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September 1, 2015

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Antonio Esfandiari trades in microphone for cards, wins $18 million at WSOP

The Magician” leads poker’s all-time money list after The Big One For One Drop victory

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Christopher DeVargas

Antonio Esfandiari wins the $18 million Big One for One Drop prize at the World Series of Poker at the Rio on Tuesday, July 3, 2012.

WSOP: Antonio Esfandiari

Antonio Esfandiari wins the $18 million Big One for One Drop prize at the World Series of Poker at the Rio on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Antonio Esfandiari Wins Big One for One Drop

Guy Laliberte and Antonio Esfandiari during the Big One for One Drop at the Rio on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The Big One Payouts

  • 1. Antonio Esfandiari — $18,346,673
  • 2. Sam Trickett — $10,112,001
  • 3. David Einhorn — $4,352,000
  • 4. Phil Hellmuth — $2,645,333
  • 5. Guy Laliberte — $1,834,666
  • 6. Brian Rast — $1,621,333
  • 7. Bobby Baldwin — $1,408,000
  • 8. Richard Yong — $1,237,333
  • 9. Mike Sexton — $1,109,333

Antonio Esfandiari committed to providing commentary on ESPN for the final table of the World Series of Poker’s The Big One For One Drop weeks ago.

Instead of spending Tuesday night behind the cameras, however, Esfandiari was directly in front of them in a role that included a significant pay raise.

The 33-year old who lives in Las Vegas earned $18,346,673, the biggest prize in poker tournament history, by winning the $1 million buy-in event.

“I really like doing the commentary,” Esfandiari said. “But I took third in a tournament and decided I wanted to play this at the last minute.”

The tournament that devastated Esfandiari, the no-limit hold’em shootout, paid $368,593 to the winner. To put it into perspective, Esfandiari would have needed to win that event 50 times to equal the amount he won in The Big One.

He became the top earner in poker tournament history with the victory, which accounted for his second WSOP bracelet and first since 2004.

“I swear to you, believe it or not, I never once thought about the money,” Esfandiari said.

Blocking out the tournament’s life-changing potential is what led Esfandiari through the event. He kept a cool that other professional card players were incapable of after parting ways with seven figures to compete.

When he found himself in arguably the most important pot of the day, he stood up and wrapped his arms around opponent Guy Laliberte. The Cirque du Soleil founder had gone all-in before the flop and Esfandiari called.

It was a classic race — Esfandiari’s Ace-King against Laliberte’s pocket Queens — for 50 million chips and a commanding lead. Esfandiari spiked a King on the turn to win the hand and re-established a chip lead he would never let go.

Laliberte, who organized the event that made more than $5 million for his One Drop charity, made $1,834,666 for fifth place.

“I’m really happy, we raised a lot of money for One Drop,” Laliberte said. “That’s all I could ask for. It was a great event.”

Billionaire hedge fund manager David Einhorn and “The Poker Brat” Phil Hellmuth exited in third and fourth, respectively, shortly after Laliberte’s ouster. It was then that the heads-up match between Esfandiari and 26-year-old British pro Sam Trickett could commence.

It lasted only 16 hands before the fateful conclusion. After a flop of Jack-5-5 with two diamonds, Trickett went all-in with Queen-6 of diamonds for a flush draw.

Esfandiari called with 7-5 for trip fives. He was in the lead, but needed to dodge eight cards in the deck to hold on.

“I actually just went through the process thinking ‘OK, here we are and this is the moment. Fade this flush draw, you win the biggest tournament in the history of the world,’” Esfandiari said.

Turn: 3 of hearts. River: 2 of hearts. With that, Esfandiari leaped into the air repeatedly with tears filling his eyes.

The money was on his mind now and he allowed emotion to overtake him as a sea of family and friends rushed onto the stage to lift him into the air. Esfandiari presented the platinum bracelet to his father, who “gave up everything” to move his family to America from Iran when Antonio was a young child.

“He’s the greatest man in the world,” Esfandiari said. “To win this bracelet and give it to him means the world to me. I’m going to wear this tonight, but after tonight, it’s my dad’s bracelet.”

Esfandiari, who entered the final table with the chip lead, told his brother last night he would win the bracelet and give it to their father.

That’s right, Esfandiari called his shot. He didn’t repeat the popular refrain of it all being “a dream” because he’s envisioned this all along.

“I believed it, I declared it,” Esfandiari said. “I wanted to win even more since I took third and didn’t win that tournament. I got pretty unlucky when it was three-handed so I was determined to come back and win another one.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or case.keefer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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