Reflections on the WSOP’s Main Event

by Lou on November 17, 2009

When 21-year-old online poker phenom Joe Cada became the youngest person ever to win the poker’s largest, longest-running, richest, and most prestigious tournament, he did so with skill and huge portions of luck, and went from the verge of elimination to chip leader, then beat Darvin Moon heads-up for the championship.

With a week or so of perspective, after staying up all night to follow the November Nine online and then staying up late to follow the heads-up match two nights later, my thoughts on this year’s WSOP seem to be falling into perspective.

In the process of surviving the playdown from nine to heads-up, Cada had some amazing luck, twice flopping sets with underpairs, winning with pocket fours, and other events of good fortune. He rose from being the table’s short stack who was seemingly doomed to be the next player eliminated, to the chip leader going into his heads up match with Darvin Moon—a match in which the lead changed hands four times over its course of 87 hands.

Moon’s strategy was clear: He was looking to play big pots with Cada, rather than play small-ball and have the younger, but much more experienced Cada grind him down. That strategy worked when Chris Ferguson won the WSOP by beating the vastly more experienced T.J. Cloutier. Ferguson knew his best chance was to try for a quick knockout rather than play a long, tactical match in which the edge favored Cloutier, and he was fortunate enough to catch a card he needed and win with it. He was also skillful enough to come up with a strategy that gave him his best chance for victory, Moon seemed to follow Ferguson’s model.

In heads-up play, Cada reached his low point when he raised to 3 million from the button. Moon called and the flop was 3h-5d-Ac. Moon bet 5 million. Cada paused and then pushed 13 million chips into the pot. Moon began reaching for his chips and started to shove a massive stack from his staging area toward the pot. They never got there. As soon as Moon began to push, Cada fired his cards into the muck. Moon now had a 3-to-1 chip lead over Joe Cada, with 145,200,000 chips to Cada’s 49,600,000.

But a half-hour later Moon’s failed semi-bluff and miss on the river returned the chip lead back to Cada. Cada raised to 3 million on the button. Moon called, the flop was 10c-5d-9h, and both players checked. Cada bet 3 million and moon—holding 8s-7s, for a straight draw—announced an all-in check raise. Cada agonized. He was holding Jh-9d and calling with second pair is always tough, but this call would be for his tournament life. When he called and they tabled their cards, Cada was in the lead with two pair, but Moon had eight outs a straight draw and eight outs to the championship. When the 3h fell on the river, Moon’s draw collapsed Cada was back up to a chip lead of 108 to 86 million.
Ten minutes later Moon lost another big hand to Cada, and was now trailing 2.5-to-1 in the chip count. Nearly 40 minutes later, at 1:57 a.m., Cada made his now standard raise to 3 million on the button.
Moon reraised to 8 million, Cada double-checked his cards and then said, “All-in.” Moon looked back at his own cards, and with his tournament on the line, he made the call.

Cada was in the lead, with 9c-9d. Darvin Moon has two suited overcards, Qd-Jd, and would have to hit to win.
The flop of 8c-2c-7h was a complete whiff. Moon stood up behind his chair. Cada wouldn’t watch and was back in the stands. The turn was the Kh, and another miss for Moon. Now Cada was one card away from victory, and Moon would need a queen or a jack on the river to stay alive.

With tension continuing to mount, the dealer flipped over the 7c on the river. Cada’s pair of nines faded the board and after two hours and 21 minutes, 87 hands of heads-up play, and four lead changes, it was all over. Cada won the main event championship and the $8.1 million that goes along with it, while Moon took home a consolation prize of more than $5.1 million for his second-place finish.

In the online webcast that accompanied the final table, Phil Hellmuth said he thought that Joe Cada would be regarded as the luckiest winner in WSOP history. After all, he went from short-stacked and all-in twice with underpairs—only to flop sets both times—when the November Nine were playing. He was all-in against Moon and survived too. Then Hellmuth added that Cada’s run of good luck didn’t mean he wasn’t a skillful player. Hellmuth, the all-time leader in WSOP bracelets won, said that he considered Cada a very skillful player, but the WSOP is not won on skill alone. To win it, you have to get lucky at key times, and support that luck with skillful play and good decisions.

Joe Cada did all of that, survived an extremely skillful November Nine, and defeated a very tough Darvin Moon to win it all.

After the match Cada said, “I definitely plan on playing in all the big tournaments, and traveling, and continue to play professionally. When asked about his goals for the future, he added, “To win it again next year, to win back to back.” And while Cada may be the luckiest WSOP winner ever, you don’t win tournaments without a nice run of luck. But that’s not enough. What’s also needed is the skill to make the most of those opportunities that Lady Luck delivers to your doorstep.

{ 1 comment }

online casino November 25, 2009 at 11:00 am

Hello,
This time I am unable to watch November Nine WSOP this time ,
But thanks for writing the whole round in such details,
thanks,

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