Flashback Friday: Antonio Esfandiari Won the First Ever $1 Million Buy-In Poker Tournament

Antonio Esfandiari had a rough week at the poker table. He lost for the third straight time to his nemesis, Phil Hellmuth, on PokerGo’s new show, “High Stakes Duel.” So, let’s take a look back at a time when the “Magician” won enough money to buy a mansion in just a few days.

Antonio Esfandiari poker

Antonio Esfandiari, apparently, doesn’t like to wear shoes. (Image: WSOP.com)

In 2012, the World Series of Poker hosted the first ever $1 million poker tournament, a charity event dubbed the Big One for One Drop. The buy-in was so high that some players, including Esfandiari, questioned if the event would actually run.

Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil and the One Drop Foundation, pitched the event to the WSOP, and it became a rousing success with 48 players registered — a mix of businessmen and pros — creating a prize pool of more than $42 million. The event also raised another $5 million raised for Laliberte’s charity.

Only nine of those players who registered walked away with money, meaning 39 individuals lost $1 million in a matter of one or two days.

The late great Mike Sexton went out in ninth place ($1,109,333) before Richard Yong busted in eighth place ($1,237,333), setting up the seven-player final table of Antonio Esfandiari, Bobby Baldwin, Sam Trickett, Phil Hellmuth, Brian Rast, David Einhorn, and the creator of the event, Laliberte.

Esfandiari Dominates $1 Million Final Table

Esfandiari entered the final table of the Big One for One Drop in 2012 second in chips. Trickett, a British high roller, held the chip lead and was the favorite to win the $18.34 million first-place prize.

The final table pay jumps were light early on, but once play got down the final five, they became massive. Baldwin, the 1979 world champion, was first to go at the final table ($1,408,000). Then, Rast lost arguably the cruelest hand of the day to bust in sixth place ($1,621,333). Trickett flopped a set of threes, Rast flopped the nut-flush. The river gave Trickett quads, and he got max value out of it.

Laliberte, an amateur poker enthusiast, busted in fifth place ($1,834,666). Hellmuth, who was trying to extend his bracelet record at the time to 13, was next out the door ($2,645,333). Einhorn, a hedge fund manager, took third place for $4,352,000.

That set up heads-up play between Esfandiari and Trickett, and both players were guaranteed at least $10 million. The winner would receive a gold bracelet and an extra $8 million on top.

Before entering the tournament, Esfandiari said he had a dream that he won the event. The dream ended up coming true for the “Magician.” He defeated Trickett in heads-up play to win poker’s most expensive tournament for $18,346,673. After the final card was dealt, Esfandiari’s friends and family hoisted him up like he was the Super Bowl winning coach.

Esfandiari isn’t the only one to win the Big One for One Drop. Dan Colman won it in 2014 for $15,303,668, and Justin Bonomo won the tournament in 2018 for $10 million. The tournament has since been disbanded.

Jon Sofen
Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.

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