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Final Table Takedown: Nick Funaro Captures First Major Title

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Mar 20, 2024

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Nick Funaro credit Poker.org

Nick Funaro’s first experience playing poker was at a home game when he was in the eighth grade. Funaro’s competition in that game were all seniors in high school and sophomores in college, playing with his brothers and their friends in the family basement.

Nowadays, he looks back at those early games and remembers a very tough lineup. Many of those players would later become poker pros, most notably his brother Frank, who has more than $3.5 million in recorded earnings, including a fifth-place showing in the 2022 WPT World Championship.

Nick was by far the youngest in the group but was still a winning player, discovering he had a good sense for the game. By the time he turned 18 and was attending a local community college, Nick found himself wanting to play more. His brother Frank was killing it online and was even starting to play for bigger stakes live. Perhaps he could do the same.

Nick spent the next couple of years working on his game, playing cash to grind up his bankroll while taking occasional trips to tournament stops. A bad downswing during the 2023 WSOP soured a semi-deep run in the main event, but proved to be valuable experience for the young pro.

It all came together in January with the kickoff event of the Borgata Winter Poker Open. Funaro defeated a massive field of 3,486 entries to take home more than $420,000. Card Player caught up with Nick to talk abut some key hands he played en route to the title.

Craig Tapscott: What made you switch from the local cash games you were playing to pursue tournaments?

Nick Funaro: My biggest influence for changing from local cash games to tournaments was my brother Frank. He had already made his first final table at the PokerGO studio. I was able to watch him on television making a ton of money. That definitely inspired me and caught my eye and made me want to start studying tournament play and strategies.

CT: Can you go into detail about the things you were working on to improve? What were your major leaks as you began to pursue MTTs?

NF: Originally, there were leaks everywhere in my game. So, I started off with studying preflop and getting that down using Nick Petrangelo’s course on Upswing Poker. That course was a big help and made playing tournaments much easier for me.

The aspect of the game that I am currently working and studying is out-of-position pots from all stack sizes. I’m preparing for the summer by playing against the bot on GTO Wizard and reviewing a lot of my online runs thus far which are both very beneficial.

CT: What have you learned from Frank?

NF: Frank has helped me in many ways. Frank’s knowledge and experience are the best study tools I could have, and it’s benefited my game substantially. He explains the game in very simple terms that you can easily understand and implement into your game, even in the hardest of spots.

Also, Frank is like my manager in many ways. He helps me with my bankroll management and everything poker-related. It’s just a massive benefit for me to have someone with his knowledge at my side.

Event: Winter Poker Open
Buy-In: $730
Entrants: 3,486
Prize Pool: $2,468,437
First-Place Prize: $420,484

Stacks: Nick Funaro – 2,000,000 (20 BB) Villain 1 – 2,200,000 (22 BB)
Villain 2 – 4,000,000 (40 BB) 
Villain 3 – 2,800,000 (28 BB)
Blinds: 50,000-100,000 with a 100,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 27
Players: 9

CT: Please set this first key hand up for us.

NF: This hand was at the end of day 2, although it was probably the most important pot of the whole tournament. There were three tables left and I had a little less than average stack with 20 big blinds.

Villain limps UTG. Funaro called from the hijack with AClub Suit ADiamond Suit.

CT: Why would you limp in that spot with aces?

NF: Well, I do not have the best eyesight. I thought he had min-raised originally, so when it folded to me, I was over limping, but I thought I was calling a raise.

It was totally my mistake. I needed to update my prescription at the time and hadn’t done it. I’m good now.

Photos by Poker.org - Matthew Berglund

CT: Even if you thought you had called a raise, what was your thinking at the time with aces there? Why not put in a three-bet?

NF: When you are playing 20-big blind stacks, aces are a great hand to flat opens. It allows for action behind us, and in that spot your range is only calls and jams. Aces are too good of a hand to jam 20 big blinds.

Villain 2 completes from the small blind. Villain 3 checks.

CT: You can’t have loved going to the flop with three other players holding aces.

NF: I was very mad at myself for not seeing that he had limped pre. Now I’m in a four-way pot, and it’s definitely not what I wanted in that spot.

Flop: 10Club Suit 3Heart Suit 2Club Suit

Villain 2 checks. Villain 3 checks. Villain 1 shoved all-in.

