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Antonio Esfandiari -- Million Dollar Magic Trick

Esfandiari Turns 1 Million Into 18 Million

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Sep 01, 2012

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The official list of players taking part in the World Series of Poker Big One For One Drop was a mix of successful businessmen and, for the most part, poker players who were forced to piece themselves out in order to come up with the $1,000,000 buy-in.

Only the final nine would make the money, with the last player standing taking home $18,346,673, by far the largest payout in poker history. In the end it would be Antonio Esfandiari who would walk away with his second WSOP bracelet and the biggest first-place prize ever awarded. It was a struggle to the top however with each seat holding a doom switch ready to go off at any moment.

Drama From The Off

One of the early stories to get peoples’ attention during the record-breaking tournament came during the fourth blind level when Russian semi-pro Mikhail Smirnov folded quads on the river to an all-in bet. According to Smirnov, the action started with Tom Dwan opening to 32,000. Smirnov called from the small blind with the 8Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit, and businessman John Morgan called from the big blind. The flop fell JSpade Suit 8Club Suit 7Spade Suit. Smirnov bet 50,000, Morgan called quickly, and Dwan folded. The 8Spade Suit hit the turn and Smirnov bet 200,000. Morgan called instantly.

Smirnov said Morgan looked very excited on the turn. The KSpade Suit landed on the river, and Smirnov bet 700,000, which was more than the pot of 600,000. Morgan thought about it briefly and then shoved for about 3.4 million total, which was about the size of Smirnov’s stack. Smirnov folded the quads face up.

“For me, it was a very easy fold,” Smirnov said. “If he had two kings before the flop he would have re-raised Dwan, because he’s been active and raising a lot. So, two kings was impossible. Two jacks, in theory, was possible.” Smirnov said that he thought jacks full of eights wouldn’t have been such a confident shove on the river. “He was like all-in, no problem. Before he had been playing very carefully and tight.”

According to his logic, Morgan would have the 10Spade Suit 9Spade Suit.

The size of the buy-in was not a factor in the decision, Smirnov said. He added that Morgan seemed visibly upset after the hand, giving more validity to the fold. “I personally couldn’t have done it,” said Phil Galfond who was at Smirnov’s table. “I’d lose sleep. But, I think it was a reasonable fold actually. There are definitely very few hands John could have had that weren’t a straight flush. Jacks full was probably the one that made the most sense, other than a straight flush.”
According to Galfond, the table erupted once the quads were shown. Dwan left the table in disbelief. Smirnov, who has a Ph.D in economics, is a regular in huge cash games in Russia.

Morgan declined to disclose whether or not he had the 10Spade Suit 9Spade Suit.

Phil’N Up

Mostly professional players busted on the first day of action. Michael Mizrachi, Eugene Katchalov, Nick Schulman, Bertrand Grospellier, Erik Seidel, Jonathan Duhamel, Jens Kyllönen, Andrew Robl, Giovanni Guarascio, and Justin Smith all dusted off their respective entries. Businessman Paul Phua also hit the rail.

With 37 left, Brian Rast was heading into the second day as chip leader with 10,710,000. Next to him was Phil Hellmuth, who acquired his seat as the MGM Resorts International VIP Winner, with just under 8.4 million. It was a leader board like no other with hellish names at every turn.

Here’s what the top 10 looked like after day 1:

Brian Rast 10,710,000
Phil Hellmuth 8,395,000
Frederique Banjout 7,070,000
Antonio Esfandiari 6,880,000
Gus Hansen 6,800,000
Sam Trickett 6,700,000
Guy Laliberté 6,555,000
Ben Lamb 5,770,000
Mike Sexton 5,740,000
Tom Dwan 4,810,000

Drop It Like It’s Hot

After a second day of nail-biting high stakes action, the final table was set. Thirty-four-year old Russian businessman and poker player Ilya Bulychev was eliminated on the largest money bubble in tournament poker history, finishing tenth for zero dollars, ensuring that the remaining nine were all guaranteed at least a seven-figure cash. The first player eliminated inside the money was 2009 Poker Hall of Fame inductee Mike Sexton. The WSOP bracelet winner and World Poker Tour commentator earned $1,109,333 for his ninth-place finish. Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari made a number of opponents disappear while building his sizable stack.

One of his biggest vanishing acts was midway through the day when he found pocket aces and got stacks in preflop against Jason Mercier’s pocket kings, moving him into the chip lead as the bubble loomed. Esfandiari had finished third in a $3,000 no-limit hold’em event just a week before this event began. He locked up nearly three times the first prize from that tournament simply by making the money in the $1,000,000 buy-in.

