The World Series of Poker returns this summer for its 54th annual festival. There will be 95 WSOP bracelet events, where players can battle for a gold bracelet that is the envy of the poker world. The one they all want to win, however, is the WSOP Main Event. Captured twice by the late, great Doyle Brunson, many have called for the biggest poker tournament of them all to be renamed in honor of ‘Texas Dolly’. Should this be the case? Or would Doyle have wanted it to stay exactly as it is?
A Brief History of the WSOP Main Event
The World Series of Poker Main Event certainly owes a great debt to Doyle Brunson when you look back at its formative years. The man whose back-to-back winning hands of ten-deuce in the Main Events of 1976 and 1977 led to him being known as ‘Texas Dolly’ was present the very first year of the WSOP in 1970. At that final table, the champion was decided by a vote – Johnny Moss, the Grand Old Man of Poker being crowned the winner – but Doyle Brunson was at the heart of poker’s progression.
After winning the WSOP Main Event in the mid-seventies, Doyle was a key reason for the growth of the World Series of Poker and the modern game. After those initial few years where the all-male final tables comprised of American players dominated, the WSOP grew into a more inclusive, truly worldwide game. The growth of poker wasn’t only down to Doyle, but he was a far more progressive player than others at the time and had a big influence over where the World Series of Poker is today.
When looking back on Doyle’s own success in the World Series of Poker, you only have to look at his haul of 10 bracelets – his final victory coming in dramatic fashion – as an indicator of his quality. His golden years playing full tournament schedules were during a period when he played a lot fewer bracelet events than today. In 2023, for example, there will be 95 bracelet events – more than were on offer during the entirety of the WSOP’s first decade. Despite this, Doyle’s record is second only to the freakishly successful collection of 16 bracelets that belong to Phil Hellmuth.
The Argument for Changing the Name
If the Poker Players Championship trophy was OK to be renamed the Chip Reese Trophy, then what is stopping the World Series of Poker renaming the WSOP Main Event bracelet as the Texas Dolly bracelet or the Doyle Brunson Bracelet? Essentially, nothing. The WSOP will no doubt pay tribute to the man himself at this year’s Main Event, but what would be more fitting than a permanent reminder of the Godfather of Poker’s greatness in the form of the title he so defined in the formative years of the event being christened after him?
Over the past half a century, no poker player has been more present, no person so revered. You’ve only got to watch Doyle Brunson’s mastery of the table in this episode of Poker After Dark on PokerGO to see how respected by everyone Texas Dolly truly was at the poker felt.
Whether it was on a TV poker set such as High Stakes Poker or in person at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, anyone who met Doyle felt inspired by him. His presence elevated a poker event, so why not let his name continue to do that in perpetuity at the biggest poker tournament of them all?
The Case for the Status Quo
While Doyle Brunson was easily one of the most influential of the former world champions, he is neither one of the most recent nor the record holder in terms of victories. Due to the sheer size of the WSOP Main Event today, it seems highly unlikely that we’ll ever see another repeat winner, but Doyle’s two Main Events – while incredible – are not a record.
Johnny Moss won three Main Events – including two in consecutive years of 1970 and 1971 – but it could be successfully argued that he didn’t win the first one, taking that title by popular vote. He would tie with Doyle on two. Another to win two was Johnny Chan, who took it down in 1987 and 1988, equalling Doyle’s achievement of winning in back-to-back years.
Stu Ungar, however, won three WSOP Main Events in the open era and stands alone on that pedestal. Taking the title in back-to-back years also (in 1980 and 1981), Ungar’s third and final victory in 1997, 16 years after he won his second title, sets him apart from the competition. If the WSOP Main Event is to be named after anybody, logic dictates, it should be ‘The Kid’ rather than The Godfather.
Ungar tragically lay dead in a motel room a year after his final triumph, but Doyle Brunson’s legend in the Main Event went on and on. It even stretched into this decade, a half-century after his first Main, when he was featured on the live PokerGO stream from Las Vegas. As ever, Doyle came up with an inspired play just when it mattered most.
Doyle Brunson is an unforgettable poker player and personality and will live forever in one form or another. A Poker Hall of Famer, 10-time WSOP winner and WPT legend too, it would seem like the natural choice to put his name to a trophy so many aspire to win. But to do so would also restrict Doyle’s legend. Just as others live on forever in poker by the memories they made alone, perhaps Doyle Brunson, or ‘Texas Dolly’ is better remembered by us all for everything he did for the game.
Many have spoken about which four players would be carved in stone if a poker version of Mount Rushmore existed. This reporter once stated that Doyle Brunson should be the first pick, and I stand by that today. Someone just needs to get busy on the planning permission.
Doyle Brunson’s face – and hat – will be associated with the poker landscape in Las Vegas for centuries to come either way.