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Where Are They Now – Hamid Dastmalchi

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Hamid Dastmalchi may indeed be the most conspicuous past World Series of Poker Main Event winner that we’ve explored during our “Where Are They Now Series.” Dastmalchi came on the scene in the mid-80’s as a major force, but almost just as quickly as he made it big, he disappeared, at least from the tournament scene. A select few poker players in the past have made their mark winning a few big tournaments, and then, perhaps realizing that their luck may have ran out in the tournament form of poker, step away while on top. Others win a major tournament, and then seem to spend the rest of their poker days trying to relive that special moment, appearing in major tournament after major tournament. Dastmalchi took the former, less traveled road. However, the road he traveled to become a champion was as unique of one you can expect in the poker world.

Little is known about any aspect of Dastmalchi’s life, let alone his early years. What we do know is that he was born Iran, and picked up poker playing with friends and family around the age of 12. As a young man he moved to the United States, but it wasn’t solely to play poker, as in the case of some other poker players who have immigrated to America to play poker. Instead, Dastmalchi moved to San Diego, California to become a real estate investor. It’s unclear how successful Dastmalchi was as a real estate investor, but it was clear that Dastmalchi still felt an urge to play cards, and he would occasionally take the short flight to Las Vegas to go play the game. After a few years learning the difference between his home game as a 12 year old and the game in Sin City, Dastmalchi started to show some real promise as an emerging poker superstar.

In 1985 the newcomer arrived on the scene with a fifth place finish, and a check for over $10,000 in the $1,000 buy-in Limit Event at the Stairway to the Stars event, one of the premier tournaments of Las Vegas at the time. While the score went largely unnoticed by most of the poker world, it was a sign of things to come.

Dastmalchi’s biggest score would come in one of his first big tournaments he ever entered, the World Series of Poker. In May of 1986, Dastmalchi took first place in the $1,500 buy-in No Limit Hold’em event, winning $165,000, and his first of three bracelets. The biggest prize was yet to come.

Before that big prize, Dastmalchi was a regular at scoring big in large tournaments, including finishing in the top 25 in the WSOP Main Event three times. He was nearing the prime of his playing career heading into the mid-90’s, and was also climbing up the ladder as one of the more recognizable faces among his peers. Keep in mind that this was before the big internet boom of the 21st century, before everyone in the world had a computer, so in a way it was almost better to be well known in your field among the very best in the world, as opposed to being known by everyone with an internet connection. Of course, the internet has done more good than bad for poker players everywhere, including speeding up the learning curve considerably. Many of today’s top, older poker players say it took them decades to learn what you can learn today because of the ability to play literally thousands of hands a day and so many sources, teachers, programs, calculators, message boards, etc. Dastmalchi, in context to his time period, was also way ahead of the learning curve. From what we know about him, he played cards with friends at age 12, didn’t even stick with poker upon moving to America, and less than a decade after picking up the game full-time he was in the top ten of the WSOP money list of all-time.

His big win came at the 1992 WSOP Main Event, which was actually the last time until this past year that saw a dip in the amount of entrants. However, the prize still remained a cool one million dollars, as it was the year before, and the field was still star-studded. We usually just document the last hand or two of their championship run, but a hand while seven handed showed that Dastmalchi had skills other than luck.

Dastmalchi entered the final table as the chip leader, and with seven players to go, he remained leader. Dastmalchi looked down to see pocket kings, and predictably, raised. Respected pro Mike Alsaadi was next to act, and quickly made a large reraise. Dastmalchi then proceeded to make one of the better lay downs in history. Alsaadi turned over aces.

After Hans “Tuna” Lund, who made various runs at a championship event but could never quite find the luck, was eliminated, it was down to Dastmalchi and Tom Jacobs. After a short period of playing heads up, Jacobs made a raise with {J-Diamonds}-{7-Spades} and Dastmalchi called with {8-Hearts}-{4-Clubs}. The flop came {J-Hearts}-{5-Diamonds}-{7-Diamonds}, giving Jacobs two pair and leaving Dastmalchi with a busted straight draw. Jacobs, trying to trap, made a small underbet, which gave Dastmalchi more than enough odds to make the call. Sure enough the 6 came, giving Dastmalchi a straight. Jacobs then overbet the pot, going all-in, predictably being called by Dastmalchi. When a harmless eight fell, Dastmalchi was the new champion.

