What It’s Like to Play Low-Stakes Poker with Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and the WPT Crew

By Charity Marie
February 09, 2023

The Wynn Poker room is buzzing with an electricity I’ve never experienced in a poker room in 30 years of playing. Staff just finished reserving seat five at every table for the upcoming WPT Premier Meet-Up Game. Our $2/$5 no limit Texas Hold’em table is so excited, our play grinds to a halt. We have been playing since 2 a.m. to ensure we get seats. The dealer can’t keep our attention and gives up. We aren’t interested in playing right now; we’re too busy talking about which World Poker Tour ambassador we want to have join our table.

Robert, in the number two seat, asks “Who do you want to meet the most?”

I grin, happy to play along. “My ultimate dream is to meet Doyle Brunson. But Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Vince Van Patten would be amazing, too. It’s not very likely.”

“You never know,” Robert replies.

premier WPT meet up game

Building My Poker Career with Doyle Brunson

I’ve been watching poker’s stars on ESPN for more than 20 years now. They are my ultimate poker heroes. Doyle Brunson, who wrote Super System and Super System 2, is why I became a professional poker player in 2002. Poker was a hobby until I read those books. I started playing at age eight. In my early 20s, I was the ultimate recreational player, playing home games at other people’s houses for low stakes. While I had some natural skill, I hadn’t considered trying to make real money playing.

Poker in 2005 wasn’t glamorous or respected in Indiana, where I lived, and Doyle helped me see poker in a whole new way. The bar circuit is where I became a tournament player. I lost count of how many final tables I made, along with a few big wins. I cut my tournament teeth in some of the most grueling environments you can imagine. Most of them are places no female in her right mind should be. Doyle even prepared me for that.

I lost count of how many men told me I didn’t belong at a poker table. Thanks to Doyle, I knew better. Besides live tournaments, I was playing a lot of online poker. I won a seat to the 2007 WSOP Main Event via an Absolute Poker satellite tournament, beating thousands of players, but couldn’t go because I was pregnant.

Doyle changed my life. Phil, Daniel, and Vince all made it feel possible to be a winner. Thanks to them all, that’s what I became, time and time again. When other people told me I couldn’t, I looked at them and said, “Watch me.” That’s why I took my chance finally — 15 years after winning a seat to the WSOP Main Event — to play in the WPT World Championship series. Little did I know, I would have a one-of-a-kind experience.

A WPT Meetup Game (MUG) to Remember

A few minutes later, a voice comes over the speakers, telling us that the WPT ambassadors have arrived and Matt Savage — THE Matt Savage — begins announcing. He explains that during the meet-up, every time you go all in, win or lose, you’ll receive a ticket to the drawing for a seat to the $15 million guaranteed Main Event. They’re giving four away. The room erupts in cheers and clapping so loud you can’t even hear Matt. My heart is like a kangaroo in my chest, jumping hard and fast.

We see Tony Dunst, in his trademark gray suit, head to the table in front of us. A tall blonde man in a white t-shirt heads toward us and I freeze. Is that Vince Van Patten? It can’t be! He greets the table, and I’d know that voice anywhere. It’s him!

Charity Marie and Vince Van Patten

Playing Against Vince Van Patten

Vince sits down, buys in for the maximum, which I can cover with my stack, and I’m so star-struck, I’m tongue-tied. I have to be dreaming! I’m in the number nine seat and I can almost reach out to touch him. He’s really tan and even more handsome in person. We start playing and Vince asks everyone where we’re from. I volunteer first that I’m from San Antonio, Texas, and we go around the table. There are players from the UK, Asia, and the US.

Our play relaxes as everyone settles down and into a comfortable, chatty vibe. Vince is a nice guy and I’m watching him through my sunglasses intently. The rest of the players have disappeared — Vince is who I’m here to play and I’m determined to get involved in hands with him. There are a few light skirmishes, but Vince folds most of the time. No one is giving him any easy wins, least of all me, that’s for sure!

Then, Vince raises to $25. I look down at pocket queens. Seats six, seven, and eight all call, so I raise to $150. I watch Vince as he eyes me, looking for clues, but I’m giving nothing away. His eyes drop to my chip stack and I see him calculating. The action folds to him. He smiles at me and flicks his cards away. Damn it, I think; I wanted some Vince dollars and smile at the Brad Owen-ism. I didn’t expect everyone to fold. It had been a high action table all morning.

The game moves on and the conversation flows. But I’m watching Vince and he seems to be card dead. He’s not getting involved in very many hands he wants to fight it out with. Seems he’s waiting for a good hand, so I put pressure on him, raising often, especially if he’s in a hand. I keep waiting for some aggression, but it seems I’m the most aggressive person at the table. I work up my courage and ask Vince if he’ll let me take his picture. He agrees, and it’s the perfect photo of him with a Wynn poker room chip.

His easygoing nature makes him so easy to like. We are laughing and joking like old friends when they announce that it’s time for ambassadors to change tables. Vince is kind enough to sign a chip for me and away he moves along to his next table. We’re all sad, but the table enthusiastically thanks him as he leaves. What an amazing session, and it was over in a blink! I could have hung out with him all day.

The Greatest of All Time Comes to Our Table

A few moments later, a crowd descends on our table and we’re all distracted again. There are cameras, boom mics, cell phone cameras everywhere, and people all talking at once. Brad Owen sits in the five seat at a nearby table and Robbi Jade Lew sits at the table right behind us. Then, as if royalty has appeared, the crowd parts and Phil Ivey swaggers over to sit at our table. I am holding two hundred dollar stacks of $5 chips and they explode from my hands to scatter across the table. I’m embarrassed and flustered, but laughing at myself. All I can think is, “Damn, Phil is taller than I realized.”

It seems like an eternity later, I look at Phil, pull my sunglasses down and say rather stupidly, “I am sorry, I just have to say, I fricking love you!” I’m so star-struck I almost can’t speak, a first for me. But it breaks the ice. Everyone laughs, Phil gives me a megawatt grin that melts my knees, and I can’t believe Phil Ivey is at my table! He buys in for $500 and goes all in first hand. The player next to him calls and they flip their cards over. Ivey has pocket fours, and the caller has AhKh. The overcards win the hand. Phil rebuys for the maximum.

Phil is quieter than Vince and seems busy with his phone. A little time goes by. I look down at KdQd. I think, “Bingo. Let’s go.” I look across the table at Phil. The action folds to me and Phil’s on the button. It’s not a great position for me, but I don’t care. I may not get another chance. Phil looks at me, grins again, and says, “Are you ready?”

I can’t contain my glee. “Hell yeah, let’s go!” I say and together we push all our chips in. We flip our cards and he has pocket 10s. My stomach is doing somersaults as I groan. There’s two diamonds in the flop. “Oooh, I’ve got a ton of outs now Phil, you better watch out.” Any king, any queen, any diamond, plus there are some backdoor straight draws, too. He’s still a strong favorite on the blank turn.

Sadly, the river is a brick. Phil scoops the pot, but not before saying, “That was a poker sweat, huh?” I laugh and feel it’s worth it to have lost $1,600 but gain the priceless story of a lifetime. I get my consolation raffle ticket and rebuy for $200. We play a few more hands and I’m having the time of my life. I’ve never been on such a poker high and I never want it to end. Eventually, it does, but I still get a great photo with Phil. He heads to the next table.

Matt Savage: All in, All the Time

Matt Savage walks up to our table, grinning, and puts down his very short stack of chips. He barely has time to greet people, and he’s all in for $32. Four of us call. The other players at the table, who didn’t remember that an all-in gets you a raffle ticket, are disappointed. Matt’s not happy to realize he’s outnumbered as we turn the hands up, but he somehow wins the hand. Matt now has around $137 and announces he’s all in again! Now we’re talking!

