American poker pro Todd Brunson isn’t just Doyle’s son: “Poker’s gone from having probably less than a million players who’d play once a week, to closer to 100 million now”

Smart, cynical, successful and nothing like his father, Todd Brunson is a prickly poker animal

Most poker players these days are savvy enough to know the advantages of press coverage. Todd Brunson is no different. He’s acutely aware of the media’s role in promoting poker and its personalities. That said, he makes no attempt to conceal his lack of enthusiasm at the tiresome grind of interviews and talking to journalists.

Unintentionally, this attitude probably works well to avert the ubiquitous questions about the similarities with his famous father. But where Doyle exudes an old-fashioned Texan charm, his son suffers no-one he deems to be a fool. Due to a misunderstanding over a strategy question, I think I now fall into this category. It’s not a great start.

It may have seemed like an obvious choice for Brunson junior to break into the family business, mentored by Doyle, but this was far from the case. If anything, he got into poker in spite of his father’s legacy rather than because of it. Todd didn’t dabble with poker until he was 18, during the three years he studied law. Realising he enjoyed poker more than legal issues, he forfeited his senior year of studies and headed for the Californian poker scene.

In 1993, at the age of just 21, he won $200,000 in a tournament at LA’s Bicycle Casino and decided to turn pro. He told his mother first, and left her to break the news to Doyle. ‘He never said much about it,’ Brunson says with trademark brusqueness.

Fathers and sons

There’s an inevitable catch-22 situation involved when approaching an interview with Todd Brunson. I have to make constant assurances that the conversation won’t be peppered with question like: ‘What’s it like being Doyle Brunson’s son?’ And, I must let it be known that I’m aware he’s a highly successful player in his own right. From the way his PR people are talking, you would think some of those chips they’re eager to remind us he’s won are permanently perched on Todd’s shoulder. For the record, he achieved a gold bracelet win at the $2,500 Omaha hi-lo tournament.

He’s also netted over $2.5 million in tournament winnings, and has proven himself as one of the world’s most successful high-stakes cash players. Billionaire Andy Beal, who played against a syndicate of pros for ultra high-stakes, surmised that of all his formidable opponents, it was Brunson who had the read on him.

So surely there’s no reason why Todd would believe anyone still perceives him to be in Doyle’s shadow? He obviously doesn’t resent the connection too much, as he’s played an integral part in the success of Drive around Vegas and it isn’t long before you see his face glaring at you from an oversized billboard. Like many poker players, Todd Brunson’s an unlikely poster boy, but he’s also the perfect example of the poker player turned celebrity. He’s always got his business head on, accepting this is the price to pay for financial reward.

‘It’s come a long way. I can’t go anywhere these days without people asking for a picture or an autograph. It’s somewhat new, but I figure that for everyone who wants an autograph, they’re going to buy a book or a DVD, which translates into money, so I think it’s great.

‘Poker’s gone from having probably less than a million players who’d play once a week, to closer to 100 million now. All those people want to learn and buy books to try and improve their game, and they look to the people who have been playing for a long time, so it’s a good position to be in. ‘Twenty years ago when I bought my house they’d never heard of a professional gambler before. They called their boss and their boss’s boss, and it got all the way to New York. Eventually, the president of the bank called me and said: “You play poker for a living? Do you mean you work for the casino?” I explained to him that I work for myself. It’s come a long way since then and people understand it now.’

Keep on growing

Refreshingly, Brunson is not one of the growing ranks of observers who think poker’s popularity has topped out and set for a decline. ‘It might die down a little bit, but it’ll never go back to what it was. Poker’s finally getting the attention it deserves. Five years ago I was asking: “Why isn’t there any poker on TV?”’

He acknowledges the irony of being one of the youngest players on the professional circuit for so long, to now being regarded as one of the old boys while still only in his mid-30s. ‘At the World Series everyone there is a rank amateur and that’s what you’re dealing with now. I look around and I hardly know anyone any more. It’s a freak thing when new players do so well, but the first time I played lowball I won the tournament. It’s beginner’s luck – you see it a lot.’

What does a veteran of the WSOP like Brunson think of the tournament these days? ‘When the World Series started it was a $10,000 buy-in, as it is now, only that was 37 years ago. $10,000 is still a lot, but it was a lot more money back then. I think today it should be more like $40,000 or $50,000. It would cut down on the numbers and be more of a true championship event.’ Brunson is adamant that stamina is a key differentiator between newbies and veterans of the live game. ‘Because of the stamina required, playing for 16 or 17 hours is not an issue for a poker pro. Playing for two days straight without sleep is the norm for me. I’ll play for two days, go home and sleep for eight hours, then play for another two or three days.’

How does he remain alert, his judgment unimpaired? ‘It comes down to discipline and focus. For me it’s not a game, it’s a profession. I have to really pay attention. I don’t let myself drift off. A few years back I was playing in a cash game and there was probably $3 or $4 million on the table. Two guys were so drunk, they couldn’t even keep their eyes open, and three or four guys were losing hundreds and thousands of dollars and going crazy. It was just an unbelievable game. We were seeing King-high winning a three-way pot.’

Hanging tough

It’s not just a steely focus that makes Brunson a strong player, though, as he explains: ‘I have good recall, long-term memory, discipline and knowledge of people and how they feel. I’m able to sense a person’s mood. If a guy’s a very steady player, I may be able to tell if there’s a change in him today. If he’s going to be playing differently, I’ll use it to my advantage.’

These days Brunson is a core member of the Big Game at the Bellagio. He’d play every day if he could, but business commitments only allow him to play about four days a week. He rarely plays with Doyle, whom he describes as an early riser. Todd on the other hand is more of a nocturnal animal. ‘By the time I’m arriving at the casino he’s ready to go home.’ The one thing he definitely has in common with his old man, however, is a cool-headed approach to those huge cash games.

This is just his job. Even so, does that mean he’s immune to pangs of sympathy when someone’s haemorrhaging cash to him and falling to pieces? He answers unflinchingly: ‘If they choose to sit down with me, they know what I do for a living. They’re taking their chance. I expect to win, and I play to win. Do I ever feel bad for them? No, never. It’s a hard world.’

PokerPlayer magazine always gets the inside story from the world’s great players so why not try a copy HERE

Pin It

Comments are closed.