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Thursday, June 21, 2018
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Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

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Esfandiari wins $18.3 million, Big One for One Drop title at WSOP

Sam Trickett really wishes Antonio Esfandiari had won the $3,000 No-Limit Hold'em Shootout at the World Series of Poker two weeks ago.

Esfandiari, who held 80 percent of the chips in play with three players remaining, got extremely unlucky and ended up finishing third in the event. He left feeling unsatisfied, and hungry to win a WSOP bracelet.

As a result, he decided to enter the $1 million Big One for One Drop and ended up beating Trickett heads up for the biggest prize in tournament poker history: $18.3 million.

The first three hours of Tuesday's final table were broadcast on ESPN2, and the last three were shown on ESPN. Esfandiari, who was a part of the live broadcast team for last year's Main Event November Nine, was scheduled to be part of this event's live broadcast as well.

"I wasn't going to play, because I was going to do the commentary," said Esfandiari. "I really like the ESPN commentator gig, but I took third [in the shootout] and I was like 'Argh,' so I decided to play it at the last minute."

Best. Decision. Ever.

Esfandiari came into the final table as the chip leader, and despite an early setback when he ran pocket kings into David Einhorn's pocket aces, Esfandiari was the table captain for the entire day. He tormented Phil Hellmuth, turning over a measly nine-deuce after three-betting the Poker Brat out of a pot. And he showed how on target his reads were when he open folded to Einhorn on the river when he was first to act, telling the former hedge fund manager, "Ace is good." Einhorn was forced to turn over his hand to claim the pot, showing ace-king, and confirming to the rest of the table that Esfandiari was in charge.

Esfandiari is hoisted in the air by friends and family after clinching the Big One for One drop title.

Esfandiari is hoisted in the air by friends and family after clinching the Big One for One drop title. (photo by Vin Narayanan)

Then, in one of the most bizarre elimination hands in tournament poker history, Esfandiari took out the tournament's creator and the founder of the One Drop charity, Guy Laliberte. The hand wasn't bizarre because of the action; Laliberte, who has made millions as the owner of Cirque de Soleil, got it all in with pocket queens and Esfandiari called with ace-king. Pretty standard, really. What wasn't standard, however, was how the two immediately donned clown noses, then waited for the community cards to be revealed, arm-in-arm, with huge smiles across their faces.

After a jack-seven-deuce flop, Esfandiari held Laliberte a little tighter and said, "It's coming."

"No it's not," said Laliberte.

"I bet you $18 million," said Esfandiari.

"At a certain moment he said, 'I really need this one; I need this more than you do,'" Laliberte said after the tournament. "And I said, 'Listen, we'll see what the gods of cards decide.'"

Well, the gods of cards dropped a king on the turn and knocked Laliberte out in fifth. Esfandiari had more than 60 percent of the chips in play, and after that point, the outcome never seemed to be in doubt.

While Trickett knocked out Phil Hellmuth in fourth to narrow the edge a bit, Esfandiari handled Einhorn, dominating his king-nine with king-10 to start the heads up battle with Trickett with a 5-2 chip edge.

Esfandiari won the event when he flopped trip fives and Trickett moved all in with a flush draw.

"I was like 'Please, Jesus, one time,'" said Esfandiari. "And I'm pretty sure I used up all my one times on this tournament, but I'm okay with that. I said earlier if I use up my one times for the next five years in this tournament, I'm happy with that."

After two bricks hit the board, Esfandiari let the emotions run wild, throwing his hands in the air before being rushed by two-dozen friends and family members, jumping up and down and lifting him in the air like he'd hit a walk-off home run to win, well, the World Series.

After receiving the first platinum bracelet awarded by the World Series, Esfandiari announced he would give the bracelet to his father, who came up to the stage and hugged his son.

"He's been my biggest supporter," said Esfandiari. "I love him to death; he's the greatest man on the planet. He gave up a lot to move us to this country, everything basically. So to win this for him and give him the bracelet means the world to me. I'm going to wear this tonight but after tonight it's my Dad's bracelet."

Trickett received the third-largest payout in poker history -- $10.1 million, ranking behind only Esfandiari's winner's share and Jamie Gold's $12 million first-place prize in the 2006 Main Event.

But the honor of the day went to Esfandiari, who found himself surrounded by reporters pushing microphones in his face, peppering him with questions.

"I feel like the President!" he said. "I like this."

Only the President makes $400,000 a year. Esfandiari just won more than 45 times that amount in three days. Not bad for a guy that wasn't even planning on playing in the tournament a few weeks ago.

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