Todd Brunson has been at the top for over 20 years but how did he get there? : “The sad truth is it’s a tough road – 99.99 percent of the players who try and make it to the top fail”

Over the past 20 years Todd Brunson has become one of the best players in the world. We find out how:

The player

With over $3m in tournament winnings and a WSOP bracelet that he won in 2005 for Omaha Hi-Lo, Todd Brunson has emerged from out of his father’s shadow.

He led ‘the Corporation’, composed of some of poker’s biggest names, to a $13.5m victory over Texan billionaire Andy Beal in a series of headsup games, and is a regular player in the Big Game at the Bellagio.

You’re only 36, but there are constantly new – barely legal – players sprouting up winning titles. Do you feel your maturity has made you better equipped to deal with the fame and pressure?

I don’t consider myself an oldtimer but I’m definitely leaning in that direction. I’m going on 20 years as a professional player, so I feel as if I’ve just about seen it all in the poker world. I think that’s the biggest factor separating me from the young guns coming up now. Those guys have no idea what it’s like to go on a prolonged bad run. It’s when faced with adversity that you see who the real players are.

The sad truth is it’s a tough road – 99.99 percent of the players who try and make it to the top fail. I feel sorry for them. I had to go through it and they will too. There are only a few dozen players making good money and staying at the top levels.

You’re an integral part of – do you find you’re increasingly and frustratingly spending more time on the business side of poker instead of playing?

Funny you should ask that. Earlier today I was in the Bellagio and I ran into the shift supervisor who’s an old friend and he asked where I’d been. It took me a while to fill him in. I’ve been writing articles and books, hosting and playing in celebrity/charity tournaments and filming poker shows. My friend asked, ‘Do you miss just playing?’ I have to admit, I really do. Now I’m one of those fake poker players I’ve made fun of for years!

Did your outlook on being a pro and the responsibilities that entails change when you got married?

Poker is very tough on relationships. Great games can pop up at any time and they take precedence, which can be difficult. My wife started to play after we’d been together for a few years. I think she wanted to understand me better and wound up entranced by the game. Truthfully, I wish she’d never started. Imagine losing half a million dollars in one horrible night only to return home to hear bad beat stories from her $2/$4 game.

Have you ever had such a bad run that you’ve contemplated giving up poker?

The money is relative, so it doesn’t really feel big and exciting like most people think it would. When the cards run against you, it’s hard to deal with. You just have to make sure you continue to play well. I haven’t considered quitting since my first few years as a pro. What would I do at this point in my life? Rob banks?

Nowadays you’re established as a top player in your own right, but it must have been challenging in the early days with the constant comparisons to your father.

My father being a pro got me curious about poker. Before the age of 18, I knew literally nothing about the game. I wanted to at least know the basics so I wouldn’t sound stupid when asked questions.

After that I just kept playing. It sounds simple I know, but I never really made a decision to be a pro poker player. As for the comparisons between my Dad and I, it only ever gets brought up in interviews. I’ve achieved far more than I ever thought I would, so everything from here is gravy.

You’re known as the guiding light behind the Andy Beal games and victorious player of the 48-hour marathon session. How did you prepare for that and keep focused throughout?

It was a great experience. For that particular match I didn’t really have time to prepare. We needed a player the next day at 7am and Beal had pretty much chopped through the roster. My dad knows I don’t like to wake up early so he was hesitant to put me in. I told him not to worry and 35 hours and $13.5m later it was all over. In matches since then I just try to get plenty of rest beforehand. I also like Red Bull – it helps to keep me focused.

How did it feel when you won a WSOP bracelet?

It was more of a relief than anything. I was so tired of people asking me how many bracelets I had. Many people would even argue with me when I said none. ‘I saw you win one with my own eyes back in the mid- 90s,’ I often heard, which they were confusing with the watch I won for a Hall of Fame tournament.

It was only five or six years ago that these stupid bracelets became such a big deal. If I’d had any idea, I would have been playing tournaments instead of cash games. One year they were starting a H.O.R.S.E. tournament and kept announcing, ‘Only 16 players, hurry and signup. This is your best chance to win a bracelet!’

This was when we started spreading mixed games and almost no one knew how to play them all. I was sure I was the best player in the world at that game at the time and was about to enter; but then I thought, ‘What do I want with a bracelet? I can win 10 times what first place will pay in my side game tonight.’ If only I’d known…

Todd was talking to PokerPlayer magazine which is the world’s best poker monthly and you can read it HERE

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