Antonio Esfandiari

Poker Source: When did you move to the U.S. from Iran?

Antonio Esfandiari: I think ’88, ’89, probably ’88...I don’t know, somewhere around there.

PS: What was your childhood like in Iran? How did you get started playing poker?

Antonio Esfandiari: My family played poker, but I don’t really actually remember playing poker in Iran when I was a kid. It was mostly here. My family would play a little bit of poker here and there, but even then, it was Iranian poker, and Iranian poker is where you take out all the twos through sixes, so you only play with sevens and higher. The rules are a little bit different, like a three-of-a-kind beats a straight. Anyway, so I didn’t really have much exposure to poker, no, but we were very well off in Iran and life was dad, my mom, and my little brother. I remember when we were at war with Iraq and there would be bombs going off and [stuff] like that every couple weeks. But we lived a good life in Iran.

PS: So, you played poker, Iranian poker...

Antonio Esfandiari: I didn’t even play. My family played and I was too young to play. I saw them play.

PS: So, how did you, yourself, get started?

Antonio Esfandiari: I got into it because my roommate...when I was 19, I was living with a guy named Scott Stewart and he played poker. So, he took me down to the casino with him one day and that was that.

PS: There has been some controversy lately surrounding the World Poker Tour and its player release form, which essentially gives the WPT permission to do whatever it wants with anything it records. Is this issue really as big or as important as some players are making it appear, or is it just a handful of players stirring the pot?

Antonio Esfandiari: You know, I really don’t know much about it. I’ve heard from some of the big names and they’ve asked me to, you know, join along...

But, I haven’t read it, I haven’t had my lawyer look at it, I haven’t played a WPT in a while. I’m planning on playing in one in Commerce coming up, but, if that is true and basically I’m signing my life away, then...I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it too much. I just want to play poker, you know?

PS: You say you haven’t played in a while. Is there, aside from, say, the buy-in or just how things fit into your do you choose which events you play in?

Antonio Esfandiari: It’s basically schedule. I like to live [in] comfort, you know? If something is more convenient, I’ll go to that. But not all the World Series of Poker events are being televised, is what I hear. I’m obviously going to want to play in tournaments that are televised versus not televised. All this is irrelevant if the North American Poker Tour...if they get their tour off the ground, it’s going to be a no-brainer which tour I go to because they’re paying appearance fees and entry fees for the big names. So, with that said, if they get it going, then why would I go play anything when I can get paid to play?

PS: Do you think that may be where poker is headed? A more organized tour with paid players?

Antonio Esfandiari: Well, I hope so. There are definitely a lot of different events, too, that pay players to show up now. You know, poker players are now paid to show up, make appearances, and [are paid for] video games and other things. So, why shouldn’t we get paid to play in a tournament that’s going to draw other people?

PS: Aside from your prominence in major tournament poker, you are also well known as a member of team Ultimate Bet. How did you get involved with Ultimate Bet and, aside from playing on the site, what is your role with the online poker room?

Antonio Esfandiari: I got hooked up with Ultimate Bet because I met Annie Duke on a commercial shoot and we became friends. They were talking about having me represent their site and all of a sudden I won the L.A. Classic, which automatically got them really interested in me.

So then, after I won the L.A. Poker Classic, I was the youngest person to ever win a million, youngest person to win a World Poker Tour, and all of a sudden I was pretty popular in the poker world, so they decided to sign me up.

I have to play on the site for ten hours a week, I have to do appearances for them, radio interviews...people will win contests, online tournaments where they’ll get to hang out with me and have lunch and whatever. Pretty much promote their site as much as I can.

PS: It is well documented how online poker has changed the landscape of the live poker world, but how has it changed your poker career?

Antonio Esfandiari: It’s made it tougher in the cash games because a lot of players play online and they play numerous games and they play numerous hours, so they come into the poker world with more would’ve taken them a longer time to learn if they had just come straight to the live game. You have 18-19 year old kids that have played more hands than I have now, you know?

PS: You have the “Ask Antonio” question on your website. Do you have a question that stands out as your favorite?

