Las Vegas (29 March 2016) – Antonio Esfandiari—already one of the most successful players in World Series of Poker history—notched another accolade today by winning the Main Event at the WSOP Circuit at the Bicycle Casino. Esfandiari already leads the WSOP all-time money list and has three bracelets, and is likely most famous for winning the 2012 Big One for One Drop tournament for over $18 million, the biggest first-place prize in poker history. Now he has his first Circuit ring and yet another six-figure score ($226,785).
At times, Esfandiari seemed destined to win this tournament. He entered Day 2 with 520,000 in chips, leading his closest competitor by more than 200,000. “To be honest, I just had hands,” Esfandiari said of his Day 1 performance. “And I kept getting paid off. So I was really fortunate to have other people hold something good when I had really strong hands, and all of a sudden I looked up and I had 500K.” He also took the opportunity to give a friend of his a good-natured needle. “Mostly I'd like to thank Phil Laak because he donked off about 90K to me in a spot when he should have lost about 35-40K. So if it weren’t for my dear friend Phil I wouldn’t have had this victory, so I have to thank him for that.”
It’s fitting that Esfandiari won his first Circuit ring in this event – it attracted a star-studded field with some of the biggest names in poker, as well as celebrities from the entertainment industry. In fact, the runner up has only won one of the biggest poker tournaments ever. Jamie Gold won the 2006 WSOP Main Event, besting a field of 8,773 players en route to winning $12,000,000, the third-largest first-place prize in WSOP history.
The combination of Esfandiari and Gold not only brought star power to the final table, it also created a fun-loving atmosphere. “It was great,” Esfandiari said of playing with Gold. “Jamie’s a really fun guy. He’s one of the guys who makes the table enjoyable, and those are the guys you want to play with. I hate sitting there with these wizards that stare you down and tank for five minutes before every decision. It’s so tilting.”
When heads-up play began, Esfandiari held a big chip lead, about 13-1. “I’m really glad I won. This one would’ve hurt me forever if I lost, once I had the chip lead.” Gold actually started to make a comeback, beginning with a key all-in hand when his outdrew Esfandiari’s . “Once he caught that seven, I just couldn’t believe it,” Esfandiari said. But Gold’s comeback fell short, and Esfandiari ended up in the winner’s circle.
Gold entered Day 3 with a big chip lead, carrying 2,875,000 in chips into the final day. At that point, Esfandiari was in sixth place out of the remaining 12 players. Also advancing to Day 3 were WSOP bracelet winners Bryn Kenney and Jack Duong, as well as Barry Woods, Ludovic Geilich, and Ray Henson. Henson, like Gold and Esfandiari, owns a few pieces of WSOP history. He won the big re-entry event at the Choctaw Circuit last year. At the time it was the biggest tournament in Circuit history. A few months later, he finished in third place in the Colossus event at the World Series of Poker, the biggest live poker tourney ever. Henson ended up finishing in fourth place today ($76,830).
The other famous face on Day 3 belonged to Bruce Buffer, the UFC’s ring announcer. He just barely missed the final table, finishing in 11th place. Other players from the entertainment industry included actors Bill Fagerbakke and James Woods. Woods finished in 30th place, while Fagerbakke missed out on making the money.
Oddly enough, Esfandiari almost didn’t even play this event. “My father-in-law is in town, and we came to see him while he was playing, and I decided to play.” Esfandiari’s father-in-law is Bob Bounahra, who won a ring of his own a few days ago. Bounahra rose to prominence in the poker world in 2011, when he made the November Nine.
Bounahra, as well as Esfandiari’s wife, were on the rail cheering him on throughout the final day, and Esfandiari spoke at length about how the big role of family in his life. “I’m a dad now. I love being a dad, and obviously my son is the most important thing in my life.”
He also added that other priorities and other activities have cut into his poker playing a bit. “I’m definitely rusty with my tournament poker. There were spots where I really didn’t know what to do. So this was a great warmup for the World Series. After the past couple days, my confidence is oozing.”
The Main Event at the Bike began on Saturday and attracted 756 players across two starting flights. There were 140 players who made it to Day 2, and the top 81 made the money.
The top 81 players finished in the money, and the bubble burst after about three hours of play. Three WSOP bracelet winners were eliminated in the money on Day 2: Tuan Le (71st place, $3,075), Mel Wiener (61st, $3,345), and David “ODB” Baker (19th, $9,605).
Also finishing in the money is eight-time WSOP Circuit ring winner Ari Engel. Engel recently won Casino Champion honors at Harrah’s Atlantic City. After finishing in fourth place in the Atlantic City Main Event, Engel hopped on a plane and entered Day 1B here at the Bike the following day. He advanced to Day 2 and eventually finished in 50th place for $3,675.
Nipun Java won this event two years ago. He had a chance to repeat the accomplishment, but ended up bowing out in 18th place ($11,535). The player who finished runner-up to Java in 2014, Shane Schleger, made the money today as well. He finished in 80th place for $2,825.
Here are the final table results from the Circuit Main Event at the Bicycle Casino. Full Results are available here.
1 – Antonio Esfandiari - $226,785
2 – Jamie Gold - $139,820
3 – Barry Woods - $103,080
4 – Ray Henson - $76,830
5 – Alex Greenblatt - $58,025
6 – Bryn Kenney - $44,395
7 – Blaise Hom – 34,395
8 – Ludovic Geilich - $26,980
9 – Jack Duong - $21,420