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It was in the cards that this player would find fame - Odessa American: Columnists

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It was in the cards that this player would find fame

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Posted: Sunday, May 2, 2010 12:00 am

Doyle Brunson spent a lifetime evolving from social pariah to international celebrity as a result of his devotion to poker. Along the way, he collected thousands of stories that range from scary to amusing.

Meanwhile, Mike Cochran spent a lifetime writing stories about all sorts of interesting people as a roving reporter for the Associated Press and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He’s also author of several books.

So it seems only natural that these two characters — who happened to attend Hardin Simmons University at the same time — would team up to tell what well may be the ultimate tale about a gambler’s life.

The result is "The Godfather of Poker." It is Brunson’s remarkable autobiography, which is helped along by Cochran’s unique ability to put deeds into words.

Brunson, of course, is the elder spokesman for the American fascination with the game of poker. This is a fairly recent phenomenon, fueled by the televisionization, to coin a word, of Texas hold ’em. This particular strain of the game came of age when ESPN started showing the World Series of Poker.

That was right down Brunson’s alley since he was there when the ultimate poker event was created in Las Vegas. And he happens to own two world titles.

Most of his early day compatriots, including another two-time World Series champion, Johnny Moss, who adopted Odessa as his hometown, have gone on to their rewards. But Brunson is still going strong and capitalizing on the gentrification of poker.

In fact, Brunson considered Moss his mentor in the days when the poker circuit was a dangerous proposition due to both the good guys and the bad guys. Games in Texas and surrounding states were subject to being busted by the cops, plus the players occasionally found themselves at gunpoint from bandits who knew that a lot of money could be made by robbing the high stakes gamblers.

In fact, Brunson tells the story of how a couple of thugs invaded a game in Odessa run by a guy named Paul out of his house and how another Odessa gambler by the name of Tuffy took the gun away from one of the bandits. It ended up with the rest of the players having to rescue the robbers from the victims. (And anyone who has knowledge of Odessa gambling lore will know the last names of the fellows who turned the tables on their attackers.)

Anyway, there’s plenty of West Texas in the book since Brunson met his future and present wife in San Angelo where she was a pharmacist at the well-known Perkins Drug Store. When she asked what he did, Brunson said he was a bookmaker. She thought he said bookkeeper.

At any rate, it’s a great read of how a Texas country boy grew into the man who mingled with stars and some of the most notorious criminals in the land — and got along with both crowds.

Anyone who ever ran across a televised hold ’em game while surfing the channels and had to stay around to see the outcome will love Brunson’s story and the touches that a veteran writer like Cochran managed to contribute.

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