Andy DeCaluwe won't be playing poker or blackjack when he's in Las Vegas next week. Instead, the 25-year-old will be tossing pingpong balls into cups of beer for a chance to win $50,000.
The 7th annual World Series of Beer Pong – yes, it's a real competition – takes place Sunday through Thursday at the Flamingo Las Vegas hotel and casino. And DeCaluwe, a student at Kendall College, is the guy to beat.
DeCaluwe, who plays with a partner, is ranked the top beer pong player in the world out of 2,400, according to bpong.com, which hosts the World Series. The designation is based on games played in officially-sanctioned BPONG events, according to the rules of the game: Players on either end of a table eliminate 10 water- or beer-filled cups by landing a pingpong ball in each.
"Being ranked number one at something I've worked hard for, it's satisfying," said DeCaluwe, who lives in Mount Prospect.
He placed third at the World Series last year and snagged second place the year before that. He estimates he's won money ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 in various tournaments across the country and has used his winnings to help pay for school. Now, he's got his eye on winning it all in Las Vegas.
DeCaluwe rarely loses and wins by big margins, said Benjamin "Skinny" Solnik, tournament director. "He's been consistently excellent," he said.
However, DeCaluwe wouldn't be the first Chicago-area player to be a World Series champ. Nick Velissaris, now 29 and living in Buena Park, won the first World Series in 2006.
According to BPONG, Illinois ranks eighth out of 50 states in having the most players battle in the World Series of Beer Pong.
When BPONG was created in 2002, beer pong was popular on college campuses particularly on the East Coast, Solnik said. "Since we launched, the growth of competitive beer pong has been massive," he said.
The first World Series had 82 teams. It tripled in size the second year. More than 500 teams were expected to register for the 2012 World Series.
It was actually Velissaris who introduced DeCaluwe to organized beer pong tournaments. The two met randomly in 2008 at Dick's River Roadhouse in Mount Prospect. Velissaris and his friend killed DeCaluwe and a buddy in a game of bags. It slipped that DeCaluwe's game was beer pong and Velissaris invited him that week to a beer pong tournament in Northbrook. Later that summer, the two played each other. DeCaluwe won. And since, the two have played on teams together at different tournaments.
"He's a good kid," Velissaris said. "He deserves that No. 1 ranking."
DeCaluwe understands how people find it difficult to see why he spends his free time playing games of beer pong, but he loves doing it: "It's fun. It's something I'm good at."
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