- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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July 30, 2009, The Poker Edge podcast welcomed the youngest member of the November Nine to the show. Joe Cada spoke intelligently and simply about his main event journey. He recalled some big hands that brought him to the final table and how he made a comeback from being one of the shortest stacks on Day 8 to being fifth in chips heading into the hiatus.
He had never been all-in and behind. Never had his tournament life at risk. Never needed to hit a big card to survive. He said, "I saved my run good for the main."
Fast-forward to the final table on Nov. 7. Right from the start Cada was in trouble. He put the pedal down and was aggressive and opened up his game for his opponents to begin trapping. He walked into bigger hands numerous times and put his life on the line four or five times, and he was behind in almost all of them. Not behind as in the 48 percent chance of winning in a race, but the 20 percent in holding an underpair to his opponent's overpair. But, he saved his run good for the main.
During the last few hours of Saturday's play, "The Kid" became the luckiest 21-year-old at the Rio. His 22-year-old fans sat stunned time after time as their guy needed help to make his dream a reality. He even had help from hands that weren't played. Down to $2.5 million, Cada called all-in with J-4 versus Eric Buchman's 5-4. The jack held up, but the kicker was that Steven Begleiter held A-6 and folded from the button. If Begleiter isn't afraid of a three-bet from Buchman in that situation (Buchman had been really dominating Begleiter), he raises and Cada is done. It's amazing how one decision can change the game.
Cada's run would continue as he would then spike set after set and all of a sudden have the chip lead with three players remaining. Winning a race on the river with A-K, he knocked out an emotionally shaken Antoine Saout, who many will argue played the best at the final table.
"This was the complete opposite of the entire tournament," Cada said once he had made it to heads-up. "I got pretty lucky today. I hope if anyone ever hears me complain about poker ever, they could knock me out. I give them permission."
The "chip and a chair" theory held true. Cada turned $2.5 million in chips into $138 million and a 2.3-to-1 chip lead over Darvin Moon entering heads-up play. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Cada was the "favorite" in the eyes of the industry. He plays cash games heads-up online all the time. He was facing an opponent who admitted he had played heads-up only four times over the past few years. It was supposed to be an easy ride to the bracelet, but Moon surprised everyone with his impressive heads-up abilities.
Moon would chip away at Cada starting on the very first hand. That hand, in all honesty, should have changed the chip stacks more dramatically; many would argue Moon misplayed pocket queens. Cada would then be sent on a downward trend, getting reraised off his hand time after time. Moon was in complete control, and Cada, who wanted to play small ball, couldn't play his style.
"You got to take the man's game away from him," Moon said afterward. "Use his game against him and see where he goes."
Moon had Cada down to less than $50 million. It was Moon's tournament to lose, but the amateur made a major mistake. On a board of 10-9-5, both players checked the flop. The turn was another 10 and Cada bet $3 million. Moon then shocked the crowd and moved all-in. It took nearly five minutes of deliberation, but Cada, trying to replay the hand in his head, finally reached the "aha" moment. His body language changed, his shoulders perked up and he made the call.
"That's the hand I messed up," Moon said. "I should've moved all-in after the flop."
Moon showed 7-8 for an open-ended straight draw. Cada held only second pair with J-9. The crowd rose to its feet in anticipation of the river card. Chants of "Cada! Cada!" versus "Darvin! Darvin!" erupted. A blank on the river on the 80th heads-up hand gave Cada the chip lead, and his body language shifted from anguish to confidence. "The Kid" wouldn't settle for second place now, and eight hands later, it would all be over.
Cada raised preflop and Moon reraised. Holding pocket nines, Cada moved all-in and Moon shockingly called with Qd-Jd.
"I knew where I was at," Moon said. "There's my shot to take a tremendous chip lead, but I didn't get it."
Five cards later, the Penn & Teller Theater was filled with the cheers of all in attendance. Cada, saving his "run good for the main," pulled it off to become the newest world champion.
"He put me in tough spots," Cada said of Moon's aggression. "My goal was to play small ball and his goal was to play big ball. It was tough.
"It's a pretty sick flip that you have to wait so I'm very lucky that I won it. I thought he had queens at first when he flipped it over. When I saw he had Q-J I said, 'If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose and I'll try to grind it back up.'"
WSOP commissioner Jeffrey Pollack stepped on stage to award Cada his bracelet, and in what is rarely seen at this juncture, Cada's first words were to his fellow November Niners. He asked the crowd to cheer for Moon and his performance. He wanted an ovation for the other November Niners and all the other players. Finally, he thanked his friends and family for their support.
It was his moment. The 21-year-old had just become world champion, and he wanted to give the attention to others. This was Cada's first step to endearing himself to the poker community. He was a class act in that regard and took a major step toward being poker's ambassador for the next year.
On Tuesday Cada offered himself up to the media for numerous interviews. He would do local TV in Detroit and national hits for ESPN. He slept just a few hours after his first celebration with his friends, and anticipated another big night after the WSOP viewing party. He went out of his way to accept all requests, keeping his agent and public relations team busy.
Last week, Cada was just another player from Michigan. On ESPN's WSOP coverage, he said, "I'm just a kid with a dream." Now, he is "The Kid" and a poker superstar. Congratulations on your run to WSOP gold, Joe. We're looking forward to seeing what you have to offer as your poker career truly begins now.
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne