Little over a week ago Esfandiari went through a brutal collapse in Event 36 when he looked all but certain to win his second bracelet.
Esfandiari had a huge chip lead three-handed but thanks to a series of unfortunate events he ended up busting in third place.
Today Esfandiari finally got that second bracelet… along with $18.3 million in cash.
Esfandiari beat Sam Trickett heads-up to claim the biggest first-place prize in poker history in the $1 million buy-in BIG ONE for ONE DROP.
We chatted with Esfandiari shortly after winning the BIG ONE about what the monumental achievement meant to him.
You walked off this stage barely one week ago in a very disappointing third place. You were crushed. Did you ever think you would get to this moment?
Antonio Esfandiari: Yes. I did actually think it. I believed it. I declared it. I wanted to win even more, since I took third and didn’t win that tournament. I got pretty unlucky when it was three-handed so I was determined to come back and win another one.
Talk about the last hand, when you were sweating those two cards. You had trips he had the flush draw, how hard was your heart beating?
It wasn’t beating that hard. I actually just went through the process and I was thinking ‘OK here we are, this is the moment. If you fade this flush draw, you win the biggest tournament in the history of the world. This is it. This is the moment.’
I was like, ‘Please, Jesus, one time.' I’m pretty sure I used up all my one times in this tournament. But I’m OK with that. From now on it’s one MORE time.
How does your mindset change when you’re playing against players who aren't afraid to lose a million dollars?
Honestly it didn’t change. It’s really just a poker tournament. You get two cards, you’re opponent gets two cards. You just have to play position, the chip stack and the player.
It really didn’t make a difference. I just wanted to win the tournament.
Talk about growing up.
Who says I’ve grown up? [Laughs] Absolutely I’ve grown up. I did some self-awareness work and that put things in perspective. What was important and what wasn’t. The going out and partying all the time didn’t make me that happy at the end of the day. I loved it – don’t get me wrong – but I kinda grew out of it.
I’m 33 now and I just decided to live a better life. This WSOP I decided I was going to be focused. Wake up every day, go to the gym and be disciplined and win a bracelet.
Was this your tournament from the beginning? You seemed very comfortable at the final table.
I think a lot of people were comfortable, they just weren’t as outgoing. My style is to talk and have a good time. I might as well enjoy my life instead of sitting there and being bored. As we all know, poker can be kind of boring sometimes.
I was just trying to have a good time and I would do that in any game. The fact that it was ONE DROP made no difference.
How does this tournament change your life, Antonio?
I came on to the poker circuit many years ago and I had some success. For many years I didn’t care and I didn’t win anything but thanks to other shows I was still in the poker scene. I won a WPT several years ago and that felt great but this is different.
I think this really lays the foundation for Antonio Esfandari: The Poker Player.
Where do you go from here?
The bar. [laughs]
How does all-time money leader in tournament poker sound to you?
Can you talk about the $8 million pay jump between second and first?
I swear to you, believe it or not, I never once thought about the money. I just wanted to win.
After winning you said you were going to give the bracelet to your Dad. When did you decide to do that and what does it mean to you?
I decided last night. I told my little brother Pasha that this one was for Dad and I was gong to give him the bracelet. My Dad has been my biggest supporter. The very first time I invited him to a casino to watch me play he just sat there and watched me play cards. This was before poker was popular.
At first he wasn’t supportive but when he came out and watched me play and I told him what people had he was like ‘OK, I get it.’
He’s been my biggest supporter since then and I love him to death. He’s the greatest man on the planet. He gave up a lot to move us to this country. To win this for him and give him the bracelet means the world to me.
I’m going to wear it tonight but after tonight it’s his bracelet.
Is this bigger than winning the Main Event for you?
I actually had a conversation about that with someone and I don’t know. I think winning this is getting a chance to be a part of history. This is unprecedented.
If I had the chance to pick, I might pick this one. I don’t know what it feels like to win the Main Event. After I win it this year, I’ll let you know.
Was it important to overtake Phil Hellmuth on the all-time money list today?
No, but it was great re-raising him with nine-deuce.
When did you decide to play the BIG ONE?
Just a few days before the tournament, I wasn’t going to play it because I was going to do the commentary. I really like doing commentary but I had just placed third in an event and decided to play last minute.
Are there some pretty happy investors out there?
I plead the fifth.