With 'In The Money', the third book in the World Poker Tour book series, poker professional Antonio 'The Magician' Esfandiari gives readers excellent insight to working the tables in the highly complex world of the No Limit Hold Em cash game. Before he transferred his expertise into the tournament poker world, Antonio worked the cash games of the casinos surrounding his hometown of San Francisco. It's these experiences that he brings to "In The Money" that show the rest of the poker world how to be a successful player in ring games on the Internet and in the casinos.
For the past two years, Antonio has been in the top thirty players in the world. In 2004, he became one of the few men to capture a World Poker Tour title and a World Series of Poker bracelet in the same year. In 2005, he made four final tables on his way to earning over a half million dollars in tournament earnings. This year, while starting slowly, he seems to be on track for striking at this year's World Series.
These are definitely busy times for "The Magician". With the new book currently on the racks of your local bookstore, Antonio also has many other projects underway, as I recently found out when we had the chance to speak last week.
PN: Hello, Antonio!
AE: EAARRL! How the hell you been!
PN: Good, Antonio! I wanted to congratulate you on "In The Money". You really captured some nuances of the game that I hadn't considered.
AE: I'm glad to hear that! I really tried to get the information across in a way that people could get some useful information to help out their game.
PN: I personally liked the approach that you took to cash games. You stayed away from saying "play this here, play that there" and got across that cash games have a very much free flowing style.
AE: That's exactly what I was aiming to do. I didn't want "In The Money" to be a typical poker book. I didn't want to take the approach that most do by designating out starting hands and situations. No-Limit cash games require a completely different approach, in my opinion, rather than a set in stone strategy. I wanted people to actually think while they were reading the book and applying it to their game. I also wanted to demonstrate a more psychological approach than what I have seen in other books.
PN: Another thing that I liked about the book is you emphasized playing all styles of poker and playing them heads up, shorthanded, and at a full table. You stated that the heads up matches you played with Gabe (Thaler, another poker professional in the game today) really helped to get your game to where it is today.
AE: For sure, those hundreds or thousands of heads up contest that I had with Gabe really taught me quite a bit about poker as a whole. It demonstrated to me just how difficult it is to make a hand and my understanding about playing poker beyond the cards went way up. Playing shorthanded gives you creativity and forces you to think more about what you are doing…
PN: Well, the old saying goes that No-Limit is more of an art form…
AE: You got it. That's where the creativity and thought comes into the game. Once you are proficient at those situations, the full tables are where the real fun comes in.
By playing poker all the time you also will guarantee that you will play better, definitely. It's not like you completely forget the game if you don't, but you have a better game when it is working well and you're playing frequently.
PN: It's obvious from reading the book that you're constantly studying the game. What books have helped to formulate your basic theory?
AE: I've only read three poker books in my life. "Super/System" from Doyle Brunson, Mike Caro's book on poker tells and "Winning Low Limit Hold 'Em" from Lee Jones. I really loved "Super/System". It made me think of the totality of poker and I really wanted my book to be somewhat along those lines.
PN: How long did it take for you to write the book?
AE: Well, my co-writer, David Apostolico, came out during the World Series last year and sweated me at the tables for about three days. We discussed the plans for the book and I told him how I basically wanted to approach it. He really took my ideas and got them on paper. Once that was done, I went through and made some corrections and changes that I wanted and the book was done. It was about a year, then, from start to finish.
PN: How was working with David?
AE: He is the best! He captured my thoughts and ideas perfectly and it was a joy to work with him on the book.
PN: Was there some information that you weren't able to get into "In The Money" that you really wanted to get in?
AE: I literally only got about 20% of what's in my mind into "In The Money". I would be concerned if I had done everything that I had wanted to do! More than likely, somewhere down the line, I will do another one that will be a complete guide to No-Limit poker. There aren't many deep books on the subject, so that's something I would like to do.
PN: Does the style you talk about with "In The Money" work best online or live?
AE: The strategy does run into some blocks in live play because it does have a tendency to get under your opponents' skin! Online it works a little better because the Internet game has that non-personal approach. Overall, though, it can be used in either setting when the situation is right.
PN: One thing I wanted to ask you about…I know Phil (Laak, Antonio's close friend) usually likes to jump right into a ring game after being eliminated from a tournament. Do you do the same thing?
AE: Well, I will play a cash game sometimes until the day before I'm scheduled to play a tournament. I stay away from it before tournaments because the two situations require a different style and strategy and I don't want to mix up the two. I haven't played in cash games, honestly, for some time because I am putting so much of my time and emphasis nowadays on tournaments.
PN: What else is in the works for you?
AE: I have been extremely busy, but not just with the book. I have had three cameos in films, one with Nicholas Cage, and then I also had a good part in the new movie "Deal"…
PN: That's right, you're going to be right in there at the end of it…
AE: Yeah, I have several lines in the film and that was a blast. I definitely had a fun time on the set of "Deal". I'm currently working on a DVD on how to avoid being cheated at poker. I also have a deal with FunEnergyFoods.com for a candy that is along the lines of a Red Bull, but in a candy form. I'm working as well with PokerTek with their Poker Pro computerized tables.
PN: You have a lot going on, for sure. Is that what has contributed to your slow start so far in 2006?
AE: I've been busy with all those things, but to be honest I just haven't played that much. I am working on my business interests intensely and I have been traveling, such as when I went to Australia for the Aussie Millions (where Antonio finished eleventh) and to Puerto Rico. I am enjoying life as much as I can and sometimes that doesn't involve poker. I would prefer not playing when I travel, I would much rather enjoy the people that I meet and the places that I go.
PN: So what is your outlook for the World Series this year?
AE: I am going to play as many of the No-Limit Hold 'Em events as possible. I'm really going to concentrate on them hard, to the point of having a friend of mine keeping my focus on the tournaments. He's going to help me not be as much of a nightlife person as I am, remind me to not drink during the time of the tournaments, things along those lines. I'll be focusing entirely on poker 24/7. That way, by the time the Main Event comes along, I'll be in excellent shape for it, I believe. I can't wait for it to start!
I want to thank Antonio for taking some time from his schedule to sit down and talk. While we were speaking, he was simultaneously putting the work of "In The Money" in operation at two online tables at the same time! I would encourage you to check out his WPT book to learn the tricks of "The Magician" and also visit magicantonio.com to keep up with the life of Antonio Esfandiari.
Ed note: Antonio Esfandiari plays poker at Ultimate Bet join him today.