Life as a child refugee in the USA
The war continued and more and more private residences were destroyed by the showers of bombs. Amir’s father was a very successful man in Iran who owned four different companies. The war, however, made life in Iran very difficult, and Mr. Esfandiari had to work one long year to be able to afford the emigration to America.
When Amir was nine years old the family finally left their home country and immigrated to San José, California. Although life there was much safer, Amir did not feel very comfortable in the USA. The young boy did not understand a word of English and there was no-one around who could teach him. The first couple of months in America, Amir was unable to communicate with his classmates or any of the other children, and he had very few friends. But Amir was a fast learner and after about six months, he had mastered the new language well enough for him to make friends. After only several months in San José, Amir’s mother filed for divorce and went back to Iran on her own. From then on, Amir and his younger brother Paul were raised by their father and grandparents.
Amir describes the time when his brother was finally old enough to play with him as one of the greatest experiences of his childhood. Amir’s family used to play cards a lot, mostly Iranian poker, in which all the cards from two to six are removed from the deck and only cards higher than seven stay in play. The rules also vary from “standard” poker variations. This game did not leave much of an impression on Antonio, who hardly remembers anything about it. At the tender age of eleven, Amir already proved he was good at making money: he sold newspaper subscriptions and made up to $ 400 a week.
During his time at high school, Amir changed his name to Anthony, because the other kids made fun of his Iranian name.
Learning the art of magic
After graduating from high school, he enrolled at De Anza College in Cupertino, California and got a part-time job as a waiter. As he had moved out of his family’s house after a fight with his father at age seventeen, and had lived on his own since, his apartment soon became party central. As a result, his grades started to plummet, which caused him to quit college after about a year – he was just too busy partying.
A bartender at the restaurant where Anthony worked gave him his first taste of magic by showing him an especially fascinating card trick. The young Iranian was so impressed, he immediately went out to get books and tapes on the subject and learn the art of magic too. With the help of these books he taught himself a few tricks to impress the guests at the restaurant. He embellished his performance as a waiter with diverse magic tricks, a strategy that had a very positive effect on the money he earned from tips. He even was shrewd enough to hand out business cards to potential clients. At times, all Anthony would do twelve hours a day was perform magic tricks. Earning $ 300 to $ 400 per hour, “Magic Antonio” eventually was able to quit his job as a waiter. His popularity was impressive, and soon Anthony was also in demand as a magician for private parties.
At age 19, when he was effectively a professional magician, he decided to change his name once more: this time he called himself Antonio, because he thought that this was a more suitable name for a magician. Even today, Antonio is still known by the nickname “The Magician” due to his past as a conjurer.
First steps into the poker scene
It was through his roommate Scott Steward, that Antonio was finally introduced to the poker circuit. Antonio, only 19 years of age at the time, accompanied his friend Scott to a poker tournament at the "Garden City Club", a casino in San José.
Of course, there was still that small problem that Antonio was too young to be allowed to play legally. When a bouncer asked him for his ID Antonio feared that his poker career was over before it had even begun. He did not have to worry about it for long, though. He just switched clubs, and at “Bay 101” they did not card him. Antonio was swept off his feet by the casino atmosphere. He tried his luck at a $ 30 buy in event and won. He discovered he loved the challenge of no-limit Texas Hold’em. Especially the fact that one had to be good at bluffing to excel at this game fascinated young Antonio. Already, he was trying to figure out the best way to improve his poker game quickly, in order to earn money playing. Soon Antonio was not only responsible for the disappearance of rabbits, but also for making various pots at the poker table disappear. This is what Antonio has to say about his early days as a poker player:
“Right from the start, poker came easy to me. I was always able to tell what other people had. And don’t ask me how I did it. I don’t know. It just came to me.”
So Antonio began to study the game of poker more intensively. To learn more about it, Antonio went to Gabe Thaler, who he regularly organized private poker rounds with – mainly no-limit Texas Hold’em. These games taught “The Magician” a lot and helped him improve his game a great deal. He also took part in cash-games and smaller tournaments in order to build up a bankroll that would allow him to enter bigger tournaments: his aim was to go to Las Vegas and take part in the main event of the World Series of Poker. Although Antonio’s ambition was great, his poker skills at that time were not: Antonio did not do so well and lost all the money that he had built up so painstakingly.
It was at around this time, during the WSOP, that Antonio met Phil Laak, an experienced poker pro. The two sat at the same table for one of the events at the World Series of Poker. As usual, “The Magician” thrilled the crowd with his elaborate magic tricks. Laak was the only one who did not let Antonio pull the wool over his eyes and was intent on trying to see through the illusion, much to Antonio’s frustration. So Antonio moved to another table, but he could not get rid of Phil Laak who followed him there. Eventually a conversation was struck up and Antonio and Phil became friends.
Antonio learned a great deal about money management from Phil. He returned to San José with the firm resolution to continue working on improving his poker skills. During one of Phil Laak’s frequent visits to see Antonio, they decided to move in together.
By, contract, Antonio played at UltimateBetPoker for several years. About his deal with UltimateBet Poker, Antonio says,
“They payed me and I did whatever I wanted… I went from being nothing to being on the side of Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth”.
In 2007 it was announced that the contract between Antonio Esfandiari and UltimateBet was not going to be renewed; apparently because he no longer fit the new, non-US-focussing advertising strategies of the online poker room.
"The Magician" on the road to success
It was in 2002, that Antonio took part in the World Poker Tour, broadcast on TV, for the first time. He even made it to the final table of the “Gold Rush Bonanza” at the Lucky Chances Casino in San Francisco. Esfandiari placed third and won $ 44,000, the first “real” prize money of his life. At this final table, Antonio made the famous poker professional Phil Hellmuth break out in cold sweat: he challenged the master by taking the initiative and therefore forced Hellmuth to react. Antonio stole the show, although he “only” placed third and got to enjoy being in the spotlight, in the midst of cameras that were all focused on him.
In an interview with the “San Francisco Chronicle” he confirms that he “…loves being on TV”. He goes on to say, “I was such a dork in high school. All I ever wanted was to be popular. My dream was for someone, someday, to ask for my autograph.” So dreams really do come true!
One year later, Antonio made it all the way to the final table of the $ 2,000 no-limit Texas Hold’em event at the 2003 World Series of Poker. At this tournament he played against 407 more or less experienced players and came in fifth place. Although he failed to win the Gold Bracelet, he knew that he had played well, which gave him an enormous boost of self-confidence.
At the second series of the World Poker Tour in 2004, Antonio won the "L.A. Poker Classic" with prize money amounting to almost $ 1,400,000. He beat 382 other poker professionals, including Vinny Vinh in heads-up play. So at the age of 25, Antonio was the first player ever to win over a million dollars in prize money. Furthermore, at this time, he was the youngest player ever to win a televised WPT event.
This impressive victory enabled him to participate in the “Celebrity Invitational”. This tournament was to take place the next day at the Commerce Casino. Nevertheless, his triumph called for a celebration of course, and Antonio spent the whole night partying. He showed up the next morning at the WPT Invitational without having slept a wink. It was his friend Phil Laak who ended up winning the tournament. Despite Antonio being the most talkative participant at the table, with a grin reaching from ear to ear, he was exhausted and could not fully concentrate on the game. He finished sixth. With the prize money Antonio won at the World Poker Tour, he treated himself to a Dodge Viper and an Armani suit.
Not only had Antonio quenched his yearning for a life full of challenge and riches, he had also regained the respect of his father. Even though Antonio’s hardworking father had always supported his son, he had not been very pleased with his son’s passion for poker. To allay his father’s worries, Antonio took him by the hand one day and dragged him to a casino, forcing him to watch several tournaments. Most of the time, Antonio could tell exactly what cards each of the players was holding, which eventually convinced his father that Antonio had the stuff to be a successful poker player. After his victory at the L.A. Poker Classic, Antonio wanted to keep his prize money a secret until he had the opportunity to personally tell his father. So he took his father to a casino a second time and, just before entering the building, told him,
“By the way, Dad, I won over a million.”