The final eight and their chip counts:

Antonio Esfandiari 39,925,000
Sam Trickett 37,000,000
Guy Laliberté 21,700,000
Brian Rast 11,350,000
Phil Hellmuth 10,925,000
David Einhorn 8,375,000
Richard Yong 7,475,000
Bobby Baldwin 7,150,000

Here are the final eight’s bust-out hands from Card Player’s live updates:

Richard Yong Eliminated in Eighth Place ($1,237,333)

Ryan Yong open-shoved for about 3.3 million preflop, Brian Rast re-shoved the small blind, and Phil Hellmuth folded the big. Yong was all in for his tournament life and ahead before the flop with AClub Suit 2Heart Suit against Rast’s KSpade Suit JHeart Suit. The board came 7Diamond Suit 5Club Suit 3Club Suit 2Spade Suit KDiamond Suit, giving Rast top pair on the river to win the pot and eliminate Yong in eighth place for $1,237,333.

Bobby Baldwin Eliminated in Seventh Place ($1,408,000)

Guy Laliberte opened the pot for 1,000,000 from under the gun, Bobby Baldwin three-bet to 5,000,000, Laliberte shoved, and Badlwin called all in. Laliberte was ahead before the flop with JHeart Suit JClub Suit against Baldwin’s AClub Suit 10Spade Suit. The board came 10Heart Suit 8Club Suit 7Spade Suit QHeart Suit 7Heart Suit, offering no help to Baldwin who was eliminated in seventh place for $1,408,0000.

Brian Rast Eliminated in Sixth Place ($1,621,333)

Sam Trickett opened the pot for 1,200,000 from under the gun, Brian Rast called from the button, and Antonio Esfandiari called from the big blind. The flop came 8Heart Suit 4Heart Suit 3Heart Suit, Esfandiari checked, Trickett bet 1,800,000, Rast called, and Esfandiari folded. The turn was the 3Spade Suit, Trickett shoved, and Rast called all in. Rast showed AHeart Suit JHeart Suit for the nut flush on the flop but Trickett turned over 3Diamond Suit 3Club Suit for quads on the turn. Rast was drawing dead on the river and was eliminated in sixth place for $1,621,333. With this hand Trickett secured the chip lead with about 51 million.

Guy Laliberte Eliminated in Fifth Place ($1,834,666)

Sam Trickett opened the pot for 1,600,000 from under the gun, Guy Laliberte reraised to 5,000,000, Antonio Esfandiari four-bet to 12,300,000, Laliberte moved all in, and Esfandiari called.

Laliberte was ahead with QHeart Suit QDiamond Suit against Esfandiari’s ASpade Suit KDiamond Suit.

The board came JClub Suit 7Diamond Suit 2Club Suit KSpade Suit 4Club Suit, giving Esfandiari top pair on the turn to win the pot and eliminate Laliberte in fifth place for $1,834,666. Esfandiari took a commanding chip lead here with more than 87 million.

Phil Hellmuth Eliminated in Fourth Place ($2,645,333)

Phil Hellmuth opened the pot for 2,800,000, Sam Trickett moved all in for around 33.5 million, and Hellmuth called all in for just over 8 million. Trickett was ahead preflop with AHeart Suit QHeart Suit against Hellmuth’s ASpade Suit 10Spade Suit. The board came AClub Suit 10Spade Suit 5Heart Suit KDiamond Suit JClub Suit, giving Hellmuth top two a pair on the flop to take the lead, but Trickett caught a running straight on the river to win the pot and eliminate Hellmuth in fourth place for $2,645,333. Trickett ended the hand with just under 43 million in chips.

David Einhorn Eliminated in Third Place ($4,352,000)

Antonio Esfandiari opened the button for 1,600,000, David Einhorn moved all in for just over 15,000,000 from the big blind, and Esfandiari called. Esfandiari was ahead before the flop with KClub Suit 10Spade Suit against Einhorn’s KSpade Suit 9Club Suit. The board came 10Heart Suit 9Diamond Suit 6Heart Suit 3Heart Suit QDiamond Suit, giving Esfandiari top pair on the flop to win the pot and eliminate Einhorn in third place for $4,352,000.

On a side note, the 43-year-old third-place finisher is a highly successful hedge fund manager and the Founder and President of Greenlight Capital. The New York native is no stranger to the felt as he made a deep run in the event that held the previous record for largest first-place prize in a poker tournament, the 2006 WSOP main event, finishing 18th out of 8,773 entrants. More impressive than his strong showing was the fact that he donated his $659,000 in winnings to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. $111,111 of Einhorn’s million dollar buy-in already went to the One Drop charity, but he previously announced that he intended to donate his winnings from this tournament to the City Year Foundation, an education-focused non-profit that partners with high-need public schools to provide full-time targeted student interventions.

