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Doyle Brunson spurns WSOP retirement for Poker Player’s Championship

Mizrachi out for third title in four years, while Brunson seeks more than $2 million score

Poker Players' Championship

Steve Marcus

Poker legend Doyle Brunson grabs a quite bite before the opening day of the World Series of Poker $50,000 Poker Players Championship tournament at the Rio Sunday, June 24, 2012.

WSOP Poker Player's Championship winners

  • 2012: Michael Mizrachi ($1.45 million)
  • 2011: Brian Rast ($1.72 million)
  • 2010: Michael Mizrachi ($1.55 million)
  • 2009: David Bach ($1.28 million)
  • 2008: Scotty Nguyen ($1.99 million)
  • 2007: Freddy Deeb ($2.28 million)
  • 2006: Chip Reese ($1.78 million)

The great ones can’t stay away.

One of the best poker players of all time showed an old professional-sports rule of thumb also applies to card games: Retirements never stick, not with legends.

Doyle Brunson vowed he was done playing in the World Series of Poker in May. He had softened the stance by June, stating he “hadn’t ruled it out.”

With one day left before July, the 79-year-old smashed the idea all together. Brunson was one of 111 entrants through two levels of play Sunday in the $50,000 buy-in Poker Player’s Championship.

“I give him a lot of credit,” said 32-year-old professional Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi. “That’s a man with a lot of endurance for sure. It’s great to see someone at that age still have passion and love for the game.”

Mizrachi didn’t mind that Brunson’s presence shifted some of the attention away from him. “The Grinder” accomplished something many felt was impossible in this event last year by winning it for the second time in three years. The event features some the world’s best players competing in eight different poker variants.

Mizrachi is the only player to twice have his name etched into the Chip Reese Memorial Trophy, earning more than $3 million in this tournament alone.

But no one in poker boasts credentials that can match Brunson’s. “Tex Dolly” started his career long before poker gained social acceptance, toiling in illegal Texas underground games in the 1950s and 1960s where gunpoint robberies and crooked hosts were the norm.

Brunson went on to write “Super/System”, poker’s definitive strategy book in 1979, the same year he won his fifth WSOP bracelet. Brunson currently holds 10 WSOP championships, which is tied for second all-time.

He hasn’t won an event since 2005, however, or registered an in-the-money finish since 2009. But he’s a regular at the Bellagio poker room where he plays in the largest cash games in town.

Brunson recently tweeted a photo where he had well more than $100,000 in front of him at the table.

“Hopefully if I live that long, I’ll still be playing poker,” Mizrachi said with a grin. “I might be on my sixth Poker Player’s Championship by then or, at this pace, who knows.”

Brunson’s comeback shares more in common with the returns of athletes such as Michael Jordan and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., than just its abbreviated length. The two foremost reasons for Brunson’s re-emergence sound a lot like those cited by athletic counterparts: He’s doing it for money and a chance to prove peers wrong.

Brunson made side bets on his performance in the Poker Player’s Championship with 18 other players. There are three ways he can cash in on those wagers: By making the money, advancing to the final table or winning the event.

If he were to prevail in the tournament, Brunson says he will make $800,000 off of the bets. He’ll lose up to $140,000 if he flames out early.

“These young guys evidently think I can’t compete,” Brunson tweeted. “We will see.”

Brunson has a positive history in this event. Playing in all seven years since its inception, Brunson has cashed twice for a total of $398,880.

That’s a nearly $50,000 return-on-investment. Profit from side bets, of course, would be in addition to any winnings collected from the nearly $6 million prize pool. First-place in the Poker Player’s Championship is expected to come in somewhere around $1.5 million.

Official figures won’t be released until Monday afternoon when registration closes.

“We’re at a good number,” Mizrachi said. “It’s consistent every year.”

Mizrachi outlasted 108 players last year and beat 116 opponents two years ago. It’s an exhausting process, as the deep-stacked tournament takes five days to complete.

That could spell an issue for Brunson, who initially planned to stray from the WSOP because he felt the hours were too long. Financial and personal incentive motivated him to look beyond those concerns.

“If I go deep,” Brunson tweeted, “there will be lots of blood on the carpet.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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