Pulse: Television: The Funston Conundrum

“Does a flush beat three of a kind?” Philly-area entrepreneur Lance Funston once asked a casino official. This wouldn’t have been an odd question had Funston been playing poker against a tableful of sorority sisters from Voorhees at the time. But Funston happened to pose the question while he was playing — and nearly winning — a major tournament on ESPN.

Funston’s cheerful guilelessness has made the 64-year-old a favorite of the network’s poker coverage — but it has also caused poker watchers to wonder: Is Funston, who eschews sunglasses in favor of cashmere vests, faking his naïveté — or does he really not know the rules of the game?

A Harvard MBA who runs cable-advertising firm TelAmerica Media, Funston insists it’s the latter. Until 2005, he’d never played a single hand of Texas Hold ’Em. Then local pro Brian Haveson agreed to teach him the game the night before the U.S. Poker Championship in A.C. “I ended up being chip leader for three out of five days,” says Funston. His strategy was simply to play the odds of his own hand and ignore his competitors. “I was perfectly comfortable with my lack of knowledge, and the camera loved it.”

The tactic has since endeared Funston to the poker-viewing public; even his online detractors — who note that when he started, Funston didn’t know the value of the chips — often find him entertaining. “For the love of Poker, can we clone Lance Funston?” asks one writer at pokerforums.org. Alas, Funston says he’s decided to change up his “I have no game” strategy for the new year: “I’m spending four hours a night working on a new technique.”