Maybe there is something to the whole positive thinking thing. Maybe visualizing success can work. Or maybe Antonio Esfandiari is simply a clairvoyant.
Before any cards had even been dealt in the 2012 World Series of Poker $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop event, Antonio Esfandiari told our friends at PokerNews, “I wasn’t planning on playing in this tournament, but I got really close to a bracelet and I tasted victory and I was like, ‘You know what? Maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe I’m supposed to play the One Drop.’ And so here I am, taking a pretty big risk, but I think there’s a big reward waiting for me at the end.”
That big reward was the biggest reward in the history of poker, or as WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel said, the biggest in the history of sports. Tuesday night, Esfandiari won the Big One for One Drop, grabbing $18,346,673, beating Jamie Gold’s $12,000,000 first prize in the 2006 WSOP Main Event by more than 50 percent. Despite his years of success and popularity, this was just the second WSOP bracelet of his career. We might normally say second “gold” bracelet, but the Big One jewelry is a one-of-a-kind platinum bracelet, valued at $350,000.
To those in the poker community who watched the final table on the ESPN family of networks, it was an extremely entertaining final table. It was a great mix of players. You had the ever-popular and upbeat Esfandiari, well-liked Chinese businessman and Macau gambling great Richard Yong, the all-time WSOP king Phil Hellmuth, two young poker studs in Brian Rast and Sam Trickett, Vegas legend and 1978 WSOP Main Event champ Bobby Baldwin, Cirque due Soleil founder and “Big One” creator Guy Laliberté, and Greenlight Capital founder and President, David Einhorn. Everyone was upbeat and friendly, and interestingly, the players quite often showed each other their cards after hands were completed. Add to the personalities the money that was at stake, and it was a fun watch for fans.
The camaraderie was evident during Laliberté’s final hand. After Esfandiari called the tournament creator’s pre-flop all-in, the two donned sponge clown noses and put their arms around each other. Smiles stretching across their faces, they both obviously wanted to win the hand, but it was apparent that the two friends also knew that regardless of the outcome, what was happening was simultaneously good for them, good for poker, and good for the One Drop charity. When the hand was over and Laliberté was eliminated in 5th place, he and Esfandiari shared a warm hug. The other players also came out to hug Laliberté as he was dismissed with a standing ovation and cheers of “Guy! Guy! Guy!” from the crowd.
Adding to the philanthropic tone of the tournament (as a reminder, $111,111 of each player’s buy-in went to the One Drop organization to provide clean, drinkable water to people in need around the world) was David Einhorn. The hedge fund manager and part-owner of the New York Mets made his mark on the poker world in 2006 when he finished 18th in the Main Event and donated his entire $650,000 prize to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. In this event, he placed 3rd, good for $4,352,000. Like in 2006, he will not keep any of that money, instead donating all of it to an organization called City Year which aims to help kids stay in school, graduate, and become community leaders.
As for the poker, it came down to Esfandiari and Trickett heads-up. Esfandiari rolled through the latter portions of the final table to take a substantial chip lead – 102,475,000 to 41,500,000 – into the one-on-one confrontation. Trickett was never able to get anything going and it was all over in short order.
The turning point came after Trickett had cut into the deficit a bit, climbing to just under 54,000,000. Esfandiari raised on the button to 1,800,000, as he tended to do during the heads-up match and Trickett called. Trickett checked and Esfandiari bet 2,000,000 on the 3♣-9♣-Q♦ and Trickett called again. Trickett led out on the 5♠ turn for 4,600,000 and Esfandiari called. The 9♦ fell on the river and Trickett decided a check was in order. Esfandiari thought about it, then slid out a 7,500,000 chip bet. Trickett insta-called, but to his dismay, Esfandiari showed J♦-9♠ for trip nines. Done in by the river, Trickett mucked his Q♠-T♦ for all to see.
After that, Trickett was in trouble, down to 37,900,000. A few hands later, Esfandiari bet 1,700,000 pre-flop and Trickett once again called. The flop was J♦-5♦-5♣. Trickett checked, Esfandiari bet 2,025,000, Trickett check-raised him to 5,400,000, Esfandiari re-raised to 10,000,000, and then, after tanking for a couple minutes, Trickett increased that to 15,000,000, looking like he was pot committed. Esfandiari then thought for a while about what he needed to do before announcing he was all-in. Trickett snap called, putting his tournament life at risk with Q♦-6♦. His flush draw was up against Esfandiari’s trips, as he held 7♦-5♠.
The turn was the 3♥, no help to either player. Trickett needed a diamond to double-up. After a long wait to let the tension build, the dealer finally peeled off the river card: 2♥.
Esfandiari whipped off his glasses and quickly placed them on the table. As he put his hands to his head in disbelief, his family and friends mobbed him and the celebration was on.
In his post-tournament interview, Esfandiari said, “It’s not often I’m at a loss for words, but right now I’m at a loss for words. I just want to say a special thanks to Guy for putting this tournament on; if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here and your charity wouldn’t have almost five more million dollars.”
His final thank you was to his father, who cheered him on during the entire final table. Esfandiari called on his father to join him and gave him the $350,000 platinum bracelet. His brother joined them and the three shared a tear-filled embrace.
Kara Scott then reminded him that he had predicted he was going to win and asked him how he knew. “It’s called clear intention,” the he said. “And I had it. I just knew I was going to win. You just have to put it out there and believe it and sometimes it comes true.”
Congratulations to Antonio Esfandiari, winner of the 2012 WSOP Big One for One Drop.
2012 WSOP Event #55: Big One for One Drop $1,000,000 No-Limit Hold’em – Final Table Results
1. Antonio Esfandiari – $18,346,673
2. Sam Trickett – $10,112,001
3. David Einhorn – $4,352,000
4. Phil Hellmuth – $2,645,333
5. Guy Laliberté – $1,834,666
6. Brian Rast – $1,621,333
7. Bobby Baldwin – $1,408,000
8. Richard Yong – $1,237,333