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Two-Time WSOP Bracelet Winner Tony Dunst: Online “The Tougher Form Of Poker”

The World Poker Tour Commentator Discusses His Recent Win, His Career In Poker Media, And More

by Erik Fast |  Published: Sep 23, 2020


Tony Dunst is a dual-threat in poker, having achieved great success both as a player, and as a member of the poker media. The 35-year-old has been a part of the tournament scene for nearly two decades now, starting first as a grinder online.

Dunst began working for the World Poker Tour in 2010, hosting a new segment called the ‘Raw Deal’ in which he broke down interesting hands with a combination of strategy analysis and humor. After a few years of splitting his time between playing and media work, Dunst secured his first major live tournament title by winning the 2013 WPT Caribbean $3,500 buy-in main event. Three years later he earned his first World Series of Poker gold bracelet by taking down a $1,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em event. Dunst topped a field of 2,452 entries in that event to secure the hardware and the top prize of $339,254.

With that bracelet win and a runner-up finish in the Aussie Millions main event for $700,000, 2016 proved to be Dunst’s best year ever on the tournament circuit. While he was thriving on the felt, he also continued to find success in his role as a media member. In 2017, longtime WPT commentator Mike Sexton stepped down and Dunst was selected to replace him in the booth alongside Vince Van Patten.

This year Dunst managed to put together a string of deep runs in online events during the live circuit shutdown, cashing 16 times in online WSOP Circuit and WSOP bracelet events since the start of March. The crowning achievement of Dunst’s run in recent months came when he defeated a field of 1,361 total entries in the WSOP Online $777 buy-in six-max no-limit hold’em event. Dunst earned his second bracelet and $168,342 for the win.

Card Player recently caught up with Dunst to discuss the victory, his work with the WPT, and much more.

Card Player: Can you talk about the experience of winning your second bracelet by beating out a huge field online?

Tony Dunst: Well, it was a six-max event, which has always been a favorite format of mine, both live and online. I just love the short-handed action and how much it forces you out of your comfort zone if you’re a nine-handed player.

Tony DunstIt felt great to win. Honestly, I came into the final table with a massive chip lead, so I got my hopes up right away. And then the two first players that got knocked out at the final table busted to me. It just really could not have gone smoother. During three-handed play, I put a vicious beat on somebody. It just really all fell my way.

CP: It did seem that you had a lot of great situations at the final table. Can you tell me about your smooth sailing ride to the final six?

TD: Smooth sailing in the sense that I was running really good, that I caught the perfect streak of cards at the exact right time when all of a sudden there was this really strong disincentive on my opponent to take any risks. If you look at surviving from ninth to second, there were some very significant pay jumps. Having such an enormous lead over the field allowed me the freedom to play very loose-aggressive, and there’s just not much that my opponents could do. That’s just kind of tournament poker, the way it’s structured.

CP: Did your awareness of this advantage result in any extra pressure to convert the lead into a victory? Or were you able to just acknowledge the edge and freely wield the lead against the middling stacks and really put pressure on them, from an Independent Chip Model (ICM) standpoint?

TD: More so the latter, in that I had been studying a lot of final table reviews recently because I felt like my final table and ICM game was not as sharp as my normal mid-tournament chip accumulation game. So, trying to be very aware of those dynamics at the final table was very helpful. Plus, I believe that for most of the players at the final table, the money was meaningful enough for them that they were being more risk-averse than they might have been in a smaller event.

The player who finished fifth (Krista ‘Pollux’ Gifford) is a reg on the site, so we battle all the time and I’d guess that she’s probably not too concerned about the money, but on the other hand, the player that finished second had won their way into the event through a $25 satellite. So if that’s the kind of bankroll considerations you’re making, a pay jump that is five figures is likely really significant to you. So when you’re in those shoes, you really don’t want to call off your stack. And then you’re up against a pro who really ultimately doesn’t give a damn and is just going all-in every hand, it’s a very tough spot to be in.