With his win at the L.A. Poker Classic, Antonio made a name for himself in the poker world, a fact he was fully aware of. In 2004, he returned to Las Vegas to take part in the World Series of Poker. That year he won the $ 2,000 pot-limit Texas Hold’em event and with it his first Gold Bracelet and $ 184,860 in prize money.
In 2004, “The Magician” moved from San José to Las Vegas; since then he has become an integral part of the poker scene.
In 2005, he placed third at the NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship and fifth at the $ 2,500 short-handed no-limit Texas Hold’em event at the WSOP.
In March of 2005, Antonio Esfandiari’s book “World Poker Tour: In the Money” came out, and subsequently was invited to the “Poker by the Book” event, which was part of the WPT. At this tournament Antonio placed fourth. The book is ideal for hobby poker players and gives insight into the world of poker. It is filled with tips and strategies for the more and more popular cash-games. Antonio’s book can help any poker player improve their game. In addition to the reading, every poker pro recommends practising your skills in the poker schools offered by many online pokercasinos such as William Hill Poker.
Antonio’s winnings at live tournaments in 2006 amounted to more than $ 2,800,000.
Born to be a star
Antonio Esfandiari is a man who enjoys being at the centre of attention, which is why he continuously builds up his poker empire.
Antonio produced a video called “Magical Poker”, the purpose of which was to tell others how to avoid being cheated at poker. He also appeared on TV shows such as “High Stakes Poker” or the “National Heads-Up Poker Championship”. Together with Phil Laak Antonio also starred in the reality show “I Bet on You”. Furthermore, “The Magician” was main character of an advertising campaign for a video game as well as a product called “Kick Butt Amped Energy Ballz”, the perfect poker delicacy: based on the concept of fun energy food, these balls look like sweets but have the effect of an energy drink.
In addition to all that, he also took part in the second and third series of "Poker Superstars". In the second series he came in last, but one year later he made it all the way to second place.
Of course, like most of his colleagues, Antonio has his own website: www.magicantonio.com which offers a wide range of information and a number of different services, greatly appreciated by his fans. Among other things, there also is a platform called “Ask Antonio”. Here, anyone interested can ask “The Magician” for advice on a variety of things. Yet one could almost receive the impression that this platform does not really serve its original purpose, since Antonio often prefers personal questions and does not even answer poker related questions. He says,
“You know, poker stuff, they tell me this long hand, they think I’m actually going to read it. If someone sends me an e-mail and says, ‘I had this and I had this,’ I just write back and say listen bud, I hate to tell you, but I’m not reading your long poker story. Think of something else to ask.”
Antonio's secret party society
There even are rumours that Antonio Esfandiari can be hired for $ 1,000 to give a tour of Las Vegas night life. And since Antonio has a lot of experience in this field he would definitely be the right man for the job.
He lives out his passion for partying within a secret society. Antonio and his closest friends founded this society, which goes by the name of “Rocks and Rings” (R & R), for the sole purpose of having fun. They see themselves as a group of people who understand how to have a good time and party, and they have made it their mission to show others how to learn just that. Antonio is the so-called president of this troupe which professes a lifestyle of hedonism. This philosophical belief considers the pursuit of pleasure an ethical measure. One thing that has to be said about Antonio is that he really does always try his best. The members of “Rocks and Rings” have even developed their own private idiom. What follows is an example of R & R vocabulary:
Baby: an attractive young lady—in homage to the classic movie “Swingers”, and with full respect to the lady in question
Bite: an incoming call on the mobile phone, as in “I’ve got to step outside and take this bite.”
Deep Dish: excellent house music
Hotwire: to hook up. If you hotwire, you don’t go home alone.
