Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011 | 1:16 a.m.
LAS VEGAS — A professional poker league that's trying to become the PGA Tour of poker is giving card icon Doyle Brunson its first lifetime player card, making him automatically eligible to play all future tournaments.
Epic Poker League Commissioner Annie Duke told The Associated Press that Brunson was a clear choice to be offered the lifetime invitation given his decades of success in the game and contributions to making it more popular and accessible.
Duke and Jeffrey Pollack, executive chairman of the company that owns Epic, say Brunson will be honored Wednesday at the start of a $20,000 regular season no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament — the third of four regular-season events for Epic in its inaugural run.
Brunson — who has $6.1 million in lifetime tournament earnings, including nearly $3 million and 10 gold bracelets since 1976 at the World Series of Poker — said he appreciates the honor as a token to remember struggles players made to make poker the game it is today.
"It's unnecessary but I guess it's nice to be remembered for what we went through to get poker to this point," Brunson told The Associated Press. "Most people just don't realize exactly what all transpired ... but we went through some pretty adverse things."
Brunson said that before he and a group of card sharks known as the "Texas Rounders" came to Sin City and spread limit and no-limit Texas Hold 'em games at the Golden Nugget casino downtown, poker was not very popular.
"Poker had died in Las Vegas," Brunson told the AP. "I think that was probably the turning point — I don't know if poker would have ever gotten off the ground or not."
Brunson went on to write "Super System," a guide to poker strategy still referred to by many players as the definitive guide to playing Hold 'em and other variations of poker. Brunson said he wrote the book to try to attract players to the game and help them understand its fundamentals.
"It stimulated poker in a way that I don't think anything else could have," Brunson said. "The game of poker is about people, and you have to be able to understand people to play poker."
Brunson already qualified for a two-year player card under league eligibility rules, which limit invitations to roughly 200 of the top tournament players in the world. The eligibility requirements and global player rankings are weighed to emphasize recent success.
Pollack said Brunson's contributions to poker are timeless, making him the game's statesman.
"The modern history of poker is Doyle's life," Pollack said.
Duke, an accomplished player herself who is well-known outside the poker world for her TV appearances including "The Celebrity Apprentice," said Brunson combined elements of play and personality that make him unparalleled in poker.
"He just has this secret sauce of every accomplishment you can imagine, big generosity to the poker community, incredible longevity, amazing ambassadorship," Duke said. "And then on top of that he's just an easy guy to really like."
Brunson, who did not play in Epic's first two main events, said he is not likely to play significantly more tournaments because of the lifetime card.
"As I'm getting older, these tournaments are getting too hard to come through," said Brunson. "It's probably not worth it to me anymore to really go on the tournament grind, so I don't plan on playing a whole lot of tournaments the rest of my life.
"I much prefer to play cash games," he said.