A Matter of Time

Paul Volpe has taken his time becoming the hottest-running live player around

Paul Volpe’s breakout performance on the live tournament circuit was, even by his own estimation, long overdue. With more than $4 million in lifetime online tournament earnings and extra time on the road, a big tournament score was all but inevitable.

Paul VolpeThe method by which Volpe put his name on the map, however, was anything but expected. After kicking off March by chopping the World Poker Tour LA Poker Classic with Paul Klann, Volpe headed north to San Jose for the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star. He’d make his second final table in as many weeks, eventually finishing third to push his earnings in March to more than $1 million.

As if two major final tables in a month weren’t enough, Volpe then headed over to London and proceeded to make the final eight in the EPT High Roller, finishing fourth to cap an unbelievable month that also happened to put him into the lead in the 2013 BLUFF Player of the Year race.

It was quite a departure from Volpe’s humble beginnings.

“I grew up in a West Philadelphia, definitely working class,” Volpe said. “There were six kids, so it was a big family, and I was raised by a single mom, but I had a good childhood. I went to high school in West Philadelphia, but halfway through, I moved to South New Jersey, Washington Township. I actually finished up in an alternative high school because I was a terrible student.”

After getting his high school diploma, Volpe tried to follow the traditional path into college, but it didn’t last long.

“I went to college for about a week,” Volpe said. “Then I quit.”

At this point in his life, poker wasn’t even remotely on Volpe’s mind. He did what he had to do to make a living and pay the bills.

“I ended up going to work as a line cook at Carrabba’s, another Italian place, and then Pizzeria Uno,” Volpe said. “I did that for about three years or so.”

After spending all of that time in the kitchen, Volpe was happy to find another line of work in an office job. Ironically enough, it was during this time of stability when Volpe would stumble upon his true calling.

“When I was 19 or 20, I got a job at an insurance company,” Volpe said, “And it was during that time when I found poker. My brother and I used to play a little, and we watched poker on TV. I remember one particular Friday night I wasn’t doing anything, and I just asked him to send me $100 on Cake [Poker].

At that point in his life, Volpe was just playing for fun. The stakes were low, but even the smallest of rewards were enough to generate a lot of enjoyment.

“I was just playing these small tournaments online,” Volpe said, “And getting extremely excited about getting $1 bounties. I started out there, just playing tournaments mostly, and eventually, I moved on to bum-hunting.”

“Bum hunting” refers to a tactic used by experienced online poker players who know where and how to find the weakest players, exploiting a skill advantage in the biggest way possible. By going after the weakest players out there, the risk is minimized and the opportunity to profit increases tremendously.

It’s a tactic used most often in heads-up play, with Volpe finding his targets in the high-stakes, heads-up Sit-N-Gos.

“There were a lot of sports bettors on [Cake], playing $300 and $500 sit-n-gos,” Volpe said, “And they were huge fish. I won a lot of money on Cake, and I think I was pretty lucky that I started there, because if it had been PokerStars or Full Tilt instead, I probably would’ve gotten eaten alive.”

As Volpe’s success started to snowball, he utilized his newly found bankroll to play tournaments. The pull of the major sites and the big guarantees eventually became too big to ignore.

“I built up my bankroll really well,” Volpe said, “And I was playing a lot more MTTs. I moved $50,000 over to PokerStars and Full Tilt so I could play more of them.

That all led to the tournament in late 2009 that would change Volpe’s life forever.

“I won a MiniFTOPS for $58,000,” Volpe said, “And that allowed me to quit my job.”

Volpe added a second-place finish in the PokerStars Wednesday Quarter Million for $35,100 and he never really looked back. His success would spill over into 2010, with a win in that same Wednesday Quarter Million for $51,400 and a deep run in the WCOOP $10,000 High Roller.

Volpe’s success led to recognition as one of the top online tournament players in the world. He closed out 2010 in the top five of the BLUFF Online Player of the Year race, and the start of 2011 would increase Volpe’s standing even more.

He recorded what is still the biggest win of his career in January of that year, as Volpe won the Sunday Million outright for $253,900. Volpe kept winning and making countless other deep runs, until he reached the number one spot in Pocket Fives’ online poker player rankings on April 6, 2011.

There wouldn’t be much time for celebration. Just nine days later, the lives of Paul Volpe and millions of other online poker players would change forever on Black Friday.

“I remember my best friend calling me,” Volpe said. “I was still sleeping at three in the afternoon, I took off [from playing] a lot on Fridays. He said, ‘All of the sites are down.’”

In the early stages of the Black Friday aftermath, the full extent of the damage done by the Department of Justice wasn’t all that clear. In Volpe’s mind, he was still looking forward to a busy weekend tournament slate.

“I remember thinking that everything would get resolved by the weekend,” Volpe said. I was just hoping that I would be able to play all of the Sunday majors.”

As hours turned into days, a far bleaker situation emerged. Volpe’s hopes slowly dwindled, and his outlook for online poker in the United States started to crumble.

