Brunson: Don’t take your troubles to the table

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in the London Telegraph in 2005.

Doyle Brunson index.

Historical note: The following explanatory note didn’t appear in the series, but was sent with each column as submitted.

Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson stands unchallenged as the most celebrated poker player who ever lived. In 2005, at age 72, he won an unprecedented 10th championship gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker. He is among the few living members of the Poker Hall of Fame, and his books  are the bibles for poker professionals.. Through and, Brunson has teamed with Mike Caro, today’s premiere poker educator, to offer a free learning experience to players worldwide. This column is founded on  those collaborative teachings.

Doyle Brunson

When you’re emotionally upset, you just can’t play poker the right way, the profitable way. I used to back players I believed in. One was a kid named Craig who impressed me with his discipline. I mean, he was just unshakable, never getting out of line. He would siphon off the money from the table so methodically that it became a fearsome thing to watch.

But nothing will derail your poker train as fast as problems at home. Business problems, romance problems, it’s all the same. And all that stuff needs to be packed away and left at home. At times when a man’s heart is heavy or he has too much on his mind, there’s a danger that his bankroll will die. Craig’s died. Suddenly.

We used to call him “Super Rock.” Now, in poker terminology, a rock is a name for a player who plays very conservatively, reluctant to risk his money on anything other than big hands. Well, if you looked in the dictionary under “rock,” you’d probably find Craig’s picture. He was simply one of the most solid, sensible players who’ve ever played the game. You had to admire him.   .


I believed in him so much that I sometimes took pieces of his action when he played in big games. Not tonight, fortunately. This was about to become the worst case of self-destruction I’d ever seen. You see, Craig was also a ladies’ man. So, there he sat in at big-limit seven-stud table, playing his usual fine game. He was totally in control, a picture of decorum and concentration.

Then storms in this young woman, eyes fiery, clearly in a rage. She hurls her key’s right into his pot, interrupting his raise, yelling, “Keep these! I don’t want them anymore!” She also called him a few choice names.

At first, Craig seemed to act as if it didn’t matter. He kept his cool. But the anger must have been smoldering within him, because pretty soon he started to play poorly, erratically. In a display of something I’d never suspected was part of his personality, he’d throw cards, curse, lose his concentration. His hand selection deteriorated so badly that he became a “live one.” And every time he lost a pot, he’d say, “Stupid broad!” He lost the money in front of him. Bought more. Again. Again.

So silly

I’d watched Craig accumulate his bankroll over a year of hard work playing poker. And I watched him lose it all in five hours.

Just as he was leaving the table, broke and miserable, his girlfriend returned. She looked cool, composed, and loving. “This is so silly,” she told him. And she apologized and hugged him adoringly.

Craig rose from the table, beaten and trembling. She wanted to know how he’d fared, and I still remember how peculiar his words sounded. “I lost a little,” he said.

“You shouldn’t play when you’re upset,” she admonished him. Watching them walk away together, I had the dark feeling that I’d never see Craig again. And I didn’t.

But it’s the memory of that sad scene that punctuates my advice to poker players today. It’s pretty much the same advice that Craig’s girlfriend gave: “Don’t play poker when you’re upset.” — DB

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