Doyle is gone. He seemed like he would live forever. We all hoped he would. When I lose a family member or a close friend, the thing that helps me most is to sit around swapping stories and learn new things about them from other people who loved them. The loss of Doyle Brunson is a loss to all of poker, to our poker family, and to so many who counted him as a friend. And I expect we’re all going to hear some incredible stories about the man who was a legend before I was born.
The first time I met Doyle was at a party before the main event at the World Series Of Poker. I was talking to some of his people about becoming a sponsored pro on his poker site, Doyle’s Room. I was a fairly unknown pro at the time, still am to be honest. A deal with Doyle’s Room was exciting, but not nearly so exciting as a chance to meet the man himself.
“You should come to the party,” the email read. “I’ll put you on the list, you can meet Doyle, and we can talk some more about the deal.”
Meet Doyle? Absolutely!
I played with the pros on Full Tilt every day back then, but I’d never met any of them in person. They were otherworldly, the old timers who knew every trick, who had won and lost millions and had stories I could only imagine. And Doyle was the king, the legend among legends.
I brought a date to the party. She was a casual fan of poker and knew very little about the game. But she sure knew who Doyle was. She spotted him across the room right away and nudged me with a not-so-gentle elbow in her excitement.
There were at least a hundred people there, in a huge hotel suite. And everyone wanted to talk to Doyle, so he had two people chasing away anyone who bothered him for more than a minute. I was too cool for that. I didn’t want to be that guy. I mean, I was that guy, but I didn’t want to look like I was.
Eventually I found the woman who had sent me the email and she offered to introduce me to Doyle. My date had already grown tired of all the poker talk among those of us standing around with drinks in our hands. She grabbed a spot on a couch and I was off to meet Doyle on my own.
The man shook my hand, told me to sit down, and we chatted for a few minutes, mostly about nothing. He said that the site needed young blood, and back then I was still fairly young for a poker pro. Then someone else came over that he needed to talk to, and again not wanting to be “that guy”, I excused myself and headed over to find my date.
She stood up, drink in hand, and we walked out onto a balcony to see the city. After hearing about my brief visit with Doyle, she commented that “The guys sitting by me on the couch are either full of bullshit, or they are absolutely crazy gamblers.”
“They are crazy gamblers,” I said. “The absolute craziest.”
She was a civilian, unaccustomed to our world. And even a serious gambler would have been impressed by the stories she heard given who she was sharing a couch with. On her left was Archie Karas, a solid contender for the world’s biggest gambler. And to his left was Chau Giang, who was known for playing the highest stakes games in the world at the time. Their stories convinced her that we were all out of our minds.
Doyle’s Room changed hands soon after that and no deal was ever done, but I had met Doyle. And they even sent me a fancy copy of Super/System with a faux leather cover that I still own. But that wasn’t the last time I would get to chat with the legend.
Years later, in a mixed game event, again at the World Series Of Poker, I met Doyle again. By this time I was used to seeing him zip by on his scooter in the hallways of the Rio, and I’d met and played with most of the poker celebrities I’d seen on TV, but seeing him pull up to the empty seat on my right was still quite a treat.
I welcomed him, and when a waitress came by a few minutes later, I ordered a Bailey’s and coffee. I couldn’t have been more pleased when Doyle said “I haven’t had one of those in years, I’ll get one too.”
Those who played with me regularly back in those days knew that starting my tournament with a Bailey’s and coffee was a ritual for me. Sometimes my poker pals in Minnesota would order one for me if they knew I was coming. Drinking one with Doyle made my day before it even got started.
We chatted for awhile about Montana. I used to spend some time there near Flathead Lake, one of the most beautiful places you could ever see. Doyle’s home was close to where I had spent so much time and we talked about a game that used to run in a bar not far from there. I’d played $1/2 no-limit right there in the bar and he’d played the same game a few times himself.
Then the real miracle happened. Ted Forrest came to the table. Ted had Doyle telling the most incredible stories from the moment he sat down. He knew just what questions to ask and it seemed obvious he was giving us all a treat. He even told a few himself, including the time he ran the soles off the bottoms of his feet in a distance running prop bet out at the track at UNLV.
Doyle regaled us with stories of Texas road gambling, games getting robbed, cheats at every table, and a whole lot of driving. We were riveted, every one of us. Even Ted I think.
“I wish we could have been road gamblers in Oklahoma to be honest,” he said. “Would have been a lot less driving.”
I imagine he’d had years of practice learning just how to tell those stories, but it seemed like every word out of his mouth was just the right one. Every turn of phrase was exactly what you would expect from the godfather of poker. With a man like that, even when he folded it felt like you lost the hand somehow. Like you would have won more from anybody else.
I don’t remember what tournament that was. I don’t remember what games we were playing. I know stud was involved because I folded two pair when he raised me on sixth street and he showed me trip sevens and said “Jackpot.”
What I do remember the stories. And, like so many millions of poker players, I’ll always remember Doyle.