Antonio Esfandiari: Player Profile

Who would have more tricks than a magician? This guy definitely does. One of the top poker players today is Antonio Esfandiari. He is a former professional magician who is considered to be a superstar in the poker playing community. He has all the necessary skills for the poker table since he is fearless and has the uncanny ability to read people extremely well.

Childhood, Family and Introduction to Poker

Antonio Esfandiari's given name is Amir. He was born in Tehran, Iran on December 8, 1978. He moved to the United States with his parents in 1988 when he was nine years old. Esfandiari knew very little English when he started school in the US. In the first day of third grade, he said that he did not know a single English word besides “hello”. He eventually learned how to speak the language in less than six months.

Esfandiari was a model student who grew up in the San Jose area. When he hit the 12th grade, started to get into partying. He moved away from home at only 17. He soon had an apartment of his own. He paid for the rent by working as a waiter. His apartment became infamous for hosting parties all the time. As a result, his grades began to plummet and he quit college after a year.

When he was 19, Esfandiari changed his name to Antonio. He first got into magic when he was a waiter. Esfandiari became so impressed with a bartender who performed tricks that he decided to learn how to perform himself. He began to do small magic performances for tips. Soon, “Magic Antonio” was able to earn US$300 to US$400 an hour just doing magic tricks. He was a professional magician from the age of 19 to 21 and performed at Christmas parties, small theaters, clubs and casinos.

Esfandiari was sharing an apartment with a friend who was a poker player. It was this friend who urged Esfandiari to learn how to play poker. Putting it simply, he got hooked on the game. In addition to his magician gigs, he also made money be making other people’s money disappear at the poker table.

Aside from being a master illusionist and a professional poker player, Esfandiari is very family oriented. His father can be regularly spotted at poker tournaments and proudly admits that he is his son’s “biggest fan.” Esfandiari is also very close to his younger brother Pasha (also called Paul and nicknamed “Bird”) who is a poker player as well.

Esfandiari Trivia

  • Before the name “Antonio”, Esfandiari first changed his name from “Amir” to “Anthony” because of childhood teasing and bullying.
  • Esfandiari stopped his magic performances when the economy slowed down in the 2000s. It was because of this that he decided to play poker and win real money.
  • As a prop bet, Esfandiari once dressed up as an old man at the WSOP, with full latex facial disguise that fooled his table the entire day.
  • Esfandiari has had roles in Deal, The Grand, Lucky You and the season 7 opener of Entourage.

Friendship with Phil Laak

During his early career, Esfandiari once shared a game with Phil Laak. Esfandiari combined poker and magic from time to time as he played at the table, and Laak decided that he wanted to decipher Esfandiari’s play. Laak’s persistence in finding out the method behind the magic tricks actually irked Esfandiari and caused him to shy away from Laak. But Laak did not give up, and eventually this led to the two poker players to be great friends. It was the curiosity of both players – one with magic, the other with poker – that resulted in a mutually beneficial friendship that saw both their careers advance.

Esfandiari and Laak assisted one another in dissecting poker rules and techniques. They figured out ways to excel and made taught themselves pro tips for the poker game. Whole they continued to be successful in poker, their well-known personalities also helped develop their popularity in the poker circuit. Because of Laak’s trademark grey hoodie and Esfandiari’s magic tricks, they were called the Unabomber and the Magician among their peers and fans.

The friendship between Laak and Esfandiari also became the basis and the inspiration behind the popular HD network MOJO show, “I Bet You” featuring many outlandish prop bets to have ever been broadcast on television.

Professional Poker Success

In 2002, Esfandiari made a name for himself at the World Poker Tour 49’er Gold Rush Bonanza. Esfandiari placed third for a total of US$44,000. Many players and fans remembered how the young Esfandiari was able to rattle Phil Hellmuth Jr. with his play and verbal jabs. It was the very first major tournament win for Esfandiari.

In 2003, Esfandiari made the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) No-Limit Hold'em tournament. His breakout year occurred in 2004. First, he won nearly US$1.4 million at the Los Angeles Poker Classic of the World Poker Tour (WPT). The US$10,000 buy-in event remains one of Esfandiari’s most memorable moments. This win cemented his name in poker history by beating out 382 players, and also became the youngest player to ever win a WPT main event at the time.

A couple of months after that, he won a bracelet by finishing first in the US$2,000 Pot Limit Hold 'em event of WSOP. Those wins garnered him the attention and respect of poker fans. He also became a regular at must-watch poker shows like GSN's High Stakes Poker, Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament and NBC's Poker After Dark.

He claims that being a poker player and a magician complemented each other. He said that as a magician he learned to gauge human behavior and he was able to use that skill when he moved on to cards.

Esfandiari has maintained his high-profile image by appearing in poker video games and writing books about the game. With his flashy lifestyle and fantastic poker tricks, The Magician will surely be dazzling more competitors for more years to come.

