The more things change, the more people love Doyle Brunson

8 July 2013

LAS VEGAS -- The World Series of Poker Main Event belongs to a new generation now. The tournament's last five champions were less than 25 years old when they won the event. A look around the Amazon Room shows players of all ages playing the game. But it's the young guns of the online poker generation that consistently make deep runs and win championships now.

Yet the most beloved man in the game isn't in his 20s. He's not in his 30s or 40s either. He's 79 years old, and his name is Doyle Brunson.

Phil Ivey -- sometimes jokingly and sometimes seriously -- is frequently referred to the Tiger Woods of poker. If Ivey is the Tiger Woods of poker, then Brunson is Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer rolled into one icon.

At Day 1B of the Main Event Sunday, WSOP officials unveiled a bust of Doyle Brunson, similar to what fans see at the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. And Brunson played Sunday in the Main Event, his second WSOP tournament since announcing his retirement from poker tournament play in April.

Brunson's table was moved to the TV stadium stage inside the Amazon Room, and fans flocked to watch him play and snap pictures with their cell phones.

Doyle Brunson spent the day at the featured table in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Doyle Brunson spent the day at the featured table in the World Series of Poker Main Event. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

"I am absolutely a fan of Doyle Brunson," said Emily Wolfe, right after taking a picture of the featured table. "He's a poker legend. He's probably played longer than anybody."

Wolfe, a recreational poker player who was in Las Vegas to play in some smaller events and watch a friend play the Main Event, was in awe of more than just Brunson's longevity.

"He literally wrote book on poker -- the bible," said Wolfe, referring to Doyle Brunson's Super System and Doyle Brunson's Super System II.

And Wolfe was pretty skeptical about Brunson's retirement from tournament poker.

"I didn't believe it," Wolfe said. "I don't think he'll ever stop. I think he'll be playing as long as he's living."

One of Brunson's friends, Jim Feist, offers a different perspective.

"I've known (Doyle) going on 10 years now," said Feist, who will be playing in the Main Event on Monday. "He's friendly, pleasant and accessible. He's somebody to look up to."

Feist also notes that Brunson's past is an appealing and romantic story.

"The life he lived isn't in existence anymore," Feist said. "He traveled the back roads of Texas from cash game to cash game. It was like the Wild West you saw in the movies. And everyone wants to have the freedom and life he had."

Fans are not the only ones who like to see Brunson at the WSOP tables.

"Dealers wait for him to play at their table," said Matt Johnson, who deals for the WSOP. "He's big. And he only plays a couple of events."

The love dealers have for Brunson goes way beyond respect for a legend, however.

"He's old school," Johnson said after taking picture of Brunson at the featured table. "He has etiquette and manners."

Poker historian and WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla notes Brunson's longevity makes him a remarkable character in poker and Las Vegas history.

"He was there at the beginning and he's remarkably still here today, competing at the highest level," said Dalla.

"He has seen the entire gamut of experiences in the game, including some shenanigans in the early days when he was a rounder; early Las Vegas, which certainly has a colorful past; and the modern era, which we're involved with now," Dalla added. "And Doyle survived it all. A lot of people didn't survive those periods (professionally). They're gone now. But Doyle survived it all."

"I think all of us see him and we'd like to be Doyle Brunson," Dalla said. "That's what makes him great . . . we all aspire to stand for the same things Doyle has stood for."

Doyle Brunson finished Day 1B of the Main Event with 90,000 in chips.

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