Doyle Brunson & Other Poker Stars Talk Losing Millions and Playing For The Life Of A Family Member

by | April 21, 2009 at 2:49 PM | TV News

If ‘High Stakes Poker’ on the Game Show Network is a universe of star poker players, Doyle Brunson is the biggest constellation.

Brunson, who’s got over 50 years of professional poker playing under his cowboy belt, was the first player to ever win $1 million in a tournament and was voted as arguably the most influential poker player to ever live. And he’s full of great stories – like the time when the his wife’s livelihood depended on one of his games.

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The legendary player is back on this season’s ‘High Stakes Poker’ over at the Game Show Network (Sunday nights at 6pm/5c on GSN), which also showcases the talents of Daniel Negreanu, Peter Eastgate, Tom Dwan, Eli Elezra, Sam Simon, Phil Laak, and other heavyweights of the felt.

We got a chance to sit down with some of the players at a private betting room at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas Nevada as they taped the series, where they gave us insight into exactly how they handle stress while losing a cool million, read body language and play like your life – or the life of a loved one – depends on it.

Doyle Brunson
Attention Hollywood producers, Mr. Brunson’s life is ready to be made into a blockbuster film – and the legendary player even has a lead actor in mind to play him:

What is the best piece of advice you could give to a beginning poker player?
Play as much as they can and read as many books as they can. And stay in their comfort zone. Don’t play too high.

What is the best advice for a young player at the high stakes poker table?
He needs to have the background of lower limits to be able to play in the higher limits. It’s like a different country. If he beats low limits regularly then he’s probably ready. If he hasn’t he’s not.

What is your biggest pet peeve in high stakes poker?
People being late.

Is there anything that makes you nervous around the table?

No, I’m too far gone for that.

Do you have any favorite poker movies?
Yeah I like ‘A Big Hand For the Little Lady’ and I like the ‘Cincinnati Kid’

If they made a movie about your life who would you want to play you? And why?
Robert Duvall. I don’t know, he’s always been one of my favorite actors and I met him. He’s really a nice man and he’s a southerner so that’s the reason.

What was going through your mind during the best game you’ve ever played?
Probably when my wife was in the hospital and I couldn’t get her out because I didn’t have enough money when we had our first baby. And I send a guy to the hospital and pretend to be me while I played and won enough money to get her out.

What happened?
It turned out good. I won and got her out.

Did she ever find out what happened?
Yeah she did! She was fine. She loves the story.

Daniel Negreanu – “Kid Poker”

After having spent his younger years as a pool hustler, Daniel dropped out of high school and headed out to Las Vegas at the tender age of 21. By 23 he was one of the youngest and strongest players in the land, and now stands in second place on the World Poker Tour’s all-time Money List. What was it like for him to lose $1.3 million dollars and what does having dirty fingernails have to do with winning poker?

What was it like being youngest player at the table?
I was comfortable with it. I always felt like I was smart and mature for my age. It was kind of cool because I always like the movie ‘Cincinnati Kid.’ I took pride in the fact that I was the young buck beating up the old people.

Did the players treat you any differently?
They don’t take you seriously when you are that young. I looked like I was sixteen anyway when I was twenty one. So people were like what is he doing here? Why is he playing for so much money? People were more shocked and surprised than they were rude.

What was going through your head when you won the biggest amount?
I treat this like a job so I try not to get affected too much by how much I’m winning or losing. The most I won in a tournament was $1.8 million in one day. I’m not thinking about how much this represents as far as a car or a house. It’s more like each hand that I play am I playing it properly? I really separate it from like oh my goodness this is a lot of money. I’m past that.

How about the first time you won?
I think when I was a teenager and the amount of money I was winning was more than most people make at a real job. I thought it was pretty cool. I thought that if I ever had ten thousand dollars to my name I would never go broke. I was wrong.

What goes through your head when you are losing?
The truth is that when you are losing you have to be a little more careful. The most I lost in one day was about $1.3 million. The key thing you have to focus on is that is it affecting your play? And if you feel like you’re losing your composure and you’re starting to fall apart when should you quit? When should you give it up? You have to just say my head is not right today. It’s tougher to gauge your own mental position when you’re losing than it is when you’re winning. It’s easier to say okay I’m winning, I’m doing well. But when you’re losing it makes you want to play more

Do you have any pre-game rituals or lucky charms?
I’m not superstitious at all. The only things that I try to do and I have sort of rules when I play tournaments is that the night before no alcohol, no socializing, no dinner with anybody else. And then no drinking while I play. I try to get eight hours of sleep and I try not to beak these rules. The truth is that when I do break them bad things happen. When I don’t break them I do well.

Do you feel you read people well at the table?
Yeah without question. I think if you ask people they would sat that would be my biggest strength. I’ve been doing that since I was five years old, even before I started playing poker.

Does it have to do with body language or more like facial expressions?
It’s definitely a combination. It’s even a combination of clothing style and also the way people walk. You can tell something from a person just by the way that they walk. If you see a woman whose shoulder are slouched down and all frumpy. She’s got self esteem issues. You can just tell subtle things about people just by the way they walk or how clean their fingernails are.

Watch another player who dropped out of school to make it big, Tom Dwan:

Peter Eastgate – “Ice Skate”

At 24, Eastgate is easily the youngest player at the table. This Denmark native found the game in grade school, and ultimately dropped out of finance school in Denmark to tune in to professional poker playing – and he’s never looked back. Did his parents think he was weird for spending countless hours playing online poker in his youth when his fellow students were out playing sports and drinking beer?

What’s up with the nickname?
Ice Skate came about around the World Series of Poker because in Denmark they call me Isser. That would be kind of difficult for the Americans to pronounce. So then I chose Ice Skate because I’m kind of cool at the table and I find the name kind of cool as well.

What makes you cool at the table?
I’m pretty relaxed at the table. I’m not willing to gamble so that’s why I’m cool at the table.

You were in high school when you got addicted to the game. What was your parents’ reaction?
No, they were a little bit skeptical but they are supporters and just want what’s best for me.

What’s the biggest moment you’ve ever experienced playing poker?
The biggest moment would be when I won the World Series main event.

What was going through your head?
Actually it’s been a month and I still haven’t really realized it. When I actually won I couldn’t believe it. I was in a state of shock. I was also kind of wasted because I had been playing for two days straight so I really didn’t realize it. And that showed in the show because I didn’t show any emotion or celebration.

Do you ever get nervous while you are playing? Do your palms sweat?
Yeah I get nervous from time to time. It’s mostly just for the first ten or fifteen minutes but when that is over I get pretty relaxed.

Did you know that Eli Elezra watches every episode of High Stakes Poker?