Esfandiari Takes Home $18.3 Million


The culmination of the 2012 World Series of Poker was never more transparent than it was on Tuesday, as a newly-reinvented Antonio Esfandiari managed to redeem himself by taking down the biggest prize in tournament history – $18.3 million.

While Esfandiari couldn’t forget the feeling of coming so close to his second bracelet just days before the WSOP million dollar One Drop event, he would need to put his emotions on the back burner to defeat one of the most skillfully-condensed fields the WSOP had ever seen. Esfandiari buckled down, put the drinks and partying aside, and focused on returning to the winner’s circle.

“I swear to you, believe it or not, I never once thought about the money,” mentioned Esfandiari after his monumental win.

It’s quite possible this is true, given his desire to achieve his long-awaited goal of winning another gold bracelet. Dating back to 2004, it’s been over eight years since Esfandiari has had the taste of being etched in poker history. But regardless of the time lapse, Esfandiari has gained a new approach to the game; drastically transitional and opposite of his widely-publicized outgoingness and recreational behavior.

“I’ve grown up. I did some self-awareness work and that put things in perspective. What was important and what wasn’t. The going out and partying all the time didn’t make me that happy at the end of the day. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but I kind grew out of it. I’m 33 now and I just decided to live a better life. This WSOP I decided I was going to be focused. Wake up every day, go to the gym and be disciplined and win a bracelet.”

Esfandiari’s intrinsic therapy seemed to pay off, to the tune of $18.3 million dollars and the title of being the leader on the all-time tournament money list.

He’s now succeeded Erik Seidel, who’s now sitting far behind with $16.9 million in comparison to Esfandiari’s $23.2 million.

The $1m Big Drop event may have been small in size with the restricted number of entrants being capped at 48, but to say that the field was easy to navigate through would be a severe mistake. With players such as Daniel Negreanu, Guy Laliberte, the streaking Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey along with the red-hot second place finisher in this event Sam Trickett, you might believe you chances are still slim even with the modest field size. But in order to play you’re “A-game” in a tournament this populated with professionals, you need to set your ego aside and focus on the task at hand.

”The Magician” was able to do that with the help of a healthy chip stack and several well-executed bluffs – which were also very ambitious. Utilizing an amazing 3-bet with 9-2 off-suit against Phil Hellmuth getting him to fold A-10 was arguably one of the highlights of the tournament for Esfandiari, and showing the bluff was arguably just as satisfying. But Esfandiari’s ability to consistently accumulate chips was the key to his victory.

Going in to the heads-up battle against Sam Trickett, Esfandiari held nearly a 3-to-1 chip advantage over his adversary. Although not insurmountable, Trickett was in an uphill battle against the sloping Esfandiari who would continue to apply pressure to the chip stack of Trickett.

To start the one-on-one contest, Trickett kept things interesting by getting into a raising war with Esfandiari that led to a nice accumulation of chips. Shoving his A-Q over the top of Esfandiari’s four-bet, he showed that he wouldn’t go away without a fight in this tournament.

Not to the surprise of anyone, both of these well-known poker professionals had a large followings, and the rail wasn’t shy at expressing their enthusiasm after every exciting moment. The British-laden clan in Trickett’s corner was elated after Trickett’s small victory, but in the end Esfandiari’s group would get the last cheer.

On the final hand, Esfandiari raised to 1.8 million with 7d5s against the Qd6d of Trickett’s, and on a board of Jd5d5h it would be rare if the money didn’t get all-in. A short re-raise war ensued before all of the money went in the middle on a six-bet shove from Esfandiari, which was looked up by Trickett. The turn and the river weren’t kind to the recently sponsored poker player, and Trickett was eliminated in second place worth $10,112,001.

Although implied, Esfandiari’s brilliance when it came to aggression worked perfectly throughout the tournament. Never more evident than a hand he played against Jason Mercier, Esfandiari’s propensity to 3-bet, 4-bet and even 5-bet put his opponents to difficult decisions and forced them into mistakes. Mercier expressed his frustrations via twitter after the hand was finished.

“Well… I’m out. Had a crazy dynamic with vs Antonio n run KK into his AA button vs sb for a 22 million chiplead pot. The definition of #justbadluck.” — @JasonMercier

“Almost threw up when he min 6 bet me instead of shoving. Thought he might b getting it in with QQ or AK, or somehow b bluffing. Such a joke.” — @JasonMercier

Stepping up to the plate in a competition of this magnitude may have been intimidating, however, Esfandiari handled the challenge with grace and masterful decision-making which propelled him to the top of the pay scale.

The Main Event has traditionally hailed as the marquee event at the World Series of Poker, but the $1 million Big Drop charity event once a newly-introduced event to this year’s lineup. Because of its enormous buy-in and payout structure, players are speculating over whether or not such a successful tournament will return next year.

It’s hard to downplay the novelty and joy of being amongst the November Nine and taking down a huge payday in the ME, but questions have arose of whether or not the $1 million buy-in event is more prestigious. It does carry a heftier prize, and you’ll need to go through tough competition to get there. But will it become the premier event at the WSOP? Can it overtake the $50 Players Championship and $10,000 Main Event in terms of status and difficulty? Only time will tell.

Esfandiari, with his latest accomplishment, has made his sixth cash at the 2012 WSOP, including a spectacular 3rd place finish in Event #36 — $3,000 No-Limit Hold’em Shootout.

While it may go unnoticed, in comparison to players such as Phil Hellmuth who garners waves of criticism Esfandiari has essentially become exclusively a No-Limit Hold’em specialist. While he has been known to dabble in a few recreational games from time to time, he’s earned nearly all of his tournament titles in this format. Becoming a distinct choice for many professionals, despite its complexity many believe the Hold’em is the most solvable game still available.

And after taking down the biggest award in poker history, Esfandiari would have to agree.

Here are the final table payouts for the $1m Big One for One Drop event:

1. Antonio Esfandiari – $18,346,673
2. Sam Trickett – $10,112,001
3. David Einhorn – $4,352,000
4. Phil Hellmuth – $2,645,333
5. Guy Laliberté – $1,834,666
6. Brian Rast – $1,621,333
7. Bobby Balwin – $1,408,000
8. Richard Yong – $1,237,333

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