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Brunson, 78, is considered the game's living legend. He was one of the original Texas Rounders, a group of gamblers who traveled the back roads of the state finding the big money poker games in the 1950s and 1960s.
He eventually settled in Las Vegas, twice winning the World Series of Poker's Main Event World Championship in 1976 and 1977 and earning 10 individual event championship bracelets, his last coming in 2005. Brunson has earned almost $3 million at the World Series of Poker.
What he has earned in cash games in rooms at Bellagio and other Strip resorts is anyone's guess.
The World Poker Tour named its signature event after Brunson and he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1988.
Last month, the upstart Epic Poker Tour honored Brunson at the Palms before its December Main Event Championship. Brunson was awarded the league's first-ever Lifetime Players Card. Players seeking to compete in the Epic Poker League need to qualify for five-year, three-year or two-year cards.
Giving Brunson a lifetime honor was a no-brainer.
"Doyle's longevity in performing at the top of poker is truly something that should inspire all of us in the poker community each day," Epic Poker League Commissioner Annie Duke said during the ceremony in which Brunson received his card, a special gold and sapphire ring, and saw the unveiling of a commemorative pennant that will hang in the Epic Poker Hall of Champions.
"In considering who would be the first to receive this award, there was no other choice than Doyle," Duke said.
As testament to his status, poker professionals Barry Greenstein and Jennifer Harmon; and Doug Dalton, director of poker operations at Bellagio; took part in the ceremony. Jack McClelland, the tournament director from Bellagio; World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska; and Jeffrey Pollack, the chief executive officer of Federated Sports + Gaming, which owns the Epic Poker League, were on hand for the induction.
"Doyle Brunson is a true sports hero. He transcends the game and, in many ways, is the Babe Ruth of poker," said Pollack, who spent four years as the commissioner of the World Series of Poker.
Brunson happily accepted the honors from Duke, saying he thought of the old-time Texas Rounders.
"Those of us who came from poverty and would drive up to 500 miles to play a game of Texas Hold'em," Brunson said.
During a 2007 interview that I conducted with Brunson for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the poker legend said he was flattered by the attention he receives from the younger players in the poker community, who often stand and applaud when the enters a tournament room.
He doesn't consider himself a celebrity, just an old-time gambler who makes his living playing poker.
"I don't mind a little of it, but it can really begin to get old," Brunson said. "I'm a poker player. That's what I do and that's what I am. I'm the real deal there."
Brunson has even bridged the Internet poker realm.
Several years ago, he licensed his name and likeness to DoylesRoom.com, an Internet poker website based in Cyprus.
However, according to Card Player Magazine, he was pulling his name from the site last May when a federal grand jury in Baltimore indicted the operators of DoylesRoom for allegedly running an illegal gambling business and money laundering. The domain has since been shut down.
Brunson makes his living from poker. He couldn't recall how much he has earned or gambled away playing poker since he took up the game in the 1950s. He estimates tens of millions of dollars have crossed the tables in front of him.
"I really have no idea how much I've won and lost," Brunson said. "A lot, obviously."
That's a good thing. Brunson hasn't had much success in the business world outside of the poker room.
"The only way I ever made any money was in poker," Brunson said. "I went into about 10 businesses and they all failed. So I always had poker to fall back on, and that's what I did."
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