Doyle Brunson declared his forthcoming retirement on Monday, then headed to the World Series of Poker at the Rio to late-register for what could be the last tournament of his storied career.
It was Day Two of, and with registration still open, his son Todd convinced him to get in on the action. He would be one of the last of 95 individuals to enter this WSOP event, and from there proceeded to lay waste to his opponents as they crossed his path and expanding chip stack.
Quentin Tarantino or Aaron Sorkin could not write a better script. This real-life movie — we will call it”The Godfather of Poker” — had all the makings for an Academy Award-winning flick.
It had drama, with Doyle announcing his retirement to spend his remaining days with his ailing wife, Louise. It had action, with head-to-head clashes against some of the game’s best. It featured a superstar cast of characters, including Todd Brunson, Erik Seidel, Mike Matusow, and other poker legends.
Two months from his 85th birthday, Doyle announced on Twitter Monday morning he was”going to the Rio” to play in the 2-7 lowball championship and that it will”probably be the last one I will ever play.” Upon arriving, he advised Poker Central that he planned on retiring from poker”after the summer.”
It’s been known for quite some time that Brunson’s wife, Louise, has been ill. But few knew just how sick his partner of 57 years had become.
“I feel guilty when I leave the house to play poker,” Texas Dolly told CardsChat.
“It’s been a terrific career but I wish to spend my remaining time or hers with my wife,” the living poker legend said.
Going to the Rio to play 2-7 lowball tournament. Probably the last one I’ll ever play.
— Doyle Brunson (@TexDolly)
Before he calls it a career, Doyle decided to take one last shot at an eleventh WSOP bracelet in the game he loves the most, 2-7 lowball draw. But there was another reason he chose this particular event.
“I told him that this was the only one he could come in on Day Two and it’d probably be a short day and then he simply has to play tomorrow,” his son Todd Brunson, who also advanced to Day Three, told CardsChat during a break.
At age 84 and with a sick wife at home, Doyle sought a”goodbye to the WSOP” event that would not need him to play three long days. This, Todd decided, was his best option.
But will it really be his final championship?
“I hope not,” Todd said.
When Doyle took his seat within the Amazon room at the Rio on Monday, a bunch hovered around his table. Poker lovers took images of the Texas poker legend and caught a glimpse of what is likely going to be his final act.
But no one could have envisioned how that last act would play out. Almost from the moment he sat down, he began stacking chips…gradually, as you would expect from an 84-year-old man riding on a motorized scooter. His 50,000-chip starting stack quickly grew to 400,000, placing him in the chip lead long before the dinner break.
He delivered Cary Katz and Nick Schulman packing early in the session, well ahead of the money bubble burst. Shortly after, he lost half his stack to recent bracelet winner Paul Volpe and was showing physical signs of fatigue. It appeared the unbelievable run might soon be coming to an end.
But this is Doyle Brunson we are talking about. He’s the Godfather of Poker. Even though he has not competed in a WSOP event, or any tournament for that matter, for a couple of years, he has not forgotten how to play.
WSOP Event #23: $10,000 NL 2-7 Lowball Draw
1 Mike Wattel (USA) 1,293,000
two Shawn Sheikhan (USA) 645,500
3 Galen Hall (USA) 517,000
4 Brian Rast (USA) 477,000
5 Doyle Brunson (USA) 470,500
*Todd Brunson will start Day Three with 185,000 in 9th chip position with 11 players remaining.
Within minutes, he rebuilt his stack and regained the chip lead. Players started dropping like flies and Doyle was, perhaps his most unlikely one. After Paul Kruse was eliminated on the bubble, Texas Dolly was officially in the cash, an accomplishment few expected.
Once the championship was down to its final 11 players, with Brunson sitting pretty at 5th in chips, the players agreed to call it an early night allowing Doyle to get some rest and prepare for Tuesday’s final moment.
Doyle will return to the Rio for Day Three along with his son, John Hennigan, Brian Rast, Shawn Sheikhan, and six other bracelet hopefuls.
Most great flicks feature a star-studded cast of characters, and this one was no different. Phil Hellmuth, Mike Matusow, and other poker legends stopped by during the session to congratulate Doyle on an impressive career and to reflect on how much he’s meant to the game.
“He has meant everything to me,” Matusow told CardsChat. “I adore him and his family. I owe them the world. I heard he was retiring and thought maybe he was just getting sick of grinding against these players, but he explained the wife was getting sick. I thought she was getting better but she is getting really sick.”
Mike is not completely convinced Doyle’s poker career will conclude after the summer, however.
“He’s going to spend time with her,” he said of Brunson’s wife. “But I think he will get back to playing. We’ll see.”
“Doyle gave me advice once I wish I never listened to, but it was great advice,” Matusow said.
“What’s that?” CardsChat asked.
“In 2002, I was like the best player on the planet. I was just crushing everybody. I had never played $200/$400 and had assembled a huge bankroll and Doyle goes to me,’Mike, it’s fun to win everyday, right? You have got to play a bit higher. You got to play when you lose, you feel it and it f*cking hurts,'” Matusow remembered. “At the time, I was pretty new to poker, and so I looked up to Doyle. So, I said,’okay,’ and jumped in the $400/$800 match and lost like three-quarters of my bankroll. I am on f*cking tilt.”
Erik Seidel, who broke short of the money on Monday and has battled against Doyle numerous times over the years in the highest stakes cash games and tournaments, told CardsChat he was”surprised to see” his peer retiring.
“It’s really wonderful to see him play,” Seidel said. “He is a very important part of poker history. He and Chip (Reese) were the best players in the game for many years. He’s the last of a fantastic breed.”
The screenwriter has not released the content for the remainder of the last act, but will do so on the PokerGo livestream beginning at 3 pm PT. Poker fans can watch what very well could be the last session of Doyle Brunson’s championship poker career.
Ali Nejad and Phil Galfond will offer commentary.
If Brunson takes down the bracelet, he escapes a three-way tie with Johnny Chan and Phil Ivey for 2nd place all-time with 10 WSOP titles. Phil Hellmuth is the record holder with 14.
But no matter what happens, no matter how this $10,000 no-limit 2-7 lowball draw tournament finishes, everyone watching will know … it always was and always will be Doyle’s game.