Magician-turned-poker pro Antonio Esfandiari discusses his tricks of the trade
The cards have been kind to Antonio “the Magician” Esfandiari, who’s ridden the wave of the poker boom to become one of game’s most celebrated players. The 34-year-old ace boasts two World Poker Tour (WPT) championships and three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets in his career, including the “Big One for One Drop” in 2012, a $1,000,000 buy-in tournament benefiting the One Drop Foundation. By winning the event, along with the largest cash prize in the history of poker at $18,346,673, Esfandiari is ranked number one for all-time tournament poker winnings. In 2012, he authored The Magician’s Secrets for Winning Tournaments on Insta Poker, a poker strategy game available for iOS.
Esfandiari was born in Iran and raised in San Jose, CA, where he got hooked on magic as a teenager and performed it at parties and corporate events. At age 19, he discovered a more profitable form of card play when he accompanied his roommate to a California poker room. Applying the same intense focus to mastering no-limit hold ’em as he did to learning magic, Esfandiari was soon wiping out far more seasoned players.
In 2002, he entered his first World Poker Tour tournament and reached the final table. Two years later, he won the WPT’s L.A. Poker Classic as well as the WSOP’s Pot-Limit Hold ‘Em event. While Esfandiari was tearing up the tables, tournament poker was exploding into a TV-viewing phenomenon, and he became known as one of the game’s most camera-friendly stars.
Esfandiari appeared in the second and third seasons of the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament. After finishing last the previous year, Antonio was able to redeem himself with a second place finish the third season. He was also in each season of GSN series High Stakes Poker and each season of NBC‘s Poker After Dark.
On July 14, 2009, Esfandiari made his deepest finish to date in the World Series of Poker Main Event, finishing 24th on day 8 of the tournament, earning $352,832. In 2010 he won his second World Poker Tour title by winning the WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World for over $870,000.
Esfandiari continues to compete in major tournaments in the United States and abroad. Just last month at the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe (see feature on page 38), Esfandiari won his third bracelet in the €1,100 No Limit Hold’em event, defeating Remi Bollengier heads-up to earn €126,207. As of 2012, his total live tournament winnings exceed $23,400,000. Magician-turned-poker pro
While he may be one of poker’s top pros, don’t call him a gambler. “I’m a calculated risk taker,” he says. “I don’t bet if I don’t think I have an edge.”