There's a certain path that most players follow when preparing for the World Series of Poker main event final table. A chance of a lifetime, those lucky nine each year understand that an unimaginable life change is only eight eliminations away.
Most November Niners collect their checks for ninth-place money and head out of town to be hailed as a local hero. They seek out coaching or, at the very least, solicit advice from their close poker friends. They run through scenarios, determine pivot points that could dramatically alter their image and work on the tells that perhaps were given away during the first stage of the tournament.
William Pappaconstantinou, aka Billy Pappas, made the final table of poker's greatest event and then won another world championship.
Pappaconstantinou will enter the 2014 WSOP main event final table as the sole amateur in the group, and his roots are far from the typical poker player profiled on this site over and over again. His passion for foosball has driven him since he was just 7 years old when his mother and her boyfriend introduced him to the game. At age 8 he was spending significant time at the arcades honing his skills against 30 to 40 teams in weekly competitions. He traveled to Texas and won his first world championship title. By 12 he was considered a pro. By 16 he considered himself a "good pro," and by 20, he was No. 1 in the world.
Since 2005, Pappaconstantinou has four foosball singles world championships. Nobody has more.
Since 2004, Pappaconstantinou has been poker's biggest fan.
His infatuation with the game came on an ordinary Monday night. With a group of his fellow foosballers spread out across the country, Pappaconstantinou's friends virtually met up for some online poker in 2004, dubbing the effort "Monday Night Foosball." On one of those nights, one of his friends made a run, turning $1 into significant money, and a second passion for Pappaconstantinou was born. He played online, loving the thrill of the game, but never really built a bankroll.
Pappaconstantinou stopped putting in significant practice time to foosball in 2006 but still maintained his position as one of the elite. He traveled the world, competed in event after event and spent his time away from those tables at the poker table. Online poker was easiest for him to access due to its availability no matter where his profession led him.
"I did well in tournaments but poor in cash," Pappaconstantinou said. "I was a losing player for a couple of years, but then I had a score at Foxwoods for $15,342 in 2010."
A few bankroll risks later, that added cash didn't stay in his pocket for long. He continued both the foosball and poker grind for the next few years, opting to play poker exclusively at the live felt rather than online. With the American foosball economy fading, Pappaconstantinou became a dealer at Rockingham Park for income and additional poker exposure.
Even being the best in the foosball world isn't really enough to support a lifestyle. Most of the big events happen overseas, sponsors aren't interested due to the lack of a media-friendly game, and once you factor in travel costs, the budget, and bankroll, is rather thin.
"The best foosball player probably makes a little over $30,000 a year," said Pappaconstantinou.
Pappaconstantinou has always been an ordinary amateur in poker, just like the rest of us who dream of someday being beneath the cameras playing for the biggest prize in the game. His thirst for poker greatness grew at the start of the year, and Pappaconstantinou wanted to venture to Vegas and get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing in the world's biggest festival.
"I felt like I was the poor kid who hopefully will play in an event someday. ... It was just more of a dream more than anything," he said. "I wanted to play in a $1,500 event this year. The Monster Stack one was the one I was considering. I asked my buddy if he wanted a piece."
His buddy wasn't interested.
Pappaconstantinou ended his search for a backer and his quest of an appearance at the 2014 WSOP. Instead of Vegas, he was scheduled for a doubles foosball tournament in Austria. The top prize was a couple thousand dollars, enough to keep him going.
A few weeks after his initial rejection, an unexpected notification comes across his phone.
"[My friend] just texts me and asks me if I wanted to play in the main event," Pappaconstantinou said.
His answer was equally surprising. Pappaconstantinou said no. He didn't want to bail on his partner and decided he would wait another year. That partner convinced him otherwise.
"He saw the opportunity and said go ahead and play," said Pappaconstantinou.
Looks like he made the right decision.
Pappaconstantinou collected his buy-in and enjoyed every moment of the ride. The $10,000 stake turned into a final table appearance worth at least $730,725.
Sixth in chips and owner of potentially the worst seat at the final table given the larger stacks to his left, he hasn't focused on his play during the finale. He also decided not to hire a coach.
"I'm not sure how to go about [the preparation]," he said. "So I've been trying to focus on other things and not letting it get to me right now. "
Similarly, the newfound money hasn't been a distraction. Pappaconstantinou hasn't yet collected the payout he earned by making the final table, despite acknowledging that the sum is already life-changing. By his own admission, Pappaconstantinou has never been wealthy, and he wanted to see his final total prior to deciding how to proceed. When he does collect that money, the first person he plans on taking care of is his mother, whom he will buy a house.
"If someone gives it their best, they could do it," Pappaconstantinou said of the success. "I don't feel like I'm that much better than anyone at the table, ever. Just work hard and follow your dream."
That modest approach has been appreciated by his competitors throughout the seven days of play. Always sporting a smile at the table, Pappaconstantinou made friends throughout the process. Even those whom he busted from the tournament have reached out to congratulate him on his success. His rail in the Penn and Teller Theater will be the most diverse by far, with friends (and competitors) from all sides of the world coming to cheer on the foosball legend.
If he becomes a world champion once again, his life is going to change even more dramatically than he can imagine, but the down-to-earth kid doesn't want to think about that now. He's simply sitting back until the time comes, thinking about how to score the next goal.