It was midway through Day 6 of the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event. There were 50 players left, and after fighting through more than 7,200 players, everyone still in the mix could see a spot in the November Nine pulling up in the distance.
A then-25-year-old Tony Dunst faced a raise from William Thorson, to 200,000, and re-raised to 1 million even, leaving himself 75,000 chips behind. Thorson put Dunst the rest of the way all in, and the cards were turned up. Dunst’s was well behind Thorson’s , and the board offered no assistance. Dunst was out in 50th, cashing for $168,556.
It was the second-largest live cash of Dunst’s career to that point, and the high stakes online tournament grinder couldn’t have known how much lay ahead of him. 2010 was a big year for Dunst off the felt as well, as he became the host of the World Poker Tour’s Raw Deal segment that aired as part of each WPT television broadcast.
More success on the felt followed. In 2012, Dunst made his first WPT final table in Jacksonville, finishing fifth. In November 2013, Dunst joined the WPT Champions Club by winning a title in St. Maarten. Third place in the 2014 WPT World Championship earned Dunst a career-best $452,729. He returned to the same final table in 2015 and took sixth. 2016 brought yet another WPT final table and Dunst’s first career WSOP bracelet, in a $1,000 No Limit Hold’em event.
Then Dunst took arguably the biggest leap of all in 2017, succeeding Mike Sexton in the WPT broadcast booth alongside Vince Van Patten. As more tournament successes piled up, Dunst became one of the faces of the WPT.
But amidst all of his poker success – over $4 million in lifetime cashes, a WPT title and eight career WPT final tables, two WSOP bracelets and three WSOP Circuit rings – the WSOP Main Event became an outlier. From 2010 on, Dunst did not record a single cash in that tournament.
That all changed in 2023. Dunst broke out of his 13-year dry spell with a cash on Day 4, and by late into Day 5 he was rolling with a strong stack and a real chance to both beat his best career finish in the WSOP Main Event and make a real run at history.
All of the poker he’s played to this point makes Dunst feel as though he’s as well prepared as he could be to make the most of his second deep run.
“I feel better positioned to take advantage of this opportunity than I was in 2010,” said Dunst. “I was kind of an underdeveloped player. I wasn’t very comfortable with deep stacks. I hadn’t been deep enough in the Main Event before to really get a sense of how both exciting and distorting it is – how much it affects your body, your mind, your sleep. So yeah, I do feel like I’m in a better position this time around.”
One of the key hands that launched Dunst towards the top of the chip counts happened early on Day 5, as he took on 2010 WSOP Main Event runner-up John Racener. Dunst picked up in the small blind, and he faced a late position raise to 60,000 from Racener. Dunst three-bet to 230,000, and Racener countered with a four-bet to 645,000. Dunst faced a decision that could make or break his tournament.
“A lot of what’s going through your mind is how to maximize the return on the hand,” said Dunst. “When I three-bet him and he four-bet me, there’s a question in my mind. ‘Do I call? Do I just go all in and fast play my hand, and hope whatever he’s four-betting is worth a call? I thought, you know, with John’s skill and history in this event, he would preserve his tournament life a little more and might make a huge fold with a big pair. I elected to call, and then I was very fortunate that the board came low.”
The flop was , Dunst checked, Racener bet 390,000 and Dunst called. The turn was the , and after Dunst checked, Racener put Dunst all in. Dunst nearly beat Racener into the pot, and he saw great news when Racener turned over .
“It was one of those situations where, when I checked the turn and he went all in, it was just a no-doubter where you’re thrilled to call it off,” said Dunst. “Very much a dream scenario.”
Dunst will start Day 6 of the 2023 WSOP Main Event in seventh place with 8,285,000. He’s spent several long stretches on one of the three featured live-streaming tables, and with his stack and his profile among the final 149 players, Dunst is a strong candidate to return to that stage again for as long as his run continues.
His time at the table during this year’s WSOP Main Event, coupled with previous experiences, should serve Dunst well. But he also has a secret weapon in his arsenal, beyond comfortability on cameras. Over years and years of calling WPT final table broadcasts, both for TV and on live streams, Dunst has been able to watch hundreds of players and how they react to extremely stressful situations.
And that just might be the difference in how this second deep WSOP Main Event run plays out.
“The amount of streamed final tables that I do gives me a sense of how people play when there’s a lot of pressure on them,” said Dunst. “Of course, deep in the Main, we’re starting to have that kind of pressure. Whether it’s just the mental pressure of not wanting to screw up, particularly on the stream, or the pressure of playing for a lot of money and the ICM pressure that our stacks are under as we get deeper.”