Following his victory in the inaugural ‘Big Drop for One Drop’ in 2012, Antonio Esfandiari received $18,346,673 – the largest payout in the history of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) – and instantly became the richest man in poker history. Even today, having curtailed his poker activity, to some extent, following the birth of his son in 2015, Esfandiari ranks tenth on the all-time money list with over $27.7 million in live winnings.
At the last count, Esfandiari had won two World Poker Tour (WPT) titles, including the LA Poker Classic in 2004 – which, at the time, made him the youngest player to win a WPT event – and three World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, including a unique platinum bracelet for Big Drop for One Drop. Esfandiari was, briefly, a brand ambassador for Ultimate Poker – the first company to offer licensed, real-money online poker in Nevada – but the company ceased operations in November, 2014 after projected online revenues failed to materialise.
Known to many as ‘The Magician’, Esfandiari admits to having been ‘completely hypnotised’ by the first magic trick he witnessed, as a 17-year-old. He subsequently learned the tools of the trade, changed his name – he was born ‘Amir Esfandiary’ – and embarked upon a career as a professional illusionist. His previous occupation taught him how to assess human behaviour – a prerequisite for playing poker – and helped to develop extraordinary manual dexterity, which he frequently demonstrates with elaborate chip manipulation tricks. Indeed, in 2005, he produced a DVD, entitled ‘Chip Mastery’, on the subject.