Earlier this year, Nick Pupillo joined Chip Leader Coaching. It’s no coincidence that he’s already won $152,319 in 2018, which comes after a career year when he won $716,869 playing live tournaments in 2017.

Among his early scores in 2018 are sixth in the World Series of Poker Circuit Potawatomi $2,200 High Roller for $11,370, sixth in the Heartland Poker Tour Black Hawk Main Event for $31,855, 12th in the Wynn Spring Classic Championship for $18,111, first in the Foxwoods Poker Classic Event #18: $500 NLH Six-Max for $10,397, and third in the Foxwoods Poker Classic Event #22: $5,000 High Roller for $10,941.

“I’ve had a lot of success at Foxwoods in the past so I thought I’d travel up there for their March series,” said Pupillo, who also took 13th in the $2,500 Championship Event for $7,607.

Pupillo’s strong start to the year puts him top the Global Poker Index 2018 Player of the Year race with 1,824.63 points, which is ahead of players like Ari Engel (1,800.79 points), Stephen Chidwick (1,762.53 points), Rainer Kempe (1,714.51 points), and our very own CLC coach Joe McKeehen (1,601.68 points).

“It feels pretty good, pretty cool, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep it. We’ll see what happens,” said Pupillo, who has been grinding tournaments in Vegas the past couple of weeks.

Pupillo’s reluctance stems from the fact that he doesn’t play big buy-in high roller events like so many on the list. In fact, past winners like Adrian Mateos (2017), David Peters (2016), and Byron Kaverman (2015) are all regulars on the high roller circuit.

“I don’t play the bigger high rollers, which is where a lot of players get their points,” Pupillo explained. “It’ll be hard to stay on top, but I’m going to give it my best and hopefully do well at this summer’s WSOP.”

In 2017, Pupillo a number of big scores including a career-high $217,535 for finishing second in the Borgata Poker Open Event #1: $600 NLH DeepStack Kick-Off. He also won the WSOP Circuit Thunder Valley Main Event for $170,286 and his second gold ring.

“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my career,” he said at the time. “I struggled with, like, money management and stuff like that, but things are turning around. Better now. Just getting good rest and staying sober and stuff like that is very important.”

Other big scores from 2017 include $73,596 for placing second in the Foxwoods World Poker Finals Championship Event, winning the Borgata Spring Poker Open Event #9: $280 NLH for $47,969, and taking sixth in the WSOP Circuit Potawatomi Main Event for $40,447.

Pupillo, who has a strong interest in soccer and basketball, learned to play poker at the tutelage of Gary Tsui and David Droeger.

“Watching Gary, who is one of the better cash-game players in the Chicago area, helped me to see and learn the game,” Pupillo previously told PokerNews. “Dave would regularly talk poker with me, specifically tournament poker strategy. He has an incredible game concept, and I was fortunate in that he spent a lot of time and energy coaching me. He also really believed in me, which gave me the confidence I needed, something crucial to multi-table tournaments.”

Pupillo, the oldest of seven kids, grew up in Addison, Illinois, but he recently bought a condo and relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona. He began travelling the tournament circuit in 2013 and found success the following year when he took 12th in the 2014 WSOP Monster Stack for $99,981.

“[It was my] big breakout score that allowed me to become the player I always wanted to be,” Pupillo told PokerNews. “I flew to Las Vegas with only $4 in my pocket on a pre-booked flight using my friend Dave’s airline miles. My grandparents live in Las Vegas, so when I arrived they handed me a loan of $2,400, which is what I used to enter the Monster Stack. I really cannot thank them enough; their belief in me and trust in loaning me that money really changed my life.”

From $4 to now having nearly $1.6 million in lifetime earnings, it’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of Pupillo, especially now that he’s a part of Chip Leader Coaching.

You can follow his poker exploits on Twitter @NickPupillo54.