NF: I wasn’t very worried about what he had. I was pretty confident that I had a better hand. I was just praying that the small blind or big blind didn’t flop two pair or some crazy draw that I let them in with. So I shoved.

Funaro moved all-in. Villain 2 folded.

NF: I became a bit worried when the big blind took a full two minutes before making the call.

Villain 3 from the big blind called and revealed 10Diamond Suit 3Club Suit. Villain 1 showed ASpade Suit 10Spade Suit.

NF: I was not happy at all with this in the moment. In my mind I was thinking that I had made it this far just to bust in the stupidest way possible.

Turn: 7Heart Suit

River: 7Spade Suit

Funaro won the pot of 7,100,000.

CT: Wow! You were saved by the poker gods.

NF: I know. After the river card I was just dumbfounded. I was speechless about what had just happened. That hand put me second in chips with less than 27 players left and propelled me to the final table.

Stacks: Nick Funaro – 20,000,000 (33 BB) Villain – 12,000,000 (20 BB)
Blinds: 300,000-600,000 with a 600,000 big blind ante
Players Remaining: 6

NF: I was the chip leader with six players left. In this pot, I was up against the player who was third in chips, and I was in the big blind. The pay jumps were big, but the money was also very top heavy.

CT: Did you review ICM calculations and how it affected you at this point?

NF: Frank was a huge help for this final table. He spent two hours with me running spots for ICM. That made me feel much more comfortable as the day progressed.

Villain raised to 2,400,000 from the small blind. Funaro was in the big blind and called holding KHeart Suit 3Heart Suit.

CT: Take me through your thought process after you called.

NF: I thought this was a good hand to call his 4x raise trying to get me off my hand. At the same time, I was taking into account all of the table dynamics up to that point at the final table. No matter what, I planned to approach this hand very cautiously as the hand played out.

Flop: JSpade Suit 9Spade Suit 2Spade Suit

Villain checked.

CT: What did you make of this check? The monotone board does tend to slow things down on the flop.

NF: The check from him meant nothing at all on a monotone board such as this one. He would be checking almost 100 percent of his range.

CT: Why does the aggressor in the hand check this monotone board most of the time? And what were you thinking when you checked?

NF: Well, I’m checking back a lot in this spot. Because when he checked on this monotone board, he is just supposed to do a lot of checking in that spot. He raised preflop which usually meant he had a strong range. There’s no need to put chips in at this point versus that range with my particular hand. Because every chip is super valuable at this stage of the final table.

Funaro checked.

Turn: KClub Suit

CT: The turn hit you. What now?

NF: This was a very interesting card, but definitely better for his range though.
Villain bet 2,400,000.

NF: He bet half pot. As I said, he would check his whole range in this spot on the flop. My hand can’t really improve. He could also have flopped a flush, and he had all the best Kx hands.

CT: From your experience watching him during the tournament, you thought you were beat.

NF: Yes. He was not a player who would put chips in the pot light. If I ended up calling, we would have been very close in chip stacks. So, folding keeps me in the chip lead by a good margin.

Funaro folded. Villain won the pot of 4,800,000.

NF: He ended up sharing that he had A-K offsuit. It was a cool hand for me because I was able recognize the spot for what it was at my first live final table.

CT: Obviously, a great read. If we’re not going to be results oriented let me ask. Did your brother or other poker friends give you any feedback about the fold?

NF: After the tournament I was talking with my brother and some good friends. I got mixed reactions, but Frank liked the fold. He said, “We assume we are going against a very strong and defined unbalanced range preflop. The Villain checked the monotone flop, which we kind of expected a good portion of the time. We checked behind and the turn came a king. We are giving him a heavy premium preflop range from the start. And we don’t expect thin value from him on the turn with hands such as Q-Q or 10-10 using that bet size.”

CT: That’s a great breakdown of the big picture.

NF: Thanks. My brother confirmed that the Villain could’ve had a lot of nut flushes, A-K, or A-A, K-K, J-J, etc. And we’ll be up against those hands with no great river cards ahead, besides an offsuit three. Up against those types of hands, we are just drawing dead. Frank also agreed that since I had some experience against this specific player, I should trust my instincts. I’m glad I did. ♠

*Photos by Poker.org – Matthew Berglund