The last Brunson standing at this year's World Series of Poker was not, as you might have thought, Doyle or Todd, but Pamela, third in line to the throne of poker's royal family. Is there a poker gene? Can we isolate it and bottle it? Bluff recently sat down with the Brunson family to find out.
Bluff: Todd and Pamela, what was it like growing up a Brunson? Were you aware that all the other kids at school had dads with "normal jobs"?
Todd: In Vegas, it's different. A lot of the kids at school had parents who were pit bosses and such, so it wasn't so strange. But in Texas, it was almost like it was taboo.
Doyle: We lied about what I did.
Todd: It was almost like my father was a drug dealer.
Pamela: My mom used to tell us not to tell anybody what my dad did for a living, but I think we told them anyway.
Bluff: He may have been a gambler, but he was also a world champion. That must have impressed some people …
Doyle: The third World Series -- the one that was won by Amarillo Slim -- that's the first time we'd seen the television cameras descend on the game. I was clean through with most of the chips, but I didn't want the publicity. People just looked down on gamblers. I asked them not to use my real name when they wrote about me. Then Slim beat Puggy [Pearson], and he got to be the champ.
Bluff: But just a few years later, you were happy to claim the title. What changed?
Doyle: My family said, "You should have consulted us. We'd have been proud if you'd won it."
Pamela: I remember Dad would get asked to do things, and he never wanted to. We used to beg him to do publicity because we loved it when he did.
Todd: Hardin-Simmons [Doyle's college] wouldn't put you in their basketball Hall of Fame because of poker. You were probably the best player they ever had, right?
Doyle: I was one of the best … They still won't put me in. They've got three of my teammates in there but not me.
Bluff: Doyle, what were Todd and Pamela like growing up? Did they share your competitive streak?
Doyle: They were competitive but not at cards. We didn't play cards in my house. One of my favorite sayings is, "A cab driver don't like to drive on his day off." But Todd, especially, was very competitive.
Pamela: It got to the point where my mom wouldn't play Monopoly with us because we were so competitive with one another. We still are. I'd rather beat Todd at the poker table than anybody else [laughs]. And I've been playing poker with Todd for 17 years. He used to sit there and critique my hands, turn them over and tell me where I went wrong. I think that's why I like to beat him so bad now.
Bluff:: Some people would pay a lot of money for that.
Todd: That's what I was about to say. People beg me to critique their play, and you complain about it!
Bluff:: But you didn't want Todd to become a poker player, did you, Doyle?
Doyle: No, I really didn't care. I just didn't teach him to be one. But when he came to me and said, "Dad, I want to be a professional poker player," I was secretly very proud.
Todd: That's what you always say, but I never said that. I just said that I wasn't going back to college.
Pamela: Todd just started playing and kept on playing.
Bluff: Todd, was it tough starting out as a player, trying to earn respect at the tables while just being seen as "Doyle's son"? Especially since Doyle didn't teach you a lick?
Todd: The media make a big thing of that, but it's not really true. If you don't respect me, I'll take your money. It's as simple as that.
Doyle: Todd was a great player from early on -- he won his first-ever tournament. Respect wasn't hard to come by. He was successful to begin with. Sometimes it takes players years and years to reach that point, and sometimes they never do. Look at Chip Reese. He's never been a world champion, and he's the best all-around player there is.
Bluff: So, Todd, you developed as a poker player independent from your father. Did you become a very different kind of player from Doyle?
Todd: Sure, everybody has to have his own style.
Doyle: I think Todd and I have two different styles. Todd's much more fundamentally sound, and I'm more of an instinctive player -- sometimes I'm not sure what I'm going to do until I do it.
Bluff: Is there a Brunson gene that makes you a good poker player?
Bluff: What qualities do Brunsons have that make them good poker players?
Todd: Patience …
Pamela: [Laughs] Patience at the poker table, at least, not in other senses …
Doyle: I think the best gift a poker player can have is recall, and Todd has the best recall of anyone I've ever known. He can remember back to when he was 2 or 3 years old -- it's unbelievable. The ability to remember what happened in previous situations -- maybe even just subconsciously -- is the most important thing in poker. All the great players have that. You can call it an innate ability or instinct. It was only when I started writing books that I began to think about it and try to explain it.
Pamela: That's something I'm beginning to feel as someone who's learning to be a good player. I remember where I went wrong in the past, and I'm able to put it right. I also think -- with all three of us -- it's about perseverance. You can put us in any situation, and we'll always strive to rise to the top.
Doyle: We're also all very stubborn.
Bluff: Have you both read "Super System"?
Pamela: I did. And I learned a lot practicing on Doyle's Room. I practiced and practiced and practiced online.
Doyle: She's been playing these tournaments on Doyle's Room, and she's won several of them. I have a bounty on my head and I play them all the time, and I've never even made a final table. That's when I realized we had another poker player in the family.
Pamela: [Laughs.] We've been telling him that for years.
Bluff: It would be great to see all three of you at a WSOP final table one day.
Pamela: That'd be awesome!
Todd: I actually made a final table with my dad at the Ultimate Poker Challenge. It'll make for good TV.
Bluff: Doyle, you said that seeing Todd win his first bracelet was the proudest moment of your life. Was it a similar feeling when Pamela did so well in the World Series?
Doyle: It wasn't quite the same. Pamela was a beginner, while Todd had been working on his game for years and years. I was very proud of her, but it was a different sense of pride. Of course, when she wins her first bracelet, I'll feel the same.
Pamela: It's coming!
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