Antonio Esfandiari has both amazed us with his poker ability and his performances as a magician for many years. Born as Amir Esfandiari, the 33-year-old professional poker player was born on December 8, 1978 in Tehran, Iran. Esfandiari’s life began as that of a traditional Iranian upbringing, but after a move to San Jose, California at the age of 9, Esfandiari’s life changed for the better.
Its become of goal of many living in less fortunate communities to move to United States, and with that luxury comes amazing opportunity. Esfandiari didn’t waste his time, as he and his family progressed to make a better life for themselves immediately after entering the country. Driven to become a success, Esfandiari spend most of his childhood focused on his education, improvement his knowledge and life experience so that he could take care of his family in the future. Del Mar High School, a four-year public school located in San Jose, was the place where Esfandiari gathered his intelligence and work ethic and eventually earned his high school degree.
Both during and even after his high school years, Esfandiari grew popular in his neighbor because of his determination and willingness to succeed. With the influence of his peers and local community, Esfandiari ended up changing his name from Amir, to a much more universally accepted name – Antonio. As Esfandiari began to start his journey as a young professional, he stumbled across the worlds of both magic and poker.
It was debatable (at least until Esfandiari’s One Drop win) whether or not he was more widely known for his skills as a magician or a poker player. Because of a propensity for excitement and adventure, after moving out at an early age Esfandiari began working as a struggling waiter at a local California restaurant. It was in this setting that “The Magician” was born – through the observation of co-workers who mesmerized him with their adept ability Esfandiari’s interest grew rapidly. He began to search high and wide for as much information as he could digest about magic. From specialty shops to asking his friends, to seeking books, Esfandiari wouldn’t stop until he figured out the secrets to some of the most amazing tricks he’d witnessed.
It was because of his relentless pursuit of perfection that Esfandiari budded into an outstanding magician. Although his career as a waiter took care of the bills, bringing in several hundred dollars in a day as a street magician was both more lucrative and emotionally satisfying. Esfandiari continued to do this for quite some time, until his roommate introduced him to the world of poker. Esfandiari’s roommate happened to be a professional poker player at the time, and showed Esfandiari how to approach and beat the game. It was shortly after this introduction that one of the best poker players the world has ever seen was born.
In a unique correlation, Esfandiari has repeated attributed his poker success to his success as a magician. Ties the two unique professions together, he feels that his ability to detect spikes in human emotion and behavior is one of the traits he’s applied most to his poker development. In fact, early on in Esfandiari’s poker career, despite not having much experience he won money in a small buy-in poker tournament. He only got better and grew more interested from that point forward.
It might be seen as odd that one of Esfandiari’s best friends was once his biggest critic. Combining both poker and magic from time to time as he played at the felt, he once stumbled upon a game which was inhabited by the equally impressive mind of Phil Laak. Laak’s demeanor during Esfandiari’s display of visual stimulation didn’t mimic that of the other players – rather than focus of its aesthetic appeal he wanted to decipher its solution. Typically of some of the brightest poker minds, Laak’s persistence in finding out the method behind the madness actually irked Esfandiari and forced him to shy away from Laak’s presence. But Laak didn’t give up, eventually breaking down Esfandiari’s wall and forcing the two poker comrades to become great friends. It was the curiousity of both players – one with poker, the other with magic – that led to a very mutually beneficial friendship that saw both careers advance.
The pair moved in together for a short period of time where they assisted one another in dissecting the game of poker and figuring out ways to excel. While they continued their success in poker, both of their well-known personalities helped them develop rapport and popularity on the poker circuit. Because of Laak’s trademark grey hoodie, and Esfandiari’s propensity to perform magic, they were uniquely known as the Unabomber and the Magician amongst peers and fans alike.
Esfandiari made a huge splash in his first major tournament event at the World Poker Tour by placing third. What many players and fans seem to remember most, is the young Esfandiari’s ability to rattle the great Phil Hellmuth Jr., both with his play and verbal jabs. This was in 2002 at the Gold Rush Bonanza, and his deep finish was worth the valuable reward of $44,000. Esfandiari went on to place in several other smaller WPT and World Series of Poker events in subsequent years, but it wasn’t until 2004 that Antonio Esfandiari really hit the tournament scene.
Due to a massive win at the 2004 L.A. Poker Classic worth $1,399,135, Esfandiari catapulted his popularity and his bankroll with a million dollar victory. The $10,000 buy-in event likely still remains as one of Esfandiari’s most memorable moments, even despite his ability to win tournaments with more prize money. This win allowed Esfandiari to cement himself into poker history, as he beat out 382 players and at the time also became the youngest player to ever win a WPT event.
Just three months later in the 2004 WSOP, Esfandiari won his first gold bracelet in the $2,000 Pot-Limit Hold’em event. This win gave the Magician an additional $184,860 in tournament earnings, both boosting the confidence and bank account of one of the brightest upcoming stars the game had seen.
Due to his penchant for success and interest in a lavish lifestyle, Esfandiari enjoyed spending his new found wealth on a variety of luxury items such as designer clothing, cars, and homes. On top of it all, Esfandiari still loved to party, even from his earlier teenage years, and the continuance of such a taxing lifestyle sometimes put a strain on his focus to poker. Esfandiari was one of the first to admit that he maybe enjoyed partying a bit more than he should have, but that it wasn’t to the detriment of his poker progression. But regardless of what Esfandiari told the public, at one point Esfandiari stayed away from the games he once dominated for quite some time.
Moving to Las Vegas, NV after his financial success, Esfandiari continued to play poker but partying continued as well. However, it was after years of burn out and reflection that Esfandiari finally decided that it was time to reinvent himself. Growing older and out of the party scene, a renewed dedication to fitness, family and poker sparked Esfandiari’s growth as a poker professional once again. Not to suggest that Esfandiari wasn’t playing great poker in the meantime, and also winning occasionally, but a renewed approach saw Esfandiari go on a tear in the past few years. His effort couldn’t have been more noticed after he became the all-time leader on the tournament earnings list by winning the inaugural $1 million buy-in One Drop event at the 2012 WSOP.
Being hyped as an event arguably more important than the annual WSOP Main Event, the newly-introduced One Drop event was both an event for charity to the One Drop Foundation and also a stage for the best players in the world to showcase their talent. Forty-eight players put up the million-dollar buy-in, and Esfandiari had to navigate through a steep minefield to come out as the victor. A combination of crafty three-betting, four-betting and five-betting gave Esfandiari a huge edge over the field, and he carried his chip all the way to the winner’s circle.
Beating the well-known Sam Trickett heads-up to secure the $18,346,673 payday, he became an icon in the poker world as also the most successful tournament player in history in terms of cash.
Esfandiari’s live tournament earnings now well exceed $23,000,000.
Esfandiari maintains a high-profile image because of his desire to occasionally perform magic, visit nightlife and spend lavishly. While some of these habits have been humbled, he’s still best known for having a good time and enjoying everything that the Vegas lifestyle has to offer.
He’s written several books, appeared in television shows and also in video games.
Esfandiari currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.