In the final part of our series on the World Series of Poker, the Paul Phua Poker School revisits the Big One for One Drop of 2012, where a former magician won the biggest prize in poker
The Main Event of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has traditionally awarded the largest first prize of any poker tournament, peaking at $12m in 2006 and standing at just over $8m in 2016. But a side event, first held in 2012, dwarfed even those sums. Up for grabs was the biggest tournament prize in poker history: $18,346,673.
The event was the Big One for One Drop, a charity dedicated to providing access to clean water for all, set up by Cirque du Soleil founder and keen poker player Guy Laliberté. The buy-in was a record $1m per person, with the WSOP waiving its usual 10% rake and $111,111 from each entry going directly to the charity.
The final table was a Who’s Who of poker, including Phil Hellmuth, Brian Rast, Sam Trickett and Richard Yong. But it was a former magician, Antonio Esfandiari, who emerged the victor.
Who is Antonio Esfandiari?
Antonio Esfandiari is one of the most colourful figures in poker. Born in Tehran, Iran, he moved to California with his family when he was nine. While many magicians develop their interest in childhood, Esfandiari’s curiosity was sparked when working as a waiter, aged 17. He saw a bartender perform a trick, went to a magic shop to find out how it was done, and began to perform his own for extra tips. Soon the tips outgrew his pay check, and he switched to performing magic full-time.
Esfandiari discovered poker at around the same time. His new-found earnings from magic allowed him to play, and the reading skills he learned as a magician allowed him to win. Soon poker became the job, with magic merely a hobby for entertaining players at the poker table – he became best friends with Phil “Unabomber” Laak as a result of their shared fascination for tricks, before either was a famous player.
In 2004 Esfandiari became the youngest ever winner of a WPT event, taking down $1.4 million in the L.A. Poker Classic. His first WSOP bracelet followed a few months later. He was still just 24 years old.
Esfandiari wins the Big One for One Drop
By the time of the Big One for One Drop in 2012, Antonio Esfandiari was an experienced poker pro. He needed to be: as the biggest prize in poker history, with a platinum rather than gold bracelet to match, the Big One for One Drop attracted some of the biggest names in poker.
Coming into the final table, Esfandiari and Sam Trickett both held the largest stacks, and they maintained their lead throughout until just the two of them were left. By this stage, Esfandiari had three times as many chips as the British pro.
Their heads-up battle lasted just 16 hands. On a J-5-5 flop, multiple re-raises took both men all-in: Esfandiari held trips, Trickett a flush draw. Few real diamonds are as valuable as the one Trickett was praying for: the difference between first and second place was more than $8 million. But the magician’s luck held, and it was Trickett’s turn to do a disappearing act.
“From day one I just believed I was going to win this tournament,” Esfandiari said in a post-game interview. “I just saw it. I saw me winning the bracelet.”
Who is Antonio Esfandiari? Poker player profile
- Antonio Esfandiari was born Amir Esfandiary in Tehran, Iran, in 1978. His family emigrated to California when he was nine.
- He is nicknamed “The Magician”, after his profession before he took up poker.
- He is famed for his outlandish prop bets and desire to have fun at the poker table.
- He has more than $27 million in live poker tournament earnings
- At the 2012 WSOP Antonio Esfandiari won the biggest single prize in poker history: more than $18 million in the Big One for One Drop poker tournament.