Can a Foosball Champion Win the World Series of Poker?

Billy Pappas had no professional poker experience going into the game’s biggest event. Now he’s got a lot more money and a chance to make history.

William Pappaconstanineau thinks he might be the second best foosball player on Earth: “I’m definitely top three, probably number two, but this guy Frédéric Collignon from Belgium is the best of all time.” He says this after thinking for a moment. He’s an honest guy, there’s no endorsement money at stake, and he’s thinking about trying his hand at a different career anyway. That might be a good idea. On July 14, Pappaconstanineau, who goes by Billy Pappas, emerged from a field of 6,683 players to qualify for the final round of the World Series of Poker, which will kick off on November 10. On July 15, he cashed out his winnings. Today, he’s deciding what to do with his next few months and, to a lesser degree, his life.

“When the cashier said I had $730,000 in my account I was a bit freaked because I’d never had more than $15,000 before,” says Pappas, who works as a dealer at the Rockingham Park Poker Room in Salem, New Hampshire when he’s not on tour as a table footballer. “I bought a one way ticket to Las Vegas figuring I’d fly to this Foosball tournament in Austria when I lost. I extended my hotel stay every day. Now I guess I’ll just head home for a bit.”

What makes Pappas’ success at the tournament, hosted by Caesar’s Palace, so remarkable is that he’s not the second best poker player on Earth.  He actually has no professional poker experience. When he sat down at the last qualification table across from Mark Newhouse, who made the final last year and has racked up millions in wins over a relatively short career, he didn’t even know who he was. Pappas is just a smart kid from Dracut, Massachusetts who got a lucky card or two (notably a pocket four on day five) and kept his head.

“I used to play games with buddies and I played on Pokerstars and did pretty well in tournaments,” says Pappas of his background. “My goal was to making it through the first day and cashing. I just set myself small goals after that.”

Pappas, who was staked in the tournament by a wealthy friend from the foosball circuit, has exactly 86 days to prepare for the final round. But he’s pretty sure there is such a thing as too much preparation. “I was good because I wasn’t intimidated,” he says. “Maybe I don’t want to know too much about these guys.” He adds that the one player that put him off his game was Craig McCorkell, a hyper-composed 28-year-old sharp from London. But McCorkell went down against Newhouse’s flush draw.

Craig McCorkell is not one of the “November Nine.” William Pappaconstanineau is.

And that means that – with a bit of luck – Billy Pappas, professional foosballer, has a decent chance to walk away with the $10,000,000 WSOP prize. (Probably not as good a chance as Martin Jacobson, who has won over four million in his career; probably not as good a chance as Newhouse, but a chance nonetheless.) Pappas didn’t expect that, but he does think he can “probably, potentially” rise to the occasion.

“That’s the thing that connects foosball to poker: Knowing your opponent is the most important thing,” he says. “Now I know my opponents.”

Photos by Jayne Furman