It’s strange that one of the most enduring images of the 2014 WSOP Main Event final table wasn’t eventual Martin Jacobson hoisting bricks of cash over his head or Mark Newhouse’s crushing elimination.
Instead it was a simple shot of Billy Pappas sitting at the table by himself during the breaks while his opponents strategized with their friends or coaches.
Poker is not a team sport and there has always been something compelling about the one-vs-the-world nature of the game.
It’s one of the few things that feels genuine in a game that rewards bluffing and deception.
So a lone, semi-amateur poker player from Lowell, Massachusetts, wearing a goofy Yoshi hat and sitting alone at the poker table while the entire world appeared to be against him with $10 million on the line, was a near-perfect visual.
The unusual nature of the simple change in procedure wasn’t lost on Pappas.
“I just wanted to stay focused,” he said. “I didn’t want to get in my own head.”
“No disrespect to the WSOP, I love the WSOP, but I didn’t like that [part] of the format. If you had coaches or knew people that had inside information on the other players at the final table than that was a big advantage. No one knew me so that was my big advantage.”
Pappas the Only Amateur at Final Table
In reality Pappas was hardly on his own as plenty of his friends showed up to cheer for him.
By the time he busted it even felt like he was getting the lion’s share of applause.
Perhaps the reason people rallied behind Pappas so enthusiastically is because he’s the storyline the poker world really wants.
After a long string of professional poker players winning the Main Event, Pappas is one of the few amateurs that has come close to winning it all since Chris Moneymaker changed everything in 2003.
Although Pappas didn’t win (he finished fifth for $2.14 million) it was clear that he struck a chord with poker fans.
He also grabbed the attention of local media outlets in Massachusetts and Derry, New Hampshire, where he currently lives.
The ever-modest Pappas maintains it’s been pretty quiet since the final table, but poker fans are everywhere.
“I got recognized at a Celtics game,” recalled Pappas. “That’s probably the coolest thing that’s happened to me since the Main Event.
"Someone just came up to me and was like, ‘Are you Billy Pappas?!’”
Pappas had a difficult time explaining why the audience seemed to gravitate towards him during the broadcast.
“I’m not sure if that’s exactly true but it seemed that way,” he said. “I don’t know what it was. Maybe it was the fact I’m an amateur or that I have a good demeanour at the table.”
Huge Amount of Strategy Carried Over from Foosball
Calling Pappas an amateur is perhaps unfair considering he had a fair amount of experience before the WSOP.
“I don’t think I’m a complete amateur but I’m not a hardcore pro either,” he said.
It’s clear that he also learned a lot about strategy from countless games of foosball.
“It’s a huge mental battle,” he said.
“If I play someone for the first time in foosball I should know them in the first four points. It’s a really tough game and once you get to a certain level you pretty much know everyone.”
Turning Down Poker Night in America
Many former November Niners have gone on reckless spending sprees after their Main Event appearances but Pappas wasn’t one of them.
He recently decided to skip an appearance on Poker Night in America. He was trying to decide between playing the Seminole Hard Rock Open and PNIA but in the end he wasn’t sure if his cash-game chops were up to that level, especially considering the stakes.
“The decision was tough for me,” he said. “But I’ve never played more than $5/$10. I just don’t know.
"The experience obviously would have been great. I’m going to play $5/$10 and see how it goes.”
Like most people Pappas was backed for the Main Event and so that $2.1 million score for fifth is a tad misleading.
In fact Pappas can still empathize with people who are trying to grind up a roll.
He’s a fan of Caesars introducing a rock-bottom $500 buy-in tournament for the 2015 WSOP.
“I think it’s genius,” he said. “If I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a backer I don’t know if I could have justified $1,500 for a poorly structured tournament.
"All those people are going to be able to play.”
$500 Buy-in Colossus Will Be a Huge Value
“There’s also some great value for staking and I think I might back a few of my friends in it,” he said.
Perhaps the most interesting latest news from Pappas is that he’s considering going back to dealing poker.
Most of the time when former dealers start playing cards and then bink a big score, they never look back.
But Pappas admires good form, whether it’s a perfect foosball shot, the pitch of a playing card or even a three-pointer by Jason Terry, one of his favorite basketball players.
“I think dealing takes a lot of practice,” he said. “I find it fun and relaxing. I usually get along with everyone. I like to watch dealers’ technique with their pitch and everything.”
Pappas even went so far as to ask the WSOP if he could deal in a few events this summer.
It turned out that if he dealt in any of the events he would also be restricted from playing in any of the tournaments so he decided against it.
For the time being Pappas will continue to actually play the game and is currently in Florida for the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open.
Looking Towards 2015 WSOP
Beyond the SHRPO, Pappas wants to play a WPT event at some point and even head to Europe for an EPT.
He would particularly like to go to London as he still talks with third-place finisher Jorryt van Hoof.
“I don’t know if everyone does this but I always imagine going back to back,” he said.
“I have this crazy vision of it. It’s obviously very unlikely. I don’t know if anyone will ever do it again. They probably won’t.”
When talking to Pappas it all leads back to that image of him sitting at the WSOP Main Event Final Table.
Despite having a lot of friends and fans, he’s on his own in the poker world.
And isn’t that how it should be?