On the surface, William Pappaconstantinou (Billy Pappas for short) seems like your average 29-year-old from Lowell, aside from the few extra syllables in his name. But as a part of the World Series of Poker’s final table, known as the November 9, he’s eight people away from becoming $10 million richer as the World Series of Poker champion. The crazy thing is, he’s already a world champion in another niche sport: Foosball.
The road to the World Series of Poker final table wasn’t easy. Pappas survived seven grueling days of Texas Hold’em — sometimes playing for 13 hours a day — to beat out over 6,600 other players from around the world who all paid $10,000 to play in the World Series this past July. The turning point for Pappas was on Day 5, when he went all in with a pair of 4’s and quadrupled his chips, beating out three other players who called with pocket jacks, ace-jack, and ace-king after catching a third 4 on the flop. Once the final table was determined, Pappas and the other eight players were given almost four months off before action reconvenes next Monday, November 10, at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
As a member of the final table, Pappas is guaranteed at least $730,000, and is currently 6th in total chip count, with 17,500,000. But the experts don’t seem to like his odds. According to the WSOP website, Pappas is “perhaps the most unlikely final tablist this year” and is the only one of the nine finalists who has no previous WSOP experience. The writers at Pokernews.com pick Pappas to finish 6th, but say he is “an easy one to root for” and that “the audience will be rooting for him like they would their own buddy.”
That likability seems to be taking Pappas far, as he was recently sponsored by Team888 Poker for the remainder of the World Series. He’s also drawn the attention of a few well-known poker stars.
“[2003 WSOP main event champion] Chris Moneymaker wrote to me on Twitter asking me to play a game of foosball, so that was pretty cool,” Pappas said. “And [poker pro] Steve Billirakis has two parents who were professional foosball players, so he’s been giving me a lot of advice.”
Pappas may not have the poker acumen of his fellow competitors, but he as his foosball success proves, he’s no stranger to competing on a worldwide level.
THE FOOSBALL PRO
In an early interview with the World Series of Poker, Pappas says that no matter what happened in the poker tournament, he’d be heading to Germany to compete in the Players 4 Players World Championship — which he won. In his foosball-playing career, which began at age 12, he has amassed hundreds of titles, including 14 World Foosball Championships and two World Cups.
He’s probably the most naturally gifted player to ever play,” said Michael Bittarelli, a semi-professional foosball player from Somerville who has played against Pappas a few times. “He’s a super nice guy, everyone loves him, so it’s not surprising that everyone is pulling for him to win.
“It’s all the foosball community has been talking about for months now. Everyone was following the hands as they happened in real time.”
Bittarelli said that serious foosballers can be roughly broken into three tiers: the semi-professionals, who can crush anyone at a bar; the high-level professionals, whose ball control, movement, and mental games raise their gameplay significantly; and the Pappas tier.
“When you get to players at Billy’s level, they are unreal,” Bittarelli said, estimating only five or six players were at that skill level worldwide. “They can do whatever they want on the table for the most part and can make experienced players look like beginners.”
Being the best in foosball doesn’t lead to fame and fortune, though. Though Pappas has traveled worldwide for tournaments, and was quick to point out the 2003 Warrior Tournament was held at the Rio Hotel – the same place the World Series of Poker is being held — many tournaments are held in bars or rented hotel spaces, a far cry from the sport’s peak a few decades ago.
“In the ‘70s, foosball was huge. they had a million-dollar tour,” Pappas said. “And that’s a million dollars back then!”
Indeed, $1 million in 1975 would be almost $4.5 million today. But Pappas hasn’t been cutting million-dollar checks on the pro circuit.
“It’s not exactly the best time for foosball,” Pappas admitted. “Arcades are gone and people are staying in their houses to play video games, so it’s not as big. It’s tough for us — it’s hard to recruit younger players.”
The longer Pappas remains at the final table, the more exposure foosball will get. Pappas estimates he hears the word foosball “about 5 to 10 times” per broadcast, and hopes that the increased notoriety will help the sport.
While it’s accurate to say Pappas isn’t a poker pro, his only job aside from foosball is working as a poker dealer at Rockingham Park charity poker room in Salem, New Hampshire.
Pappas told me he works as a dealer for the first half of the year, but travels for foosball during the second half.
“For some reason there’s a ton of foosball tournaments in the second half of the year, he said. “My bosses know I play foosball, and they don’t mind giving me the time off.”
His colleagues at Rockingham Park have been basking in Billy’s success.
“Oh my god, it’s a surprise to everybody,” said John Putis, the poker room manager. “I think all of the dealers, the managers — all of us — are surprised and so incredibly happy for him.
“He’s just a great kid, a real down-to-earth person. He just plays poker.”
Friends and family in Lowell have been supportive as well.
“Being in the WSOP and being on ESPN, the word has spread, and now [Pappas] has become something of a celebrity,” said D-Tension, a musician and owner of the Last Safe & Deposit Company, a bar in Lowell who has known Pappas since he was a kid. “My bar had people who don’t know Billy at all watching the prelims instead of NFL football on Sunday night. I’d say that’s a pretty good indication that people know.”
Pappas, for his part, didn’t consider himself a local celebrity, and said he spent months relaxing at home in Lowell in between trips to England, Germany, and Luxembourg for foosball.
I haven’t had too much attention from random people,” Pappas said. “I wrote ‘Vegas Bound!’ on Facebook and got a couple hundred Facebook comments, so my friends and family have been awesome and supportive.”
LIFE AFTER THE WORLD SERIES
So after the WSOP concludes next week, what’s next for Pappas? A return to his poker dealing?
“It probably depends on how good I do, Pappas said. “Maybe I’ll pick up a part-time gig, or maybe even do the poker circuit. I do like dealing, though. It’s fun and relaxing.”
While his future as a poker dealer is uncertain, one thing Pappas is sure about is foosball.
“Foosball I’ll never stop, Pappas said. “I need to see these people, I’ve known them for 20 years, they’re like family to me.”
“I just definitely plan on playing foosball, and hopefully more poker tournaments and stuff like that — I’m not sure how serious I’ll get, honestly, though that depends on where I finish.”
As for the $730,000 he’s already won, with potentially more coming, Pappas hasn’t been popping bottles or dating models. He’s been hanging at home in Lowell, playing foosball. Even now that he’s back in Vegas, he said he’s mostly been scouting the floors, and has played poker only six times over his four-month hiatus from the World Series.
“I haven’t touched the money,” Pappas said. “I just want to have a plan before I do something — before I do something stupid, especially. I don’t need too much money to live right now, I don’t need a baller life or anything.”
After all, who needs a baller life when you’ve already got a foosballer life?
[imgs via WSOP, Billy Pappas]