10 great events in WSOP history, pt 2: how the “Doyle Brunson hand” got its name

In the second of a 10-part series, the Paul Phua Poker School recalls how 10-2 became the luckiest hand in World Series of Poker history

With the sheer number of hands that have been played during all the successive World Series of Poker (WSOP) tournaments, you would think that anything could happen. But of all the unlikely strokes of fortune over nearly 50 years of the WSOP, there cannot be anything to rival Doyle Brunson taking down the championship two years running – with the very same lucky hand!

Who is Doyle Brunson?

Doyle Brunson, nicknamed “Texas Dolly” or “The Godfather of Poker”, is one of the last of the old poker greats still standing – or at least sitting, since you’ll often see him in a motorised chair these days. He’s 83 years old, and has been plagued for most of that time by the bad knee that ended his youthful dream of becoming a professional basketball player.
Basketball’s loss is poker’s gain. Brunson has won 10 WSOP bracelets, and his poker strategy book Super/System, originally self-published in 1978, became the bible for a whole generation of poker players. In 2006, after Super/System 2 was published, Brunson was voted by Bluff Magazine the most influential force in the world of poker.

1976: Doyle Brunson wins the WSOP Main Event

In the 1976 WSOP Main Event, Doyle Brunson was heads-up with a player called Jesse Alto. Unlike Brunson, Alto was a keen amateur rather than a professional: his day job was as a car dealer. As a result, he had not fully learned to keep cool in tight spots, and Brunson said he was looking to exploit that weakness.
Jesse Alto bet out with A-J, an excellent starting hand when heads-up. Brunson called with 10-2 suited. The flop came A-J-10, giving Alto two pair. Brunson went all-in with the weaker hand, Alto of course called.
The story of the 1976 WSOP could have been about how an amateur car dealer bested the world’s top pros… but the poker gods decided otherwise. In one of the worst bad beats in Main Event history, Brunson caught runner-runner 2s on the turn and river to make a full house!

1977: Doyle Brunson wins the WSOP Main Event again – with the same hand!

They say lightning never strikes twice. Perhaps it does in Texas. The very next year, Doyle Brunson was defending his title heads-up against Gary “Bones” Berland when he looked down at 10-2 – again. Berland was dealt 8-5.
Yet again Brunson found himself behind when the flop of 10-8-5 gave him a pair, and his opponent two pair. Yet again, the 2 hit on the turn to give Brunson two pair, and this time he was ahead. When Berland pushed all-in, Brunson gladly called. Incredibly, Brunson yet again made a full house on the river when a 10 hit, and he was crowned world champion for the second year in a row.

The “Doyle Brunson hand”

There are many colourful names for different poker hands. Aces are nicknamed “bullets” or “pocket rockets”; pocket Kings are nicknamed “cowboys”; J-5 is known as “Jackson Five” or just “Motown”.
To this day, if you show 10-2, another player around the table is likely to nod wisely and say, “Ah, the ‘Doyle Brunson hand’”.

Who is Doyle Brunson? Poker player profile

  • Born in 1933, Doyle Brunson is nicknamed “Texas Dolly” or “the Godfather of Poker”
  • He is second equal in WSOP bracelets, with 10
  • He won back-to-back WSOP Main Events in 1976 and 1977
  • Doyle Brunson is the author of several books on poker including Super/System and Super/System 2

Read the first blog in our World Series of Poker mini series on how the World Series of Poker was born, and how “the Grand Old Man of Poker” earned his name.

Or come back tomorrow and read about how the tournament phrase “a chip and a chair” was born at the WSOP.