CP: Were there any hands in particular from this event that stood out to you, whether it was because you liked your play or that you were dissatisfied with a line you took?

Dunst at the 2012 WSOPTD: Yeah, there was a hand that I lost that I might’ve messed up. I wasn’t sure in the moment, but as I watched that player continue at our table, I thought, ‘Well, I probably made a mistake.’ I had gotten moved to this table and we were playing four-handed. The player under the gun min-raised to 80,000 and I defended my big blind with the 8Club Suit3Club Suit. The flop came down QSpade SuitJSpade SuitJClub Suit. We both checked and the turn brought the 9Club Suit. I rolled the dice and I rolled an aggressive action, so I bet my hand. While my hand definitely had a lot of equity, I tend to suspect that they have some showdown value whenever people check back these Q-J-J type of boards that they’re supposed to be betting at a really high frequency. Anyway, I bet 80,000 and my opponent called. The river was the 5Club Suit and I bet 260,000 into the pot of 360,000, which is fine. But I honestly kind of wish that I had picked a larger sizing, because I thought my opponent had showdown value and that there was no chance that they would accidentally range-merge me and raise me off my hand. Because what actually ended up happening was my opponent raised me to 685,000 and I don’t know if it’s a normal fold. In that moment I just thought, ‘We’re deep in a World Series of Poker bracelet event, against a random opponent, and I just really just don’t think people are making very many creative river raises in these spots without a huge flush or a full house. I’m sure a computer might say that this hand is a call, but I’m going to fold.’

So I folded it and then I watched this guy play for a while and I started thinking, ‘Oh, that was probably a terrible fold.’ I really wished that I had sized up bigger on the river because I think that if he had trips or a lower flush that accidentally raised me for value and got me off my hand, that if I had gone really big, that would never happen.

CP: By winning your second bracelet, you became only the 230th player to win two or more bracelets. What are your thoughts about joining this smaller, more elite company?

TD: To me what is even more meaningful is winning a bracelet online. It’s weird. I saw all this kind of discussion and controversy over whether we should award bracelets online. Should we award WPT titles online? Should we award major titles online that we normally reserve for just live events? I’ve been playing online poker for almost 20 years, most of my peers came up playing online, and I believe that online poker is responsible for the revolution and evolution of the game that we have seen in that time period. I think it is ultimately the tougher form of poker. So winning my second bracelet online, that meant a lot to me, maybe more so than becoming a multiple bracelet winner. Getting my first was sweet, doing so was definitely a goal of mine, but getting an online bracelet… I don’t know how to put it, man. That’s where I’m actually from in the world of poker.

CP: You’ve made 16 cashes since the shutdown began in online WSOP Circuit and WSOP bracelet events. Has it been exciting for you to kind of get back to your roots and just be able to grind online tournaments every day that you feel like it?

TD: It has been great, but of course I miss the balance of what we’re missing because of the pandemic; the social distancing, and not having live poker available. I always felt that online poker was a great compliment to live poker. I love to see the synergy of being able to satellite online into a live event. That’s kind of how I got started in my whole poker career. And so we’re really missing that element right now. And I will say that there are some fairly clear drawbacks to online poker. Most notably, that it can feel antisocial just sitting behind your computer gambling all day.

CP: It’s been 10 years now that you’ve worked with the World Poker Tour. How do you think that your work with them has changed your approach to being a poker pro, given that you’re not solely focused on your play, but also with your work in the media?

TD: It’s certainly changed my mentality and perspective, first and foremost, about how the game is covered, how poker players are covered, and the relationship between poker media and players. I have a little more of an operator’s perspective at times. I’m happy that I still feel like I’m very authentically connected to both the player side and the operator side, because sometimes I’ll see things that players are really upset about and that will resonate with me. And I will want to have internal discussions with the operators and be like, ‘Look, the players are going to be really, really frustrated if we don’t make the following changes or if we don’t address this issue.’

