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Hand History Time Capsule: Antonio Esfandiari

Antonio 'The Magician' Esfandiari Wins First WPT Title at the 2004 LA Poker Classic

by Erik Fast |  Published: Apr 01, 2012


Antonio EsfandiariIn this series, “Hand History Time Capsule,” Card Player digs up memorable hands to help you relive, or perhaps discover for the first time, pivotal situations from some of poker’s most exciting moments.

The Los Angeles Poker Classic Main Event at the Commerce Casino has had many great champions in its twenty-year history, including Phil Ivey, Michael Mizrachi and Gus Hansen. One of the most recognizable names to make his first big breakthrough at the LAPC is Antonio Esfandiari, who won the 2004 main event, filmed for the World Poker Tour’s second season, for just under $1.4 million. Before making this final table, Esfandiari had only roughly $94,000 in tournament earnings to his name. With this win, the flashy cash-game grinder and former professional magician was introduced to the poker world, and a star was born.

At the time, this event’s $3,781,500 prize pool was the largest in WPT history, with 382 players putting up the $9,900 buy-in. After three long days of play, the six-handed final table was set, and the lineup was formidable to say the least:

Seat 1 – Adam Schoenfeld – 701,000
Seat 2 – Mike Keohan – 219,000
Seat 3 – David Benyamine – 276,000
Seat 4 – Antonio Esfandiari – 1,148,000
Seat 5 – Bill Gazes – 452,000
Seat 6 – Vinny Vinh – 1,026,000

Esfandiari began with the chip lead, but he was up against some tough customers. Schoenfeld, later host of the Card Player TV’s show “The Scoop” was a dangerous newcomer, David Benyamine was fresh off a win in the WPT Grand Prix De Paris, Bill Gazes had 44 prior tournament cashes and Vinny Vinh had five prior tournament titles. It was certainly not going to be an easy road to Esfandiari’s first tournament title.

Magician’s Cuts His Stack in Half, Then Makes It Nearly Whole Again

Early on in six-handed play, Schoenfeld wrestled the lead away by winning a key pot off of Vinh, correctly five-betting all-in with A-Q offsuit and taking down a massive pot. Esfandiari fell even farther from the lead when he paid off Gazes with 8Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit on a double-paired board of AClub Suit 8Spade Suit 4Diamond Suit ADiamond Suit 4Club Suit only to find out that Gazes had made aces full with the AHeart Suit 10Club Suit. After that pot, he was sitting with roughly half of the stack he brought into the final table.

With the blinds at 12,000-24,000 with a 3,000 ante, Esfandiari got right back on the horse, raising to 60,000 with the 10Diamond Suit 6Diamond Suit. It folded to Vinh who looked down at the ASpade Suit 2Heart Suit and announced a raise to 170,000. All other players folded, and the action was once again on Esfandiari. After only a short deliberation he announced a raise, pushing the entirety of his 607,000 stack into the middle with only ten-high. Vinh mulled the call over for a minute, but ultimately laid down his hand. Esfandiari wasted no time in revealing his bluff, eliciting a loud cheer from the crowd. As they clapped, he waved his arms over the pot, as he had made his chip stack nearly whole again with a bit of poker magic.

Esfandiari Turns Last Place Into A Monster Chip Lead

David Benyamine and Adam Schoenfeld were eliminated, leaving the action four-handed. Vinny Vinh held the lead, while Esfandiari had slid down the leaderboard, now finding himself on the short stack with roughly 500,000.

The blinds had increased to 30,000-60,000 with a 10,000 ante, when the next key hand arose. The action folded to Mike Keohan in the small blind, who raised to 200,000 with the JClub Suit 9Club Suit. Esfandiari found the KDiamond Suit JDiamond Suit and said, “alright, let’s go,” as he pushed all of his 470,000 into the middle. Keohan called, perhaps thinking of some of the less-than-premium holdings that Esfandiari had previously shown down. This time around, Esfandiari had by far the best of it, going into the flop as more than a 2-to-1 favorite. The board ran out 10Heart Suit 7Spade Suit 4Spade Suit 5Heart Suit QClub Suit and Esfandiari’s king-high was good for the 980,000 pot. With that, he retook second place in the chip counts.

Esfandiari quickly put his newfound chips to work. He had built his stack to nearly 1.5 million when the next huge hand was played. The action folded to the button, where Esfandiari found the QClub Suit QDiamond Suit and raised to 170,000. From the small blind, Bill Gazes instantly moved all-in for 570,000 with the AClub Suit 8Heart Suit. Vinny Vinh took his time before eventually calling the bet with the ASpade Suit JClub Suit. Esfandiari asked how much it was to him, before announcing that he would move all-in over the top of that, having Vinh covered. Vinh folded, and Gazes realized that he was in a bad position.

“The good news is that I have an overcard, the bad news is that one ace is gone.” The board ran out 9Heart Suit 8Spade Suit 3Heart Suit 3Diamond Suit JHeart Suit and Esfandiari scooped the massive pot, sending Gazes to the rail in fourth place. After that, the “Magician” had 2.6 million of the roughly 3.7 million chips in play.

Antonio Makes Vinh Vanish

Vinh and Keohan were essentially in a dead heat when three-handed play began, but Vinh found a double up through Esfandiari and then split a pot with Esfandiari that eliminated Keohan in third place. As heads-up play began, the two remaining players were within one big blind of each other.

Blinds had increased to 50,000-100,000 with a 10,000 ante, and Vinh had pulled out in front, winning a number of small pots. He decided to get a little tricky and limp in from the button with the 7Diamond Suit 7Club Suit. Esfandiari checked with the ASpade Suit 3Spade Suit. The flop came down 9Club Suit 3Diamond Suit 3Club Suit, and Esfandiari led out for 100,000. Vinh wasted no time in raising to 300,000. Esfandiari cut out enough chips for a raise, and then pushed in a total of 650,000 and before he even finished, Vinh announced that he was all-in. Just as quickly, Esfandiari called and found himself a massive favorite to win the 2.6 million pot.
The turn brought the QClub Suit, giving Vinh extra outs to a flush. As the dealer prepared to reveal the river Esfandiari exclaimed, “It’s amazing, this is a $700,000 card.” The river fell the QDiamond Suit, sending the massive pot and the chip lead to Esfandiari.

The very next hand, Esfandiari picked up the AHeart Suit AClub Suit and made the raise to 250,000. Vinh, perhaps feeling that Esfandiari was looking to run him over, moved all-in with the QHeart Suit 4Diamond Suit from the big blind. Esfandiari instantly stood up, grabbing an ace in each hand and revealing them to the crowd, who jumped to their feet. Vinh was drawing dead by the turn, ensuring that Esfandiari would be the champion, earning his first WPT title and $1.4 million.

How The Hands Look Now

Esfandiari came into this tough final table as the chip leader, only to go on a wild ride up and down the leaderboard, showing bluffs and some speculative starting hands. Towards the later half of play, his wild image paid off handsomely, as a slew of premium hands all got paid off for maximum value.

With his aggressive play, wild antics and history as a professional magician, Esfandiari soon became a household name and one of poker’s most recognizable stars. The 2004 WPT LA Poker Classic was his coming out party, and since then he has gone on to earn more than $4.4 million, win eight career titles, and even star in his own TV show, I Bet You. As one of the games great ambassadors, and an incredible player, it’s a safe bet that Antonio Esfandiari will not be doing a vanishing act anytime soon. ♠