Magician to poker pro – Antonio Esfandiari bio
Known more for his origins as a card magician and general quirkiness at the table, 32 year old Antonio Esfandiari doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves as a top poker player.
The charismatic pro, whose fun-loving approach to life has seen him embrace the Las Vegas party scene and establish his own television series 'I bet you' with close friend Phil Laak, has amassed nearly $5 million in live tournament winnings.
Although born in Iran as ‘Amir’, Esfandiari adopted the name Antonio whilst living in a Mexican American community in San Joe, California. Antonio’s early pursuit of the American dream came as a waiter, where he impressed customers with his sleight of hand and card manipulation.
He was inspired by a trick he saw a bartender perform, and promptly went to the local magic store to discover how it was done. Antonio’s dexterity is evident through the vast array of chip tricks he performs at the table. He became a successful magician, performing at extravagant parties for up to $300 an hour.
Having been introduced to poker by a friend, Esfandiari played $2/$4 and $3/$6 Limit Hold’em, as well as low buy-in tournaments. Antonio claims the patter and showmanship he developed as a magician, as well as his ability to gage the mood of the audience in response to his magic, helped his at the table.
Antonio first met Phil ‘Unabomber’ Laak, known for high IQ and relationship with actress Jennifer Tilly, at a WSOP event. Despite early hostilities, because Laak was trying to uncover the secrets behind the magic Esfandiari was performing at the table, the couple became good friends and roommates. Esfandiari cites Laak as a major influence in his life, having taught him the importance of restraint in his social life and bankroll management.
Antonio’s major breakthrough came at the WPT L.A Poker Classic, where he claimed first prize for a staggering $1,399,135, and became the youngest ever winner of a WPT event. He followed up his success with a WSOP bracelet win, ousting Phil Nguyen in heads-up at a $2k PLH event for $184,860. With his friendly banter and shrewd poker skills, Esfandiari has become a regular fixture on GSN’s High Stakes Poker.
Although he adopts more of a cautious approach compared to the likes of Tom Dwan, Antonio’s controlled aggression and solid reading skills have earned him good success. One of Antonio’s more memorable hands in live cash game poker came on Poker After Dark, where he suffered an unfortunate set over set cooler. Dwan (Qd Qs) spiked a set on the river (2s 5c 7h 9d Qh), and Antonio (7c 7d) lost a $119k pot.
With 13 WSOP cashes and over $250k in EPT earnings, Esfandiari is a force to be reckoned with on the tournament circuit. Recently, he scooped his second WPT crown, prevailing in a tough final table that included Vanessa Rousso and Andrew Robl for the $870k jackpot. Despite going into the final table as the 4th biggest stack, Antonio expressed confidence, claiming he was destined to win as it was his 32nd birthday. Victory came when his Kc Jd held on a Ad Kd 6d flop, despite Robl’s (Qd 10c) numerous outs.
With his jet black hair, chiselled features and slick sense of style, Esfandiari is a regular on the Vegas nightclub scene. Charming and friendly, several pictures have appeared of him partying with fans on poker forums. It has even been suggested he offers a special guided tour of the Vegas nightlife for $1,000. Esfandiari’s ventures off the felt include light-hearted television show I bet you on Mojo HD, where he and Phil Laak make bets on daring tasks such as sky diving.
Being a close friend of CEO Dan Fleyshman, Esfandiari agreed to join the professional roster of Victory Poker, alongside the likes of Brian Rast, Andrew Robl and Jonathan Little. Although it was only established earlier this year, Victory Poker has accrued a roster of stellar names. The line-up also features glamorous 2007 Playmate of the Year Sara Jean Underwood, who under the tutelage of Keith Gipson and Robl, is developing her poker credentials.
What are the chances of Esfandiari soon finding a lady in his life? In an interview with Poker Curious, Antonio insists that instant physical attraction is a must, and the ideal woman should be intelligent, witty and family orientated. Form an orderly cue ladies, because Antonio certainly has the magic touch.
In July 2012 Antonio made history by winning over 18 million dollars in the The Big One.
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