Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2024

A little beer pong lightens the mood

Jeff Haney finds that even poker great Doyle Brunson can’t win at every game


Sam Morris

Doyle Brunson smiles at the National Heads-Up Poker Championship on Feb. 29. Brunson, who has been called the Babe Ruth of poker, will compete in the sixth annual World Poker Tour Championship tournament at the Bellagio this week.

The most revered poker player of our time polished off a shot — yes, a shot — of Miller High Life from a red plastic cup, the kind you find at picnics or keggers.

He smiled broadly and fished a wet pingpong ball from another plastic cup.

The most revered poker player of our time squeezed the ball between his thumb and forefinger, took aim and launched it toward an assemblage of still more plastic cups, each containing a shot of beer and all arranged in the shape of a pyramid at the other end of the table.

That’s right, Pardner.

Doyle Brunson was playing beer pong.

Yup. Doyle Brunson, the 74-year-old former Texas road gambler who has been called the Babe Ruth of his game, the winner of 10 World Series of Poker championship bracelets, the author of the most influential book in poker history. Playing beer pong.

This week, Brunson and nearly all of poker’s other top professionals will compete in the sixth annual World Poker Tour Championship tournament at the Bellagio. The $25,000-entry tournament, which begins Saturday, could carry a top prize of $4 million if it breaks last year’s event record of 639 participants.

The stakes were lower, if more fun, in Sunday afternoon’s beer pong tournament at Hogs & Heifers Saloon downtown.

Todd Brunson, Jen Harman, Hoyt Corkins and Phil Hellmuth were among those joining Brunson for the small, informal gathering of poker pros.

“There’s no pressure here, which makes it a lot more relaxing than a poker tournament,” said Corkins, Doyle Brunson’s beer pong teammate, after losing to a team that included Todd Brunson.

Earlier, Doyle Brunson had arrived with little fanfare, greeting a few fans and proprietor Michelle Dell before taking a seat at the bar.

With his cowboy hat bearing the logo of Doyle’s Room, the online poker site, Brunson looked quite at home in the country-western themed establishment.

“This is my kind of place,” Brunson said, clearly digging the performance of Cash’d Out, a superb Johnny Cash tribute band.

As he waited for the beer pong showdown to commence, Brunson was tapping the bar to the beat of the classic “Cocaine Blues.”

“Johnny Cash is my main man,” Brunson said.

Like Corkins, Brunson said he was eager for the start of the World Poker Tour Championship and saw the beer pong competition as a good outlet to let off some steam before the intensity of the big poker tournament.

A fixture on the circuit, Brunson owns one World Poker title and has made two other final tables. He even has an event named after him, the annual Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic at the Bellagio.

Corkins has also had success on the World Poker circuit, with one title in four final tables and more than $2 million in prize money.

Brunson’s son, Todd, an accomplished tournament player and high-stakes cash-game pro, will be shooting for his first World Poker final table in the championship event, which caps World Poker’s sixth season.

“It’s a great tournament, one of the best out there,” Todd Brunson said. “Big field, big prize money.”

As Todd Brunson’s beer pong team began to take a big lead on his dad and Corkins, Doyle Brunson’s tosses became more errant, the soaking-wet pingpong ball missing its target by ever-widening margins.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen Doyle on tilt,” one spectator cracked.

Afterward, it was suggested to Doyle Brunson that poker fans might be surprised to learn he plays beer pong. Brunson just laughed, but in a mischievous way, as if to suggest he has even more surprises in store.

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