Poker history was made last Thursday when legendary player Doyle "Texas Dolly" Brunson won an unprecedented ninth World Series of Poker gold bracelet. For poker fans and players of all ages, it was the equivalent of seeing Jack Nicklaus win the Masters in the twilight of his career, or watching Babe Ruth hit a home run in his final at bat.
Brunson’s presence at a final table was enough to guarantee a standing-room only crowd at Binion’s Horseshoe, and a large audience tuned in from all over the world to watch the live Internet broadcast.
Brunson was making his first final table at the World Series of Poker in five years. He’s now cashed 23 times in the world’s largest and most prestigious poker tournament ”” with two world championships in 1976 and 1977. Between 1976 and 1979, Brunson made six final tables. He won all six.
But there were still a few doubts on this day. Some whispered that the competition has improved dramatically in recent years (it certainly has), while others wondered if Brunson, now in his 70s, could still play the game with as much ability as before. The answer to that question would be answered in a little over four hours.
David Plastik, from Las Vegas, came into the final table with a 3-2 chip lead versus Brunson and a talented field of players, which included 1998 world poker champion Scotty Nguyen. Things went well for Plastik in the early stages as he maintained his chip lead ”” while Randall Skaggs, Chip Jett, and Bill Gazes were eliminated in 8th, 7th and 6th place respectively.
But everything went terribly wrong for Plastik during a 90-minute series of hands that completely altered the momentum of the final table and set the stage for Brunson’s historical breakthrough.
First, Scott Numoto, a high-stakes player from San Jose, caught a miracle straight on the last card of the seven-card stud leg of the H.O.R.S.E. cycle and scooped a huge pot against Plastik. A few hands later in the Stud Eight or Better leg, Brunson hammered Plastik’s big stack with a 6-low and a 7-high straight to Plastik’s two pair. That win catapulted Texas Dolly into the chip lead for the first time and set the stage for Plastik’s monumental collapse.
To be fair, much of the misery wasn’t Plastik’s fault. He started off with the best hand, failed to improve, then watched in horror as his opponent managed to catch the perfect card to steal the pot. After Scotty Nguyen was eliminated in 5th place and Scotty Numoto went out 4th, Plastik’s nightmare final hour could be summed up in one final hand.
In the Hold’em round, Plastik was dealt K-6 of spades. He watched with ecstasy as the flop came with three spades. Plastik’s eyes immediately darted towards Brunson’s chips ”” as he figured at the very least to win a decent-sized pot and draw close to even with The Man.
By the time another spade fell on the turn, Plastik was "all in" and still confident he would win the pot. Little did Plastik know, he was drawing completely dead. Brunson showed the Ace of spades for the nut flush, and Plastik’s cards were bundled up and thrown across the room in disgust. After shaking off the series of bad beats, Plastik returned to the final table and wished his two former opponents well. It was a nice gesture by Plastik after suffering one of the worst series of defeats at any World Series of Poker final table on record.
When head’s up play began, Brunson held a 5-2 chip lead versus Brian Haveson, from Newton, Pennsylvania. Haveson has slowly, but surely, earned the respect of his tournament opponents in recent years. While not as well-known to the public as the stars of the game, Haveson has developed a well-deserved reputation as a tough player capable of winning on any given day. However, his task on this day might have been too daunting.
Haveson staged a rally at one point when he made fours full of nines versus Brunson during the Omaha High-Low leg of the H.O.R.S.E. series. Then, Brunson stormed back a few hands later and scooped a large pot with a set of fives and a decent low to put Haveson on the brink of elimination. Haveson’s final hand of the night came when he was dealt A-2-8-K to Brunson’s 5-5-Q-Q. By the time the board showed K-5-3-10 on the turn, all of Haveson’s chips were in the pot and he needed a low card (or a king) to stay alive. A picture card fell on the river which meant Brunson’s three fives would scoop the pot and guarantee the victory.
"I know I was sitting in the seat that just about every player dreams about," said Haveson afterward. "If I could have won my first gold bracelet playing against Doyle Brunson, that would have been amazing. But I’m still proud of the way I played."
Haveson was right. He played a magnificent game and showed he can hold his own against the world’s best poker player. Meanwhile, it seemed to be just another day at the office for The Man, Doyle Brunson.
Interestingly enough, the prize money won by Brunson in this event ($84,000) is dwarfed by a side bet which Brunson made with another well-known poker player, just days earlier. According to Brunson, he bet $25,000 at 10-1 he would win a gold bracelet at this year’s World Series of Poker. It took him all of three events to do it (this is the third event Brunson has played this year). In essence, the win was worth a cool quarter of a million to Brunson in side-action alone.
But money seemed to be the least important thing about winning this poker championship. Brunson said he treasures playing at the World Series of Poker and is proud to carry forth the heritage of this great tournament, which began 34 years ago (Brunson was there at the inaugural in 1970).
When asked about his record ninth gold bracelet, Brunson said, "Records are made to be broken. Eventually someone is going to catch me."
Nevertheless, the victory guarantees that it will be at least a few more years before anyone catches up to Brunson’s record.
Afterwards, Brunson sat at the final table and went through a question and answer session with reporters. The audience stood and watched in awe as Brunson fielded questions and reflected back on his 50-plus years in poker. He told stories of his early days and conveyed what the game of poker (and the World Series of Poker) meant to him.
Brunson closed off his shining moment in the twilight by saying he is determined to win a tenth gold bracelet.
"I’ll retire when I stop winning," he said.
For all fans of the game of poker, and for anyone who was there inside Binion’s Horseshoe on this day to witness history being made, it doesn’t get any better than this.