Antonio Esfandiari: No, I like it when people ask me life-related questions about girls, or things like that. I like to give guys advice about what to do with the women. You know, poker stuff, they tell me this long hand, they think I’m actually going to read it. If someone sends me an e-mail and says, “I had this and I had this,” I just write back and say listen bud, I hate to tell you, but I’m not reading your long poker story. Think of something else to ask.

And now, for the “heads-up” standards…

PS: What is your favorite childhood memory?

Antonio Esfandiari: [after much deliberation] That’s pretty strong. I wasn’t exactly the happiest kid because my mom moved back to Iran after we moved here. I didn’t have that many friends. I really didn’t have a great childhood. I did have a lot of love from my family, which was good.

But probably when my brother was old enough to play with me, you know? Because he’s my younger brother and there was a point where he was too young to play. And he reached an age where we could play and hang out, that was the [most fun].

PS: How has playing poker changed your life?

Antonio Esfandiari: Oh my god, I mean, it’s...I don’t even know where to start. It’s kind of cool because everyone wants to be nice to me. Everybody wants to give you something, any kind of service they can provide, they’re willing to give it to you for free. It’s kind of interesting. It’s a feeling that you cannot really describe.

It’s really cool. In no way, shape, or form am I complaining. Your patience kind of goes down, as a person, and I’m usually pretty patient. However, I’m not very patient anymore because so many people want to talk to you. I’m still one of the nicest guys in the world, but I just don’t have the patience. For instance, if someone I don’t know is trying to tell me a bad beat story, I would just be rude and say, “Listen, I don’t want to hear your bad beat story.” I just don’t care. I haven’t told a bad beat story in five years.

PS: If you weren’t a poker player, how would you be earning a living?

Antonio Esfandiari: I always wanted to go into the restaurant business. I have a business mind, business sense. Some sort of business, you know. But definitely restaurants. I always wanted to open a restaurant where you would come in, you would have great food, you’d have entertainment, magic, or something like that.

PS: What is the worst part of being recognized?

Antonio Esfandiari: There isn’t one. If somebody tells you, oh, they hate it, oh, it’s annoying, they’re full of it. They wouldn’t give it up for a second.

PS: What was the lowest point and highest point in your poker career?

Antonio Esfandiari: My lowest point is the night before the Commerce tournament started two years ago – the main event. I remember my net worth was about sixty [thousand] or something and I had lost twenty thousand the night before and I was just sick. That was a third of my net worth. Three days later, I won the Commerce tournament. So, winning the Commerce tournament was the highlight.

Actually, the highlight was when I was heads-up with Vinnie Vinh at the final event of the Commerce. First place was one point four [million dollars], second place was seven hundred thousand, and I had pocket aces and I raised, and he moved in, right then and there. I stood up, I held up my aces, and that was that.

PS: Where is your favorite place to hang out when you’re not playing poker?

Antonio Esfandiari: Tao at the Venetian in Las Vegas.

PS: What is your most significant or proudest non-poker accomplishment?

Antonio Esfandiari: Magic. I really took magic seriously for a couple years. I practiced ten hours a day for two years.

PS: Do you still keep up with it?

Antonio Esfandiari: No, I still do it for friends and girls and whomever, but I don’t, not as much as I should. I used to use magic as the opener, now it’s kind of the reserve.

PS: Who would play YOU in The Antonio Esfandiari Story?

Antonio Esfandiari: If it was an older me, I could see like an Al Pacino kind of guy. But if it was a younger me, it would be the guy from The Sopranos...he played Stu Ungar in the Stu Ungar story [Michael Imperioli].

PS: What is your least favorite interview question?

Antonio Esfandiari: That’s a good one. I don’t really have one. Interviews are not my favorite thing, but they don’t bother me. It’s hard to set aside fifteen minutes and just focus on one thing, when you can have fun by playing online poker or something. So, I don’t have a least favorite one, it’s sort of like, "let’s just get it over with."

Antonio would also like to encourage people to check out “kickbutt amped energy ballz” at as well as his new DVD, which shows players how to avoid being cheated at poker, at