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Born in Longworth, Fisher County Texas, a town with a population of approximately 100, and was one of three children. Because of Longworth's small size, Brunson frequently ran long distances to other towns, and became a promising athlete. Brunson had begun playing poker before an injury to his leg ended his sporting career, starting by playing five-card draw and finding it "easy." He played more often after being injured and his winnings paid for his expenses. After graduating, he took a job as a business machines salesman but, on his first day, he was invited to play in a seven-card stud game and earned over a month's salary in under three hours. He soon left the company and became a professional poker player.
Brunson was soon playing in illegal games with friend Dwayne Hamilton and eventually, they began traveling around Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, playing in bigger games, and meeting fellow professionals Amarillo Slim and Sailor Roberts. The illegal games Brunson played in during this time were usually run by criminals who were often members of organized crime, so rules were not always enforced. Brunson has often admitted to having a gun pulled on him several times and that he was robbed and beaten.
Brunson finally settled in Las Vegas. He has been a regular player at the World Series of Poker since its inception in 1970, playing in the Main Event nearly every year since, in addition to many of the other preceding bracelet-awarding events. He made some WSOP championship event final tables before his back-to-back wins, but since this was when the event was winner-take-all, they are not counted as cashes. Besides his two championship wins in 1976 and 1977, Brunson's other main event cashes are: 1980 (runner-up to three-time champion Stu Ungar), 1982 (4th), 1983 (3rd), 1997 (16th), 2004 (53rd) and 2013 (409th).
Brunson authored Super/System, which is widely considered to be one of the most authoritative books on poker. Originally self-published in 1978, Super/System was the book credited with transforming poker by giving ordinary players insight into the way that professionals such as Brunson played and won, so much so that Brunson believes that it cost him a lot of money.
Brunson continues to play in the biggest poker games in the world, including a $4000/$8000 limit mixed poker game in "Bobby's Room" at the Bellagio. He also plays in many of the biggest poker tournaments around the world. He won his ninth gold bracelet in a mixed games event in 2003, and in 2004, he finished 53rd (in a field of 2,576) in the No Limit Texas hold 'em Championship event. He won the Legends of Poker World Poker Tour (WPT) event in 2004 (garnering him a $1.1 million prize) and finished fourth in the WPT's first championship event. Early in the morning on July 1, 2005, less than a week after Chan had won his 10th gold bracelet (presented to each WSOP tournament winner) - setting a new record - Brunson tied him at the 2005 WSOP.
Brunson's has the nickname, "Texas Dolly," which came from a mistake by Jimmy Snyder. Snyder was supposed to announce Brunson as "Texas Doyle," but incorrectly pronounced the first name as Dolly. It stuck, and many of Brunson's fellow top pros now simply refer to Brunson as "Dolly."
Brunson has two Texas hold'em hands named after him. One hand, a ten and a two of any suit, bears his name because he won the No Limit Hold 'Em event at the World Series of Poker two years in a row with them (1976 and 1977), in both cases completing a full house. In both 1976 and 1977, he was an underdog in the final hand. Another hand known as a "Doyle Brunson," especially in Texas, is the ace and queen of any suit because, as he says that he "tries to never play this hand."
As of 2014, his total live tournament winnings exceed $6,100,000. He has totaled $2,994,116 in earnings from his 36 cashes at the WSOP Brunson reached the money in the 2013 WSOP $10,000 No Limit Hold'em Championship event, marking the fifth decade he has cashed in the event.