WCOOP 2010: G0lfa needs another wrist

WCOOP 2009 logo.jpgWithin 12 hours of laying eyes on Ryan "G0lfa" D'Angelo for the first time, we stood in a crowd and watched him rise above the fray. Literally. We watched D'Angelo climb atop a willing friend and shoulder-surf through a crowd of PokerStars partiers.

This was at the January 2010 PokerStars Caribbean Adventure party as Kelly Rowland sang on stage. We stood, our mouths agape, and watched this young man--this young man who had the PCA chip lead at the time--throw his arms in the air. It was not lost on us that D'Angelo would soon be using those two rafter-aimed wrists to carry the World Championship of Online Poker bracelets he won in 2009. What we didn't know at the time was this: within ten months, D'Angelo would run out of wrists for his WCOOP bling.


The shoulder-surfing D'Angelo

Just a few days back, D'Angelo became the first--and only--person in WCOOP history to claim three championship bracelets in the series. He won a $500 NLHE (1R1A) event for nearly $200,000 and sealed his place in history.

Before this victory, D'Angelo was already a man of distinction. He was part of an elite club of double bracelet winners that now includes djk123, Donald, ElkY, kwob20, shaundeeb, spawng, spencerman3, and Xaston. That's not a bad group to be a part of. D'Angelo, however, as is his wont, had to do better.

At 24 years old, D'Angelo has been playing serious poker for six years. He's spent the past 12 months establishing himself as one online poker's most feared adversaries. Recorded history has him down for more than $1.8 million in winnings (although the number is probably somewhat higher than that). He had three cashes at this year's WSOP, and a major $700,000 PCA fifth place finish a few days after we spotted him on his friend's shoulders.

And so, you might think D'Angelo is some over-motivated, Type A, king of the poker geeks. You would wrong. Just ask him.

"I'm extremely laid back and very much have a go-with-the-flow attitude about most things," he said after winning his third WCOOP bracelet. "I try to not get too involved in religious and political debates, because I just see it driving people apart rather than bringing people together. I'm all about love and happiness. Thats what life is about in my opinion."


For the past six years, poker has dominated D'Angelo's life. It's allowed him to create his own schedule, wake up when he wants, and develop sort of nouveau-hippie attitude. That is, he's a very wealthy Peace, Love, and Laughter kind of kid.

Born and raised in Binghamton, NY (made poker-famous in the film "Rounders" as the locale of the infamous "municipal workers" game), D'Angelo has risen to the top of the game and WCOOP achievement before the age he can easily rent a car. While he may be short on years, he's long on perspective. He knows his place in the game. He's figured out how to be successful without being...well, a freak.

"Its importance in my life has shifted a bit because it's just not my number one priority anymore," he said. "I always see my self playing poker in the future, just not full time. I plan on partaking in other business adventures at some point."

That's yet another interesting thing about D'Angelo. He gives the sense that he's cool with being good and cool with not making poker the biggest part of his life. However, it's impossible to say whether all of it's just an angle, or if he's being straight. Asked to talk deeper about himself or reveal some wild card aspect of his life, he suggests everyone go out in search of Honeycrisp apples and slather them with natural peanut butter. It's a non sequitur that is both endearing and off-putting at the same time.

It's easier to accept, however, if you take to heart D'Angelo's approach to poker.

"Be a chameleon," he said. "Always be one step ahead of your opponent, and only one."

It's that last part that should scare most of his opponents. Where most people get ahead and do their best to get as far ahead as possible, D'Angelo is pacing himself. He is one step--indeed, one WCOOP bracelet--ahead of most poker players, and he's happy that way. Or, to think of in a more careful way, D'Angelo is only one step ahead and that means he is right there waiting to take your chips if you dare try to catch up.

D'Angelo won't talk about himself that proudly, though. He leaves the applause and analysis to people like us. In fact, he says he was--of all things--suffering a confidence problem going into the 2010 WCOOP. He was in, in his words, a funk.

"This definitely helped me regain that and realize that I still had what it takes to be a dominant presence not just in the live scene, but online as well," he said.

That is a long was of saying that D'Angelo has set himself up to make his own choices. He chooses how much poker to play. He chooses how much he reveals about himself. He chooses whether to be the camouflaged chameleon--one step ahead, and only one. And if he chooses to go back in the shadows, it will be his decision to do so.

With that much understood, it will be hard to keep D'Angelo out of the bright lights. It's hard to deflect the glare from three gold WCOP bracelets. And even if he somehow manages to turn down that spotlight, he'll have a hard time avoiding the one on the dance floor.

"I've got sick dance moves," he confessed. "Coming soon to NAPT Los Angeles. Don't miss it!"

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in WCOOP