Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Foosball Champ Who Almost Won The World Series Of Poker

Illustration for article titled The Foosball Champ Who Almost Won The World Series Of Poker

Billy Pappas, the last true amateur of the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event and one of the best foosball players in the world, was eliminated early this morning in fifth place, taking home $2,143,794. It's a damn shame, because Billy was living the dream.


You shouldn't need too much reason to root for the dude in a Yoshi cap and surrounded by killers picking his spots and, every now and then, punching weight. But take a pass through his YouTube search and the weirdness of this 29-year-old ex-poker dealer, current foosball legend, finding his way to this final table starts to sink in. In among the dozens of championship matches and basement trick shot videos are comments like this one:

Cory Wichman 1 week ago

His singles 5 bar defense does look strange... like the 5 bar shot is wide open.. but playing Pappas is unlike playing anyone else. His reactions are so fast that he can usually block the left hook with his 5 bar, so he sets up his goalie men to try and block as much slop as possible. His transition speed between the rods is just insane too.. he always seems to grab the right rod at the right time... I don't know how he does it...


I mean, that's how guys on /r/NBA talk about Anthony Davis. And here he was, that dude in his line of work, chilling at the final table like he belonged.

Pappas spent the early levels getting rolled by the pros and for the most part just trying to stay out of everyone's way. That is, until Andoni Larrabe decided to roll into Pappas's Kd-Kc with Kh-Qh all in pre-flop, doubling Pappas up. And all of a sudden, he started making moves. Weird moves, sure—like checking a big hand down to the river, then firing on a blank against chip leader Jorryt van Hoof and somehow getting a call—but they worked. He opened up a bit, too, which wasn't easy at this table. At one point he ran out 7-2 out of position against Tonking, who at the time was one of the big stacks, and took down the pot, and tried the same move with similar junk a little later and took a hit of $4 million in chips. It was great. Pappas was playing passably well, but making the sort of weirdo moves that anyone who's ever housed their home game probably thinks they could make work at a final table if they got a shot. He so obviously belonged nowhere near that table that it was hard not to root for him to stay there all night, busting up the pros.

At some point, the poker bloggers on hand started pointing out that Pappas wasn't even going to the rail to glean information about hands that his friends in the stands could pull from the live broadcast, which is on a 30-minute delay and total fair game. He figured he sat through the breaks through the rest of the tournament, so he may as well here, especially since his friends weren't exactly poker pros.


(While we're here, about that scene: The WSOP final table is a goddamned visual nightmare. It's got everything: bad lighting, billboards and neon advertisements adorning the collective square footage of both venue and player, grown, rich men wearing sandals and hoodies and shorts off the clearance table at Hollister. It's actually worse than other aesthetically bankrupt events, like MMA or NASCAR or pro gaming, because MMA is still a brutal and intricate spectacle, and you sort of... expect gamers and NASCAR to look like that. But poker is supposed to look cool. It doesn't even have to be Casino Royale cool—just look at 2003 in the Binion's basement, with Farha in the shirt and jacket and an unlit cigarette dangling for the duration of the table. Shit, you can keep the 888 and Full Tilt and Draft Kings and Natty fucking Lite logos, just put them somewhere on the table instead of in bright lights in the stands, and enforce the literal NBA dress code. You can dress like Westbrook, not like Hellmuth. Wear a suit! It doesn't even have to be a good suit—you can look like Stan van Gundy on a 18-hour layover in O'Hare, sponsored by 888 Poker—just put on something other than what everyone at that table was wearing last night. Except for Pappas's Yoshi hat, that shit can stay.)

The rest of the final table has been mostly uneventful: Big stack Jorryt van Hoof leaned on the table until it broke; Martin Jacobson yo-yoed from short stack to contender over and over, and went all-in probably a dozen times; Will Tonking shot up to the chip lead before catching a run of cold cards; Larrabe exited shortly after donking off his chips to Pappas; Mark Newhouse, back at the final table for the second year in a row—the first time anything like that's happened since Dan Harrington came in third in 2003 and fourth in 2004—though Newhouse busted in ninth place both times, which is far more frustrating and far, far, far funnier.


Tonight the final three of van Hoof, Jacobson, and Stephenson will show down, and it will be entertaining, maybe, but the Main Event is always a little more fun when an amateur like Pappas, especially one who isn't a total fucker, hangs around long enough to feel like he might actually do the thing. More so if he's got a foosball tournament in Germany to rush off to after taking fifth.

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