When you’re the only son of a father who is perhaps the most famous poker player in the world, most people assume you were born with aces in your hands and playing five-card draw before you could spell Little League.
But when Todd Brunson was a kid, he had a problematical time following in his father’s footsteps. He never saw his dad, Doyle „Texas Dolly“ Brunson, ply his trade at his night job.
„You don’t play high-limit poker at home,“ Todd said. „You don’t carry millions of dollars around from house to house. He played at the casinos and never brought his work home with him.“
But the chip doesn’t fall far from the stack.
The younger Brunson, now 37, finally caught the poker bug when he went off to college to become a lawyer. Like his father had done before him, the younger Brunson then worked his way up the ranks one hand at a time.
Despite expectations that were bound to exceed accomplishments, Brunson isn’t all name with no game. Similar in stature to his father — both are heavyset men with giant personalities — the man who didn’t play poker as a kid has won millions on the felt just like his 73-year-old pop.
For years, the two have played in the world’s biggest cash games and have been forces in any tournament they play — including the World Series of Poker. When Todd won his WSOP bracelet in Omaha High-Low in 2005, the Brunsons became the first father-son combination to take home WSOP jewelry. His father won the first of his record-tying 10 in 1976, a cache that includes back-to-back Main Event championships in 1976-77.
Todd also contributed to his father’s book, Super System 2 (the 2005 sequel to Doyle’s revolutionary poker book Super/System), writing the „Seven-card stud high-low eight-or-better“ section.
„When I finally started playing on a regular basis, I loved the challenge of the game,“ Todd said. „In my third year in college, I made the decision to go to Las Vegas. Of course there were doubts — I’ll let you know when I’m over them — but I know I made the right decision.“
Doyle and Louise Brunson, married 45 years now, never saw their son’s career choice coming. Todd rarely played cards — the family only played rummy at home — and was a good athlete and a debate champion in high school. They saw their son earning a living behind a desk instead of at a poker table.
„Oh my gosh, I never thought he’d ever be a poker player. His heart’s desire was to be a trial attorney,“ his mother said. „All mothers want their kids to earn a degree, and that’s what he was doing. We didn’t even know Todd was playing poker. Doyle never brought cards home. But Todd entered a tournament unbeknownst to us, and he won about $ 300,000.
„Needless to say, he didn’t go back to college.“
Doyle didn’t encourage his son to play poker, either.
An accomplished athlete who attracted the attention of the NBA‘s Minneapolis Lakers, Doyle was attending Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, on a basketball and track scholarship when he shattered his knee in a factory accident. Though he would earn a master’s degree in administrative education, his love of poker lured him away from the classroom and to the tables, where he became an old-school rounder in the 1950s and 1960s.
Traveling with legendary players Johnny Moss and „Amarillo Slim“ Preston in search of games, Doyle earned another master’s degree in life on the streets. He can rattle off anecdotes as easily as he can shuffle a deck of cards, tales of hijackings, cheats, arrests and shotguns pointed at his skull. A section of north Fort Worth — where thieves, robbers and killings were commonplace and the best poker game in 10 counties was a regular occurrence — was known as „Bloodthirsty Highway.“
„I never wanted him to be a poker player because I had such a tough life,“ Doyle said. „It isn’t as glamorous as people think it is. I had a lot of pitfalls along the way, and I didn’t want him to go through that. But part of me was pleased when he wanted to try it, I have to admit that. His mom certainly didn’t like it, so I had to pretend to be upset. I didn’t know if he had the tools to be a top playe, but I saw immediately when I watched him play in the card clubs that he could be a top player.“
Todd got to the top learning the game with each fresh deal instead of seeking dad’s counsel about the ABCs of poker.
„He asked me a few questions, but there are no definitive answers because every poker situation is different. You learn by playing,“ Doyle said. „I think Todd is one of the top five players in the world. He would have been a great lawyer, too. He is very dogmatic. I kid him all the time when I tell him that he’s never lost an argument in 37 years.“
Todd can’t say the same thing about the head-to-head battles with his father. While both take pleasure in each other’s company, they certainly don’t like sitting at the same poker table together.
„I’m more of an instinctive player, and he’s more fundamentally sound than I am. Either way is OK,“ Doyle said. „He never makes a mistake about the position and the correct way to play hands. He almost always knows exactly the way he’s going to play hands. I kind of play by impulse.
„But I don’t like it. No matter what some people say, it’s impossible not to be biased when your son is sitting at the table. When it’s your flesh and blood sitting there, it’s a lot different.
„And people know that when we get into a pot together we usually have good hands, so they go out, so that hurts. In a tournament, it’s different. I always tell him that if he breaks me, don’t worry about it. It’s part of the game. But I kid him all the time and tell him that I tend to be easier on him than he is on me.“