According to Doyle: Seven Lucky* Life Lessons I Learned From The Poker Legend

*Although 'Texas Dolly' will tell you there isn't any luck involved
Doyle Brunson Book

Lemme tell you something: I’ve played more poker than you. Bold statement, considering the presumed readership of this website, but I’m confident: I have played more poker than you.

Now, granted, the poker I played was among friends and with fugazi rules, including no blinds, a three-raise maximum across the table, and the ability to raise as little as a nickel (and yes, I am being literal) to keep the action away from big spenders and/or big hands.

But yes: Our little brand of poker was played on a near-daily basis in high school, through college breaks, post-college, and still, every once in a while, today.

I once took all this poker knowledge to Atlantic City, to join a small tournament during the Chris Moneymaker gold rush. I remember shaking from nerves when I sat down at the table. I remember busting in about four hands. I remember saying, “Well, not doing that again.”

I am not, as it turns out, a poker sharp, and you don’t even have to raise me a nickel to get me to admit that. But I love the game, love putzing around with my friends, love the thrill of getting that last card down and hoping it’s a wild deuce. Or one-eyed jack. Or joker. (Home games, amirite?)

Anyway, much like most things in my life, once I decide I like something, I usually go whole-hog in finding out as much as I can about it. And that’s how I ended up buying my first (of many) poker books when I was 15. Snagged it at the Waldenbooks in Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, N.J., back in the late ’80s. Still sits on my bookshelf today: According to Doyle by Doyle Brunson.

Now when I bought the book, I had no idea that: A) the title was a play on According to Hoyle or B) who Doyle Brunson was. To be perfectly honest, I bought the book because the cover photo of Brunson looked like my Uncle Dick, who himself was a card player. 

But I read it, cover to cover, hoping to become a world-class poker player — or, at least, a world-class poker player in my buddy Tom’s basement.

All these memories came flooding back a few weeks back when Brunson, who is now 87 years old, announced he was coming out of his World Series of Poker retirement to enter a few tournaments this year. That news was heartwarming. After all, he’s Doyle Freaking Brunson. It’s like if Babe Ruth himself was coming out for a few swings.

As a result, I took my copy of According to Doyle off the shelf for a quick re-read. And while my dreams of becoming a poker millionaire are dust, I still have a life to live. Maybe, just maybe, there are some nuggets of poker wisdom from Doyle I could apply to my daily life. Maybe, in fact, there are seven of them:

Nothing will knock a poker player out of shape as fast as a fight with his wife or girlfriend

Replace “poker player” with “every job including poker player,” and Brunson nailed it. It’s tough, for instance, to come up with funny asides and thought-provoking sentences after my wife and I just finished screaming at each other over the laundry, which, I’m horrified to say, has happened more than once. 

You gotta pay your dues on the road

It’s true. You can’t expect to reach the top of any profession without putting in time on the bottom rungs. Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours of practice at anything before you’re a pro. Brunson’s point is exactly the same.

Gamblers sometimes need to carry a lot of cash, but I always thought exposing money in a public place is pretty stupid

The scene: Philadelphia, out to dinner with another couple on a Saturday in a busy part of the city.

The dilemma: The restaurant we were going to only took cash, and I didn’t have my ATM card.

The solution: My wife and her friend started walking to the ATM machine to get money.

The stupid: I yelled from halfway down the street as she was sidling up to the ATM, “Get a lot of money!” 

To a gambler, a lost opportunity is usually more expensive than a lost wager

In the aftermath of 9/11, Priceline stock was selling for less than $2 a share. I thought it was a good buy, figuring if travel didn’t come back, nothing would, and everything would be terrible anyway. I didn’t buy any stock. I didn’t have a lot of money back then to risk, so I backed off. Realistically, I could’ve swung $1,000 for 500 shares. If I had done that and held on, those shares — split-adjusted — would be worth $180,000 today.

Bonus: Marvel was trading for pennies in the 1990s, and I remember thinking Spiderman is worth more than that. I don’t even want to know how many Disney shares I’d be holding today if I put $1,000 in.

So yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes: Lost opportunity stings a ton more than lost money.

I’m a believer in using personal psychology to build your own confidence

In other words: Doyle Brunson invented The Secret. He should ask for royalties. But it’s not untrue: Thinking positive thoughts sure is better than thinking negative thoughts.

If you’re against weak players or easily intimidated and you can’t decide whether to raise or merely call, just remember: When in doubt, raise

I actually kind of live by this one in my professional life. I’ve never gotten a gig by answering an ad. Every job I’ve ever had I got by going to the top of the food chain and asking for it, even when one didn’t exist. I see your job ads, and I raise you an email to the CEO. I’ve had a shockingly good success rate with this method.

And lastly …

My advice to gamblers is that they stick to percentages and steer clear of superstition

I promise to never ask my wife to throw salt over her shoulder again should she tip over the salt shaker … I will stop making sure everything is “even” when I sense that they are “uneven” … I will stop packing my lucky underpants when I get on an airplane … Anyone else having a panic attack right now? No? Just me? It’s very hot in here. OK, man, um …. six outta seven life lessons ain’t bad. Fold.

Photo: Jeff Edelstein/US Bets


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