Tony Dunst Moves Into The WPT Booth With Style

Matthew Clark September 29, 2017 5052 Reads
Tony Dunst

Midway through our conversation, Tony Dunst is stopped by a curious poker viewer inside the Borgata. “You are that man from TV, right? ” Dunst is asked.

Dunst casually gives the fan a laugh and a brief word then we resume talking. Since becoming the host of WPT Raw Deal at age 25, Dunst has been “that man from TV” and moved into one of the most sought-after positions in poker television this summer.

To hear Dunst tell it, him moving into Mike Sexton’s departed seat as the voice of the World Poker Tour is the culmination of years of preparation. Both verbally and stylistically, Dunst is groomed for a role that places him in front of a global audience.

The Ride to the Top

Before he joined the World Poker Tour, Dunst was introduced to viewers with his elegant suits on ESPN’s World Series of Poker broadcast. By the time the episodes aired, Dunst had already secured his position as WPT Raw Deal host but his affinity for appearance predates him ever playing poker.

Dunst emphasizes the mentality of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” and has reached a position where he is recognized for all of the attributes he’s built a portfolio of.

“I remember taking psychology classes in high school and they would teach you things about the Halo effect where when people are either very well polished or attractive, we assume these very positive qualities about them,” said Dunst. “And if you dress well and present yourself in an agreeable, stylish way, they’ll make a lot of positive assumptions about you.”

Becoming a Broadcaster

Although he is comfortable in front of the camera now, Dunst never had any illusions about going into commentary growing up. Dunst enjoyed watching sports as a kid and a few elements from his life combined to give him the requisite experience that paid off when he applied for the Raw Deal position.

“I didn’t think that I was going to become a commentator. I enjoyed watching sports and watching talking head sports shows. I found out later on that my mom always thought that I was going to be a commentator and that was for some reason which she thought would be a great fit for me,” said Dunst.

“I had some practice in speaking competitions and went to school for theatre. So all those things, unexpectedly, helped lead to my career. It was something that I was in intentionally. The commentary thing was sort of lucky and flukey but in a way, I was well prepared as well.”

Replacing a Legend

Filling the void left by a Poker Hall of Fame member is daunting but Dunst gradually prepared himself over the years for a position like this. In previous seasons, Dunst filled in for Sexton when he made a final table run and in Season XV, made multiple commentary appearances.

During that time, Dunst built a rapport with co-host Vince Van Patten that allowed them to create a chemistry that has manifested itself already this season. The two spend a moderate amount time together away from the booth and developed a bond over their love of tennis.

The first time Dunst ever attended a WPT event, he and Van Patten squared off in an exhibition match. From there, the two have built their relationship into the easygoing one that viewers see during a WPT episode.

“He and I are similar in our love of sports and our general upbeat, positive nature. We’re not we’re not guys who like to fight or create conflict. We like to tease each other because we both have thick skin but I would never expect it to be a tense booth at all.”

Preparing For the Broadcast

In preparing for a final table with less than a full day to learn about the participants, Dunst says the producers of the WPT play a large role in assisting with that process. The producers inform Dunst what previous tournament results and their relationship with the local casino, among other details.

Dunst reviews player bio sheets the night before and morning of the final table and then speaks to the live reporting staff. He does this to see if he can gain information about interesting hands that have gone on prior to the final table and give viewers as much background as possible about what makes the contestants interesting.

When Sexton left the booth, he did not leave behind any specific advice for Dunst. Over the years, Dunst says he learned by Sexton’s example.

“I think Mike was more of the kind of guy, who instead of telling people how to think or how to behave, he carried himself in a certain way and set a very high standard. More than almost anybody else in poker’s history, Mike has always been very available to the players.”

Their presence in the booth differs and Dunst notes how much they are separated by how they deliver analysis but also how they came up in poker. Dunst is not trying to match or compare himself to Sexton’s approach, he is fine using the skillset that brought him up in the game and using that to his advantage.

“Mike grew up playing poker in home games, I grew up playing poker online, practicing and formulating a game plan. So in terms of just volume of play and approach to the game, we’re quite different,” said Dunst. “I would say also just in terms of the way that we speak, I think Mike is sort of like traditional TV presentation. It’s all very grand and I think mine is more like analytical commentator approach to it.”

Rather than forcing a style to work, Dunst likes to see what his booth partner is used to doing and working off their strengths. Between his spot duty as WPT commentator, Dunst also worked doing live stream commentary for full final tables. A job that carries differences compared to the one he has now.

“[Sexton] got people very well and I think, when you’re doing commentary with someone, instead of saying, ‘this is my approach and this is what I’m going to do and this is how it’s going to be,’ you can work off your co-commentator. Do what are they comfortable doing. And what are the gaps that I should be filling in because their expertise is not in that area.”

Life Away From The Booth

Like Sexton used to do, Dunst is a participant in WPT events when he travels to a stop. The WPT Champions Club Member plays in tournaments outside of the WPT circuit when his schedule allows along with the occasional cash game session.

Dunst’s new mode of competition is daily fantasy sports. He calls Black Friday a “blessing in disguise” as it forced him to start over from both a bankroll and strategy point of view and daily fantasy sports has filled the void.

“I enjoy daily fantasy sports very much because it forces you to think outside the box because if you do exactly what everyone else is doing, then your ownership in these fantasy tournaments is going to overlap. [If that happens] you basically have no chance of winning so you’re forced to constantly think about what else is everybody else is thinking. How can I counteract that by taking a different approach?”

If not for daily fantasy, Dunst says he would be playing poker more often. He spends a few hours on Friday and Saturday putting together lineups and then part of Sunday making late adjustments. When he’s not playing fantasy football, Dunst says he plays fantasy baseball during the week and admits that he’s not sure if he is a winning player.

“I think in many ways when you’re a professional gambler, you like to be in action. So, you seek out ways to create that action and do your best to keep an edge,” he said.

Moving Forward

Now that he has his new position, Dunst does not foresee himself leaving the poker world in the near future. Dunst is nearing his third decade in the game and enjoys the flexibility of not having to play as a sole income anymore. If the right television opportunity comes up, Dunst says he would take a look at it but for the time being is focused on his current opportunity with the World Poker Tour.

“I would anticipate having a long career in the poker industry. I like the world of casinos and gambling on things. As an industry and as a television product, it is still a pretty healthy place right now because there is a broad group in a broad range of countries that are interested enough to keep the industry moving.”

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