by Chad Holloway of Predictem.com
Antonio Esfandiari was born on December 9, 1978 in Tehran, Iran. He was originally born under the name Amir, but later changed to Antonio. When he was nine years-old, Esfandiari relocated to San Jose, California with his family. He didn't speak a word of English, which isolated him in his new country. He met a young Greek boy, who also didn't speak English, and together the two eventually learned the language.
When he was sixteen, Esfandiari found a job as a waiter. It was here that a bartender showed him a card trick and introduced him to magic. Esfandiari immediately became fascinated and proceeded to purchase numerous magic books and tapes in order to learn the trade. He practiced twelve hours a day for two years, and began showing off his skills at the restaurant while passing out his business card. Eventually Esfandiari built up a clientele and was booked to perform at private parties. It was also around this time that Esfandiari attended DeAnza College, though only for a year.
When he was nineteen, Esfandiari accompanied a friend to a San Jose poker room. While his friend played in a tournament, Esfandiari played in a ring game and did quite well. He immediately took to the bluffing aspect and challenge of poker and set his mind to master the new game.
Esfandiari continued to play poker in San Jose until he built a bankroll that allowed him to enter the 2001 World Series of Poker Main Event. He went on to lose his entire bankroll and became completely broke; however, it was here that he met Phil Laak, with whom he became close friends. Laak taught him the importance of control and money management, which allowed Esfandiari to return to San Jose with a new discipline and determination.
In 2002, he made the final table of his first World Poker Tour event, the Lucky Chances Gold Rush Event in San Francisco, where he finished third. The following year, Esfandiari took fifth in a field of 407 at the 2003 W.S.O.P. $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em event ($34,060). In 2004, he won the L.A. Poker Classic for nearly $1.4 million which vaulted him into the poker spotlight: "I love being on TV," he said. "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."
Esfandiari's instant success earned him an invitation into the WPT's Celebrity Invitational the very next day. Though he was extremely fatigued from four grueling days of poker, Esfandiari decided to play hard and took sixth for another $8,000.
Later that same year, Esfandiari won his first bracelet by winning the 2004 World Series of Poker $2,000 Pot Limit Hold'em event ($184,860).
His other poker accomplishments include finishing third in the 2005 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship ($125,000), finishing eighth at the 2008 Pokerstars EPT Grand Final in Monte Carlo, and appearances on Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament, Poker Royale: Battle of the Sexes, Poker After Dark, and High Stakes Poker.
Esfandiari, who is nicknamed "The Magician," is the official spokesperson for the World Poker Tour. He is the author of "World Poker Tour: In the Money," which earned him an invitation to the WPT's Poker by the Book: Chapter 2 Invitational, where he finished fourth. He is a member of the UltimateBet Team and co-stars, alongside Phil Laak, in I Bet You, a television show on MOJO HD. Esfandiari currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada and has more than $3 million in career tournament winnings.
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