All-In

A brash Iranian-American wins $1.4 million at poker -- and knows his lucky streak has just started

A half-hour later, Esfandiari does just that. Fulop goes all-in with a pair of aces; Esfandiari calls with a nothing hand -- a queen-jack combo -- and loses the pot.

"That was a really bad play, but I wanted to bust his ass so bad," says Esfandiari. He shrugs it off and leaves to play backgammon with his grandmother. He's lost $1,700 in two hours. Before he won the $1.4 million, he would have stayed and tried to win it back. But today he's distracted and bored. "Since I won the money, I just want to be out having fun," he says.


The Fillmore Center, a group of stark, modern towers at Fillmore and Geary, is the kind of place where young men live when they first move to the city. As in a college dorm, twentysomethings crisscross its modern, beige and lilac corridors with takeout pizzas and carts piled with laundry. Esfandiari, who moved from San Jose to San Francisco eight months ago, lives in one of the center's penthouse suites with his friend Koosh Mohajeri, an Iranian-American computer networking specialist. Their two-bedroom apartment, with its sweeping views of the city skyline, is decked out in the finest bachelor-pad furnishings: leather couches, lambskin throw rugs, and even a whimsical dining room set with red-and-black velveteen-upholstered chairs whose backs curl into points on top, like the tips of a jester's hat.

Esfandiari, formerly a professional 
magician, specialized in sleight-of-hand 
card tricks.
Paolo Vescia
Esfandiari, formerly a professional magician, specialized in sleight-of-hand card tricks.
Esfandiari drives a black Dodge Viper and 
wears Armani, post-$1.4 million win.
Paolo Vescia
Esfandiari drives a black Dodge Viper and wears Armani, post-$1.4 million win.

Esfandiari, Mohajeri, and three other friends have formed a posse they proudly call "Rocks and Rings," after a line in a P. Diddy song that references jewelry, or bling-bling. When Rocks and Rings goes out every Friday and Saturday night, it buys the finest VIP treatment. The group goes only to the kind of clubs that have lines in front, so Rocks and Rings can make a show of knowing the doorman and being allowed in before those in line. One of the group always reserves a table and purchases entire bottles of liquor from the bar at astronomical markups, so the friends can mix their own drinks. On one trip to Las Vegas, Rocks and Rings partied in a popular club at its own table -- with its own bouncer and velvet rope. When the check comes, the members of Rocks and Rings gamble for it.

On a recent Friday, Moby's hypnotic groove blasts from the stereo, and the members of Rocks and Rings prepare for a night out on the town. Besides Esfandiari, who holds the title of Rocks and Rings president, there's his best friend, Tony Licari, a 24-year-old carpentry contractor, whose impossibly white teeth, blue eyes, and blond hair have earned him the title of executive vice president of female affairs.

Jeff Cristina, a strapping, tan blond from San Jose who works in his father's waste management company, is EVP of recreational affairs. He organizes the group's occasional camping and skiing trips.

Khash Chamlou, aka "Khash-Money-GQ-CFO," is the oldest of the group, at 30, and the classiest. A willowy Iranian-American software engineer with a foppish air, Chamlou made the rule that Rocks and Rings members must wear suits when going out. As the group slips on jackets, he makes the sour face of a royal in the presence of a peasant when he sees Cristina don a sports jacket.

"I'm really psyched to wear it -- it's flannel from Saks -- just got it," says Cristina quickly, knowing he has screwed up.

Esfandiari's 26-year-old roommate, Mohajeri, is known as "The Rainmaker" because he brings chaos and action to the party. (He's the kind of drunk who does "crazy" stuff like take his pants off in the booth at their favorite Japanese restaurant, Benihana.) "When I go out, I become fucking Teen Wolf," Mohajeri brags.

Rocks and Rings members take cabs to their favorite haunt -- the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel -- and are perturbed to find the sidewalk outside barren. "There's usually a line," says Esfandiari. "And we go right in."

Inside, the club is all ostentation, a reminder of the go-go '90s, compliments of its owner and designer, Ian Schrager of Studio 54 and W Hotel fame. Portraits on the burnished, red and gold walls are actually digital video displays of faces whose expressions change almost imperceptibly over time. The blond hostess in the slinky black dress greets the members of Rocks and Rings by name and wraps her slender arms around Esfandiari. Then she kicks other partyers off Rocks and Rings' reserved couches and tables. The guys sink onto the soft seats like rajahs, and pitchers of tonic and juices arrive, along with a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and a silver ice bucket.

"Running laps to and from the bar is for the proletariat," says Chamlou.

Esfandiari picks up a white cocktail napkin, shreds it, kneads it, and then releases his hands. The crumpled shape levitates in the air, attracting attention.

Snapping his wrist, he grabs the napkin. "There are no girls here tonight," he says, decisively.

Fans of the movie Swingers, Rocks and Rings members often call women "babies." Getting the table and the bottle service is partly to attract the babies, who are never allowed to chip in. It may be suggested to them, however, that they come home and do a little cooking or cleaning for Rocks and Rings. It's partly a Persian thing -- the belief in traditional gender roles -- but it's one that the non-Persian Licari and Cristina go along with. However, there are no beautiful babies in the Redwood Room this evening. "Seventy percent of the women you meet in here are kinda shady," admits Chamlou, casting his eyes around the bar. "You get the vibe that they're call girls, or have some kind of drug problem."

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