How to Play Poker Like Doyle Brunson

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Doyle Brunson Poker Hand

The main argument that Doyle Brunson is one of the greatest players the game has ever known comes from the nature of the game itself.

Doyle Brunson, “Texas Dolly”, a true legend. Everyone respects and praises him for being able to stay on top of the poker world for more than 3 decades.

That being said when you ask any typical poker enthusiast about the best players in the game in terms of skill, Brunson’s name is rarely mentioned.

While Doyle successfully upgraded his strategy to make it relevant for the whole duration of his long career many of us are still guilty of labeling him as just another tight or even nitty player.

Long Haul

Doyle Brunson is one of the greatest players the game has ever known and for good reason. The role of the variance in poker is gigantic.

  • Poker is a game where competent, but marginal winners can lose money for months on end, where a novice player who has never even seen a starting hand chart can dominate the games for a few thousand hands or even win a big tournament.
  • Poker is a game where you can never comprehend your actual win rate. In the context of our game the only test that’s worth its salt is the test of time and Doyle Brunson has certainly passed with flying colors.

Maybe his approach is less flashy than the one presented by internet geniuses, some parts of his game are certainly suboptimal, but the simple fact of the matter is that The Godfather of Poker knows how to win at a poker table and he’s been doing so since most of us have been alive.

Tight is Right

We all heard this old poker truth a thousand times and at some point during our poker career, we started doubting it.

How could playing a small selection of hands aggressively still be viable in the rapidly changing poker landscape?

  • What about the shiny new software?
  • What about the new game theories?
  • What about searching for every small edge possible?

The attraction to the more flashy or sexy parts of poker strategy causes many players to put the cart before the horse so to speak and sacrifice solid, time tested fundamentals. That was never true in Doyle Brunson’s case. He’s, after all, a Texan and knows exactly where the horse should stand in relation to the aforementioned cart.

I have a running debate with a buddy of mine about how you should play pocket aces from early position in no-limit Texas hold’em.

The conventional wisdom is that you should always raise with this hand, regardless of your position.

However in his book, Brunson suggests that you limp in with those pocket aces from an early position. Your hope is that someone acting after you has a pair of kings or queens and raises you.

Then you can put that other player all in when it comes back to you.

In fact, some aggressive players in late position will play hands like suited connectors and AK very aggressively. These players will have a hard time laying those hands down in the face of a re-raise, especially if their cards are high in rank.

Benefits of a Tight Image

The way he explains it, by aggressively going after blinds, he gets money into his stack that he can use to gamble on drawing hands. Since he’s stolen so many blinds, he basically gives himself a freeroll when he’s drawing-to a big hand, those chips should have stayed in the stacks of the weaker players at the table.

Being aggressive in poker isn’t unusual advice, but Brunson’s perspective and advice on it is phrased uniquely enough that it’s well worth reading.

What’s the difference between a loose and a tight player?

A loose player gets involved in a lot of hands. A tight player won’t play many hands at all.

Both loose players and tight players can be aggressive. The aggression factor refers to how often you bet or raise versus how often you call or check.

You can play only great hands, and if you’re consistently betting and raising with them, then you’re being aggressive.

Conversely, you might be willing to play almost anything, and if you’re willing to raise with weak hands, you might profit big from all the dead money at the table.

This is especially true if you’re at a table with a lot of tight or weak players.

However, if you play passively, you’ll allow players with bad starting hands to draw better hands. You’ll also get less money in the pot when you do have a stronger hand. And you’ll under no circumstances be able to pull dead money, because people only fold in the face of raises and bets.

The fact that Doyle realizes that makes him extremely dangerous.

The Godfather of Poker is very aware of tight ranges and knows how to make them even more profitable by mixing in just the right amount of bluffs.

Unconscious Competence

Many great live players who spent a lot of time behind a poker table share this amazing trait. Just like the other great old school players Brunson is capable of reading the table dynamics perfectly using his tremendous experience.

Doyle isn’t really known for light call downs, but he’s capable of them if the situation calls for it.

He is perfectly aware of what other players think about his game and if we combine that knowledge with a dry board texture where villains can’t really have that many value combos, plus Doyle’s uncanny ability to read other players we get this somewhat uncharacteristic but extremely solid play.

When the Table Play’s Loose…

It would be easy to assume that someone like Doyle would get crushed by young poker players who have the chance of both learning and playing poker at a rate that’s so much faster than what was available to the old school players of yesteryear.

Fortunately for Doyle, the ultra-aggressive play that seemed to be all the rage a few years back doesn’t really work that great against a tight competent style of play.

Sure, the loose-aggressive opponent can take advantage of the small leaks of a tight player and make a profit against him over the long run, but he can’t really make his ranges weaker and if he’s not careful he’s bound to be on a losing side of big pots.

Lack of respect for strong ranges was a bane of many young players who had the chance of facing Doyle Brunson at a live poker table.

Read the Table

Another key to why Doyle Brunson can play hands that other players should fold is because he’s keenly attuned at reading other players. He suggests trying to guess which hole cards each of your opponents has.

When you can read other players’ tells, the game gets a lot more profitable.

Brunson doesn’t go into much detail about reading tells in his books.

But there are multiple sources for information on how to develop that specific skill set.

The first book I read about poker tells is Mike Caro’s book, Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. It’s more than a decade old, but the psychology behind it remains as strong as ever. It’s uniquely illustrated, and the pictures are dated, but the advice is as solid today as it was when the book was first published.

Here are a couple of the key takeaways that I’ve held onto over the years:

  • A player acting strong usually has a weak hand.
  • A player acting weak usually has a strong hand.

This doesn’t hold true for every player in every situation, but Caro estimates that it’s true a large enough percentage of the time that you can use it as a rough guideline while you get to know the other player.

Brunson has certainly used his superior skills to relieve competitors of stacks of chips. You don’t have to be perfect to play poker like Doyle Brunson. So, loosen up, pay attention, and go get that cheddar.


Can I turn you into the poker player Doyle Brunson is with 1600 words?

Absolutely not.

The legend has been playing for decades. Brunson’s poker career is comparable to the musical careers of legends like Willie Nelson and Jimmy Page.

You won’t compete with that kind of experience and talent unless you’re willing to put in the time to earn that experience. You also need to be born with talent, that’s not something I can wrap up and hand you through the computer.

You can, however, absolutely improve your no-limit Texas hold’em skill set by examining and thinking about Brunson’s approach to the game.

I’ve also read interviews with Brunson where he explains that he’s had to change his approach after everyone read his book, because that approach was no longer profitable.

And that’s as good a final tip for playing no-limit Texas hold’em poker as any:

You must be willing to adjust your approach based on conditions.

Being flexible and adjusting to the situations you find yourself in is probably the most important lesson you can learn from Doyle Brunson. Gamble on.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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