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October 25, 2014

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WSOP’s $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop: Antonio Esfandiari ready to repeat; Guy Laliberte ‘rusty’

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Steve Marcus

Antonio Esfandiari, the Big Drop for One Drop 2012 champion, takes a selfie with the Las Vegas Sun’s Robin Leach before the start of the Big One for One Drop, a $1 million buy-in No-Limit Hold’em charity poker tournament Sunday, June 26, 2014, at the Rio. The $1 million buy-in is the largest ever for a poker event. Proceeds support One Drop projects in countries experiencing serious difficulties caused by inadequate access to water.

Big One for One Drop Starts at WSOP

Poker players poses for a photo during opening ceremonies before the start of the Big One for One Drop, a $1,000,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em charity poker tournament, at the Rio Sunday, June 26, 2014. The $1 million buy-in is the largest ever for a poker event. Proceeds support One Drop projects in countries experiencing serious difficulties caused by inadequate access to water. 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 »

Antonio Esfandiari

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Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte waits for the start of the Big One for One Drop, a $1 million buy-in No-Limit Hold’em charity poker tournament Sunday, June 26, 2014, at the Rio.

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Jean-Robert Bellande stands during a break as he competes in the Big One for One Drop, a $1 million buy-in No-Limit Hold’em charity poker tournament Sunday, June 26, 2014, at the Rio.

It began with 42 of the wealthiest poker players in the world competing in hopes of winning the first-place prize of $15,306,668, but by Sunday night, 11 of them had been knocked out of Guy Laliberte’s the Big One for One Drop tournament at the Rio, losing their $1 million buy-in.

However, they left with the satisfaction of knowing that they’d made a $111,111 contribution to the worldwide water charity launched by Cirque du Soleil’s founder. Actor Gabe Kaplan of “Welcome Back Kotter” fame who joined the first day of play finished 16th with a chip count of 3,475,000.

Ten Las Vegas players are ready for today’s second day of play, with Phil Ivey in third (7,675,000), 2012 champion Antonio Esfandiari fifth (6,725,000) and Pamela Anderson’s husband Rick Salomon seventh (5,840,000).

Other Las Vegas players include David Sands, Doug Polk, Isaac Haxton, John Juanda, Cary Katz, Eric Lindgren, Scott Seiver and “Survivor: China” reality TV star and local favorite Jean-Robert Bellande. He is 31st with 1,005,000 and at Guy’s heels with 1,030,000 chips in 30th.

Please see our Las Vegas Sun Sports colleague Case Keefer’s report on Jean-Robert, and thanks to Sun photographer Steve Marcus for his photo gallery.

It was an explosive start for chip leader Sam Trickett, who placed second at the inaugural 2012 tournament. He has a huge lead today with a chip count of 13,400,000, with Tom Hall behind him at 9,125,000. This afternoon at Table 3, Sam has to tackle Antonio, Guy and Rick.

Ultimate Poker Brand ambassador Antonio is attempting to defend his title. Antonio placed first in the inaugural tournament in 2012, which placed him first in all-time tournament poker winnings in the world. Here’s an incredible YouTube video that provides fans with a behind-the-scenes peek into Antonio’s life as he hopes to make history with a repeat performance.

I talked with Antonio just before he sat down to start play. I asked him if he was ready for battle: “I am in a great place with my mindset. I am relaxed and focused. I believe that I can win again. That would be incredible,” he told me.

“I went yesterday to the top of a mountain 90 minutes away from Las Vegas. Completely desolate, way off-road. Absolutely nobody was there. It was a perfect place to meditate, clean my mind, breathe fresh air. Then I had a massage before bed and got the best night’s sleep just like a baby.

“This morning before coming to the Rio, I had my stretching exercises, so I am all ready. I am confident that I can repeat this for a second time. I am convinced mentally and physically that I can and will win it.”

When I pointed out to Antonio about how similar the colors and his outfit were this go-round, he laughed and said: “I’m not superstitious, but you’re right. They are similar, but not the same. I lost the pants that I played in and had to go buy another similar pair. My underwear is the same, but we’re not going there!”

I also talked with Guy about the charity tournament and upcoming Cirque plans.

So here we are again, Round 2, bigger and better. What are your thoughts, what are your feelings?

It’s always good when you raise over $4 million for your charity, so I’m very, very happy. Some old players, new players. Hopefully it will be an exciting game for the next three days.

How are you poker skills going into this event?

I haven’t been playing much in the past year. I’ve been focusing on the company, the charity, the kids, so I’m a little rusty. We’ll see.

Is it like riding a bicycle and you can pick it up again immediately?

I hope so. The good news is that I’m totally relaxed. I’m here for the pleasure and fun of it. I know it’s really challenging for businessmen to confront this field of professionals, so we’ll see.

The good news is that every time I’ve been on TV, I’ve been doing good, and every time that I’ve been playing a tournament, I’ve been doing good, so we’ll see how it works out this year on television.

Thirty years ago, you launched Cirque when you were breathing fire, eating fire, drinking fire and walking on stilts, and look what you’ve built. Did you ever think it would get this big?

No! Back then it was just a dream of traveling and entertaining people. Obviously I went through a great period of meeting great people, seizing opportunities, integrating communities and having fun as always. Now I’m sharing success and my wealth with people who need it.

You’ve gone to space, you’ve conquered the world of entertainment. Are there still some things on the bucket list?

There are always things on the bucket list. Well, there’s always a new project I like to challenge myself with, but I cannot disclose all of them. I would say that I’m mostly continuing to have fun at what I’m doing, being passionate at what I’m doing and continuing to entertain people because this is really the greatest job on the planet. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that until I die.

You’ve been into space, but do you ever feel like going down deep into the oceans?

Space was high enough. I dive. I don’t dive that deep, but you never know.

What have you got up your sleeves for Cirque in the future?

There are a lot of new projects. As you know, we announced our “Avatar” arena show with James Cameron. It’s an arena touring show, so we’re not yet committed to places and dates, but it will probably stop by Las Vegas.

There are lots of new projects in process, and in time I will disclose them. It’s all very exciting. Creating so many new projects is the fun of being creative.

* * *

Play resumed at 1 p.m. this afternoon with Guy, Jean-Robert and others looking to gain ground with their short stacks fairly quickly. The chase for the big win and purse reaches the halfway mark today. Follow our Case Keefer for progress reports.

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.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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