Style of Play

Esfandiari’s style of play can be described as aggressive. He once described his play as being similar to Gus Hansen. He said: “Gus and I have the same mentality. We put the pressure on the other guy to make a decision. We push and push and push. With someone like me, I'm either out on the first day of a tournament or I'm at the final table. There is nothing in between."

When it comes to poker hands, Esfandiari has claimed that his favorite hand is 7-9, as he honestly feels that any two cards can win. He also loves to see flops and come over the top of an opponent's raise.

“It is hard to make a pair in Hold 'Em,” He explains. “I want to make the other guy make the decision. Does he really want to put his chips on the line? The things I do, they're sick. They are not for everyone, they are just sick.” Sometimes, poker critics would call Esfandiari a little too foolishly aggressive. But because he has a keen ability to read opponents, he will certainly attack the first sign of weakness with massive raises. No limit and pot limit tournaments are in line with Esfandiari’s style.

Esfandiari's Net Worth and Rankings

According to the latest figures from The Hendon Mob Poker Database, Esfandiari’s total live tournament winnings total at around US$26,722,351. This puts him in second place for the All Time Money List. He comes after Daniel Negreanu who has a total of US$32,315,817. At present, the Antonio Esfanidari net worth is estimated at US$20 million dollars. 

Esfandiari’s total winnings from the Americas amount to US$25,744,835. In his tournaments in Europe he has won US$870,073 and in Oceania he has won US$107,444.

Esfandiari is ranked number one for the United States All Time Money List and the WSOP All Time Money List. He has also been ranked as high as #14 on the Global Poker Index.

Esfandiari belongs to the top ten of the All Time Most Popular Players of poker. Other players in the top ten are Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, Phil Helmuth Jr., Bertrand Grospellier, Erik Seidel and Sam Trickett.

Tournament Rewards

World Series of Poker Bracelets

Esfandiari has a total of three WSOP bracelets. He won the first bracelet in 2004 by dominating in the US$2,000 Pot-Limit Hold'em event. Although he continued to play at WSOP events for the following years, it was not until 2012 that Esfandiari once again finished in first place. 2012 was a great year of him. He cashed in six WSOP events and made it to two final tables and won one of the biggest prizes in poker history: a whopping US$18,346,673 at The Big One for One Drop.

Year Tournament Prize (in USD and EU)
2004 $2,000 Pot Limit Hold'em
2012 $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop No Limit Hold'em
2012 €1,100 No Limit Hold'em

World Poker Tour Titles

Esfandiari has a great WPT record. He won two WPT titles in 2004 and in 2010. In total, he made five final tables and has a record of nine money finishes.

Year Tournament Prize (in USD)
2004 $10,000 L.A. Poker Classic
2010 $10,000 Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic

Other Achievements

Aside from the WPT and WSOP titles, Esfandiari has many other big finishes. In 2005, he finished third place at the National Heads-Up Poker Championship in Las Vegas and took home $125,000. In that same year, he also finished third place at the WSOP Circuit Championship Event in Harrah's New Orleans Bayou Poker Challenge. He walked away with $221,445. In 2006, Esfandiari played at the exclusive Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament Season 3 Grand Final. He finished in second place for $120,000. In 2008, he made it to the final table in the European Poker Tour Grand Final Main Event in Monte Carlo. He finished in eighth place and took home €168,000. Take a look at the complete poker events calendar of 2016 for upcoming tournaments that Esfandiari might participate in this year.

Esfandiari's Notable Career Highlights

Year Place/Rank Winnings (in USD) Tournament
2015 168 $40,433
$10,000 WSOP Main Event
2013 4 $1,433,438
WSOP Event 47 - One Drop High Roller
2013 9 $65,408
WSOP APAC 2013, $10,000 Main Event
2012 1 $18,346,673
WSOP 2012, Event 55 - $1 Million Big One for One Drop
2012 3 $151,613
WSOP 2012, Event 36 - $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout
2011 6 $119,418
Five Diamond World Poker Classic Main Event
2010 12 $49,024
WSOP 2010, Event 17 - $5,000 No-Limit Hold'em
2009 24 $352,832
2009 WSOP, Event 57 - $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em World Championship
2008 8 $265,625
European Poker Tournament Grand Final Main Event
2006 1 $50,000
Poker Superstars Invitational Season 3 Semi Final
2006 2 $120,000
Poker Superstars Invitational Season 3 Grand Final
2005 3 $125,000
National Heads-Up No-Limit Hold 'em Championship
2005 3 $122,035
WPT Five-Star World Poker Classic $5,000 No-Limit Hold 'em
2005 3 $221,445
ESPN WSOP Circuit Championship
2005 5 $63,020
2005 WSOP, Event 6, $2,500 Short-handed no-limit Hold'em
2004 1 $184,860
35th WSOP Pot-Limit Hold 'em
2004 1 $1,399,135
WPT Season 2, L.A. Poker Classic
2003 5 $34,060
34th WSOP No-Limit Hold 'em
2002 3 $44,000
WPT Gold Rush No-Limit Hold 'em Main Event