Q&A with poker pro Antonio Esfandiari

April 25, 2013  

For years, Antonio Esfandiari has been an A-lister in the poker world, but after winning the largest poker prize in history at last year’s World Series, his status has shot through the stratosphere. With the World Series of Poker kicking off this month at the Rio in Las Vegas, who better to have a chat with than the Magician, Antonio Esfandiari? He is, after all, the leading tournament money winner in the history of poker after winning last year’s Big One for One Drop $1 million buy-in tournament. He’ll host the Deep Stack Charity Classic this month and he recently chatted with the publishers of Ante Up Magazine on the Ante Up PokerCast about his incredible feat and, quite frankly, his incredible life.

No charity event has received more exposure than 2012’s Big One for One Drop, which you won for $18.3 million. Has it finally sunk in? Yeah, it actually has kinda sunk in, and it feels fantastic. I don’t even know what else to say, it’s kinda like, wow, it happened, and what’s next? It feels so good that it’s kind of overwhelming for a little bit, but yeah, it feels fantastic. I’m very happy.

Minutes after you won you gave the unique bracelet to your dad. Did he keep it and where is it today? That’s a good question. It actually broke the night I won it. It broke on the hinge, so I gave it back to them to fix it and I just got it back (in March). It took that long for it to get fixed. … It’s all good; I’m pretty happy. It’s in my dad’s safe and that’s where it’s going to stay, probably. I’ve never worn it. It’s actually a good question. … I think it’s kinda cheesy when a player wears a WSOP bracelet when they go play poker. But this bracelet is so unique and one of a kind that people really want to see it. And so my question is, if I wear it to the World Series for a couple of events, will I be that guy? (laughs)

The Big One is taking this year off, though smaller events benefiting One Drop will be held, but it will be back in 2014. Have you committed to defending your title? I don’t know if I need to commit, but I’m playing in it. (laughs) I’m the only guy who can win it twice; I can’t not play.

Let’s chat about the World Series. Have you charted how many events you plan to enter? The World Series, we as professional players, we know that’s the time to get at it, so during the World Series I’ll be playing every single day, super-focused. All I’m going to do is play poker, so how many events I play kinda depends on how things are going. I’ll play every event that I can. I may have a couple of deep runs and not play a couple events, who knows?

Any highlights for you on the schedule, besides the main event, and do any of the new offerings interest to you? I’m pretty excited about the two little One Drop tournaments, the $111K and the $1,111. That’s kinda cool. … They always cook up some cool new tournaments so I’m excited.

Speaking of interest, you’ve won three WSOP bracelets and two WPT titles. The first time we interviewed you for our show and magazine you said in life you always want what you don’t have, and once you have it you desire it less. Is there anything left for you to prove? Are you losing your desire at all? No, it’s actually gone up, and there’s a whole other factor to that equation, and that is delivering pain. I know that when I succeed I hurt other players, and vice versa (laughs). So a little sick part of me just loves to deliver pain, especially to Phil Laak really. (laughs) So I’m actually really hungry to win and do better. … I really, really want to win. It’s really strange. I’ve had some great success and life is good. My career is good, but I really want to continue winning, so before I have babies and can’t travel as much for poker, I’m gonna do what I can to punish. (laughs)

You’re no stranger to television, from your many poker appearances to your own show I Bet You to a guest spot on Entourage, but last year you made your movie debut as an undercover cop in Freelancers, which starred 50 Cent, Forest Whitaker, and Robert De Niro. How long will it be before you win your first Oscar? It wasn’t that I pursued getting a movie role, it was just I played poker with a guy who was a producer on a movie, and he said, “Hey, you wanna be in a movie?” And I said sure, why not? I knew it would hurt other poker players when they see it (laughs) so I accepted.

It’s not easy being a magician; it takes as much dedication as poker, if not more. Do you keep up with it or do you just have a few favorites you hang on to? I haven’t learned a new magic trick in 10 years, but I have the ones from a long time ago that require some moves I spent years practicing, and I have those with me. It’s kinda like riding a bike, you just kinda have it. I’m not as good as I used to be but I still do OK. So, yeah, I still do magic for friends and certain people I meet here and there, not as often as I used to, but yeah.

How often to people at the table ask you to perform chip tricks or magic tricks, and do you mind? No, of course not, not at all. It happens quite a bit.

Parting words? You can catch me on Twitter @MagicAntonio.