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

Wednesday, Apr 14 2004

Page 5 of 6

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."

As if to prove his point, a 30-ish woman with blow-dryer-distressed brown locks grabs Cristina, peeking out over his muscular triceps territorially.

"I'm just in from New York for a few days, and I'm trying to be very discreet," she slurs, apropos of nothing.

Cristina shakes the vixen free.

When the check comes, totaling $650 (a single bottle of Grey Goose with mixers costs $350 on its own), Esfandiari produces five playing cards and announces that whoever draws the 6 of spades will pay. It's Cristina's bad luck, and he pulls out his billfold.

The group heads for Suite one8one, a nearby dance club, hoping for better babies. Mohajeri stops in front of the Clift to balance a can of Red Bull on his head. The drink topples off, raining the flowery-smelling liquid down the back of his suit. "I'm intense! That's ME! I'm Koosh!" he proclaims.

There's no line out in front of Suite one8one, either, and the group reacts with disgust to San Francisco's lack of "real" nightlife. Inside, the men drink at a table that they'd reserved, and that's shaped to suggest an oversize bed. Mohajeri gets increasingly drunk, bites my arm, unsuccessfully attempts to dance with a drink on his head again, and gets bounced from the club.

"They didn't really kick him out," says Esfandiari, unconcerned. "We're spending too much money here."

After Esfandiari won $1.4 million playing poker, doors began to open for him. The new owners of Vegas' Golden Nugget Casino offered to comp his room for an entire month around the World Series of Poker. He was flown about in the private jet of a poker fan movie star, whom he "would prefer not to name." He got a call from a Persian couple in L.A., who wanted him to meet their daughter. "Now that I have money, I'm husband material," says Esfandiari (who declined the offer).

About The Author

Lessley Anderson


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