Two generations, one style: winning

LAS VEGAS – The legend sits at yet another World Series of Poker table. The event is seven card stud. Old-school poker, just like the legend in the trademark cowboy hat who's piling up chips.

From his seat, the legend can see the elevated stage with the Hollywood lighting and the new-fangled drapery hanging above the felt – sponsored by a beer company, don't you know – that is used as a screen to project the hands being played at the final table of the $2,500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Championship. New-school poker, just like the kid in the blue polo shirt who's piling up chips.

"I can see his hands up there,'' the Texas legend says of the young'un. "I expect him to win this tournament.''

And some six hours later, that is exactly what happens, and that is when the legend, Doyle Brunson, gets up from his tournament table and ambles to the stage to congratulate the young'un.

His young'un.

Todd Brunson, capturing his first World Series of Poker bracelet, stands next to Doyle, the man with a record nine of them. Smiles, poses, pictures. A family of World Series of Poker champions. Two generations, one style: winning.

"It's a good feeling,'' the father says of the son. "I know what an excellent player he is, so I'm really not surprised.''

It is a big moment for Todd, a big step. A longtime winner in cash games, Todd only recently emerged as a force in tournaments, and consequently, only recently emerged as something other than Doyle's kid.

"I've answered that question so many times,'' Todd said. "As I had no other father, I have no perspective to say it was better with this father than another one. I never know how to answer the question.''

But he knows about the shadow being cast.

"I'd say the past couple of years, it started to be a burden,'' Todd said. "It really wasn't at the beginning. Then poker got so big and my father got so big, his name and everything. This past year I've had a lot of TV time and a lot of people know me now that didn't a year ago.''

Those people know he's got game, after his success in the "Poker Superstars Invitational'' TV series, his nine other major poker championships, his authoritative chapter in his father's new best-selling book "Super/System 2,'' and now this.

"He says, 'They used to call me Doyle Brunson's son,' and now they say, 'Doyle Brunson is his dad,' or something along that line,'' Doyle said.

Todd won $255,945 in copping his first WSOP bracelet, and it was the cash that he seemed most interested in after his victory Thursday, not talk of a bracelet, not an accounting of the number of WSOP final tables made.

"It's totally meaningless,'' Todd says. "It only recently became a big deal. What matters is if you win or lose. It's how you do at the end of the year. You see these guys win – I want to name somebody, but I won't – he wins all kinds of bracelets and at the end of the year, he's broke every year since I've know him for 15 years. No matter how much money he wins, I wind up with all of it. He wins all the bracelets, comes to play, then I get his money (in cash games).''

The bottom line, then, is the bottom line. The No. 1 rule in poker (and life): Follow the money. Funny thing is, that might've been one of the few poker lessons the son learned from the father, because Doyle says he never pushed Todd toward cards, and both say Todd learned on his own.

"He is really an excellent player,'' Doyle said. "Fundamentally, he's better than I am.''

Doyle's pride over Todd seems evident, as does his respect for his son's game. But the legend who once seemed headed for a job as a teacher remains a tough grader.

"I expect him to do better than he's done,'' Doyle said.

Like expecting Todd to win the tournament hours before he eventually did, talk that the low-key scion wanted no part of.

"I never think of things like that,'' Todd said. "I come to play the best I can play, and if I win, I win, and if I don't, I don't. I can't control what the cards are going to do. All I can do is play to the best of my ability.''

And the best of his ability would seem to rank him among the best, period. The pony-tailed Todd, who shares his father's burliness, but not his comfort with the spotlight, seemingly has all the attributes it takes to make a great poker player.

"Except hunger,'' Doyle said. "He's got too much money. He got successful himself too quick, so he doesn't know the real things that I did having to win.''

Tough room, eh? But the truth is, this kid agrees.

"I'm too lazy, I guess,'' Todd said. "I'd say it's true. It's definitely true. During the normal times, I'll play twice a week when I should be playing five or six times a week.

"I like to do other things. I play darts, volleyball, go out with my friends. Different things.''

Good for Todd. There's nothing wrong with having balance in a poker-playing life, especially when you're only 35. And there's certainly nothing wrong with Todd's poker playing, even if you're not grading on a curve.

"I think he's probably the best player under 40 out there,'' Doyle said.

Steve Rosenbloom is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and writes a syndicated poker column for the Chicago Tribune.