Q&A with Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari

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Someone, and I can’t reveal my sources, but someone once told me the real reason you changed your first name from Amir to Anthony and then later to Antonio was to improve your chances with the ladies. Is that true?

That is not true. The reason why I changed my name from Amir to Anthony was because when I was younger in school I got picked on a lot. I just wanted to have a more American name where I wouldn’t get needled so much. Then when I went from Anthony to Antonio, Antonio was more mystical. Antonio the Magician vs. Anthony the Magician because I used to do magic for a living.

We often see you performing tricks with cards and chips. Do you ever miss those days as a professional magician?

No, I don’t say I’m a magician anymore, but I still do magic for friends and family and groups of people what not. For the most part I’m a poker degenerate.

Were there any lessons learned as a professional magician that ultimately made you a better poker player?

That’s a good question. No specific skills, but I did magic for so many people, I learned human traits. I learned the way humans react when they get excited, when they’re confused, when they don’t know how something is done. So I think in essence I learned just natural human behavior from doing magic, and seeing the reactions I got. That might have helped with my ability to read people later on down the line in poker. So (not) because of cards did my poker ability go up, but because of human traits and seeing how they react I think I learned a lot. … I spent like 12 hours a day every day for two years, practicing, I kid you not, morning till night I was practicing.

Anyone who has seen you on television knows you like to have a good time. Where’s your favorite place to party these days?

Tao night club in Las Vegas. It’s just fun. There’s an area in the middle of the club like a catwalk kind of a thing, right in the middle of the club like right by the VIP tables, VIP section. I’m friends with owner of the club, and no guys are allowed to dance up there, it’s just all girls. From the moment the club starts to the end of the night there’s like 20 girls going through there all the time. And since I’m friends with the owner I can go up there and I have my bottle of Patrone in my hand, I’m like drifting around, talking, dancing, whatever. And it’s just like no other guy is allowed up there so … it doesn’t hurt the matters when you’re the only guy allowed up there. But I don’t want that to come off in like a Chiachi way. Just the way I get treated because my friend owns the club. Also depends on the night of the week. I love the Bank Night Club at the Bellagio. Bank and Tao are my favorite spots. It just depends on the night. If you want I can give you the rundown of every night (laughs).

No that’s OK. Speaking of having a good time, how did I Bet You with Phil Laak get started?

Literally Phil and I used to play poker all of the time and some guy was like “Dude, you guys are hilarious together. You guys should have a TV show where you walk around and bet on everything.” And we’re like “Yeah, cool, make it happen.” You know? … Somehow it got transferred to our agent, our agent got a hold of this production company, next thing we know they have this idea for us, we go to New York to do this little one-hour pilot making bets, eight months later they sell the show to a network and somehow you have I Bet You. We couldn’t believe that it actually happened because these things people are always like “Oh yeah we have this idea” but nothing ever actually happens.

I hear it’s in limbo. Would you do a Season 3 if a network picked it up?

We’re filming it right now. We’ve already shot four episodes and we’re shooting another one in about a week and a half. We made a bet about a month ago about who is more full of … um, I don’t know how to explain this. You know how Phil and I are always B.S.ing each other. So we’re sitting there and I’m like “Your full of shit.” And he goes “No, you’re full of shit.” And we make a bet on who was more full of shit and went and got a colon cleaning. So that’ll be I think the funniest episode that we’ve ever shot when it comes out. … We’re definitely filming the whole season.

How sick do you feel when you lose a bet or even a pot to him?

It hurts. It really hurts. Stings. Phil and I are so competitive. Outside of our show and at the poker table just in life in general, we just want to beat each other so bad it’s the most insane twisted friendship you’ve ever seen. It really hurts.

Is there ever any amount where you’d feel bad that you took it from Phil?

Nope, if I busted Phil, if I broke him for his net worth I would text-message him like “Life is good.” There’s no sympathy. When my net worth was $30,000, he offered me a flip for like $35,000 to $30,000 because he wanted to break me and set me back to zero. That’s how sick we are.

Have you gotten over Phil meeting Jen Tilly?

He left me, it hurts, but you know what? They’re in love and I’m happy for them. In the end you want your friends to be happy. As much as I get less time with him because of Jennifer and what not. They’re very happy together and that’s all that matters.

What’s the sickest prop bet you’ve ever made?

I mean, I’d have to say we made a bet on who’s the most full of shit. You know, we made a bet who had more potent sperm. Those are some pretty sick bets.

How much cash do you have on you right now?

Like literally with me like on my body?

Yeah, like on you right now.

Zero.

Does that mean you don’t always have to be ready for an action bet?

I mean, I’m at home in my underwear. … I have access to friggin’, you know, a lot. But not like in the next 30 seconds.

You’ve been a celebrity for a while now so you’re probably used to it, but what goes through your mind when you see yourself on TV doing the wave in front of Hellmuth or Hollywooding it up on HSP?

That’s a very good question and I’ll be honest with you, when it first started happening when I first started being on television it was the coolest thing in the world. I would want to watch and see what happened and this and that. And after a while, and I don’t mean to sound (unappreciative), but in life you always want what you can’t have. And once you have a certain level of anything, you desire it less. And not to say I’m famous by any means because I don’t consider myself a celebrity on any level. I mean maybe I’m known in the poker world a little bit. You know, I may get recognized a few times when I go out but by no means would I call myself a celebrity. … Nowadays, if I see myself on TV, it’s cool don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like “Oh my God I’m on TV.”

What’s the deal with bad beat stories with you not ever telling one?

I just have a certain philosophy on life in general, and that is if something bad happens to you and there’s nothing you can do about it, why let it stress yourself out? Why let it get to you, why let it bring you down? Life is too short. I don’t let anything affect me. A bad beat happens, and you lose with the best hand, what can you do? You’re just gonna sit there and mope about it and cry about it and tell people? That’s just negative energy. You’re not gonna get your money back by crying about it. So why in the world would you ever tell someone a bad-beat story. The fact that you can shower in the morning and eat when you’re hungry crushes the fact that you just got a bad beat because life is not a bad beat if you can do those things.

All we know about you is what we see and hear on television. Is there one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m extremely family-oriented, very close to my father, my mother and my brother. One of these days I’m gonna throw in my player card find a wife and have babies.