Antonio ‘The Wizard’ Esfandiari

Antonio Esfandiari was once a professional magician. But now, he’s working an entirely different kind of magic as one of the hottest young guns in poker.

Esfandiari burst upon the scene in the WORLD POKER TOUR’s™ first season with a third place finish in one tournament that earned him $44,000 and the moniker now inscribed on the visor he wears, “Kid 44.” The experience sparked a love affair between Esfandiari and the television cameras of the WPT (all sixteen of them) and convinced him to become a professional poker player.

Of course, it was just the harbinger of bigger things to come. When he finished first with $1,399,135 at this season’s L.A. Poker Classic, Esfandiari, 25, became the youngest tournament winner of prize money exceeding a million dollars, not to mention the captor of the largest prize ever handed out at Commerce Casino. Esfandiari wore his glee graciously and generously. He tipped the dealers $35,000, celebrated all night, made plans to treat friends to a vacation and buy a house with his winnings. The next day, without a wink of sleep, he went on to make the final table of the WPT Invitational.

A native of Tehran, Esfandiari didn’t speak a word of English when he moved to the Bay area with his family at the age of 9. After high school, he went to college for a year but soon fell in love with and taught himself magic. At age nineteen, he started performing professionally at private parties.

About a year into his magic gig, Esfandiari found himself in a casino. He began learning how to play hold’em and loved the competition. He was doing a magic show when someone invited him to attend a no-limit hold’em home game. At the time he had a whopping $1,000 to his name. He won $2,000, and was thrilled to triple his net worth.

Knowing nothing about money management, he immediately went out and spent $1,100 on a dining room table. He took the rest to a $20-$200 spread-limit game in San Jose. In three months, he worked that $2,000 into $20,000. Talk about pulling rabbits out of hats.

Eventually, Esfandiari decided to take a chance on the World Series, but he ended up broke. However, he met fellow player Phil “The Unabomber” Laak – who became his friend and eventually roommate and taught him how to manage his money. When the WORLD POKER TOUR hit the airwaves in 2003, he was primed for his close-up.

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