Antonio Esfandiari Wins Event No. 55 ($18,346,673) Sam Trickett Eliminated in Second Place ($10,112,001)

Antonio Esfandiari took the chip lead going into heads-up play with 102,475,000 to Sam Trickett’s 41,500,000, and had amassed an almost 3:1 chip lead heading into the final hand of the event when he opened the button for 1,800,000 and Trickett called from the big blind. The flop came JDiamond Suit 5Diamond Suit 5Club Suit, Trickett checked, Esfandiari bet, Trickett raised to 5,400,000, Esfandiari three-bet to 10,000,000, Trickett four-bet to 15,000,000, Esfandiari five-bet shoved, and Trickett called all in. Esfandiari was ahead on the flop with 7Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit for trip fives against Trickett’s flush draw with QDiamond Suit 6Diamond Suit. The turn and river were the 3Heart Suit and the 2Heart Suit, offering no help to Trickett who was eliminated in second place with the massive consolation prize of just over $10 million.

Magician Makes Poker History

“I swear to you, believe it or not, I never thought about the money. I just wanted to win,” said Esfandiari, who decided to play the One Drop just a few days before it started. He told Card Player that he didn’t make a financial deal with runner-up Sam Trickett.

Brian Rast, who finished sixth, is a long-time friend of the champion and explained Esfandiari’s mindset:

“If he had 100 percent of himself the money would be the most important thing to him. He sold pieces, just like every other pro who played this. There are no poker players who are billionaires or hundred millionaires, like the businessmen who played. The money, while significant to him, might not even mean as much as the publicity from winning the title.”

The final table drew hundreds of spectators and was broadcasted nationally on ESPN. When asked if there are happy investors out there right now, Esfandiari said, “I plead the fifth.”

Among the crowd witnessing Esfandiari capture his second WSOP bracelet was his father, Bejan. “When he started to play poker I was against it,” Bejan said. “He was an A-student. I wanted him to be a doctor, an engineer or something. He didn’t tell me what he was doing. I heard from other people that he was gambling, and I said, ‘What!’” Bejan was soon convinced his son knew what he was doing however after watching him at a local casino.

Esfandiari has had success on the felt for many years, but said that he recently moved away from the life of partying. He credits the change for his success this summer. Esfandiari added that the $18 million win was “better than sex”. “He has kind of turned his life around,” said Rast.

Despite the buy-in, Esfandiari was his usual talkative self at the tables over the three-day affair. “I might as well enjoy my life instead of just sit there and be bored,” he said. “Because poker, as we all know, is kind of boring sometimes. The fact that it was One Drop made no difference.”

Esfandiari had his sandals off when the final river card hit the felt. “$18 million in bare feet? God bless poker,” remarked WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart during the celebrations that followed.

Ten Million Treats For Trickett

Runner-up Trickett is a frequent combatant in the high-stakes Macau cash games, and no stranger to $1 million gambles, but snagged an endorsement from online site Matchbook to play the event. Trickett called it a “fair deal for both parties”. The 26-year-old said that he was angry at himself at how he played at the end. “I’ll get over it,” he admitted. “I would have liked to win for the bracelet and the prestige, but I can’t be too upset.”

While Esfandiari eyed the title, Trickett cared more about the cash. “The money was too significant,” Trickett said. “It was like an extra $8 million [for first]. I would take that over a bracelet all day.”

Two Drops

Guy Laliberté, the 52-year-old founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, was the driving force behind this historic tournament. The event was a great success, meeting the 48-player cap and raising $5,333,328 for the One Drop Foundation, which he also founded. It seemed only fitting that Laliberté should be rewarded for his hard work with a shot at the title but fell four places short at the hands of the eventual champion. Laliberté commented that “at least 10 to 15” people have said they would play again next year. When asked if the buy-in would stay at $1 million, the billionaire joked, “No, we will raise it to $10 million!” Clearly pleased with how the tournament went Laliberté said it was “so good for One Drop, so good for poker. I think this is where poker is now. It’s a question of working together as a community to make it happen. Since the [economic] crisis everything went down; Black Friday has been difficult here for poker, but I think this has been a great year for poker with such an event.”

Here are the final payouts:

First — Antonio Esfandiari — $18,346,673
Second — Sam Trickett — $10,112,001
Third — David Einhorn — $4,352,000
Fourth — Phil Hellmuth — $2,645,333
Fifth — Guy Laliberté — $1,834,666
Sixth — Brian Rast — $1,621,333
Seventh — Bobby Baldwin — $1,408,000
Eighth — Richard Yong — $1,237,333
Ninth — Mike Sexton — $1,109,333