2012 WSOP – EVENT 55
BIG ONE FOR ONE DROP
July 3, 2012 will go down as the richest day in poker history.
No time, no day, no event ever in the history of the game awarded more cash. And yet — crazy as it may sound — money was perhaps the second or even third most memorable story of the day. But let’s start with the money, anyway.
Eighteen-million, three-hundred forty-six thousand, six-hundred and seventy-three dollars. For those with short attention spans and want to cut and paste that to Twitter — that’s $18,346,673 for short.
Oh, and that’s just the prize for one player. The second-place finisher really got shafted. He only received $10,112,001.
Then, there was third-place, which paid $4,352,000. Fourth-place got less, and fifth received even less. You get the picture.*
In all, the top nine finishers collected the astronomical sum of $42,666,672. To put that into context, the 2012 WSOP awarded more prize money in a single day than any other live poker tournament held in history for its entire duration.*
So, what could possibly top that as a news story?
Well, two things (maybe). But first, let’s take a look at a poker tournament like no other. Ever.
Winning a WSOP gold bracelet is always a special moment. It’s often cited as the highlight of any poker career. It’s usually the greatest achievement many will make in their lives.
But this tournament was different. Very different.
Winning the one-of-a kind tournament, which was completed on a Tuesday night at the Rio in Las Vegas in front of a packed gallery of spectators, as well as a worldwide television viewing audience on ESPN and the live stream at WSOP.com, was not just the crowning jewel of an eclectic 10-year poker career. It was the culmination of mind over matter, and willpower over distraction.
First, let’s talk about how spectacular this moment was in terms of pure human drama. Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari — yes, a former magician – won the richest prize in poker history. He collected a bank-account busting $18,346,673.
Esfandiari used to be a professional magician. In fact, he once performed magic tricks and wowed audiences of all ages.
But his greatest performance might have been on this night, as Esfandiari reached deep into his bag of card tricks in what was innocently labeled on the official WSOP schedule as “Event #55.” It wasn’t so amazing that Esfandiari won. What was amazing was the drama surrounding his second career bracelet victory. To call it “magical” would be a gross understatement (Note: This special bracelet is actually made of platinum, but it counts among WSOP gold bracelet achievements).
Esfandiari topped a field of 48 millionaires – 28 of them fellow poker players – including the game’s premier talent. He also conquered an unprecedented collection of financial minds, including billionaires accustomed to eating their adversaries for breakfast. Anybody who thought there was dead money in this field or that the competition was soft would be incorrect. Billionaires do not get to be billionaires by doing nothing. Consider that nine of the first 11 players to bust out were professional poker players.
Indeed, this was a match for the ages – pitting the most successful business executives, investors, and philanthropists from all over the world – countries like the United States, Russia, China, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, Great Britain — who came together for a duel cause. The first objective was to compete in an event of historical proportions. The second was to give something back in the form of a charitable component. More on the charity to come.
The tournament was played over three consecutive days. It started out with 48 players, who each posted an unheard of one-million dollar entry fee, just to sit at the table. After one day’s action, 37 survived. By the end of the second day, the No-Limit Hold’em tournament was down to just eight.
One of those eight finalists was a 33-year-old professional poker player now residing in Las Vegas. No doubt, Esfandiari is a beloved figure in the game of poker — and if there’s any doubt about that, all you had to do was open your eyes and ears and take in the cheers at the Big One for One Drop finale table, played on Tuesday afternoon. He’s done perhaps as much if not more than anyone in the game in terms of giving – of himself, his time, and so often his money. Perhaps that’s why Esfandiari’s cheering rail was the largest, aside from the sentimental crowd favorite – the organizer of this event, founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, who fittingly got dealt into the final table of the event he envisioned.
This final table had just about everything any poker fan would want in a lineup of this monetary and historic proportion.
Four highly-respected poker pros, including the WSOP’s all-time leader in just about every statistical category, facing four powerhouse minds from the world of business and entertainment.
But this poker tournament morphed from a metaphorical battle between megaminds in poker and high finance into a magic act. One by one, the Magician’s opponents disappeared in the following order:
Eighth Place — Richard Yong, 54-year-old poker player and businessman who spends much of his time in Malaysia, Macau, and China. He’s also a philanthropist who is one of the most revered gamblers in Asia.
Seventh Place — Bobby “The Owl” Baldwin, the 1978 World Champion who owns four WSOP gold bracelets. He’s a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. Baldwin helped to build City Center, the most expensive development in Las Vegas history.
Sixth Place — Brian Rast, the two-time WSOP gold bracelet winner from Las Vegas who hoped to add to his list of prestigious titles — including last year’s Poker Players Championship.
Fifth Place – Guy Laliberté, the self-made entertainment genius who created famed Cirque du Soleil, took a seat in the extraordinary event he inspired. There was something poignantly ironic when Laliberté took “Seat One” at the Big One for One Drop. It was the perfect script.
Fourth Place — Phil Hellmuth, the most storied poker player in WSOP history, who won his 12th gold bracelet earlier at this year’s WSOP. He holds virtually every record in the book, including the 1989 World Championship. Hellmuth, at age 47, lives in Palo Alto, CA and is a member of the Poker Hall of Fame. This was his biggest cash prize ever – amounting to $2,645,333.
