There is something unorthodox about the poker world that we really don’t know how to respond to serious incidents like the one that befell Antonio Esfandiari on Day 2 of the PCA Main Event. For those of you who don’t know, professional poker player Antonio Esfandiari urinated in the middle of the tournament floor. You read that correctly, not some two-bit grinder from Eastern Europe, but the former ‘Big One for One Drop’ winner, and the player who is currently second on the All-Time Money List.
As with all incidents like this, there is a story behind it. American hedge fund manager, amateur poker player and human embodiment of Scrooge McDuck, Bill Perkins bet that Esfandiari couldn’t lunge everywhere for two days straight. The stakes? $50,000. And lo, there comes a time late on the second day, as Esfandiari sits at a poker table while the tournament is on break, where he feels the call of nature strike him. Unable to move due to the physical exertion of the bet, he relieves himself into a container in the middle of the tournament floor, allegedly shielded from view by accomplices with towels.
What happened next? Well Esfandiari naturally got disqualified for a “breach of etiquette”, and wound up doing a cryptic PokerNews interview about the incident, where he did not disclose what he did but made it clear that he was apologetic.
Speaking with Sarah Herring, Esfandiari said that this was a “very serious bet” with Bill Perkins, and that looking back he realised that he “didn’t look at the bigger picture”. Out came all the typical excuses when professionals in any sport are caught out in incidents such as this, such as “I made a mistake,” “My actions were totally out of line and unacceptable”, “My behaviour was childish”, “I’m only human”, “I wish I could go back and start the day all over again” etc etc.
Esfandiari did eventually win the prop bet, pocketing the $50,000, but then a few days later came the news that he was going to donate the money to charity: $25,000 to One Drop, and $25,000 to REG. In a statement released to PokerNews, again using phrases such as “All I can do is learn from my mistakes and grow from them”, and saying that he was embarrassed by his actions, he explained how he wanted “some good [to] come from this sorry situation”. To me it just seemed like the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card.
Let’s all pause and take a leaf out of Mr Dreyfus and the GPI’s book for a minute. Let’s try and and “sportify” the incident, removing poker and the prop bet from the equation. A professional participant in a sporting event urinated in apparent view of spectators, other event participants, event staff and the media. In any sport, surely that would be grounds for a ban? A basketball player on the sidelines would be hauled in front of the NBA, a Premier League footballer would be up in front of the FA Disciplinary Committee in no time. But poker has no authoritative organisation or governing body. Therefore, Esfandiari can do an interview, apologise, release a statement where he donates the money to charity, receiving the plaudits of his fellow poker players including Liv Boeree who tweeted “Huge Respect to @MagicAntonio for winning the lunge-bet vs @bp22 and then donating the winnings to charity“. Esfandiari has, in effect, washed his hands of the incident.
I am frustrated that he got off so lightly, not only by the tournament staff but by the poker media in general He quite rightly got disqualified from the tournament he was playing, and frankly that’s the least they could have done. It seems to me that the general consensus is to laugh this incident off, as one of the quirks of the poker world. No doubt it will be in a forthcoming “Top 10 Prop Bet Moments” video, or in an edition of “Poker Players Do The Craziest Things”. It is my personal belief that if it was anyone else, and not one of the poster boys of the poker world, they would have been evicted from the casino. Can I do anything about it now? Of course not, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog.