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Gary Berland had a fast and furious poker career that came to a tragic close when he died shortly after the 1986 WSOP. Berland won five bracelets in three years and finished runner up to Doyle Brunson in the 1977 Main Event.
Berland’s first trip the WSOP in 1976 was a learning experience in which he walked away with no bracelets or prize money. He returned in 1977 with a clearer idea of what was needed to win. He picked up his first bracelet in a Razz event and after that win decided he would try to win the big one. Berland found himself heads up with the reigning champ, Doyle Brunson. On the final hand Berland flopped two pair to Doyle’s single pair, but the turn and river gave Brunson a full house with his legendary 10-2; the hand he won both his Main Event titles with.
Berland returned to the WSOP in 1978 and walked away with two bracelets, both in Razz events, bringing his total to three Razz bracelets. In 1979 he again walked away with two bracelets; one in Seven Card Stud and the other in Seven Card Stud HiLo. The five time bracelet winner found Main Event success again in 1986 where he finished in third place. He received $114,000 for that finish; more than his previous cashes combined.
Early in Berland’s life he learned the life of a gambler gaining his education in pool halls and bowling alleys. His family moved from California to Las Vegas after he graduated high school Berland tried attending UNLV for a couple of years before deciding that playing poker professionally was better than any career college could prepare him for.
Berland tragically died at the age of 36 from a rare blood disorder. Berland’s feat of five bracelets in three years is still highly respected by his peers and had he remained healthy he certainly could have been among Brunson, Chan, and Hellmuth in the all time bracelet race.