Steven Gee makes final table; Esfandiari wins The Big One

By Arnold Warner

Players from Northern California cashed in almost every event to cap off a great 2012 World Series of Poker. Antonio Esfandiari, who grew up in San Jose, won the biggest prize in the history of poker and went to the top of the all-time prize money list when he was victorious in Event #55, The Big One for One Drop.

Arguably even bigger news is the fact that, against a field of 6,598 in this year’s Main Event, Sacramento’s Steven Gee has emerged as one of the elite final nine players who will vie for the championship in late Oct. 28 to 30.

With a buy-in of $10,000 and a prize pool of $62,021,200, Gee is already assured of ninth place money ($754,798) and has a very real chance of taking down the title and the $8,527,982 that goes with it.

Reflecting on his trip to the final table, Gee said, “I’ll tell ya, in 2010 [when he won a bracelet], that was like the highlight of my poker career. That was a magical summer for me and I thought it couldn’t get any better. I thought I would never ever top that. Two years later, it’s 2012. I don’t have the bracelet yet, but at the moment this feels even bigger than when I won the bracelet in 2010.

“I didn’t really think I could make the final table. And the reason I say that, not because of talent or my confidence, it was just that from Day 1 on it was a struggle for me. I remember like Day 1, I had a really good start. I think before the dinner break I ran 30,000 up to like 120,000 and I’m like oh man that’s great, I’m on a roll here. I finished the day at like 21,000 and I was really just deflated. To go from like 120 to 21, I think ‘what the heck happened?’ I just didn’t think I was going to do it. I was all bummed out. I thought, man I started with 30,000 and I’m down to 21,000. I thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be.

“When I went home and I thought about it, I said, well you know what, I still have enough chips. I still have a shot. I see that I had to get off to a good start and the very next day that’s what I did. I would start winning early on and build my stack up but then I always flattened out. I never really started any day with a healthy chip stack, because I finished Day 2 with 80,000. Not great but not bad. It was essentially about 25 big blinds every single day, days one through seven. I was never in a position where I could laugh and joke with you. It’s just a struggle.

“I have some friends and we always made plans for dinner every night thinking I’d get knocked out of the tournament. Well, either I’m still playing the tournament, if not we’ll just go have dinner at the Bellagio buffet. So it’s never a sure thing. Every day I just felt like, it was like a life and death struggle every single day.”

At the end of Day 5 he was in 44th place out of 97 left and at the end of Day 6 he was in 22nd place out of 27. What matters most, though, was that at the end of Day 7 he was fifth out of nine.

When asked how he kept surviving each day when starting at or below the middle of the pack he said, “Even though I would start real low in chip count, I told myself if you get a bad start you’re done, so you have to really play aggressive and the first couple of hands you play, find a way to win the hand, and that’s what I did. Every day I started low in chip stack but every day I started out real selectively aggressive and made sure that the hands I played I won, just to stay alive.

“I know on Day 7 the key hand in the tournament for me was when I had the pocket 8s. I think we were down to around 20 players left, maybe 19 players left, and I was down to like 3.8 million. I was right around 20 big blinds I think. No I was less than 20 big blinds because I was in the short stack strategy. I was in the shove and fold. I was in the cutoff and it folded around to me. I pushed all in for 3.8 million, which was less than 20 big blinds. I’m thinking I hope I take a walk here or if I could at least get a coin flip and double up I’d take the shot. A button calls me so I’m thinking like okay here’s my call, hope it’s a coin flip. I hope he has ace-king, right?

“And then the big blind calls. I’m like, oh damn, I’m dead now, right? I’m thinking like somebody’s got all the cards, the other guys got a pair and sure enough that’s what it was. I had pocket 8s, the button had pocket 10s and the blind had ace-king. So at that time, I picked up my bag, picked up my jacket, I started shaking hands with the players on the table, thinking I’m done, and then the flop was like 5-6-7. I thought, oh wait a minute, wait a minute, I actually have an open-ended straight draw. And I thought you’re not a favorite; you’re a two-to-one dog, right?

“But the river was a four—a straight. I tripled up. And then that hand kind of put me back into the middle of the pack and I was able from there to go on right to the final table. That hand was kind of strange. Now four is now my lucky number because in 2010 when I won the bracelet it was a four at the river that saved my butt then too.”

As for how things have changed for him since making the final table he said, “Prior to this, I kept a relatively low profile. The only players that really knew me were the high stakes regulars. They know me because I’m always playing in the back high stakes section. The media generally didn’t know who I was. I mean, nobody knows who I am and even now I think it’s just for 15 minutes, that’s all. But now it’s different because now I do get more media requests where it’s like a month ago nobody cares. So I think that’ll probably go on until the main event final table.”

