Thursday, November 12, 2009

Youth served at the World Series of Poker

So another poker World Champion has been crowned, as the 40th World Series of Poker sees its youngest Main Event Champion in the history of the event. Eclipsing Peter Eastgate, who last year became the World Champion, young online phenom Joe Cada, overcame a chip stack at the final table where with 7 players remaining, young Cada held just $2 million chips after firing a bluff at the man who would finish runner up, Darvin Moon.

It took me a few days to reflect on this event before I wanted to write about it. I was taken in by the broadcast by BluffMagazine, and listened anxiously as the events unfolded in real time. One by one the players would get their chips all in the middle, and the stories would produce incredible results. But it was with 7 players left that the real action took place. It was where the best poker was played, and it was the 7th place elimination that really had the poker world take a collective gasp. Short stack James Akenhead had already fallen by the wayside, as had Kevin Schaffel, who got his money in with AA, only to find Eric Buchman call his all in bet with KK, and flop a K, and turn another.

Joe Cada began 7 handed play short on chips. Not the shortest stack mind you, but short. And he made a colossal misstep on a busted flush draw, where Cada fired out a re-raise of 5.5 million on the river holding only 6 high, and Moon called easily holding the best hand. The misstep cost Joe nearly all of his chips, and left him with about 1% of the chips in play.

On the next hand however, in a hand that didn’t make the ESPN 2 ½ hour long final table episode, Cada found a miracle double up with a flat tire. Eric Buchman was on the button and raised to $3 million with 5c-4c and Antoine Saout folded to Cada in the Big Blind. Cada shrugged his shoulders, and called all in, flipping the J-4os. But because of Buchman’s weak bet with a small suited connecter, Cada got new life when his Jack high held, and he doubled to more than $5 million.

He would find another double up moments later through the stack of legendary Phil Ivey. Ivey opened the pot with a standard 2.5x raise, and action folded to Cada who squeezed pocket 4’s and announced all in. Ivey took his time as he contemplated the shove, and made the reluctant call, finding himself in a race with Cada with his A-8. The board offered no improvement to either player, and Cada found himself a lot more breathing room as he was now sitting on more than $12 million chips.

Ivey however was left the short stack, and put his money in good shortly after the dinner break. From under the gun, Ivey announced all in with AKos, and action folded to Darvin Moon who was in the Big Blind. Moon had run ‘White-Hot’ in the days leading to the final table and he wouldn’t cool down here. He called with the inferior hand, and AQos, which was about a 3 to 1 underdog, but it didn’t matter. The flop came out Q-6-6, and Ivey chomped his apple, stoic as he watched the turn and river cards offer no help, and he was eliminated in 7th place.

Moon would continue to run good making a misstep by 3-betting Steve Beglieter’s open raise. Moon shoved with AQ again, and this time found himself just as far behind as Begs tossed over QQ. The flop and the turn came out clean, improving neither hand, but the Ace of diamonds on the river eliminated Begs in 6th place. He had played a magnificent final table after having made some questionable plays leading into the final table, but it was obvious that the time off between July and November offered Begs enough time to really work on his game. It showed, and he was a most unfortunate exit in 6th.

Cada continued his miracle rise to the top of the board when he found another double up with yet another small pair. Jeff Shulman, who had been playing fairly tight the entire final table, and only really opening the pots for 5x, opened this pot as he usually did, and Cada announced all in with his pocket 3’s. Shulman calmly asked for a count of Cada’s remaining chips and made the call tossing over two Jacks. But the flop delivered some more love to Cada as a 3 appeared on the flop, giving Cada a set and a huge advantage. Shulman was left to watch the turn and river draw blanks, and he would become the shortest stack. Cada would then get his money in good when Darvin Moon shoved over the top of Cada with K9 and Cada made the quick call with AA. This put Cada on around $45 million.

Shulman would eventually get his money in with a pair of 7’s and would find a caller in Antoine Saout with A9, and when a 9 struck the flop Saout took the lead, and eventually the pot as Shulman would exit the main event in 5th place.

With 4 players left, it was Antoine Saout that would vault to the top of the leader board, getting involved in a massive pot with Eric Buchman. Eric had moved all in pre-flop with AQ, and Saout calmly deliberated before making the eventual call with AK. This time, the favorite held up, and Saout flopped a K to basically end the hand, and giving the Frenchman a massive chip lead. Buchman was left with under $10 million, but wouldn’t give it up. He doubled once through Darvin Moon, but his second go around wasn’t as fortunate. Shoving all in with a weak Ace, Moon made the call with Kd-Jd and turned a K to eliminate Buchman in 4th.

It took little time for Cada to spring into action as on the very next hand, with 3 players left, Saout opened the pot and Cada 3-bet all in. Saout wasted little time making the call and putting young Cada’s tournament life in peril as the Frenchman showed QQ and the young gun sheepishly tossed over a lowly pair of 2’s. But this was Cada’s night, as the flop produced another 2 out card for Cada, and the Deuce appeared giving Cada another set over a dominating pair.

Still reeling from that loss, Saout would again shove all in with a pocket pair, this time 7’s, and Cada would again find himself in a large pot with the Frenchman. Saout’s hand looked to hold up through the flop and the turn as no help was given to either player. But the river card drew a deafening roar when a K hit the board, eliminating Saout in 3rd place. In my opinion, and I believe the opinion of most poker players that watched this final table, Saout was the player that most deserved to win based on play alone. He navigated his way through this table brilliantly and just got unlucky, and at 6 AM, the Frenchman was the 7th victim of the November 9.

Two days later, the heads up matchup reconvened at the Penn and Teller Theater in the Rio at Las Vegas for the heads up matchup between Cada and Moon. Action got going right away as Moon picked up a giant pot with QQ vs. Cada’s 99. The chip lead would sway back and forth with these two fighting it out much longer than most people predicted. But in the end, it was Cada who got his money in good, and Moon finally ran his tank empty. Cada raised all in with 99 pre-flop and Moon made the call with Qd-Jd. There is much irony in these hands as the 99 is the same hand that Phil Hellmuth Jr. won his main event title with to become the youngest Main Event Champion some years ago. And for Moon, Qd-Jd was the exact hand he held in the monster pot with Billy Kopp just before the Final Table which really vaulted him to such a massive chip lead in this tournament. But history would love the young man from Michigan as the board offered no Q and no J, and Joe Cada became the youngest man to win the gold bracelet from the WSOP Main Event. He’ll see his name on the banner in the Rio this year, and for years to come.

It was an unreal ride from the pits of despair, overcoming improbable odds time and time again, but Joe Cada did end up with all of the chips, and congratulations go out to him. My hope is that Cada will become a true ambassador for the game and help bring more awareness and growth to a sport that so richly deserves it.

Again, congratulations to Joe Cada, 2009 World Champion of Poker.

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