and making a serious run at the WSOPE Main Event bracelet. Can he play or what?
Down With The Kids
I had a laugh interviewing Alec Torelli, one of the brightest young stars in the game and recently signed by Doyle himself as a sponsored player for Doyle’s Room. It was the week after the WSOPE Main Event at the PKR Heads Up Grand Slam in London, and since Alec was not playing he was getting a massage. All the great young players, if they are not in action, feel it is imperative to be at least getting a massage. I mean, you can’t just sit around! I asked Alec about the story of how Doyle found him, when Doyle needed a body to help start a short-handed high stakes Bellagio cash game, and Torelli happened to be loitering around an otherwise empty Las Vegas. But how, I asked Alec, did he find Doyle’s game? ‘He’s good, obviously,’ said Alec. ‘I mean, he pushes when it looks like he’s supposed to push and he knows when to shut it down.’ But is Doyle great? ‘Well it’s hard to know when you can’t see his cards,’ said Alec.
Johnny Moss was a legend who kept playing poker because he just liked to play. And Doyle is a legend who keeps playing poker because he’s still great. I don’t know how much longer Doyle can keep it up, but I sense that the minute he’s not one of the best in the game, he’ll hang up his boots. Don’t mistake Doyle for a legend. Not yet. Lest you make the mistake of forgetting what he can still do on the felt.