Meanwhile, sometimes I think the players have a mentality that the operators with poker sites and companies have infinite resources and they should be on top of everything all times and that no mistake is forgivable. And oftentimes I’m like, ‘Guys, look, and a lot of these people are our peers, they’re hard-working and they mean well. If some mistake happens in an update, for example, I assure you it’s a minor oversight and not the poker company trying to slight you.’ So I like being a part of both sides of the poker culture. I feel very connected to both.

CP: Did it change your mentality or take any pressure off in a way, just knowing that you had a gig in addition to playing for a living?

TD: Well, it does take a bit of pressure off financially because you have a steady income. And it’s one that is so well incorporated with playing serious tournament poker. So that was really nice. But then there was some added pressure from my specific role in that, if I’m going to be the guy who does these critical segments that evaluate the play and conduct of others, then I really need to be able to walk the walk.

Since I had been elevated to Mike Sexton’s role in the booth with Vince, I felt that If I am going to be so central in the WPT broadcasts, I really want to feel like I am immersed in the game and can still bring it on the felt.

CP: It’s been three years since you took over for Sexton in the booth. Has that been a pretty seamless transition, and one that you’ve enjoyed?

TD: I love being in the booth with Vince. The WPT was the first show that really got me into poker, it was appointment television for me every week when I was growing up. So it’s kind of surreal to be in there with him almost 20 years later. And it’s a nice break from the… how do you put it? When you play tournament poker, you’re full of anxiety the whole time, because you’re terrified that something may go wrong, you’re going to screw up or you’re just going to lose a flip and then it’s all over and your emotions and your adrenaline spiking. Whereas when I’m in the booth, I’m very relaxed. And if I screw something up, well, that’s okay, we’re on camera. We can just do it again and we can even do it a fourth time if we want, it doesn’t really matter. It’s very relaxing. Being able to come to work and be around cool, fun, creative people is very healthy for me.

CP: Speaking of Mike Sexton, it was recently announced that the WPT Champion’s Cup is going to be renamed in his honor. What are your thoughts about that move?

TD: As soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘Yes, of course it should be the Mike Sexton Cup.’ That is our guy, that is our ambassador. To this day, when you use the term poker ambassador, the first name that jumps to mind for most of us is Mike Sexton. He’s just been a huge and permanent part of the poker culture. Having his name on the cup feels very appropriate.

CP: The WPT final tables, like the rest of the live tournament circuit, have been put on hold. There might be news on that front soon, but for the meantime what are your plans, both in your role at the WPT and as a player?

TD: For the time being we are waiting and evaluating to see when it is best to resume play on those final tables, because obviously there a lot of factors that are outside of our control right now. As for me personally, I am going to finish up this heavy stretch of online poker here in Vegas. I’m going to take one week off and just kind of relax and then I’m going to go see my family for the first time in six months. I really have been taking quarantine pretty seriously. I don’t really leave my house very much. I haven’t seen many friends, certainly not family in a long time and so that’s going to be important.

Then I have a decision to make because, with things so halted right now, there is not a high necessity on me being in Las Vegas. I need to make a decision about where I want to live. Right now, the focus for the WPT has shifted a little bit to Club WPT, which is our subscription-based site available in the vast majority of the United States. Matt Savage, Vince Van Patten, Lynn Gilmartin, and myself all stream as part of the Club WPT every single week and have built up a community of poker lovers there.

I’m also creating a lot of content for Learn WPT, where I’m very happy to say that our lead instructor, Nick Binger also took down his second bracelet recently. He’s mostly on the content and the production side of things, but he had a huge win this summer. Andrew ‘LuckyChewy’ Lichtenberger is an instructor there and he’s probably the guy that I’ve learned the most from in poker over the last few years. I’m also currently working on taking some of the hand histories from these tournaments I’ve been playing and turning them into videos. If people are interested, they can check out those out at Learn WPT.Spade Suit

Photo credits: World Poker Tour / Joe Giron.