Rocks and Rings: an all-purpose adjective to describe something of high quality or style such as, for example, “How Rocks and Rings are those shoes?”
The “Rocks and Rings” party crew can be found at fine restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and at other famous hot spots for the rich and famous. For this troupe, only the best will do. They travel in limousines, take a jet to Las Vegas or Costa Rica, but somehow it does not even matter where the “Rocks and Rings” are because they are the heart of every party: everyone just wants to be where they are. A membership of this secret society could be considered then, as an excuse to “Fight for your right to party!”, as the Beastie Boys once demanded.
Magical poker skills and business acumen
In an interview, Antonio Esfandiari once mentioned that his two jobs as a magician and poker player complemented each other quite nicely. From his experience as a magician, he has learned to judge the behaviour of other people. As a poker player, he now has the chance to use this knowledge against his opponents at the poker table, which makes him an especially dangerous opponent. Of course, Antonio’s talent alone makes him an exceptionally capable poker player, but his daredevil character has helped him decide a game in his favour many times.
One dream of Antonio’s has always been to open a restaurant, “I always wanted to go into the restaurant business. I have a business mind, business sense. Some sort of business, you know. But definitely restaurants. I always wanted to open a restaurant where you would come in, you would have great food, you’d have entertainment, magic, or something like that.”
Some of Antonio Esfandiari’s statements are just as unbelievable as they are legendary. For the sake of completeness we also inserted them here:
“I don’t recall seeing the words ‘life is fair’ printed on the contract.”
“Sometimes the cards fall your way and sometimes they don’t. The question isn’t whether you’ll occasionally get punched by life – you will! – but rather how well you roll with the punches you take.”
“Don’t be shy – you’re never gonna see her again. Girls don’t like shy guys. They like guys who step up and take the command. So take your shot. The worst thing that can happen is she’ll shoot you down – her loss – and then you move on. To quote Steve Forbert, ‘You cannot win if you do not play.”
A manual for poker and one for life
For those who want to follow in Antonio’s footsteps and have a successful poker career, he has created a three-step guide to poker glory:
Don’t be afraid to fail
Don’t be afraid to lose money
Don’t be afraid to look bad
Yet Antonio has not only compiled rules for life as a poker player; he has also created a guideline for real life. As it is quite extensive, his philosophy cannot be summed up in three simple sentences:
“Never quit a great game. So what if it’s 2 a.m.? You’re still having fun, aren’t you? Go for that after-hours club and go hard. You wouldn’t quite a terrific poker game when you were killing it, would you? Then why would you leave a party you’re still winning? As the late, great Warren Zevon put it, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’”
“‘Rules were meant to be broken. To live outside the law,’ said Bob Dylan, ‘you must be honest.” It’s the darion call of the outlaw hero, and reminds us that if we have a code, we don’t need limits. Rules are made for timid shrink-thinkers who can’t manage to figure things out on their own. If it ain’t broken, break it!”
“If you can’t do it when you can do it, when can you do it? What are your goals? What are your dreams? What are you waiting for!? You’ll never have more personal power than you have right now, so you’d better get off your ass and go! If you’re not slowly getting better, you’re slowly getting worse.”
Be lavish with your praise. It costs you nothing and makes others feel good. If someone’s looking good, tell her. If someone does a good job, thank him. Praise is the WD-40 of social interaction. It keeps everything running smooth and free. And never forget: the more you approve others, the more they’ll approve you back.”
Playing with people's heads...
And now, at the end of this article, let us listen to the champion once more: “I love that I am able to play with the heads of people!” And of course you have to be able to manipulate others if you want to do either one of the two things Antonio does so well: play poker and do magic.
“The Magician” is known for his flashy life style and his fantastic chip tricks. It is safe to assume he will go on dazzling his opponents with his magic tricks and poker skills for many years to come.
For Antonio Esfandiari, it is not just a strategy but a way of life to mess with other people’s heads.