Antonio Esfandiari

Magician turned poker pro offers his advice on tournament play

Make sure you’re bluffing against players smart enough to fold

Born in Iran, and moving to America when he was 12, Antonio Esfandiari quit college to become a professional magician, and turned 12-hour days of practice into a thriving professional career. Just 21 and not content with magic, the resident of San Francisco next turned his attention to poker, and has been a professional for six years. He often uses his magic at the table, saying: ‘I love the fact that I can mess with someone’s head.’

Here are just a few of his achievements during his lightning rise to the top: winner of the main event at the 2004 LA Poker Classic, winner of the $2,000 buy-in pot-limit hold’em event at the 2004 World Series of Poker. He is the youngest player ever to win a million dollar prize in a poker tournament and one of the youngest to win a televised WPT event. He has total tournament winnings of $2.3m and is still only 27.

1. His big tip

Patience is precious when the chips are cheap. Don’t be in a big hurry to double up when doubling up won’t put you really any closer to winning – you could bust out if you’re unlucky or wrong.

2. Don’t freak out

Just because you’re in a big tournament don’t go crazy. Remember how you play when you play well: strong, confident and aggressive. That’s the way to win at any level, whether at the WSOP or around the kitchen table.

3. Play to win

If you play not to lose, all you’ll get is a middle finish. When you’re thinking about calling or folding, ask yourself what the guy who’s betting wants you to do, and then do the opposite. Try it, it works!

4. Steal twice, real once

Go ahead and steal, and if they let you steal again, steal again. By then they’re ready to play back at you, so next time you charge in, make sure you’ve got something to charge in with.

5. Pocket Jacks

When playing these match the hand to the table. If my enemies are weaker or looser than average, I play Jacks strong. If they’re tighter or stronger than average, I play my Jacks a little more snug. And if there’s a big raise, re-raise and call in front of me, I just chuck ’em away. Jack’s are good but they’re not that good.

6. Play the player, not the cards

When you know you’re up against suck-out artists, put them on draws and then punish them when their draws don’t get there. Though it seems like they hit their hands all the time (and you, never), most of the time they’ll miss.

7. Watch out for new players

New players play pretty much by the book, so if they raise I give them credit for a hand and plan my moves based on that. Any time I hear a newbie whisper the word ‘raise’, I know he’s got a monster.

8. Bluffing

Make sure you’re bluffing against players smart enough to fold. With some guys, you couldn’t get them out of a pot with a cannon so there’s no point in trying.

9. Consistency

Make your bet the same size whether you’re bluffing or you have a real hand. Eventually, you’ll have them leaning the wrong way and they will call when they should fold and fold when they should call. I agree with Annie Duke, who says, ‘If you don’t get caught with your hand in the cookie jar every now and then, you are not playing right.’ One of my favourite bluffs is a flop like 8, 8, 3 rainbow. No straights, no flushes, no big cards… how can anybody have a piece of that orphan flop? Go ahead and adopt it. Everyone else may think you’re bluffing but they still can’t call.

10 Money management

Consider your chips to be the cost of doing business, nothing more and nothing less. You’ll free yourself from the fear of losing them, and then you can go win more.

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