LOWELL -- Billy Pappas peeked at his cards. A pair of 4's. He sat back and considered his options. Heck, it had been a good run, he thought. Made it to Day 5 of the World Series of Poker main event. Certainly further than anybody with any sense would expect from a Vegas rookie.

Worst case scenario: 150th place, good for about 50 grand. Not too bad. The chips were getting low. He counted them. Rubbed his beard.

Lowell’s Billy Pappas holds the hand that held the key to his making the World Series of Poker "November Nine" final table: Pocket
Lowell's Billy Pappas holds the hand that held the key to his making the World Series of Poker "November Nine" final table: Pocket 4's. SUN/BOB WHITAKER

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
Peeked at his hole cards again. They hadn't changed.

"I'm all in."

The woman to his left, holding ace-jack, called. Pocket jacks called. Ace-king called. Suddenly it was a four-way pot, millions in chips, new life in the tournament -- for somebody.

A 4 came right on the flop, one of just two left in the deck. Bingo!

"That was the hand that kind of made me," said Billy Pappas earlier this week. "I quadrupled-up and ended the day with 3.3 million or something like that."

The 29-year-old Lowell man went on to achieve the dream of every poker player last month when he survived a starting field of 6,600 players to become one of the final nine who will return to Las Vegas in November and play for a top prize of $10 million.


Advertisement

His minimum payout will be $695,261, with the totals escalating from there. Gotta love those pocket 4's.

Initial reports listed Billy Pappaconstantinou (his real name) as living in Dracut. He says no. "Lowell, Lowell, Lowell," he says. "I'm a Lowell guy." The city is even part of his email address.

His father, Bill, runs an indoor golf and baseball facility in a Chelmsford mill building. His mother, Nancy, is the one who got him hooked on foosball.

Wait a minute. We were talking about poker, weren't we? What's this about foosball?

Well, Pappas found success in foosball well before he found it in poker. Foosball is the table-soccer game that can be found in some bars or video arcades. Billy Pappas turned "pro" in foosball when he was 12.

He's won multiple world championships and thousands upon thousands of dollars. In fact, two weeks after making the final table of the World Series of Poker main event, Pappas was in Germany winning a huge foosball tournament.

He's a foosball YouTube sensation. Life is good.

"I used to do (foosball) for a living, then I tried to get more into poker," said the friendly, likable Pappas. He was a part-time dealer in Rockingham Park's charity poker room, played on-line and in a few tournaments, but that was about it. Phil Ivey he wasn't.

This main event was the first and only WSOP event he ever entered. He's the only amateur among the final nine, the other eight being full-time poker professionals. The fact he made it this far is a fairy tale beyond the wildest imagination.

"Every day there's a point in the day where I kind of just smirk and I realize I really did this and it's really happening," said Pappas, who is single. "It's pretty surreal."

The $10,000 main event entry fee was paid by a good friend of his in the foosball community. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

November Niner Billy Pappas paid a visit to the Sun offices this week to talk about his unbelievable poker accomplishment.SUN/BOB WHITAKERSun staff photos
November Niner Billy Pappas paid a visit to the Sun offices this week to talk about his unbelievable poker accomplishment. SUN/BOB WHITAKER

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.
He wasn't sure until a few days before tournament time whether he was actually going to accept the gift and play.

On Day 1 he doubled his chip stack.

On Day 2 "I started great then I got moved and I had a really tough table. I ended the day with around $100,000," he said.

On Day 3 he treaded water.

On Day 4 he made it past the money "bubble", meaning he would at least double his 10K entry fee. "Then, directly after I made the money I had pocket aces (two aces) against ace-king. Literally the hand after the money (bubble), so that helped a lot."

On Day 5 Pappas, who describes himself as a "tight" player (not prone to high-risk plays) got the pocket 4's, quadrupled his stack and was suddenly on the radar screen. 

On Day 6 "I kind of took over," he said. "I feel like I won every pot I entered. It was just one of those days, people weren't catching cards against me and I was getting good hands. The funny thing was, I knew one of the dealers (a woman from the Lowell area) and she's always been really good to me. It was awesome."

Day 7, cut-down day, a 13-hour grind, "was actually a big struggle, I had a really tough day," said Pappas. "But right before the final table I had pocket kings against ace-queen, and that's where kind of the reality set in." There were 12 people left, Pappas had enough to go on cruise control and make the November nine.

Even toward the end, Pappaconstantinou was the unknown factor. One of the final table participants, Mark Newhouse, was seemingly put out that Billy didn't know who he was. He had made the final table in 2013 and his making it two years in a row is considered one of poker's greatest accomplishments ever. But Billy wasn't in the loop on the Newhouse news. This struck everyone in Vegas as odd.

When Pappas returns to the Rio on Nov. 10, he'll be in Seat 1, to the immediate left of the dealer. "I have the worst possible seat because the top three chip leaders are to my left," said Pappas. "The chip leader is really aggressive and he knows me, we played a lot on the same table.

"But Seat 1 has always been good to me."

In poker, when bigger stacks are to your left, they have the ability to come "over the top" of any raises you may make, forcing you to put up or shut up when you maybe aren't ready to.

He'll start in sixth place in the chip standings with $17.5 million. The leader has about $38 million, the short stack has $12 million. In reality, it's anybody's ballgame. If he goes out in sixth place it's worth $1.6 million, minus taxes.

A lot of November Nine participants through the years have hired coaches and trainers and psychologists, the whole nine yards. Not Billy. He's going to play some poker with local friends whose games he respects, relax, play some foosball and some basketball, and see how it plays out.

"If I try to plan too much I'll get too freaked out," he said. "I will try to play a little short-handed poker. I've never really played a lot short-handed. That's going to be the tough part. Hopefully I can make it to the point where I need to play short-handed." He laughs out loud.

While he wouldn't name the man who staked him the $10,000 (and who is certainly in for a cut), he did say he wanted to give special thanks to "Mr. Dyzzl" -- a mystery man if ever there was one.

And if the $10 million (or 2, or 4, or 6 million) should end up in his bank account, what then?

"I don't know," he says with a smile. "The last couple of years I was thinking I wanted to be a poker player and now that I have the money to do it I'm pretty scared about it. I don't want to lose it all.

"I'm not really going to do anything with it until I have a real plan. I would want to invest something and maybe take a smaller percentage out to play poker with. I'm not going to be a high-roller."

Regardless, by the time November rolls around, Billy Pappas will be well known, at least in the poker community. But something tells you the fame and fortune won't change him, that he'll still be the easy-going, roll-with-the-punches guy he is now.

ESPN wants to come to Lowell and follow him around for a day for the biographical pieces they intersperse with their coverage of the final table. It's big doings. Pappas shakes his head in wonder.

"I don't get it," he says. "I don't do anything worth filming."

They'll probably want to shoot him playing foosball, it is suggested.

"That's fine," he brightens. "I can do that."

Follow Dennis Whitton on Twitter @DAWhitton