Brunson: Dangerous side bets at the poker 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

Some players don’t have the patience to sit hand after hand and just play poker. They try to add to their excitement by making other wagers while they’re playing. We call these “side bets.”

Often the side bets are based on the cards themselves. “Low spade” is a common diversion. In that, whoever holds the lowest-ranking spade wins the bet. Or you might bet on the colors of the flop, red or black. Sometimes these side bets grow so large that the poker game itself has little meaning.


When that happens, players lose concentration and play worse. And that’s good for me. Side bets at the poker table don’t always involve the cards. Often, you’ll see bets on sporting events, especially if there’s a TV nearby where players can follow a game as they play poker.

In the late sixties, I played poker occasionally with Eddy and Foster. Eddy was about 23 and Foster was twice that. They’d bet on anything. In fact, once, away from the tables I watched them wager on whether a runaway grocery cart would collide with a stop sign. Eddy won that bet, but usually he took the worst of it.

It turned out that there had been a semi-major tennis match held nearby earlier that day. It was being televised by tape delay. “Let’s bet on this,” Foster suggested.

But Eddy objected, having been sucked into bad bets too often by the older and more cunning Foster. “The match is already over,” Eddy complained. “You probably already know who won, because it took place only a few miles away. Besides, you’re a tennis fan, and I don’t know much about it.”


“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Foster proposed. “You can choose whichever guy you want for $500. That way, even if you’re so darn worried about me knowing the outcome, it shouldn’t matter. You have a fifty-fifty chance of picking right.”

Eddy agreed and took the wager. He pondered for a while and then decided, “I’ll take the one with the long hair.” It seemed Eddy had picked wisely, because his guy won the first set.

Immediately, Eddy gloated and asked, “How much will you pay me to get out of the bet?” Foster offered a pitifully small settlement that Eddy had to refuse.

They winner of the match had to take three out of five sets, and the next one also went Eddy’s way. He offered to let Foster off the bet for $400. Foster countered with another way-too-small settlement. Again, Eddy refused and the bet continued.

Foster’s man made a comeback, winning the next two sets and then taking a 5-to-2 lead in the final, deciding set. “Now, it’s your turn to make me an offer,” he suggested.


So, disheartened, Eddy proposed to pay $250 to get out of the $500 bet. “That’s not nearly enough,” Foster responded. “It will take $400.” Seeing a chance to save $100, Eddy quickly accepted. While their attention had been focused on tennis, both players had been playing poor poker.

From that point on, Eddy’s guy dominated, winning the match in short order. Then the TV cameras happened to show the crowd – and there was Foster.

I guess the lesson here, beyond that side bets can sometimes distract from proper poker play. You can be taking the worst of a wager, even when common sense tells you it’s even-money. — DB

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  1. It’s a great way to say: Concentrate in your Poker Game, right now.

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