“I knew he had something, but I didn’t know exactly what he had.”
The words of Antonio ‘The Magician’ Esfandiari as he discusses the latest classic hand we’re featuring in our recap of our on-demand series, Poker After Dark. These exclusive Director’s Cut features are a joy to behold, and this hand, more than most, has drama from start to rug-pull finish.
The 1995 film The Usual Suspects paraphrases an 1836 book on Quakerism when its central character who shall remain nameless for the three people who haven’t seen the film – says “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” In Poker After Dark, and in this hand in particular, Tom Dwan has the devil inside him.
Dwan is still playing live poker, of course. Just as people were wondering where he’d got to, he recently resurfaced having converted to radical beliefs – that Short Deck Poker is the game to play right now. Who knows, maybe TV poker’s first wunderkind is right. He certainly didn’t look like he was going to make The Magician’s stack disappear in this hand. But as commentator Ali Najed called it, for Esfandiari:
“What started as a dream hand turned into a nightmare.”
Both the things you can choose to either love or hate about Dwan and Esfandiari are on display throughout the hand. Dwan stares down his opponent and hits a one-outer miracle on the river, while The Magician looks to have an unassailable lead then has cause to complain when he’s rivered.
In many ways, the men are opposites of each other. For years, Tom Dwan has been something of an enigma, shunning the spotlight just when you might imagine he’d step towards center stage. Esfandiari, of course, can’t claim to be any kind of shrinking violet. A huge star in poker, especially since his $18m win in the 2012 Big One for One Drop, he’s also put himself in the firing line by commentating on WSOP Main Events for several years, and always with that widest of grins.
Tom Dwan has diversified his game to include such out-there variants as Short Deck and his reputation as an online phenom as well as live boss has been in place for years. Dwan now admits to loathing the popularisation of his famous staredowns, especially during unimportant hands. He remains a unique man who, years after this hand, is almost inscrutable.
By comparison, it could also be argued that Esfandiari’s reputation was built so solidly on the foundations of his success in No Limit Hold’em that he has been restricted to playing that format above any other in a way more than sponsored poker players. The Magician’s reputation once pulled a rabbit out of the metaphorical hat in a tournament I attended.
It was the year after his famous One Drop win, and Esfandiari was playing in a £100,000-entry tournament at the Palm Beach Casino in London. If you haven’t been there, then correct that on your next visit to London. It’s in the middle of Mayfair, and you’ll feel like a king in that most royal of cities.
Esfandiari entered the tournament, having wired across the requisite six-figure buy-in before his flight. Once into the action, he got unlucky, drifting down the chip counts, then out altogether. He wanted to rebuy, but the rules of the tournament stipulated that he must already have the funds in the Palm Beach’s coffers, which having sent only one entry, he didn’t have. The only other way he could buy back in was to borrow the money from someone else. But that wasn’t the promise of funds, it was needed right there and then in cash or chips.
A single orange, gold and black chip to be precise.
Upon asking around, Esfandiari found a friend in legendary Chinese player Richard Yong, who – still sat at his table – produced the shimmering chip worth £100,000 and flicked it across the felt like it was a dollar. I wish I could tell you that Esfandiari came back and won the whole tournament. In truth, he busted his second and final entry just a couple of hours later. But the memory of that chip – £100,000 effectively – spinning through the air will stay with me a long time.
This latest defeat cost him far less money, of course, and came years before the win that made The Magician his name. But the players thoughts – and in particular Phil Laak’s needle to his best friend right at the end – are my favorite parts of Poker After Dark. You can access a whole world of poker videos in The Vault, including the most recent WSOP action.
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