Last week, I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at the “Wednesday Poker Discussion Group”, a cadre of poker aficionados and players that has met each week in Las Vegas for well over a decade to discuss strategy and various other poker topics. I’ll hopefully write about that wonderful experience in the near future, but that meeting was where this poker story begins. At the end of my talk, we held a Q&A session. During the session, Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson asked me what was on my “poker bucket list”. My answer was pretty much a no-brainer: I’d love to have the chance to interview Doyle Brunson some day. After all, what self-respecting member of the poker media corps wouldn’t relish the thought of a one-on-one audience with poker’s Babe Ruth?! With that said, I knew that some sort of fairy dust would have to fall from the sky for something like that to ever happen.
Enter Jan Fisher.
While the Q&A was still ongoing, I received a message from the Women in Poker Hall of Famer (who was also present), that she was immediately getting to work on trying to make such a meeting happen while I was still in town. Just, WOW!
Over the next few days, Jan worked some real magic, liaising with Doyle’s daughter Pamela, to see if it might be possible to arrange an introduction. Luckily for me, the timing eventually ended up working out.
It’s somewhat well-known that Doyle plays in the big game in Bobby’s Room on a near-daily basis during the summer. With that said, that hallowed ground at the Bellagio is not just a place one strolls into nonchalantly. There’s a reason for the glass panels that mark off the private high-stakes area from the rest of the poker room. High stakes players value – and, quite frankly, deserve – their privacy. While they’re at work at the poker tables, they ought not have to deal with loads of randoms and railbirds disturbing their concentration. In other words, poker fans are a good thing in general, but it’s just proper etiquette to observe the pros from a distance.
Generally speaking, I try very hard to prepare for conducting interviews. Especially when I get the get the chance to interview one of poker’s biggest names, Phil Ivey for example, I do loads of research behind the scenes so as to (hopefully) not end up asking the interviewee questions he/she has already been asked. With Mr. Brunson, however, I’d have little-to-no notice, as this was an unexpected opportunity. So, I just “went into it” hoping to have a short conversation with him and ask a handful of questions that I was genuinely curious to know his answers to. I came prepared with all my recording gear, audio and video, if the eventuality presented itself that he’d agree to sit with me for a few minutes, fully aware that this was not a given, especially if he was busy grinding the big game. At the very least, however, I hoped to get a picture with him that would capture the moment.
I’ll readily admit to being incredibly nervous walking into that room; the playground of poker’s kings. The butterflies in my stomach belied my calm exterior demeanor, or so I’d like to believe. For all I know, the three tables of sharks whose eyes I felt bearing down on me could instantly tell precisely how anxious I was. Not that it was a menacing crowd whatsoever; I recognized at least half of the pros seated around the tables – a who’s who of poker superstars. It just felt like I was a coach passenger who somehow got a five-minute pass into the first-class cabin. Who was this intruder in their midst? What business did I have there? Yet, I had my stewardess guide leading the way. A poker legend like Jan Fisher is right at home in a place like Bobby’s Room. To a simple poker fan, it’s absolutely wondrous to watch the game’s greats interact, lifelong friends intimately familiar with one another.
When my “moment of truth” arrived and Jan had officially made the introduction, Mr. Brunson could not have been more gracious. It was obvious to me that he was concentrating and in the middle of a session. Still, he was kind enough to make me feel like I was the only person in the room. Our exchange was quite brief, perhaps just a couple minutes long, as he asked where I was from and I told him that I had traveled in from Israel to do media coverage during the World Series of Poker. Aware that this wasn’t exactly the most favorable time to press him with too many questions, I just extended my most sincere thanks that he had agreed to let me come and say hello.
As the Book of Ecclesiastes states, “To everything there is a season”. Perhaps at some point in the future the opportunity to interview Mr. Brunson might still come my way. I’ll keep those questions I prepared at the ready, and maybe add another few in the interim. Even if that never happens, I can tell you that I came away from that meeting anything but disappointed. Even now while typing up this article, I just keep on pinching myself. Did that REALLY just happen?
In the meanwhile, I do hope that Mr. Brunson reads my reflections on today’s meeting and can feel good that he made my day. One day, when I get to be his age, I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about the time I got introduced to poker’s living legend, Doyle Brunson. Who wouldn’t smile at being able to share a memory like that?