“At first, I thought things would get fixed in a couple of weeks,” Volpe said, “Then maybe after a few months. At this point I think there’s almost no chance of things being fixed, going back to the way things were.”

Like most poker players, the WSOP was too close for Volpe to do much about his living situation in the short term. He put together a pretty strong series in 2011 with six cashes, including four top-50 finishes and a 12th-place finish in a Pot Limit Omaha Hi-Lo event. Volpe also secured his first WSOP Main Event cash, going out in 192nd.

After things settled down a bit, Volpe went through the process of reactivating his online accounts and found a place in order to get back into the game, albeit on a part-time basis.

“It just sucks,” said Volpe. “I still love playing online. I’m in Toronto now, playing here and there, but it’s just such a pain in the ass traveling back and forth.”

Volpe had just one live cash between the end of the 2011 WSOP and the start of the 2012 WSOP. Things wouldn’t go all that smoothly there, either, with a very quiet summer to say the least. The one bright spot leading into the Main Event was a deep run in the Heads-Up Championship, though it would come to a disappointing end in the round of 16.

The Main Event would go much better than the rest of his summer. Volpe built up a big stack early and surged into the chip lead on Day 4 as the bubble burst. Throughout that tournament, Volpe thrived by having a singular focus and trying to stay as consistent as possible.

“I had a pretty regular routine,” Volpe said, “Just waking up, playing all day, getting dinner and passing out. I had no concept of the outside world or anything else going on.

He’d stay near the top of the counts through Day 6 and made it into the final day of play for the summer at the WSOP. Volpe rarely concerned himself with the payouts outside of the winner’s share, but the Main Event was a different story.

“It was really exciting,” Volpe said. “It’s like no other tournament in the world. I usually only look at the top prize, but with the Main Event it was different. Mostly it was just beneficial to know where the pay jumps were.”

Volpe got an early double-up through Danny Wong, but he was still among the shortest stacks left in the field. The number was quickly being whittled down, and Volpe would have to make his stand.

“Finally, we got down to the last three tables,” Volpe said, “And I almost made it down to the final 18. Just a crazy atmosphere.”

His tournament would come down to a three-way all in, as Volpe found [Ac] [Kh] facing two all ins in front of him and elected to put his tournament on the line. Volpe was very live as Wong tabled [Ts] [Tc] and Steve Gee showed [8c] [8h], but the runout would not be in his favor as it all came to a sudden end in 20th place. Gee, who was also at risk, would go on to make a straight in that hand and would eventually make the final table.

Even in light of his recent success, Volpe counts this Main Event run as the highlight of his career so far.

“It’s crazy,” Volpe said, “Just so much media around, and the cameras following your every move. Every day you come in, the room gets emptier and emptier. It’s such a weird feeling, just less and less tables [as things got closer to the end].

Volpe would close out 2012 with a deep run in the WPT Parx Open Poker Classic and a couple of cashes at the Borgata and late in the year in Prague. After a cash in the Main Event at the PCA and a return to Parx, it was time for Volpe to pull off a career-making month in March.

“Obviously I ran good,” Volpe said, “But I don’t feel like I ran that good. I know it’s crazy to say. In the last year, I’ve been playing a lot of $5,000 and $10,000 tournaments, I just knew that I was eventually going to start winning them, or making a lot of money off them. I just didn’t know when.”

Heading to the West Coast for the pair of WPT events was a last minute decision, as Volpe arrived in Los Angeles, California just before the pro-heavy $5,000 event that immediately preceded the Main Event at the LAPC. That choice worked out incredibly well for Volpe, but a similarly quick decision to go to London almost worked out the opposite way.

“I heard a lot people say that they were going,” Volpe said. “I missed my flight [home] on a Thursday, and then I saw they had direct flights from San Francisco to London and I just decided to fly in to play Day 1B of the EPT London Main [Event], which was kind of a mistake.”

Volpe didn’t leave himself much leeway, and he paid for it when the ride was bumpier than expected

“I thought I would sleep on the plane,” Volpe said, “Because it was a 10-hour flight. But it was really bad, it was so choppy and it ended up being one of the worst flights I’ve ever been on. I arrived at 12:30 for Day 1B and I was just so out of it, and I don’t really remember most of it, probably because I was so tired.”

There would be some redemption for Volpe, though, as he closed out March with his third major final table in the EPT London High Roller. After a wild ride around the world, Volpe returned to Toronto and proceeded to win $40,000 in the Big $109 on PokerStars. He also earned himself a package for the EPT Berlin Main Event, which sends him back on the road.

After Berlin and possibly the EPT Grand Final, Volpe’s attention will be squarely focused on the WSOP. While his plans are still up in the air, he hopes to play the $25,000 six-handed event and possibly even the One Drop High Roller.

Volpe is arguably the hottest player on the tournament circuit at the moment, and he’s determined to grab the proverbial brass ring at the 2013 WSOP. With the way he’s been playing of late, it would be foolish to bet against him, and in all likelihood you’ll be seeing a lot of Paul Volpe in the coming months.

For this kid from West Philadelphia, it’s just a matter of time.

May 2013