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By Burt Davis
Photos by Burt Davis unless otherwise noted

The biggest tournament in poker history took place this week as part of the World Series of Poker (WSOP ). Las Vegas-based professional poker player 33 year old Antonio Esfandiari walked away with the top prize of $18,346,673 and the coveted platinum bracelet.

Photo credit: Joe Giron/WSOP
Antonio Esfandiari

This one million dollar buy-in tournament generated a prize pool of $42.66 million, $5.53 million in charitable dollars for One Drop, and great press for Vegas. Even the “Wall Street Journal” ran a feature article on the tournament.

Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil, was the originator, organizer and chief recruiter for the tournament. The 52 year old Guy is an avid poker player and president of One Drop charity which provides water to poverty stricken countries.

Laliberte announced the formation of the tournament at the 2011 WSOP and at that time he hoped to have 18 entrants in the tournament. He was delighted when the tournament was capped at 48 players.

You do not become a billionaire without having contacts and being resourceful. During the past year Guy toured the world visiting poker tournament and his business contacts and recruiting for the tournament.

Photo credit: Joe Giron/WSOP
The One Drop Players

The interest swelled and professional poker players such as Phil Ivey and Antonio Esfandiari signed on. By tournament time on July 1, the list of entrants hit the 48 cap and an alternate waiting list was also generated. The entrants were from nine different countries and included 28 professional players and 20 amateurs.

Of each $1 million entry fee, $111,111 was donated to ONE DROP, generating a total charitable contribution of $5,333,328 million. The funds will be directed to ONE DROP projects around the world, where teams are hard at work addressing local water crises.

“I’m known for being an imaginative person, but this event surpassed even my expectations,” said Laliberté. “While only one person can walk away with the largest prize in poker history, everyone who participated in the BIG ONE for ONE DROP made an important contribution to a critical cause that impacts millions of people around the world.


The July 1 opening of the event was a combination Cirque-ESPN production. Each of the 48 players were introduced by Jack Effel , WSOP tournament director. They entered the playing area by running through a tunnel (think football) to the sound of drum music provided by Cirque performers.

Guy Laliberte

Guy certainly demonstrated his poker prowess. He made the final table with the third largest chip count and finished in fifth place.

Following his fourth place finish, Phil Hellmuth ws interviewed by ESPN's Kera Scott.


Jonathan Duhamel, 2010 Main Event Champion was one of the players.

The two final players were Sam Trickett and Antonio Esfandiari

The three days of tournament play ended early Tueday evening when Antonio bested British player Sam Trickett for the title, the cash, the bracelet, and the bragging rights for the largest prized poker tournament in history.

The coveted bracelet

“I’m almost never at a loss for words, but I’m at a loss for words now,” the “Magic Man” told a capacity crowd at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. “I’ve played tournaments all over the world, but there’s never been one like this. This is the ultimate. This is the best.”

Fans hoisted Antonio onto their shoulders after his win.

It's pleasing to note one last time that more than $5 million of the entry money went to One Drop.

Final results were:

· Antonio Esfandiari

· $18,346,673

· Sam Trickett

· $10,112,001

· David Einhorn

· $4,352,000

· Phil Hellmuth

· $2,645,333

· Guy Laliberté

· $1,834,666

· Brian Rast

· $1,621,333

· Bobby Baldwin

· $1,408,000

· Richard Yong

· $1,237,333

· Mike Sexton

· $1,109,333


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