When the time comes, Gee definitely has plans to take down the whole thing. “If I come in second place, to me it would just be tough to come that close and not win because it’s not about the money. It’s like how many other opportunities am I going to have to win the gold bracelet in the Main Event? All my friends say, ‘Steve, if you come in second or third we should be partying. I say I can’t party. All I know is if I come in second or third it would be hard for me to jump up and high-five and tell my friends ‘let’s go party’ because I’m going to feel so depressed. I just know that I can’t celebrate unless I win the bracelet. I told my friends already if I don’t win the bracelet there is no partying. The party will be in Sacramento two weeks after.”

Event #55, The Big One for One Drop had a record buy-in of $1,000,000 and still attracted 48 entries. Even after $111,000 was subtracted from each entry as a ­donation to the One Drop charity (more than $5,000,000) the prize pool was $42,666,672.

When Esfandiari won the $18,346,673 first prize he described the feeling as somewhat surreal. “The very first 20, 30 second was kind of an out-of-body experience. You can see on the show that I was completely out of my body. It was as if I was on some sort of drug or something. I jumped up—I don’t even know what I was doing. I was doing a troll dance or something. It was euphoric and it was as if I was stoned without being stoned.”

When asked how it felt to have his family there to watch his victory he said, “It really meant a lot to me, because the very first tournament I won, a long time ago, my dad wasn’t able to be there because he didn’t even know I was at the final table, and when I I won my bracelet in Vegas my dad wasn’t able to be there either.

“My dad has been my biggest supporter my whole life and my biggest fan and my best friend, and he’s never been there when I won something major. So for him to be there and me to win the greatest tournament of all time, it was absolutely just perfect. It was so appropriate and it was destiny, and I got to give that bracelet to him.”

Comparing the old days of grinding out a profit at low-limit games at the Bay 101 Casino to where he is now, he said, “It’s a whole different ball game. Back then, poker was very underground. It wasn’t something that was cool. So if anything I’m humbled by this title because it puts me in a position to represent poker in a sense as some sort of ambassador kind of forum and that’s an honor that I hold greatly and one that I promise other poker players I will deliver on. I’m very, very lucky and humbled and honored to be in this position.”

Here is the final wrap up of NorCal players’ results at the 2012 World Series of Poker:

Event #47: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split–8 or Better, $1,500 buy-in, 978 entries, $1,320,300 prize pool

20th, Andrew Barber, Sacramento, $8,080

74th, Martin Corpuz, Mountain View, $3,288

116th, Danny Smith, Folsom, $2,509

Event #48: Limit Hold’em, $3,000 buy-in, 247 entries, $674,310 prize pool

15th, Baothang Nguyen, San Jose, $9,272

Event #49: Ante Only No-Limit Hold’em, $1,500 buy-in, 939 entries, $1,267,650 prize pool

50th, Huynh Cao, San Jose, $4,678

68th, Duy Le, San Francisco, $3,549

103rd, Chris DeMaci, San Jose, $2,409

Event #50: No-Limit Hold’em, $5,000 buy-in, 1,001 entries, $4,704,700 prize pool

11th, Chamath Palihapitiya, Palo Alto, $53,728

25th, Andres Garcia, Salinas, $28,793

32nd, Randy Lew, Mountain View, $24,041

40th, Galen Hall, San Francisco, $20,324

95th, Joey Spanne, Danville, $9,692

Event #51: Ladies No-Limit Hold’em Championship, $1,000 buy-in, 936 entries, $842,400 prize pool

5th, Candida Ross-Powers, Sacramento, $35,398

11th, Amber Chatwin, Sacramento, $9,620

39th, Kristen Schreiber, Tracy, $3,639

63rd, Liina Vark, San Francisco, $2,687

77th, Khamsy Nuanmanee, Weed, $2,098

83rd, Hai Nguyen, Sacramento, $2,098

Event #52: 10-Game Mix / Six Handed, $2,500 buy-in, 421 entries, $957,775 prize pool

