2019 marks the 50th annual World Series of Poker. The most prestigious poker festival in history has played a pivotal role in creating many of the legends and superstars of the game. To commemorate the occasion, PocketFives editorial staff each ranked the top 50 players in WSOP history in an effort to define and rank the most important, influential, and greatest WSOP players of all time.
Doyle Brunson has always been the ‘Godfather of Poker.’ Now, he’s the #2 greatest player in World Series of Poker history.
Brunson has one of those seen-it-all, done-it-all types of careers that would put him at the top of any industry. He’s the proud owner of 10 WSOP gold bracelets, two WSOP Main Event titles, and a reputation so immense that it transcends the game. Although he comes in at #2 on this list, there would be shame shame if he ranked #1 on yours.
Brunson came up in Texas and was quite the athlete in his younger years. In fact, he was likely going to become a member of the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBA until a knee injury ended those dreams. They say “what’s one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and Brunson certainly became one of the poker community’s greatest treasures quickly after he took up the game full time following his injury. A career as a salesman just wasn’t cutting it for the competitive Texan.
Brunson has been playing at the World Series of Poker since its start, and his first WSOP cash was in the 1972 WSOP Main Event where he placed third. There is a great story about this event and if you dig up the results, you would find that Brunson and second-place finisher Puggy Pearson each earned more money than the winner, Thomas ‘Amarillo Slim’ Preston. As the story goes, Brunson and Pearson didn’t want to win because they didn’t want to take on the spotlight. Preston accepted the honor and took the title, which he ran with and became an ambassador for poker players and gamblers alike.
Brunson won his first gold bracelet in 1976. That year, he actually won two. He first won the $5,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw and then he captured the WSOP Main Event title. The following year, Brunson sung the same tune, winning two gold bracelets including a successful title defense of his WSOP Main Event victory. Brunson’s streak of consecutive years winning WSOP gold continued in 1978 and 1979. In 1980, he was blanked on WSOP wins, but he came second in two events, with one being the WSOP Main Event. Incredibly so, Brunson took fourth in the 1982 Main Event and third in the 1983 Main Event.
There was a gap in Brunson’s WSOP wins from 1979 to 1991, with him winning the $2,500 No-Limit Hold’em tournament in 1991 for $208,000. He then won his eighth bracelet in 1998, ninth in 2003, and 10th in 2005, and it’s the latter two that could be argued as just as impressive as any of the others. Poker was exploding in the early to mid 2000s. Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003 and helped ignite the poker boom, but even in 2003 the field sizes were getting bigger and tougher than ever before. That year, Brunson won the $2,000 H.O.R.S.E. event that had Scotty Nguyen and Chip Jett at the final table, plus Allen Cunningham, Carlos Mortensen, and Phil Hellmuth made the money. Brunson then won the $5,000 Short-Handed No-Limit Hold’em event in 2005, topping a field of 301 entries and winning $367,800. At 71 years old, clearly Brunson still had plenty of game left.
That was the last time Brunson earned WSOP gold, in 2005, but it wasn’t the last time he cashed or reached a final table. He took eighth in the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. in 2006, sixth in the $10,000 World Championship Pot-Limit Omaha in 2007, and seventh in the $10,000 World Championship Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo in 2009. Then later in 2009, although it wasn’t a final table appearance, Brunson finished 17th in the WSOP Europe £10,000 Main Event from a stack field of 334 entries.
Notably, Brunson reached the final table of the $10,000 No-Limit 2-7 Draw in 2018 and finished in sixth place. He then announced he would be retiring from tournament poker and only sticking to cash games if he was going to play.
Any way you slice it, Brunson is hands down, without argument, one of the greatest, most influential poker players in WSOP history. He’s meant an incredible amount to poker and without him, the game wouldn’t be what it is today.