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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Antonio Esfandiari

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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.

While poker has changed quite a bit since it first began its meteoric rise in the early part of the century, one face that has remained as popular as the game is Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari.  The nickname, as you will see, was more than a clever way to describe his poker game.  The magic carpet ride of a life Esfandiari has had in recent years wasn’t always a smooth ride.  From humble beginnings, Esfandiari has emerged as one of the most recognizable and well known poker players in the world.  

Amir Esfandiari was born on December 8, 1978 in Tehran, Iran.  When Esfandiari was nine years old his family moved to America, hoping for better opportunities outside of their hostile home country.  The family decided on San Jose, California.  Unfortunately for Esfandiari he was teased because of his foreign background and his name.  When he was old enough, he decided to change his name to Anthony, and in honor of the Mexican community where he lived in San Jose, he decided to go by Antonio.

Esfandiari wasn’t interested in cards until he was 16, and even then it was to do card tricks, not poker.  When he was 16 he got a job at a restaurant as a waiter.  One slow night the bartender pulled him over and showed him a magic trick involving cards.  Esfandiari was hooked instantly.  As soon as he could he purchased every book on magic he could find, and began doing tricks over and over again until he mastered them.  While performing magic tricks for his customers at his restaurant, he had so many people ask him if he performed tricks for birthday parties and other events that he started his own business.
While working as a part-time waiter and part-time magician, a friend of his invited him to a card room in San Jose.  His friend went off to play in a tournament and he sat down at a low limit no limit hold’em game.  In much the same fashion he took to magic, he started pursuing poker with the same eagerness.  He felt that what he learned in magic, as far as gauging people’s reactions, and having to “bluff” in a way, would help him in poker.  One day he accompanied the same friend to the card room, and this time played in the tournament, and won it.

Over the next few years Esfandiari built a bankroll, but continued to work in magic as his primary source of income.  However, his magic work started to dry up due to a dip in the economy, and he soon realized he was making more money playing poker.  Esfandiari decided to head to the big leagues of poker, and when he was around 22 or 23 years old he moved to Las Vegas.

All that awaited Esfandiari the first time he visited the poker tables in Vegas was a rude awakening.  Esfandiari didn’t really have a sense of bankroll management at this time.  As he lost money he thought the best way to retrieve it was to move up in stakes.  While he was both struggling with his game and his bankroll management, he met a player named Phil Laak that decided to take him under his wing, and they have been good friends ever since.  Laak explained to Esfandiari the importance of a bankroll, and also offered him some advice on his game.  Esfandiari was forced to move back to San Jose to rebuild his bankroll.  

When he returned to Vegas he did much better.  He also started traveling to play the tournament circuit, playing it seriously for the first time.  Esfandiari had much better luck upon first entering the tournament poker circuit than his first foray into Vegas for poker.  In November of 2002 Esfandiari finished 3rd at the $3,000 World Poker Tour Main Event in San Francisco, winning $44,000.  In April of 2003 he cashed in his first World Series of Poker when he finished 6th in a $2,000 no limit hold’em event.

In February of 2004 he became a star when he won the WPT $9,900 Main Event at the L.A. Poker Classic.  The win netted him over 1.3 million dollars.  The year of 2004 continued to be a successful one, as he won his only WSOP bracelet that year in the $2,000 Pot Limit Hold’em event, netting him $184,860.  While Antonio hasn’t been able to win another bracelet at the WSOP, he has made some deep runs.  Including his victory, he has cashed in nine events, including finishing a career best 24th in the 2009 Main Event, which earned him $352,832.

Early in his poker career he also said that “gambling” hurt his bankroll.  For the most part he has been able to stay away from table games, but he still enjoys prop betting, especially against his best friend Laak.  The two found themselves betting on seemingly everything, and they thought it would be a good idea to take their show on the road.  A television producer named NorthSouth Productions also liked this idea, and offered them a television show aptly named “I Bet You.”  The show, now in its third season, follows Laak and Esfandiari around different towns where they proceed to bet on anything that comes to mind.  Some of the more popular episodes include when they decided to see who could generate more tips as a bartender and another where they visit a race car driving school to determine who would make the better Formula-1 race car driver.

For the most part though, Esfandiari has the most fun at a high stakes poker table.  He has appeared on each of the five seasons of Game Show Network’s High Stakes Poker, one of five players to do so.  He also appeared numerous times on NBC’s Poker After Dark.  

Esfandiari is also no stranger to the silver screen, appearing in the movies Deal, The Grand, and Lucky You.

Esfandiari has had a number of sponsorships.  For a while he worked with Ultimate Bet, but elected not to return to them after his contract expired.  Also, in a move that made perfect sense, he was the face of the World Poker Tour, but just this past summer that contract expired as well.  As of now he is one of the premier “free agents” in the sponsorship world.

*Read Billy Monroe's Blog*

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