18th, Todd Thuan Bui, Sacramento, $9,481

Event #53: No-Limit Hold’em, $1,500 buy-in, 3,166 entries, $4,274,100 prize pool

21st, Frederic Soria, Roseville, $21,114

25th, Max Steinberg, Oakland, $21,114

34th, Ted Spear, San Jose, $17,054

38th, Yuji Higaki, Sunnyvale, $13,934

82nd, Mark Unterbach, Danville, $5,856

93rd, Timothy Schneider, Fresno, $5,086

114th, Shahriar Ilislamloo, San Jose, $4,445

116th, Tony Chan, San Francisco, $4,445

156th, Vincent Lacariere, Fremont, $3,932

177th, Chandrasekha Billavara, San Francisco, $3,932

190th, Hemanth Kumar, Sunnyvale, $3,505

219th, John Hom, San Rafael, $3,505

Event #54: No-Limit Hold’em, $1,000 buy-in, 3,221 entries, $2,898,900 prize pool

11th, Carl Le, San Jose, $28,931

26th, Wendy Freedman, San Francisco, $14,321

46th, Kent VanHo, Union City, $7,798

56th, Allan Mishra, Menlo Park. $6,494

87th, Jonathan Ko, Turlock, $3,971

111th, Edward Lang, Vacaville, $3,015

222nd, David Cohen-Taisne, Richmond, $2,377

232nd, Steven Flory, Los Altos, $2,377

241st, Adam Costello, San Francisco, $2,145

249th, Rick Podesta, San Mateo, $2,145

250th, Samuel McGrath, Petaluma, $2,145

264th, Gustavo Parra, Hayward, $2,145

306th, Craig Carrillo, Santa Rosa, $1,942

Event #55: The Big One for One Drop – No-Limit Hold’em, $1,000,000 buy-in, 48 entries, $42,666,672 prize pool

4th, Phil Hellmuth, Palo Alto, $2,645,333

Event #56: No-Limit Hold’em, $1,500 buy-in, 2,798 entries, $3,777,300 prize pool

27th, Timothy Ng, San Francisco, $18,924

28th, Edward Loftis, Springville, $15,336

83rd, Frank Gidney, Fresno, $5,402

114th, Godon Vayo, San Francisco, $4,155

131st, Bizhan Delgoshaei, San Jose, $4,155

149th, Stuart Tuvey, Los Altos, $3,702

Event #57: No-Limit Hold’em / Six Handed, $10,000 buy-in, 474 entries, $4,455,600 prize pool

47th, Duy Le, San Francisco, $20,050

Event #58: Pot-Limit Omaha Hi-Low Split – 8 or Better, $3,000 buy-in, 526 entries, $1,435,980 prize pool

21st, Kami Chisholm, San Francisco, $10,310

Event #59: No-Limit Hold’em, $1,000 buy-in, 4,620 entries, $1,566,000 prize pool

6th, Franklin Johnson, Chico, $120,748

11th, Joshua Prager, Yuba City, $41,788

16th, David Steirman, Burlingame, $25,780

39th, Chaib Saechao, Visalia, $13,264

57th, Ravneet Johal, San Jose, $8,857

71st, Mario Quijano, Mountain View, $7,318

100th, Bobby Pham, Roseville, $3,659

112th, Andrew Jenkins, Monterey, $3,659

115th, Travis Atkins, Placerville, $3,659

127th, Gerry Terrenal, San Ramon, $3,659

164th, Mike Heshmati, Morgan Hill, $3,119

180th, Ivan Holmes, Berkeley, $3,119

196th, Marcus Mack, Hayward, $3,119

239th, Duy Le, San Francisco, $2,703

259th, Eusebio Gutierrez, Santa Clara, $2,703

263rd, Wade Griffith, San Jose, $2,703

265th, Jerry Renfroe, San Luis Obispo, $2,703

276th, Kenneth Shei, Menlo Park, $2,703

331st, Huynh Cao, San Jose, $2,370

336th, Sajid Zia, Fremont, $2,370

341st, Mahdi Jalil, San Francisco, $2,370

369th, Hien Tran, Sacramento, $2,079

372nd, Richard Harroch, San Francisco, $2,079

409th, Gary Pisarek, Lincoln, $1,830

429th, Vidyadhara Gubbi, Milpitas, $1,830

453rd, Evan Schwarz, Oakland, $1,830

465th, Justin Copp, Los Gatos, $1,830

WSOP National Championship, $10,000 buy-in, 157 entries, $1,570,000 prize pool

4th, Matt Keikoan, San Francisco, $137,485

Event #61: No-Limit Hold’em Main Event, $10,000 buy-in, 6,598 entries, $62,021,200 prize pool

19th, Jamie Robbins, Lake Tahoe, $294,601

68th, Felipe Quijano, Fremont, $106,056

85th, Isaac Baron, Los Gatos, $73,805

118th, Francis Witek, Nevada City, $52,718

226th, Anthony Scherer, Truckee, $44,655

231st, Erkut Yilmaz, Sacramento, $44,655

285th, Neil Blumenfield, San Francisco, $38,453

452nd, Stephen Foutty, Mill Valley, $24,808

500th, William Choi, San Mateo, $24,808

522nd, Michael Wright, Paradise, $24,808

561st, J.C. Tran, Sacramento, $21,707

644th, Robert Lo, Daly City, $19,227

646th, Matt Lefkowitz, Carmel Valley, $19,227

650th, Arthur Tanimoto, Elk Grove, $19,227