Third Place — David Einhorn, the hedge-fund investor and financial mogul from Westchester County, NY had been on a similar stage before, finishing 18th place in the 2006 Main Event Championship, which was the biggest poker tournament of all time. At the time, Einhorn donated all of his $600,000 in winnings to the Micheal J. Fox Foundation. Incredibly, he did the same thing again, forking over his entire prize totaling $4,352,000 to City Year, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to keep kids in school and on track to graduate high school.
Second Place — Sam Trickett, the 26-year-old English poker pro, one of the highest-stakes gamblers in the world, is arguably the king of the British poker scene. Trickett was seeking his first WSOP gold bracelet but had to instead settle for the biggest consolation prize in poker history — $10,112,001.
First Place – The Big One for One Drop Champion, Antonio “the Magician” Esfandiari.
All triumphs actually begin long before champions enter the arena, and Esfandiari is no exception. The magic man has endured a roller coaster of emotional and financial ups and downs since he burst upon the poker scene eight years ago, when he won his first WSOP gold bracelet in the Pot-Limit Hold’em event at the old Binion’s Horseshoe.
Since 2004, Esfandiari has become just as popular for his legendary rock-star lifestyle as he has for his poker accomplishments. Perpetually the first one to every party and the last one to leave (assuming he didn’t throw the party himself), the “life of the party” is and always has been Antonio. In most cases, these types of stories end badly. Too much of this. Too much of that. Too much of too much. Too much excess.
However, in Esfandiari’s case, he was always able to keep at least one eye on the right road and a steady hand on the steering wheel on a highway that passed straight though Las Vegas and then takes an off ramp to a fall and in some cases, tragedy.
Esfandiari never lost his way. He never lost his vision. His passion. His love for life and living it to the fullest.
When asked what may have been the personal tipping point that allowed him to rise above the most stunning collection of financial barons every assembled for a poker game, Esfandiari was quick to speak of his life coach – Robyn Williams, the founder and CEO of the Choice Center in Las Vegas.
Esfandiari firmly believes that living a successful life is about making the right choices – about everything. About diet.
About exercise. About lifestyle. About finance. About friends. It’s all about choice – and Esfandiari certainly has been making a lot of the right ones, lately.
Esfandiari also gave credit to his father, who was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States. For the first time, Mr. Esfandiari was there to proudly witness his son at his happiest moment.
As soon as Esfandiari won the final pot of the tournament, he was overtaken with emotion as he embraced his father.
Esfandiari’s brother joined the richest hug in poker history. The sight of three very close people on the stage, beaming in the spotlight, with tears in their eyes, in front of the world’s television cameras and the watchful eye of every poker player in the universe was about as special as it gets.
Call it what you want – premonition, magic, luck or skill. Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari is the new $18 million man who will be remembered – at least for now – as the biggest winner in poker history.
Here are the final official results from the Big One for One Drop:
1st: Antonio Esfandiari – $18,346,673
2nd: Sam Trickett – $10,112,001
3rd: David Einhorn- $4,352,000
4th: Phil Hellmuth – $2,645,333
5th: Guy Laliberte – $1,834,666
6th: Brian Rast – $1,621,333
7th: Bobby Baldwin – $1,408,000
8th: Richard Yong – $1,237,333
WAIT — THERE’S MORE!
That still leaves one other possible storyline that might take precedent over the prize money — which is really saying something.
And what would that possibly be?
To answer that question we must depart on an imaginary journey away from the Las Vegas Strip and transport our attention to places where there are no poker tables, no glitz, and glamour – and sometimes no hope.
Places like impoverished villages. Barren deserts. Refugee camps. Places where there is horrific famine. Where there is pain. Where people suffer and die.
No doubt, Esfandiari would be the first to insist that this victory was not just about him. There was more than one winner.
Many, many more.
Long after this astronomical amount of money is come and gone, long after the television show is but a distant memory in the minds of millions who watched and witnessed it, and long after this gold bracelet victory is vaulted and padlocked into the record books, many thousands of people are going to benefit from the financial windfall of what happened on this historic night in Las Vegas.
They aren’t interested in bundles of cash. They have no interest in the meaning of winning a WSOP bracelet. All they want and need is one thing.
That’s right, clean water.
Consider that every 20 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies from a water-related disease. That’s intolerable.
Due to this tournament and one man who cares, many good people that none of us know, nor will ever meet, will be given access to one of life’s most previous resources. Clean water.
Guy Laliberté’s grand vision of holding an unprecedented historical event, in unison with Mitch Garber’s enthusiastic support on behalf of Caesars Interactive Entertainment and the World Series of Poker will put clean water into the mouths of people for the first time, which with continued financial support and greater awareness will hopefully last forever.*
More than $10 million was raised by holding a tournament and playing a game. That’s right — a poker game.
Change does not happen overnight. It happens one step at a time. And poker players have helped others to take one big step forward, thanks to this event.
Indeed, Antonio may be the Big One for One Drop champion and $18 million richer. But the biggest winners of all are people whose names will probably remain unknown.
www.wsop.com – Photo: WSOP