Brunson: Gambling and honor

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

Gamblers live different existences from normal folks. That’s obvious. But, most of the gamblers I know are different in a way you might not expect. They’re a little more honorable, on average, than most people. People are shocked every time I say that. But the truth is apparent to me. I tend to take gamblers at their word, and it annoys me to hear that familiar line, “You can’t trust a gambler.” That’s just flat out wrong.

In what other profession can you just casually announce a big bet and then walk away, knowing you’re going to get paid if you win? In the “real” world, it takes paperwork – contracts – to establish all the conditions. That seems nuts to gamblers like me. Giving our word on something is sufficient. It always has been.

Right away, I can think of an instance that illustrate this point. This happened when a young kid named Bradley came to Fort Worth, Texas to play poker. He wasn’t much good at it. But he’d brought a meager bankroll and soon discovered that the poker players were sometimes betting on football – the American variety, as opposed to what we call soccer. Well, he wanted to wager $1,000 on Denver. I liked the other side, so I said okay.


In front of everyone gathered at the poker table, waiting for the first deal, Bradley said, “Great. Could you give me a receipt?” There was total silence, then a few snickers, then a roar of laughter. I laughed, too. It seemed like the silliest thing I’d ever heard.

Bradley explained, “I’m not trying to insult you. It’s just that this is a lot of money for me, and I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings. I don’t mean a receipt for money. We’ll hold on to our own money until after the game. I just mean a note saying what the bet is.”

Rather than argue with him, I got a piece of paper and wrote an explanation of what the bet was, the amount, and who had which team. That satisfied Bradley.

Denver did well from the beginning and Bradley was more relaxed. He had placed his “receipt” on the table beside him and while he was looking the other way, one of the players jokingly lit a match to it. Somehow, we all watched it burn quickly to a crisp without Bradley even knowing.

The football game ended. Denver, Bradley’s team, had won. He was very excited. Winning this bet was important to him, because he’d risked a big portion of his bankroll. So, I sighed, shaking my head in exaggerated disappointed, “Well, hand me the receipt and I’ll give you the money.”

Then Bradley turned and reached for his receipt — and the color drained from his face. He panicked. “What happed to my receipt? Who did this? It was a bet! You’re all witnesses!”

But everyone muttered something about not being sure, plus they said they didn’t want to get involved.


So Bradley really started to stammer. “Doyle, could you pay me just half?”

“Do you trust me, Bradley?” I asked.

“Of course I trust you, Doyle. I always did.”

I reached into my pocket and paid him the full $1,000. In my mind, all the contracts in the world aren’t worth half as much as a gambler’s word.  — DB

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