I have J10 offsuit and figure, why not? As the last to act, I see there are six players including me who all call. That sixth sense of mine indicates things are about to go down. “If anyone raises, I’ll go all in and protect Matt’s hand,” I think to myself. I don’t know why but I don’t want him to lose. My chip stack was around $800, so it would be enough to protect with. I’ve put Matt’s hand as AK or AQ, and in a six-way pot, that’s not good.

The flop comes out A49. I look at Matt and see his shoulders relax ever so slightly. The action checks around to the number 8 seat, a guy named Scott who owns a farm up north. Before he even moves, I know he’s going to raise it to $50 because he has a pair, and he does. I figure he’s got an ace with a weak kicker maybe, or middle pair. I turn toward the dealer and say, “All in,” which the dealer confirms. Matt groans and says, “I guess I know what that means.” I think, “No, you don’t Matt. But you will soon.”

Charity Marie and Matt Savage 2022 WPT MUG

After some grumbling, everyone, including Scott, folds and Matt flips up his hand: AQ. I look at him and say, “I told myself if anyone raised to go after you, I would protect your hand.” I turn up my cards and he grins at me. Everyone else at the table is ragging on me, especially Scott, but they’re good natured about it especially when I say, “Y’all didn’t have jack, you were just being bullies.” Scott says at least he had a pair, to which I shrug, laugh, and say, “Guess you should have called. Then you would have lost more than $50 because you couldn’t beat his ace.” Scott tells me he had a weak ace.

The rest of the hand plays out and Matt’s hand wins. But then he’s gathering chips and says he has to leave for another table. Just like that, our time with poker legends is over. The seat stays empty the rest of the meetup, but we realize, thanks to Matt announcing, that Doyle Brunson has entered the room. The cheering and clapping when the room realizes Doyle is among us is so deafening, people outside in the casino turn to watch. Doyle sits at a table close to the entrance, a straight line across the room between us.

Making Impossible Poker Dreams Come True

My table mates encourage me to go say hi to Doyle. I want nothing more than to thank him for changing my life. My throat is dry and I’m not sure I’ll be able to talk. I’m sure Doyle hears it all the time, but I can’t help myself.

My knees are wobbly as I make my way across the room to stand beside him. He’s in a hand and doesn’t notice me. He’s quiet and focused on the game, so I say nothing. I stand off to the side a bit, hands clasped behind me as I wait for him to acknowledge me. Except he doesn’t. Someone else at the table does and offers to take my photo with Doyle. More than I ever could have hoped for, I take him up on it. I try to thank Doyle, but I’m not sure he can even hear me over the noise.

Charity Marie and Doyle Brunson 2022 WPT MUG

The WPT After Party for the Meetup Game

When it’s over, there’s an after party where I meet even more of the poker elite: Phil Hellmuth, WPT President Adam Pliska, Brad Owen, and Andrew Neeme. I meet the only female to win the raffle, Katrina, and we have a delightful conversation. Everyone’s having a great time — free drinks are flowing, the energy is high, and it’s over way too soon.

Charity Marie and Phil Hellmuth 2022 WPT MUG

The World Poker Tour Inspires a New Dream

I head back to my hotel room, giddy and exhausted. I will never forget this day. Best poker day ever. I have lots of other adventures, including meeting Doyle a second time and getting a free autographed copy of his autobiography. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be someone’s Phil Ivey or Doyle Brunson.



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Charity Marie
Written By.

Charity Marie

Award-winning author Charity Marie has been writing fiction and nonfiction for more than 30 years. With over 100 publication credits and years as a staff contributor to multiple magazines, her work has been published by The Writer magazine, iPhone Life, Please See Me, Kaleidoscope, Duck Soup, Coldwell Banker, American Genius, WOW! Women on Writing, Strategy […]

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