Antonio Esfandiari is an amazing professional player who started his career with magic tricks and loves controversy

Antonio Esfandiari

Some poker players are not only superstars or genius mathematicians, but also people who have achieved success through discipline, hard work and professionalism. Antonio Esfandiari is one such player. Even though he has already won three championship bracelets, he is not shy about entertaining his opponents with card tricks. How did this magician become a poker player and why did he change his name?


Amir Esfandiary
The Magician
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Антонио эсфандиари

Amir Esfandiari was born on December 8, 1978 in Tehran, Iran. Little is known about his parents and childhood. In 1987, the family emigrated from Iran to the United States to escape the Muslim uprising and settled in San Jose, California. Soon after, his father and mother had a falling out and his mother returned to Iran.

Amir attended local schools but left home at the age of 19 after an argument with his father. It was then that Amir first changed his name to Antonio in order to fit into American society. Antonio was one of the few who did not drop out of college or university to pursue a career as a poker player. He didn’t go to college at all. Immigrants from poor Iranian families cannot afford expensive higher education.

Anthony – illusionist

Антонио эсфандиари

In 1996, he got a job as a waiter in a small cafe in San Jose, but soon became a magician. One day he saw a local bartender performing magic tricks on people, so he bought equipment used by young magicians, and within three years he mastered many tricks, including card tricks.

According to Esfandiari, he trained 12 hours a day. At first he earned tips with his comic tricks, but gradually he began to be invited to events, and magic became his part-time job. When Anthony mastered the profession of a magician, he became Antonio. The boy decided that the nickname “Magic Antonio” sounded better than “Magic Anthony”.


Antonio played poker for the first time by leaving home with a roommate who was a gambler and taught his friend the basics of poker. Esfandiari’s poker career began with a small local tournament at the Garden City club. After the showdown, one of his friends invited him to play in a tournament and Antonio won it, sparking his interest in poker. He started with $2/4 limit bets and gradually improved his skills.

While playing low stakes, Esfandiari met Phil Laak, another aspiring poker player, and the two subsequently became friends. They learned to play poker together and even registered an online poker room. Antonio’s already tense relationship with his father becomes even more complicated: to prove to his father that he is serious, Antonio takes him to the casino and shows him how good he is at and becomes a professional poker player.

Youngest champion

In 2004, at the WPT Los Angeles Poker Classic, young Esfandiari’s life was turned upside down. At the final table, Antonio the Wizard faced Phil Hellmuth, who already had 11 WSOP bracelets; Esfandiari defeated a talented professional who had never won a WPT tournament. Antonio won the $1.4 million first prize and became the youngest WPT champion.

Biggest victories

The ambitious Esfandiari did not stop there and in 2004 took part in the WSOP, where he won the Limit Hold’em Championship and the first championship bracelet of the series. The second “wizard” bracelet Antonio won was even bigger than the first: in 2012, he won the WSOP One Drop $1,000,000 Grand Prix. At the final table, Esfandiari went head-to-head with Sam Trickett and defeated him. In addition to the bracelet, the winner took home $18,000,000, which was the largest prize in poker history at the time. The record was broken seven years later by Bryn Kenny, who won $20 million in a similar tournament.

Esfandiari doesn’t have the impressive stats of seasoned pros like Hellmuth or Brunson: just over 10 WSOP final tables and two WPT titles. However, he is a well-known player who participates in many high-stakes tournaments. Each victory more than compensates for his long decline, and with his high six-figure income, the number of bracelets can be ignored.

His prize pool exceeded $27,000,000. Considering his relatively short poker career, this is an impressive success. In tournaments, Antonio easily gives away chips and does not get upset when he loses. Therefore, when Dwan single-handedly took more than $50,000 in prize money from “The Wizard” in 2019, Hellmuth did not become hysterical.

Despite his rare World Series final table appearances, Esfandiari is truly one of the most popular players. Antonio not only rarely misses shots, but also sometimes entertains his opponents and the audience with his tricks. At the poker table, he is a model of respect for opponents and strategy for both professionals and amateurs. He also encourages players to be aggressive in their poker games and dare to bluff in ultra-high stakes games, and is a friend of Kevin Hart, who was nominated for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame.


Antonio the Wizard is also known as an avid bettor. At one time he was even one of the hosts of a show called Betting with Phil Luck and organized various bookmaking events. However, his love of betting turned out to be a disaster for Esfandiari in 2016. He was disqualified from the 2016 PCA Main Event for a breach of etiquette. What kind of violation? Halfway through the tournament, Antonio took out a bottle and started urinating in it. What does this have to do with betting? The day before the main event, he made a bet with Bill Perkins that the day would move with deep lunges. Esfandiari fulfilled the bet, but during the race his legs hurt so much that he could not get up to go to the toilet.

And in 2019, the poker player offered a bet to Phil Hellmuth. They agreed to play a one-on-one tournament. The loser will receive a stun gun charge from the winner. Phil agreed, but the tournament has not yet been played.


The Wizard also built a modest acting career. He played cameo roles in the films All In: The Poker Movie, Lucky You, Deal and The Grand, playing himself. Antonio dreams of playing a more serious role, but only in a poker film.

The player also often appears on “Poker After Dark” and “High Stakes Poker”. In general, the camera loves him, and it’s mutual.

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