His agent Brian Balsbaugh confirmed the death but did not give a cause.
The career arc of Mr. Brunson parallels the history of poker in America, from obscurity to mainstream entertainment.
Ranked by Bluff magazine as the most influential player in history, Mr. Brunson won 10 World Series of Poker tournaments, including Main Event titles in 1976 and 1977. He was the first player to win $1 million in tournament play and finished his career in $6.2 million in live earnings — although that’s all he did in the public eye.
Until recently, Mr. Brunson in private games with staggering stakes, sometimes winning (or losing) millions of dollars a month. His wife more than occasionally found him angry.
“But this is what I do,” he told Texas Monthly last year. “This is what I always do. And if I fall off the table in the middle of a monster pot, hell, I’ll die a happy man.
In the early 1950s, he played in the backrooms of bars and other adult establishments in a seedy neighborhood along Exchange Avenue in Fort Worth.
“Exchange Avenue is probably the most dangerous street in America,” he explained to Texas Monthly. “There is nothing there but thieves and pimps and murderers. It’s amazing.”
Mr. Brunson always packs a pistol. (Asked if he had used it, he replied, “No comment.”) One night, someone interrupted the game, put a gun to a player’s head and opened fire. Mr. took Brunson took his chips and hid in a creek.
On another night, this time in Austin, armed bandits came in, took the money off the table and lined the gamblers up against the wall, ordering them to drop their pants. The bandits threatened that if the players hid money, their legs would be blown off.
Suddenly the players started throwing $100 bills on the floor.
Mr. Brunson is philosophical about chaos.
“You have to have absolutely no respect for money,” he told the New York Times. “You have to look at it as action and the money as units. What you’re trying to do is win as many units as possible.”
Eventually joined Mr. Brunson among other players, traveling across Texas to play in private games with doctors, lawyers and other professionals where more money is at stake — and certainly less violence.
In the early 1960s, he moved to Las Vegas, where poker was booming. He played in the First World Series of Poker event in 1970.
A few years later, World Series events began to be televised. ESPN began broadcasting events in the 1980s, and interest continued to grow. Mr. Brunson became one of the game’s most familiar faces, a cowboy hat always stuck to his head. He is very rich, news investing millions to raise the Titanic and find Noah’s ark.
Mr. also wrote Brunson of several poker books, including “The Super System by Doyle Brunson,” where he described his methods. The book, and the subsequent follow-up, became the bible of the sport, appearing in the opening scenes of the gambling film. “Rounders” (1998) starring Matt Damon.
“More than any other game,” he wrote, “poker depends on your understanding of your opponent. You need to know what makes him tick. Most of all, you need to know what makes him tick once you get involved in a pot with him. What is his mood … how does he feel? What is his apparent psychological thinking now?”
The neck is the best place to find something to say.
“In many people, the pulse in the neck is visible,” he wrote. “Then a man cannot hide it, because no one can control their heartbeat [stressful] situations. When you see a man’s neck just throbbing, you know he’s excited, and usually he’s excited because he’s being flattered.”
Doyle Frank Brunson was born on August 10, 1933, in Longworth, Tex., a rural farming town consisting of a few houses, a general store and no indoor plumbing. His father worked at a gin manufacturer and, Doyle secretly found out, played poker to finance his sons’ college educations. His mother is a housewife.
Mr. Brunson excelled in sports, primarily basketball and track. At Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist-affiliated school in Abilene, Tex., he starred on the basketball team and played poker with friends on Saturday nights.
After graduating in 1954, he stayed at Hardin-Simmons and received a master’s degree in education. He got a job selling business equipment. On his first day on the job, he stumbles upon a poker game.
“It was a Seven-Stud game where I cleared a month’s salary in a matter of less than three hours,” he wrote in “Super System.” “’My God,’ I thought, ‘what am I doing trying to sell machines that no one wants to buy from me when I can sit at a poker table and make ten times that money the sixth time?’”
He stopped and headed for Exchange Avenue.
In 1962, he married Louise Carter, a pharmacist, at a funeral home where her brother-in-law worked. “The chapel is beautiful,” Mr. Brunson told Texas Monthly.
Survivors include his wife; their children Todd and Pamela Brunson; a stepdaughter, Cheryl Carter; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mr. Brunson is an expert at understanding what is being said.
“When I had something to say to Puggy Pearson,” he wrote in “Super System.” “Every time he puts his chips in the rack and bets them, he flatters himself. He probably did that six months before someone else discovered it and told him.”
But he is equally adept at bluffing.
“All top professionals have a defense against people using tells against them,” Mr. Brunson wrote. “Sometimes when I’m bluffed I say something specific, like ‘gee whiz,’ so people can associate that with [a] bluff. But the next time I say ‘gee whiz,’ I’m not bluffing.”