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Antonio Esfandiari lives a lifestyle in his adopted home of Las Vegas that most young men dream about. A 27-year old professional poker player, Esfandiari skips the line at clubs, sits in the VIP section, and mixes the most expensive drinks with his crew, dubbed 'Rocks and Rings.'
"If you're gonna go out, you might as well go out in style," says Esfandiari, the 'president' of Rocks and Rings. "It's just so different when you have to go out and wait in line or sit in the back of the club. That just takes away from the experience. If you get treated like a rock star, it just makes the party so much better."
The party hasn't ended since Esfandiari won the 2004 L.A. Poker Classic, claiming $1.4 million in prize money. Known as "The Magician" on the poker circuit, Esfandiari has amassed more than $2 million in tournament winnings in the last three years. He also lays claim to a World Series of Poker bracelet, winning a pot limit Hold'em tournament in 2004.
Quick Facts on Antonio Esfandiari
Nickname: The Magician
Esfandiari enjoys the fruits of his success with his Rocks and Rings crew as often as he can. But there was a time when he was fast and loose with his money before his game could support his freewheeling lifestyle. In the foreword to Esfandiari's recently released book,
In the Money, former roommate Phil "The Unabomber" Laak details Esfandiari's spending habits prior to his tournament poker success.
Laak took the opportunity to teach Esfandiari some lessons about money management, telling the young phenom that he was "destined for ruin" if he continued his reckless spending. Esfandiari listened to his friend and started to build his bankroll.
He used some of those savings to buy his way into the Gold Rush Tournament at Lucky Chances Casino in November 2002. Esfandiari made his televised debut in the tournament, the fifth event in the first season of the World Poker Tour. His performance was a memorable one, as he tormented "poker brat" Phil Hellmuth throughout final table play. After knocking out
Hellmuth, Esfandiari finished third, winning $44,000.
The Magician's Tricks: Esfandiari Quips and Quotes
Ultimate Goal: "To have a wife and some kids and the whole picket fence thing one day."
If he could change anything in poker: "If anyone ever told a bad beat story, they would be fined $1,000 on the spot."
On winning the first tournament he entered: "I kind of think it was a fluke. I knew that I didn't know what I was doing."
After winning the first tournament he entered: "I took my ex-ex-ex-girlfriend to Hawaii."
On living with former roommate Phil "The Unabomber" Laak: "We'd wake up whenever we woke up, go down and gamble until whenever we decided not to, then we'd go back and chill at the house and do whatever, then go and gamble. It was the funnest few years I've ever had."
Making good decisions about which game to play: "When I first started playing poker, I thought I was the nuts. So if there was a shorthanded game with two really good players, I couldn't wait to get in there and destroy them. And that's kind of just being young and cocky and arrogant. There's always a better game, there's always a better spot. Instead of wanting to beat the best and trying to prove something to the world, why not just play the worst players and actually make some money out of it?"
"Everyone wants to be (my) friend and wants to be nice to (me)," Esfandiari says. "It opens a lot of doors and spoils you in a way. I don't want to toot my own horn, but it's nice."
"I remember there were bomb warnings all the time," Esfandiari says. "Every couple weeks we would have to go down in the basement and hear bombs going off down the block, which is pretty scary."
Esfandiari says he the change in economic status after the move didn't bother him, in large part because of his youth. His given name of Amir, however, was a different story. Seeking to fit in better with his American peers, he changed his name to "Anthony," and it didn't take long for him to accept America as his new home, despite the fact that he knew very little English when he arrived.
Soon after graduating from high school, Esfandiari became obsessed with magic. He spent 12 hours a day practicing tricks, becoming a master of the craft. He once again changed his name, this time to "Antonio" to fit the part of a magician.
After becoming confident in his poker skills, Esfandiari changed his father's opinion of his profession with a demonstration at the table. He invited him to come to the casino to watch him play, and before the players showed down their cards he would tell his father what each player was holding.
In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game. Write to Aaron at email@example.com.