Antonio Esfandiari: Niklas Heinecker is a “Boss”


With over $26 million in live tournament winnings, high-stakes pro Antonio Esfandiari (pictured) is one of the most successful poker players of all time. He has captured three World Series of Poker bracelets, including one for the $1 million buy-in Big One for One Drop, where he won an eye-popping $18 million for his first place finish.

To promote his upcoming “Pokerography” documentary on Poker Central, the Las Vegas-based grinder answered questions from fans in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread, discussing everything from crazy prop bets to the players he fears most at the tables.

Esfandiari hadn’t always dreamed of playing poker for a living. Before he won millions of dollars at the tables, his goal was to become a professional magician. Soon after the money started coming in from Texas Hold’em, however, his career in magic became an afterthought.

While known as a fierce opponent in live tournaments and cash games, Esfandiari was never much into online poker. “I was an online fish,” he said. “Online was just never my thing. I don’t like playing when I can’t see my opponents.”

These days, his opponents include some of the best poker minds in the world, many of which he faced during the 2012 Big One for One Drop tournament. He cites that year’s final table lineup as the toughest he has ever faced: “Ivey, Seidel, Marchese, Ben Lamb, Nick Schulman, among others. I never felt like I had an edge. They’re all wizards,” he said.

He also listed several other players whose game he respects, like Scott Seiver (pictured), whom he described as “pretty tough to crack,” and Brian tsarrast Rast, whom he referred to as the “best and toughest” grinder around.

In a strange hypothetical, Esfandiari was asked to pick one player to play in a deep-stack tournament against the top 200 other players in the world. “If your player loses,” “DatGreg” said, “the Earth will explode immediately.” After first jokingly responding with “Hellmuth,” he chose poker pro Niklas Heinecker, calling him “a boss.”

There were several questions on how much total money Esfandiari had won through poker or had saved or invested. Instead of answering them directly, he told the story of a prop bet he lost against actor Don Cheadle. “[We] played a heads-up match where if I lost, I had to do a full-blown magic show at his house in a top hat for him and his guests,” Esfandiari said. “If I won, he had to come over and cook for me and up to 25 of my guests in a chef’s apron. Of course, I lost, and now I owe him a magic show.”

The 36-year-old also spoke about his work as a commentator at this year’s WSOP Main Event final table. “I didn’t like my commentary on day one, but I thought I did well day two and three,” he said. He added that he loved the buildup provided by the November Nine final table format and touched on how to fix the excessive “tanking” prevalent in this year’s finale.

The best fix is a shot clock much like they had in the Super High Roller Bowl,” he said. He also advised making other changes, like banning “anything that hides you,” including hoodies and sunglasses, both of which were prohibited in the Super High Roller Bowl this year.

While he only admitted to reading just two poker books in his life – “Super System” and “Winning Low Limit Hold’em” – Esfandiari wrapped up the AMA with a little nugget of advice for aspiring poker pros. “Always fold when you know you’re beat. Money saved is money earned,” he said.

Check out Esfandiari’s Pokerography episode on Poker Central this Sunday at 8pm ET.

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