Poker player Doyle Brunson spent part of his $75M fortune looking for Noah’s Ark

Poker player Doyle Brunson spent part of his $75M fortune looking for Noah's Ark

Doyle Brunson, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 89, was known as the Godfather of Poker and one of history’s greatest pro players.

“He was just smarter than everyone else,” high-stakes poker player Ben Lamb told The Post. “He was good at being very likable when taking your money.”

Added pro Barry Greenstein, “Doyle was the only guy near his age who still won in the most competitive games.”

But Brunson, who was reportedly worth $75 million, did not apply his brilliant gaming strategies to the business world: He once told me about having “made many, many bad investments.

“We invested in going to look for the Titanic, which we almost found before running out of money. Then we put up cash to find Noah’s Ark. They sent an expedition to Turkey. They supposedly got up the boat and sent back a piece of it. They gave it to Chip and I,” Brunson told me years ago about himself and poker pro Chip Reese, his sometime business partner. “What happened with it, I have no idea.

“Then we got involved with a Christian television station, through a guy in Mobile, Alabama. We just couldn’t get away from him. I remember a thing called ChewBrush that we invested in. You chew on it, like gum, and supposedly it brushes your teeth. That didn’t work out.”

Model of Noah's Ark
Doyle Brunson made his share of longshot investments, including chewing gum that cleaned your teeth, an attempt to raise the Titanic and a search for Noah’s Ark (seen here as a replica in Kentucky).

Raised religious in Longworth, Texas, Brunson grew up more into sports than cards — he even had a shot of making it in the NBA before blowing out his knee while playing for Hardin-Simmons University. Unable to compete physically, he turned to cards and found a new calling.

Back then, in the 1950s, the gambling world was particularly unsavory. Brunson saw his share of that life.

My first year as a pro,” Brunson famously said, “I was playing [poker] in a pool hall on the [Fort Worth, Texas] stockyards when a man came in and shot a player. His brains seemed to splatter all over the wall. We all ran out the backdoor to keep from talking to cops. We had to go through a cold, cold creek [to get away].”

Doyle Brunson and others playing poker
Doyle Brunson long reigned as one of the most feared poker practitioners in the world — but lied about it for years, to spare his family embarrassment.
AP Wirephoto

By the time he rolled into Las Vegas in the 1960s, Brunson ranked among the most adept players of no limit Texas hold’em. Few were surprised, in 1972, when he seemed poised to win the World Series of Poker with a first place prize of $80,000 (equal to $580,000 today).

But all of the sudden he started losing hand after hand to Amarillo Slim Preston, a less skilled player who was trailing both Brunson and another competitor.

A backroom deal was cut where each player would get a share of the $80,000, though Slim would be the official winner.

Doyle Brunson with models
“He was good at being very likable when taking your money,” high-stakes poker player Ben Lamb told The Post of Brunson (above).

But before TV cameras could get into the poker room to chronicle the big game, Brunson feigned illness and split.

Turns out, he didn’t want to get caught in a lie.

“I was still living in Texas and lying to my neighbors, telling them I was an insurance salesman,” Brunson told me years later. “I didn’t care about winning a tournament and I didn’t want the publicity.”

After that Brunson’s wife told him she wouldn’t have minded him getting publicity for winning the WSOP championship.

Doyle Brunson winning World Series of Poker
Though Doyle Brunson purposely threw a World Series of Poker Main Event to Amarillo Slim, he went on to win two of them, including this one in 1977.

“So,” he said, “I went and won it [the first of two, plus eight lesser World Series events, over the coming decades] a few years later, after we moved to Las Vegas.”

For a while, Brunson and his family lived by the Las Vegas Country Club, where security is top notch. Nevertheless, one night in 1998, a couple of men jumped Brunson as he neared his front door.

But he kept the robbery from turning into something worse by faking illness.

Doyle Brunson and Layne Flack
Well into old age, Doyle Brunson held his own against younger competitors such as Layne Flack (right).

“The guys dragged me inside,” Brunson told me. “My alarm system went off, I wouldn’t give them the code [to silence it] and faked a heart attack. They took the $90,000 in chips that I had on me, but nothing else, and ran out of the house without hurting anyone.”

Dewey Tomko, a pro gambler and longtime friend of Brunson, told The Post that Brunson spent the later years of his life playing golf. He struggled to walk, got around on a Rascal and relied on a crutch — but that did not stop him from participating in big money matches.

“We would drive the cart onto the green [a no-no on golf courses] and help Doyle out,” said Tomko. “He would drop the crutch, we’d hand him his putter and he would land the shot. If I had a million-dollar putt that somebody else had to make, I’d want Doyle to shoot it. We won about $12 million in two weeks, playing bad golfers who thought they could beat a guy on crutches.”

Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson did not let a bum leg get in the way of him winning millions of dollars on the golf course.

Through all of it, Tomko pointed out, Brunson never lost his sense of religion.

“We’d be in the middle of playing poker and break for an hour of bible study at 6 o’clock. Doyle paid preachers to meet with us in the casino,” said Tomko. “He went from attending church to playing the biggest poker to gambling for millions on the golf course to betting every single NFL game — and it was never for small money. That was Doyle. He was all over the place.”

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