After winning the big one some players would hit the talk show circuit, sign endorsement deals, and get their name out there anyway possible. Dastmalchi did none of this. Just as soon as he had reached the top of the mountain, Dastmalchi decided to get out. His health was fine, his personal life was fine, and he obviously still had the skills to play the game, but he walked away for the most part. He has only played in a dozen or so tournaments since this victory, placing in four, his last being a modest cash of $15,303 at the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in 2002.

His biggest win since the 1992 Main Event wasn’t at a tournament poker table, it was in a court room. Dastmalchi, who is also a very skilled cash game player, had won $800,000 dollars worth of chips at the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino. When he went to cash them in he was told by new CEO of Binion’s, Becky Binion Behnen, that the chips could not be cashed in because of the change in management to Behnen from Jack Binion. Predictably, the case went to court, and the judge also predictably ruled that Dastmalchi would be able to cash the chips. His second biggest cash of his life had come thanks to a judge.

An interesting note on Dastmalchi and Ted Forrest comes from Michael Craig’s writing Bluff Magazine:

"One of the most famous stories from The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King was about when Ted Forrest and Hamid Dastmalchi played at The Mirage for four days without a break and Hamid had to be taken off the property on a stretcher, the result of fifty chainsmoked packs of cigarettes and ten times that many bad beats delivered by Forrest.

Ted subsequently added two details he had overlooked when he initially told me the story. First, during the match, Dastmalchi was complaining about the Binion family, the World Series of Poker, and, in particular, how he thought the championship bracelet they gave him was cheap. (Dastmalchi also had a well-publicized gripe with the Horseshoe over its refusal to honor a large quantity of $5,000-denomination chips – “chocolate chip cookies,” they’ve been called – he possessed. He had to go to court to get them redeemed.)

Hamid told him, “They say it’s worth $5,000, but I’d take $1,500 for it.”

Ted said, “Sold,” and tossed three $500 chips across the table. Forrest later received a package from Dastmalchi with the bracelet, which he still has.

The second detail was how the game broke up. I just assumed that Hamid was unable to continue. In fact, Ted quit the game and Hamid was then taken to the hospital. A short time later, he left the hospital, returned to The Mirage, and got into another game. Forrest, who seems like he could take a shotgun blast standing and swallow a hammer, found this out after recovering and returning to the casino a few days later."

Dastmalchi still plays poker, coming on an irregular basis to play high cash games at Bellagio, and possibly making stops in other parts of the world along the way, but for the most part he remains out of the limelight and noise that poker has moved into in the last few years.

Major Tournament Results

31-May-02 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em - Final
Five Diamond World Poker Classic, Las Vegas 14th $ 15,303

28-Jan-99 $ 5,000 Championship Event - No Limit Hold'em
Carnivale of Poker II, Las Vegas 17th $ 8,120

15-May-95 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
26th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1995, Las Vegas 4th $ 173,000

02-May-93 $ 2,500 Hold'em Pot Limit
24th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1993, Las Vegas 1st $ 114,000

20-Apr-93 $ 1,500 Limit Hold'em
24th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1993, Las Vegas 25th $ 2,500

11-May-92 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
23rd World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1992, Las Vegas 1st $ 1,000,000

03-May-92 $ 2,500 Limit Hold'em
23rd World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1992, Las Vegas 4th $ 27,300

13-May-91 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
22nd World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1991, Las Vegas 34th $ 8,050

14-Feb-90 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em
Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker, Las Vegas 5th $ 26,400

11-May-87 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
18th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1987, Las Vegas 12th $ 12,500

07-May-87 $ 1,500 Limit Hold'em
18th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1987, Las Vegas 4th $ 28,410

May-86 $ 1,500 No Limit Hold'em
17th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1986, Las Vegas 1st $ 165,000

Jan-86 $ 2,500 No Limit Hold'em
Grand Prix of Poker 1986, Las Vegas 1st $ 130,500

Jan-86 $ 5,000 No Limit Hold'em
1986 Stairway to the stars, Las Vegas 2nd $ 21,250

13-May-85 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
16th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1985, Las Vegas 5th $ 70,000

Jan-85 $ 1,000 Limit Hold'em
1985 Stairway to the Stars, Las Vegas 5th $ 10,450

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