Doyle Brunson is still rewriting the poker rule books. We found out how: “There’s not a man alive that can keep beating on me”

Doyle Brunson, the grandfather of modern poker, revolutionised no-limit hold’em in the 1970s. So how, decades later, is he still at the top of his game despite giving his secrets to the world?

Doyle Brunson quite literally wrote the book on poker. His revolutionary Super System defined an aggressive mode of playing nolimit Texas hold’em that now characterises the style of the majority of winning players. Despite it first being published in 1979, two years after his second WSOP bracelet win, its ethos is still applied by the new online generation – whether they realise it or not.

Brunson’s recommended strategy revolves around picking up lots of small pots with raises pre-flop and bets on the vast majority of flops, and being prepared to get the money in slightly behind with draws as well as made hands. Because he will be able to make the same power plays with made hands as well as draws, it leaves opponents guessing, leading to mistakes and bad decisions.


Part of the reason he is able to keep players guessing is his famed love of suited connectors – hands like 6;-7; or 9…-10… – which can be played aggressively like Aces or Kings, but add extra layers of disguise. Playing these hands this way makes it harder for players to put him on a hand and also opens up the possibility of flopping monster combination draws, to a straight and flush or a pair with a draw.

Another hand Doyle is particularly fond is the double bellybuster draw, like Q-10 on an A-J-8 flop, where both the 9 and the K will make the nut straight. And if the King falls against a player with A-K then a very big pot is likely, allowing him a shot at ‘breaking a player’. As he frequently says: capturing all of an opponent’s chips is the whole object of the game.

To do this, as he says, ‘you’ve got to give action to get action’. You also have to be able to play with feel, and be prepared to make counter-intuitive plays, like leading out with big hands such as a set in the hope of getting played back at by another strong hand. Doyle is often behind when the money goes in, but the pots he picks up uncontested and the amount of times someone doesn’t believe him in a big pot when he really has a hand more than compensate for it.

Playing this style obviously has an impact on the other players in a game, and it’s important to notice their reactions if you decide to try it. Many will be afraid of tangling with you and you will be able to spot when they really have a hand and get away cheaply. Others might react differently and try to compete with your aggression for the role of big dog at the table. Doyle is very clear on what to do when this happens: ‘There’s not a man alive that can keep beating on me. An aggressive player might do it for a while, keep leaning on me. But at the first opportunity I get I’m going to take a stand and put all my money in the pot.’

This is the style that is more and more prevalent the higher up the food chain you get, especially online where the stakes go as high as $200/$400 no-limit and games become increasingly short-handed. At this level, the swings can be insane and the battle is fought in terms of sheer aggression and ability to withstand the roller coaster. To get run over is to lose. Doyle writes that ‘you can’t do that against a truly top player in nolimit because he’s fixing to make a stand and play back at you.

And that’s the difference between a merely good player and a great one.’ The best online players have taken these maxims to their logical conclusions and regularly win or lose six- and seven-figure sums as a result.


This strategy has remained a fundamental part of the modern game, and is enshrined in the very core values of poker. But Doyle himself has since found his advice and teachings coming back to bite him. A new generation of players influenced by programmes like World Poker Tour lean towards a faster and looser style of play, whether profitable or not. It’s what Mike Matusow has referred to as ‘The Age of “I Call.”’

In reality, it goes against everything Doyle first believed in. Although Brunson’s style is based on aggression, it’s also important to note that this is very calculated aggression. He says that his opponents often complain about him getting lucky in big pots, but the fact of the matter is that a big part of his strategy relies on ‘betting with an out’. He always has two ways to win – either he can force his opponent to fold, or he can catch the card he needs.

Similarly, he uses his bets to ask tough questions of his opponents. For example, if an opponent has 20,000 chips left, then betting around a third of that amount effectively forces him to a decision for the lot. ‘I make him commit. I’m not committed… That’s the beauty of it.’ Maybe Brunson has a monster hand and wants to trap his opponent for everything, or maybe he’s bluffing and prepared to fold the second the other guy’s chips go in. But it’s going to take everything to find out, and that puts pressure on any opponent.

Brunson meanwhile appears to have changed his style to a much more varied and balanced one than the rampant gambler found in Super System, in reaction to the all-out aggression of the young guns. Even though he wrote it, he’s unlikely to be found playing completely by the book these days. On occasions he has even expressed regret at writing Super System in the first place, and despite a gap of 25 years separating it from the updated Super System II, the no-limit hold’em section in the more recent volume is merely an airbrushed and revised version of the original. Doyle Brunson, it seems, isn’t about to give the game away twice…

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