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Best of John G. Brokopp

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This Magician's Skill on TV's High Stakes Poker No Illusion

12 December 2007

Poker pro Antonio Esfandiari is known as "The Magician" on the tournament circuit because prior to catching flush draws against his opponents at the tables he was pulling rabbits of his hat on stage.

Esfandiari, who was born in Tehran, Iran, came to the United States to attend college. A bartender with whom he became friends introduced him to the world of magic, and by the time he was 19 he was a professional magician who performed at private parties and other social events.

Soon after amazing audiences with card tricks, he was vexing his opponents at the poker table with amazing feats of poker skill. He became the youngest player to win over $1 million in a poker tournament with his victory in the 2004 L.A. Poker Classic Championship.

Just three months later he won a $2,000 Pot-Limit Texas Hold'em tournament at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas and was awarded his first gold bracelet after claiming first prize of nearly $200,000. His tournament winnings now exceed $2.7 million.

You can watch Esfandiari work his magic at the poker tables every week on High Stakes Poker, the popular GSN "Get in the Game" cable network show now in its fourth season. It was produced at the South Point Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas.

Unlike tournaments in which players compete to advance to the final table using chips with no cash value, High Stakes Poker brings top professional poker stars and legends together for a private game in which they lay down their own cash.

The buy-in for each game at the start of the season was $100,000, but as of earlier this month it increased to $500,000 per player, which means that the final seven episodes of Season IV feature $5 million in cash and more on the table.

Busting out in this game means more than the loss of your entry fee and the opportunity to move on. Losing it all on High Stakes Poker means you're out a bundle.

"The Magician" has anted up for all four seasons of High Stakes Poker. I caught up with him between tables in a Las Vegas poker tournament and asked him what he felt was the biggest difference between playing in a cash game like High Stakes Poker and a regular televised tournament.

"Comparing High Stakes Poker to tournaments is like comparing rugby to table tennis," he said. "It's not even close. The strategy and tools are so different. In a tournament you're playing to advance to the final table. In High Stakes Poker you play to protect your stack without having to take unnecessary risks."

Even for a high stakes pro like Esfandiari, a seasoned cash game player, High Stakes Poker is the biggest game he's ever played in. He admits to enjoying competing against the greatest players in the world on the show, captivated by what he describes as the unique "pizzazz and energy" of each episode.

A risk-taker who puts huge sums of money on the line for each decision he makes, Esfandiari told me: "A poker session for me is just like a day at the office. You win some, you lose some, and at the end of the day you tally up the results."

His after-hour conversations with "co-workers", he says, are surprisingly cordial in spite of the fortunes that can be won or lost.

"You can lose $1 million, another guy can win $500,000, and you'll meet at the bar an hour later and speak with one another like nothing happened," he said.

You can read Antonio Esfandiari's entertaining poker blog at www.alwaysbluff.com, and starting in January 2008 you can get his advice on how to play the game at www.thepokercoaches.com.

CASINO NEWS: Club Victoria player's club members are invited to celebrate the holiday season with a 12 Days of Christmas giveaway at the Grand Victoria Casino in Elgin every Monday through Thursday Dec. 3 - 20. Drawings will be held at 3 pm, 6 pm and 8 pm. Twelve winners will be selected each day to play a grand prize game for cash and prizes.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp