Big money for a big cause: The history of the $1M One Drop

Antonio Esfandiari One Drop
Blaise Bourgeois
Posted on: July 11, 2023 10:12 PDT

Back in 2012, the poker world reached incredible new heights with the debut of the record-breaking $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop, a 48-player tournament that truly changed the course of high-stakes tournament poker. Of course, Antonio Esfandiari won the star-studded event for an all-time record first prize of $18,346,673, a mark that still remains 11 years later.

What also remains is the One Drop Foundation’s commitment to providing access to clean water all around the world. The One Drop Foundation, created in 2007 by Guy Laliberte, has been an important component of poker-world charity efforts since 2011 and “aims to ensure sustainable access to water, sanitation, and hygiene for communities facing extreme barriers through innovative partnerships, creativity, and the power of art while contributing to climate action.”

From the four Big One for One Drop events that have taken place, prize pools have totaled $132,277,574. According to the One Drop Foundation, One Drop poker events have raised over $25,000,000, which has helped fund 29 water projects around the world and will soon transform the lives of 2.7 million people. Overall, Laliberte’s foundation has raised over $149,000,000 in overall contributions to support One Drop’s mission.

Naturally, most of the attention in the poker world has been fixated on the $1,000,000 mostly bi-annual $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop, due to its record-breaking buy-in (since beaten by the £1,050,000 buy-in Triton Million charity invitational). However, there have also been plenty of One Drop events for a variety of smaller buy-ins, such as the $100,000 High Roller for One Drop and the Little One for One Drop, amongst many other tournaments around the world.

Currently, the $10,500 $10M GTD WPT EveryOne for One Drop is on its third and final Day 1 flight, having already smashed the guarantee. On Friday, the WPT Alpha8 returns for the first time in nearly eight years with the WPT Alpha8 for One Drop, which will carry an entry fee of $111,000, with $7,000 of the buy-in going to the One Drop Foundation. A week later, beginning on July 21st, the WPT Korea Alpha8 for One Drop will host a 170,000,000 KRW (~$130,000) buy-in event that’s sure to draw much of the same crowd to the other side of the continent.

Meanwhile, on December 18th, the $1,000,000 Big One for the One Drop finally returns for the first time in five years, this time as an official part of the WPT World Championship at the Wynn.

Without further ado, let’s take a look back at all four of the $1,000,000 One Drop events.

2012 $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop: Winner - Antonio Esfandiari ($18,346,673)

The one that started it all still reigns supreme. The World Series of Poker only allowed a maximum of 48 players to compete in the official bracelet event which, to the surprise of many, sold out with not too much difficulty.

With WSOP waiving their typical 10% event rake in lieu of an 11.1% ($111,111) donation going to the charity, The One Drop Foundation was able to raise an incredible $7,280,000 from the tournament after Guy Laliberté finished in 5th place and donated his entire $1,834,666 prize.

The event, meanwhile, was an incredible spectacle that the world witnessed back on ESPN with Antonio Esfandiari going into the final table with a massive chip lead over the likes of David Einhorn, Phil Hellmuth, Brian Rast, Bobby Baldwin, and Mike Sexton.

In the end, Esfandiari would get the job done, defeating Sam Trickett ($10,112,001) to win the largest first-prize in poker history ($18,346,673) while also creating one of the most memorable photos the poker world has ever seen.

2014 $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop: Winner - Dan Colman ($15,306,668)

2014 Big One for One Drop Champion Danial Colman Joe Giron/www.pokerphotoarchive.

Two years later, the million-dollar event returned to the World Series of Poker, though the energy at the end of the night would be monumentally different than when Esfandiari took poker’s biggest-ever top prize.

Dan Colman defeated Daniel Negreanu ($8,288,001) heads-up to win the gold bracelet and over $15.3M, topping a 42-player field that included Scott Seiver, Christoph Vogelsang, and Cary Catz at the final table.

However, Colman sparked minor controversy due to his reluctance to actively promote poker, which caused much backlash from poker analysts and those on the popular TwoPlusTwo poker forum. He chose to politely decline media requests, granting only a brief interview for ESPN in which he focused solely on the One Drop charity. This caused Colman to swiftly become a poker anti-hero, seen by many as being bad for the game and a spoiled, ungrateful winner.

His personal media blackout led to one of the most obscure photos in poker history, with Dan Colman barely cracking a smile in front of piles of money while Negreanu's absolutely swarmed by fans and media alike, despite his second-place finish.

Regardless, Colman went from online super-pro to live super-pro seemingly overnight and earned an insane $22,319,279 in 2014, smashing the previous record by over $3M (Esfandiari). In fact, prior to November 2013, Colman only had just over $150,000 in career live-tournament earnings and was 3rd on poker’s all-time money list a year later.

Colman scored four major victories in 2014 and even if you took away his One Drop win, he would have been the 3rd-biggest winner of the year, only behind Negreanu and WSOP main event champ Martin Jacobson.

2016 €1,000,000 Monte Carlo One Drop Extravaganza: Winner - Elton Tsang ($12,248,912)

Neil Stoddart

This was certainly the most unusual of the lot as this version of the One Drop was an invitational devoid of professional poker players.

Ahead of the €1,000,000 Monte Carlo One Drop, which became the most expensive tournament in the world, the One Drop Foundation put out this press release to explain their reasoning to reject professionals: “While both of these [prior] events were primarily contested by professional poker players, The Big One for One Drop Invitational will be a by-invitation-only tournament for businessmen, philanthropic and celebrity recreational players.”

Guy Laliberté, who founded One Drop, said: “This year, by shifting the focus to recreational players, we’re looking to bring fun and innovation to charitable giving. We believe the events in Monaco will attract high net-worth individuals from across the globe to enjoy the game, the networking opportunities, and the incredible VIP experiences only available in one of the world’s most iconic settings.”

Without your typical faces in the field, it was high-stakes cash games player Elton Tsang that reigned supreme as the champion, topping the 28-entry field. Tsang was coached by Mustapha Kanit prior to the tournament.

Tsang has since emerged as a regular on the Triton high-roller and super high-roller circuit, with the large majority of his other big results coming in 2022 to send him to 61st on poker’s all-time money list.

2018 $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop: Winner - Justin Bonomo ($10,000,000)

The biggest win of Justin Bonomo’s historic career came in the 2018 One Drop, when he defeated Fedor Holz heads-up to top the 27-entry field and win an incredible $10,000,000 and his third-career WSOP bracelet, his second of the series.

Bonomo’s triumph finally took him to the promised land, becoming #1 on poker’s all-time money list, taking that honor away from Daniel Negreanu. Of course, he holds the title to this day with $61,954,780 in career earnings, though he has swapped the #1 spot with Bryn Kenney on countless occasions since.

"Disbelief. Happiness. All over the place," Bonomo said when asked about his feelings after claiming victory. "The adrenaline has been going through me like crazy."

"It's more money than I ever played for in my life, so I buckled down. I studied. I took the day off the day before and just studied all day. Meditation every single day. I took this as seriously as I possibly could."

The win put the exclamation point on the “Year of Bonomo”, which saw him win over $25 million and, at the time, lay claim to being the best player in the world.