In this exclusive interview, Somuchpoker sat down with renowned figure in the world of poker, Tony Dunst, who shared his insights on livestream commentary. He is a WPT commentator, co-host for WPT TV shows, and an ambassador for WPT Global.
SMP: What do you think the general audience goes for, coaching experience or entertainment with poker as the background?
Tony Dunst: I think most of the audience watches poker for entertainment with this poker strategy element as the second priority. Looking at what people have responded to during my time doing commentary, or even just monitoring the poker world on social media, I think what tends to generate the most engagement is really entertaining stuff or controversial stuff and if you get too much into strategy then you start to lose some of your audience.
SMP: With hours of hands being covered over and over, what techniques do you use to keep the commentary fresh?
Tony Dunst: One thing that’s been great doing the livestreams this season of the WPT has been adding a third member to the booth that is more of a local player or local presence. Typically it is myself and Matt Savage in the booth but we’ve had people like Bruno Fitoussi join us when we did the one in Paris, and he has more experience with the French and Parisian players, that poker scene, and history of poker in that area. Frank Op de Woerd joined us for the WPT Amsterdam event. Just having someone who is local to that player pool, it really helps give us a background on the players, what the poker scene and culture is like in that place, and also they are not in the booth with us consistently so they too have questions and a curiosity for Matt and I and our experience that lead to more conversation.
SMP: So which do you prefer a two-person panel of three-person panel?
Tony Dunst: I think it is easier to do a two-person panel in terms of not stepping on each other’s toes, talking over or interrupting each other, but as I mentioned, I have found adding a third person in the booth with Matt and I, it makes our lives easier. It adds a more local element to the commentary and helps spice things up. Matt and I know each other very well, similar travel experiences, so that third person brings new and fresh perspective. So to be honest, I like both.
SMP: With the explosion of so many online poker coaches into smaller commentary scenes, like regional events, what pointers can you give to keep the broadcast from turning into a coaching video?
Tony Dunst: It always depends on that commentators expertise. Some are more casual players, some are more serious players, some are semi-professionals who are splitting their time between broadcasting and playing, so it partially comes down to their skill level. I think it is important to be careful to follow the action and not get bogged down in discussing the strategy of previous hands. I have worked with and watched some commentators who are still going on and on about a strategy of a hand that was seven minutes ago while we are watching new action in front of us and you risk boring your audience when you get stuck on one hand, or picking on the nuances of one hand. I think it is better if you can give summation or more bullet points on the hand. You always have to try to keep in mind that people are under a lot of pressure when they play poker and they make mistakes. So you wanna be honest in your commentary if you do see a misstep. You don’t want to jump down people’s throats and make them look bad when they are out there trying to do their best.
SMP: What would you say are the top things to keep in mind when broadcasting a poker tournament?
Tony Dunst: First, I would say, the pace you speak at. Poker players often discuss strategy and even just the way they talk, it can be really fast. You are going to lose people that way. Slowing down and even lowering your voice a bit. You don’t want to be speaking loudly. Another is if your usual pitch is higher, try to bring it down just one octave. Soften your voice. It creates a more pleasant listening experience for the people at home. Also, to mix in anecdotes and stories from the event itself, from the road, from recent tournaments you’ve played or broadcasted because if you are doing 7-8 hour broadcast of a final table, there are a lot of hands where very little happens. So it is important to have some repertoire of stories, anecdotes, experiences to add to the broadcast.
SMP: Would you ever call out an obvious bad play or would you water it down as an “interesting choice”?
Tony Dunst: Sometimes I can be a little too harsh in calling out bad plays saying “Uh, what were they thinking?” But I spend so much time studying and practicing poker that I just have an instinctual reaction when I see a really bad play “Uh, that’s so bad!” I sometimes need to be more mindful about the fact that not everyone is very experienced, not everyone is professional, not everyone handles the pressure of a final table perfectly. So I definitely call out bad play when I see it and maybe should tone it down a bit.
SMP: When a player is in the tank, a lot of commentators tend to try to guess what the player will do rather than feed the suspense. How do you treat these situations?
Tony Dunst: It depends whether that player tanks a lot or it’s a one-off and it’s a big decision. If they are tanking a lot, I say keep the conversation going, maybe speculate what the player is going to do, or discuss the strategic elements of the hand. But if someone doesn’t tank that often, and they are facing a huge decision, then I think the commentator should take a step back, let the hand breathe, let the tension rise, and see what happens. And when they spend a really long time in the tank, you don’t want to have complete dead air but you do want to have the tension build on the side.
SMP: What are the life lessons you picked up in all your years working with Mike Sexton?
Tony Dunst: One of the first major life lessons that I got from Mike Sexton was way before I worked with him. I went to the Aussie Millions when I was 20 years old. It was the first major poker tournament I’d ever been to, the first time I traveled outside of the country, first major trip I went on by myself, and I remember approaching him for feedback on a hand and then watching him conduct himself with many other aspiring poker pros and poker fans, and what was so impressive and my biggest takeaway was he gave time to everybody. He really would give his time and attention to anybody who wanted it. He was so gracious with his time, so professional at all times. He made everyone feel good and feel really welcome in the world of poker, and I think that’s why he is considered our greatest ambassador.