Luxe Life Blog
Could it be a $26 million-plus poker week for L.V.’s Antonio Esfandiari?
Incredibly, even after winning the $18-million-plus richest poker prize in history, Las Vegas resident and poker pro Antonio Esfandiari will return to the Rio tables this weekend for back-to-back play in the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. If he wins again, it could wind up being a $26 million-plus week for the man appropriately nicknamed “The Magician.”
Antonio risked the $1 million entry fee of Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte’s the Big One for One Drop for the $18 million payoff and the stunning platinum bracelet that he’s given to his father, but Sunday it will be a buy-in of “only” $10,000 for the No-Limit Texas Hold’em Championship. However, Antonio could add almost another $9 million to his winnings.
Tuesday night went into the history books as the richest day in poker. No time, no day, no event ever in the history of the game awarded more cash. The win eclipsed the previous record for the largest single payout in poker tournament history: Jamie Gold’s $12 million win at the 2006 WSOP Main Event.
“I’ve played tournaments all over the world, but there’s never been one like this. This is the ultimate. This is the best. It’s unbelievable. It’s euphoric,” Antonio said. “I’m almost never at a loss for words, but I’m at a loss for words now.”
Even if Antonio reaches the Final Nine Main Event table that plays from Sunday through July 16, he already is the richest poker player in the world with tournament winnings of more than $22 million, plus a 2004 WSOP bracelet. Incredibly up until Tuesday, the Iranian immigrant who moved here when he was 9 had won just $3 million in his past decade of play.
Antonio’s family, friends and fans hoisted him right after the win with some crowd-surfing congratulations, and TV viewers from around the world watched it live on ESPN.
Antonio had KO’d 47 rival players over three days in the One Drop charity tournament organized by Guy, who hugged him on the win and gave him a clown nose to wear. In the final head-to-head plays, Antonio eliminated Britain’s 26-year-old poker king Sam Trickett, who took home a $10,112,001 payday.
There’s a double irony to Antonio’s win. First, he was never supposed to be playing in the charity tournament. He’d agreed to act as an ESPN commentator of the final third day of play but changed his mind only two days before the epic battle began. Secondly, because this week he also launched the poker game app “Insta Poker Secrets to Winning Tournaments" with Las Vegas veterans Huck Seed, Johnathan Little and Dan O’Brien. Maybe he took a page out of his own iPlaybook?
In all, Antonio and the other Top Eight finishers collected $42,666,672, the most prize money in a single day than any other live poker tournament held in the 43-year history since the WSOP began in 1970. For Guy, it meant $5 million for his water for the world charity, and the winning eight players have promised to donate additional money for the charity.
Antonio gave credit after the win to two people: his father, who watched him play for the first time at the WSOP, and life coach Robyn Williams, the founder and CEO of the Choice Center in Las Vegas. It was the highest emotional moment as Antonio embraced his father and brother; all three were in tears.
In his official WSOP interview, Antonio referred to losing a key WSOP tournament 10 days earlier and said: “I firmly believe that living a successful life is about making the right choices -- about everything. About diet. About exercise. About lifestyle. About finance. About friends. It’s all about choice. I believed that I could win this even after coming in 3rd place 10 days ago. … I was determined to come back and win another one. This is better than sex, that’s for sure. I feel like the president. I like this!
“I did some self-awareness work and just kind of took things into perspective; what was and what wasn’t important. And going out and partying at the end of the day, it really didn’t make me that happy. I loved it, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of grew out of it. I’m 33 now, and I just decided to live a better life. And this World Series, I decided I was going to wake up every day and go to the gym and just be disciplined and win a bracelet.
“I told my little brother that this one’s for Dad. And I’m giving him the bracelet. My dad has been my biggest supporter. The very first time I invited him to a casino to watch me play, he sat behind me and he watched my cards, and before poker was ever popular, he was like, ‘Son, I support you 100 percent.’ … He’s the greatest man on the planet. He gave up a lot -- everything -- to move us to America. To win this for him, and give him the bracelet, means the world to me. So, I’m going to wear this tonight, but after tonight, it’s my dad’s bracelet.”
The other big winner, of course, is One Drop. The money raised from the buy-in and the donations from Caesars Entertainment and the WSOP will get clean water to people for the first time in their lives, which with continued financial support and greater awareness will hopefully last forever.
Said Guy: “We will be able to fight poverty around the world by providing access to water and raising awareness about the need to get involved in order to make safe water accessible to all in sufficient quantity today and tomorrow. Every eight seconds, a person dies for lack of access to water. In the next 25 years, it will get even worse. It is fantastic we were able to do so much about it from Las Vegas in the middle of a desert. Managing the world’s water resources is everybody’s concern.”
Here are the official results from the Big One for One Drop: 1st, Antonio Esfandiari (Las Vegas), $18,346,673; 2nd, Sam Trickett (England), $10,112,001; 3rd, David Einhorn (New York), $4,352,000; 4th, Phil Hellmuth (California), $2,645,333; 5th, Guy Laliberte (Cirque du Soleil), $1,834,666; 6th, Brian Rast (Las Vegas), $1,621,333; 7th, Bobby Baldwin (Las Vegas), $1,408,000; and 8th, Richard Yong (Malaysia), $1,237,333.
Las Vegas players who lost their $1 million buy-in in failing to reach the Final Table: Bob Bright, Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey, Cary Katz, Ben Lamb, Daniel Negreanu, Vivek Rajkumar, Andrew Robi, Erik Seidel and Treasure Island hotelier Phil Ruffin. Las Vegas poker star Mike Sexton placed 9th and won $1,109,333.
Guy summed up: “I’m known for being an imaginative person, but this event surpassed even my expectations. While only one person can walk away with the largest prize in poker history, everyone who participated in the Big One for One Drop made an important contribution to a critical cause that impacts millions of people around the world.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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