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The Legend Speaks
You know you're in the presence of greatness when you cut through an entourage of people and see the continually smiling Doyle Brunson in the center of it. Brunson has that magic aura which invokes a strong compulsion to touch him just to make sure he's real. He embodies the romanticism of everything that makes poker special - the trademark cowboy hat, the Southern drawl, and the humility of a wise old soul who's seen it all. Brunson has lived a life that only exists in the movies, and I had the pleasure to talk to him about it.
So how did you enjoy the H.O.R.S.E. event?
That's my favourite event because you have to be a more well-rounded poker player to compete in that one. There's so many good Hold'em players that I think the best test now is the H.O.R.S.E. event.
Are you hoping that the H.O.R.S.E. event will replace the Main Event?
I think it should be the Main Event, but I don't think it will be. I think it should be [the Main Event] because it's more the mark of a good poker player. The Hold'em games have pretty much turned out to be a crapshoot.
What's it like being a poker legend, and how do you deal with all the attention?
I don't consider myself to be anything besides a poker player. I'm just fortunate that I've been able to survive all this time and seen it all evolve to this point, and I just feel very grateful.
How did you get into poker?
When I was a graduate student in college, I didn't have enough money to pay my tuition and room and board so I started playing poker.
What do you love about poker?
I love the competitiveness. I like to compete, and at my age, it's hard to compete in a lot of fields, but in poker as long as you can retain your mental acuity, you can still compete.
How do you enjoy the poker lifestyle? Would you trade it for something else?
No. The poker lifestyle is the best because you're your own boss, you make your own hours, you do what you want. Since I've gotten involved with "Doyle's Room" it's not as much fun, because I have to work so much.
And what about your son? How do you feel about Todd pursuing poker for a living?
I'm glad Todd turned out to be a poker player. He's got a lot of talent. I think that he could possibly be the best player someday, if he applies himself which I don't think he's going to do because he got rich too quick.
Based on your own personal experience, how has poker evolved over the years?
Well, poker in itself is still the same as it always was, it's the things around it that have changed. We used to be second-class citizens and everybody kind of shunned us and now you're some kind of big shot just because you're on television. I try not to let that go to my head.
Do you have any superstitions?
I observe some superstitions simply because it didn't cost anything to observe them, but I don't really believe them.
Will you ever retire from poker?
I'm going to play for as long as I can win.
Does it ever get less exciting to win a WSOP bracelet?
I think it's more exciting the further you go, because I never used to put any real emphasis on winning the bracelets. In fact I didn't even pick two of them up after I had about three bracelets. Then I won a couple more and I thought, well, I don't need them so I didn't go and collect them. I wish I had now. And the rest of them I gave to family members, and I think I've got one. The one I won last year is the only one I've got.
What are your hopes for this year's World Series?
My hope is to win my 11th bracelet. I actually thought I was going to. But I've only gotten to the final table once, and I think I'm only going to play in two more events, so time's running out. They're getting harder and harder to win because the field is so big.
You don't think you're going to get your 11th bracelet this year?
No. Realistically, I don't think there's much chance of getting an 11th bracelet. I think Johnny [Chan], he's trying as hard as he can try, and Phil [Hellmuth] is playing every event. I've kind of decided not to play so many events, I'm skipping today. So we'll see what happens.
Who from the Binion's days would you like to see here today, dead or alive?
I'd like to see Benny Binion here, so he could see what has become of what he started. He had the first vision of this World Series, so I'd like for him to see it.
Do you miss playing at Binion's, or do you prefer it here at the Rio?
The nostalgia that Binion's had, I miss that. But time changes everything and Binion's wasn't big enough to keep the growth of the World Series so it's moved on. I think that they should start the World Series at four or five different properties, that would be great.
How do you feel about the fields expanding so much? How has it changed the game?
It's a two-edged sword. I like it because it's good for poker, the more the better. But you lose some of the camaraderie that we used to have because we knew everybody and it was kind of like a reunion and the competition was better, more fierce. Some of these kids, they've got no idea what they're doing. It's really, really hard to come down through these fields.
Obviously you'll be playing in the Main Event - do you have a different strategy going into this tournament?
I just go in and play. I never have any real strategy until I see who I'm playing against.
What are your plans after the World Series is over?
I'm going to Montana, and I'm going to fish and boat and sleep and ride horses and play golf. (Laughs)
What advice would you give an aspiring professional poker player?
I think they should just play all that they can play, read all the books that they can read. Don't try to go to fast, stay at the level that you can win at. Win consistently at one level, then move up to the next level, and stay there until you can win consistently, and keep moving up 'til you can go as far as you can go.
If you weren't a professional poker player, what would you do?
I would've liked to have been a chef.
So you're a good cook?
I'm a pretty good cook. I don't really get to practice, it but I do enjoy it.
Thank you so much, Doyle. It was an honor and a pleasure. Good luck in the Main Event.