Tony Dunst Interview

Tony Dunst Interview

Monday, 16 June 2014

Tournament success, picking up women, and life in the media.

Sharp dresser and smooth talker Tony Dunst shot to fame on his World Poker Tour TV segment ‘The Raw Deal’, but he was a big player in the poker world long before that. We chat to the man known as ‘Bond18’ about tournament success, picking up women, and life in the media.

Hi Tony! What’s life been like for you recently?
Life's been good. I've been living out of my suitcase for almost 12 months straight and playing tons of poker again. I'm getting tired of being on the road so much, but poker has gone well during that period so I'm happy with how productive I've been.

You won WPT Caribbean last year, and just came 3rd in the WPT World Championship for an enormous score. Do you feel like you’ve finally proven yourself to all the nay-sayers – that you’re a player as well as a big gun in the poker media?

Nah, nay-sayers gonna nay-say. Having those scores on the tour certainly lends some credibility to the segment for the audience, but I felt equally credible prior to running good in tournaments.

Tell us about the tournaments.

Going deep in tournaments is sweet. In the Caribbean I simply had the best hand over and over for days straight. All I had to do was keep betting and raising. At the Borgata it was the opposite; I was short all tournament and just barely holding on. But that kept my expectations low all tournament, so I was thrilled to finish in third.

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You’ve been in a lot of make up at times, first to Mike McDonald, then to Mike Watson. Did you ever start to doubt your play?

I didn't doubt my play because of make up, I doubted my play because I played bad – especially when I compared my decision making to the talented players who backed me. Getting deep in make up is a normal part of being backed for tournaments.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?

Having redundant conversations with people I don't know and hearing the same dumb jokes over and over. A standard hand will play out at the table and some genius will blurt, "Let's hear the Raw Deal on that one!" and look at me expectantly. Then I'll respond by staring off in the distance and mumbling, "I didn't catch the action." I have no idea how many times that's happened.

You’ve travelled a lot. Why did you decide to stay in the US, particularly after Black Friday?

I didn't have much choice in the matter. The WPT offices are in LA and most of our tournaments are in the US so it was more convenient to stay. Plus I was pretty broke following Black Friday because I kept nearly everything online, so an expensive relocation wasn't realistic.

What is something you think the general public may not know about you?

I'm a boring old man who spends most of his free time reading.

Your signature is being suited and booted. Do you think players have a responsibility to dress smartly in order to keep the glamour in poker?

There's a few reasons for dressing up. The first is my upbringing; I was raised by a fashionable father who started giving me formal wear and GQ/Esquire magazines in middle school. I learned early that people react to you different – and treat you better – when you're well dressed. Credibility is assumed. And I think it's important to make poker 'look good'. Major sports leagues didn't arbitrarily institute dress policies; they understood the importance of public perception and image, and poker has a major image problem. I don't think the players have a "responsibility" to dress better, I just think it's the smart thing to do.

You’ve done a few things in the past advising poker players on how to pick up women. Tell us more.

Approaching and attracting women was something I spent substantial time practicing in my mid twenties. I grew up really awkward and insecure around girls, so I empathized with other guys coming from that background – which is most guys, especially in poker. And when the guys around me had questions or wanted someone to teach them I was generally willing to indulge. I also think poker is a really tough industry to date in because it's so male dominant and poker players have so few natural avenues to meet women.

What did you think when you watched yourself back on Bet Raise Fold? Do you think you were portrayed accurately?

I think it was a fairly accurate portrayal, but whenever you're filming something it's the most interesting and extreme stuff that gets kept in. And my role in the film was to explore the celebrity and media side of the poker industry, so that's what was highlighted. Cameras have a way of enhancing and exaggerating reality, and in order to have a career in media/entertainment you must be willing to play into that. So when the cameras are on I talk a ton, make jokes I never would without them, and essentially become a caricature of myself. But in real life I'm far more quiet and disinterested than the guy people see on screen.

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What were other people’s reactions to the movie?

Most poker players seemed to like and enjoy it. There were a few dissenters, but the poker industry generally seemed happy with how the film turned out.

How has your life changed since it came out?
It hasn't.

What would you be doing if you weren’t with the WPT?

The same thing I do with them; play poker, exercise, read and write, watch football.

What’s coming up for you in the future?

The WSOP starts in a few weeks. After that I have no idea. I'm still trying to get my book done, but I've done a terrible job of finishing it in the time frames I've quoted, so I'll stop doing that.

Tell us more about the book.

Sure. I've been working on this book for nearly three years. I decided to write it in the fallout of Black Friday, since I suddenly had little money and plenty of free time. For the next two years I barely played poker, had minimal social life, and spent eight to ten hours a day reading, note taking, interviews, and writing – except Sunday, which was reserved for football.

At this stage I've done four drafts, and each time I set aside for a few weeks or months, go back and look at it, and realize I hate what I've produced. This last time around I hated it less, but it's still not what I want it to be, so I've changed the direction and title of the book again. I don't think I'll have time to write the fifth draft until well after the World Series.

What is it about?

The working title is 'The Internet Kids'. It's about myself and my four closest friends (Mike McDonald, Mike Watson, Andrew Lichtenberger, Dan Smith) growing up in the world of online poker. It's more about their interactions and relationships than it is about poker (I think poker books have been done to death and I have little to say on the subject). And the underlying theme is about what it was like to grow up as the first generation where the internet was considered normal. Every character is someone I knew online before I ever met them in real life, and all of our careers and opportunities were the result of the time we spent online. A generation ago it would've been absurd to just play video games online for a living, and have your social circle entirely comprised of people you met on the internet. But in our generation that's not unusual at all.

Sounds interesting. Good luck, and see you in Vegas!

Tags: Interviews, Tony Dunst