In the classic poker flick “Rounders” (1998), conflicted hero Mike McD informs viewers that Las Vegas stands out as the “center of the poker universe.”
But while he builds a bankroll big enough to tackle the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Sin City, Mike plies his trade in Atlantic City. Back then, East Coast poker enthusiasts viewed Atlantic City as a proving ground; a place to separate the best from the rest.
So it’s no surprise to learn many of the game’s greats cut their teeth in Atlantic City – including online legend turned three-time WSOP gold bracelet winner Paul Volpe.
Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1981, Paul Volpe got a late start to his poker career relative to many of his generational peers.
While other top pros of this era began playing real money poker online before they had yet turned 21, Volpe set up shop on Full Tilt Poker as “paulgees81” in 2009 as a 28-year old. Despite losing a decade of experience, however, Volpe immediately announced his presence to the online poker community. Within his first year on the site, Volpe took down a Full Tilt Online Poker Series (FTOPS) event for a cool $57,547 payday.
Volpe used the bankroll infusion to start climbing the high-stakes cash game ladder, leading to his “paulgees81” account to become both feared and respected by fellow grinders.
He also continued to excel at tournaments, stacking up several five-figure cashes over the course of a highly successful 2010 campaign.
His big breakthrough on the online scene came in January of 2011, when “paulgees81” wound up hopping in the iconic $215 buy-in Sunday Million tournament on PokerStars. As the event’s title suggests, the Sunday Million guaranteed a prize pool of $1 million, and Volpe outplayed a stacked field of 8,630 entries to claim the lion’s share ($253,895) of that pot.
Three weeks later, “paulgees81” was spotted on Full Tilt Poker bagging up another $108,800 courtesy of another FTOPS final table appearance and 4th-place finish.
But Volpe was far from done, while he worked diligently on his online game, Volpe also took advantage of his hometown’s close proximity to Atlantic City – where a thriving live poker scene had emerged. Setting up shop at the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa’s high stakes room, Volpe dove headlong into the “mixed game” scene, mastering poker variants such as Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better and no limit 2-7 Lowball Draw.
He also dabbled in the Borgata’s burgeoning live tournament schedule, racking up several respectable finishes between 2009 and 2011.
By the summer of 2011, Volpe was ready to make the leap and play his first full WSOP schedule out in Las Vegas. That year saw Volpe record six cashes in gold bracelet events, covering a wide variety of variants, and he even enjoyed a deep run in the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event which crowns poker’s World Champion.
One year later, Volpe nearly made the most coveted final table in the game, before bowing out in 20th place for $294,601 in the 2012 WSOP Main Event.
Brimming with confidence, Volpe began touring the worldwide tournament circuit, attending series like the European Poker Tour (EPT) while accumulating several mid-range cashes.
It all came together for Volpe in the spring of 2003 during a highly successful tour of the tournament circuit’s West Coast swing. After a runner-up finish in the $10,000 buy-in L.A. Poker Classic Main Event netted $651,170 in winnings, Volpe followed up a few days later by placing 3rd in the $7,500 buy-in Bay 101 Shooting Stars Main Event for another $435,610.
With more than $1 million in the bank courtesy of two tournaments, Volpe committed himself to the live scene like never before. Within two months’ time, he finally broke through for his first live tournament victory at the EPT Monte Carlo stop, hauling in $171,118 for a victory in the $10,300 buy-in Main Event.
EPT titles are nice and all, but every tournament pro dreams of adding a WSOP gold bracelet to their trophy case.
Entering the 2014 WSOP summer, Volpe had 14 cashes in poker’s premier tourney series, but no bracelets to show for all those deep runs.
It would be his mixed game experience that would change things for the better, as Volpe conquered an 87-player field consisting almost entirely of top pros to win the $10,000 buy-in no limit 2-7 Lowball Draw World Championship. In doing so, Volpe denied the legend Daniel Negreanu his seventh career gold bracelet by defeating “Kid Poker” heads-up.
Volpe pocketed $253,524 for his efforts, but as he revealed to CardPlayer Magazine in his winner’s interview, winning such a prestigious championship title meant a little more:
“It feels amazing to get my first bracelet, especially in the $10K Deuce-to-Seven (event), which is one of the toughest events of the summer.
I was confident I was going to win. I felt like I was going to win. It was a super-tough table.
It was unbelievable getting heads-up against Daniel. If I had to pick one person to beat for my bracelet, it would be him.”
By April of 2016, Volpe was back at his home casino competing in the Borgata Spring Poker Open’s $2,700 buy-in Main Event Championship.
Facing off against a 590-entry field, Volpe emerged victorious to claim his first major title in Atlantic City, along with $356,255 in additional earnings.
That performance set the stage for Volpe’s dominant 2016 run at the WSOP, where he notched an impressive nine cashes – many of which came in top-tier events. Displaying his natural acumen for mixed game poker, Volpe scored his second gold bracelet in the $1,500 buy-in Eight Game Mix event for $149,943.
Asked about the importance of becoming a two-time gold bracelet winner rather than a one-hit wonder, Volpe made it clear that he’s a poker pro first and foremost:
“With me, poker is mostly about the money.
I know with the World Series of Poker there’s so much history and I respect that. But I am here mainly to earn a living, make money, and support my family.
For the most part, I love getting gold bracelets. But I’m here mainly to make a living.”
Returning to the Borgata for the casino’s Summer Poker Open series, Volpe very nearly went back-to-back by finishing as the runner-up in another $2,700 buy-in Main Event.
Two years later, Volpe returned to the WSOP winner’s circle by adding gold bracelet #3 in the $10,000 buy-in Omaha Hi-Lo Eight or Better World Championship. In his winner’s interview with PokerNews, a humble Volpe attributed the win to a hot run of cards – while also predicting a fourth bracelet would come sooner rather than later:
“I just ran like, really, really good.
I think a lot of people with the same cards as me would have won the tournament.
It feels great; I am excited. Hopefully I’m I gonna win another one.”
That premonition almost came true, as Volpe finished in 2nd place a short time later in the $10,000 buy-in no limit holdem six-handed event to close his 2018 WSOP run.
All told, Volpe has cashed a whopping 54 times at the WSOP, meaning more than 42 percent of his 128 career live cashes have come in gold bracelet events.
And staying true to his roots, 25 of those in-the-money finishes have gone down in Atlantic City, with all but two occurring at the Borgata.
In an industry where most top pros started their poker journey as 18-year-old kids, Paul Volpe was late to the proverbial party. But befitting his innate talent, even a 10-year head start wasn’t enough to keep Volpe from surpassing most of his peers in the professional ranks. Today, he has more than $8.5 million in live tournament earnings to his credit, along with countless millions more won while playing online.
And if you’re ever visiting the Borgata poker room, be sure to check the high-stakes room, where Volpe and his signature Philadelphia Phillies ball cap have become a bona fide fixture.
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