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Howard Stutz

Joe Cada is back for more

28 May 2010

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- You're Joe Cada and you won tournament poker's ultimate championship last year at an age when your contemporaries are finishing college and thinking about embarking on a career or graduate school.

Instead, at 21, you won the World Series of Poker's Main Event.

You collected more than the $8.5 million although you split the money with a pair of professional gamblers who paid your entry into the tournament.

Your friends? They're working odd jobs and hoping to scrape up enough money for a fast-food meal in between classes.

You appeared on late-night television with David Letterman and Jay Leno and traveled to parts of the world you only imagined.

Meanwhile, the same poker fans you used to line up with to collect autographs from the game's best players are now asking you to sign your name and pose for a photo.

It's all surreal.

"I think I'm the same guy," Cada said recently. "I'm a little less shy than I just to be. I was never able to talk with people on camera before. Now, I think I'm a better at it."

Eight months ago at the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater, Cada, of Shelby Township, Mich., pulled off one of the game's best comebacks during the final table of nine in the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold 'em world championship.

He was backed by scores of boisterous friends, family and supporters, most of who wore University of Michigan maize-colored T-shirts.

This year's tournament events start Friday.

Cada faced elimination several times during 14 hours on a November Saturday.

Also sitting at the table on the theater's stage were Phil Ivey, arguably the game's best player, a handful of unknown amateurs and professionals, Card Player Magazine Editor Jeff Shulman, and rural Maryland logger Darvin Moon, who became the sentimental fan favorite.

In the end, Cada survived a three-hour heads-up match with Moon to win the title. When the champion's bracelet was placed on his wrist, Cada was 340 days younger than the previous youngest champion.

"By the time the game started, we had tuned out the noise and the lights," Cada said. "I wasn't in awe, it was just a game."

ESPN poker commentator Norman Chad said most poker fans would consider Cada lucky.

"It's misleading," Chad said. "He didn't play good poker that day and he had extraordinarily good fortune. However, to make the November Nine, he had played very well."

The poker blogosphere, however, was critical of Cada's final-table performance, giving him a hard time about how he played certain hands, at one point, falling below 2.25 million in tournament chips. However, Cada laughs when recalling the online commentary because he owns the champion's bracelet and the bank account.

"I think I have something to prove and I want to do well this year," Cada said. "There were certain things I did that turned out to be the correct move."

Chad said Cada, now 22, is the type of player whom fans want to support.

"You never know how the money and the fame are going to affect anyone," Chad said. "Ask Elvis or any modern-day pro athlete. It's tough keeping an even keel when your life changes that much that young. Joe looks like he's got a solid head on his shoulders. You want to root for him."

All Cada ever wanted to do was play poker.

As a kid, he was good at math. His father, an auto worker, would quiz him on multiplication tables and numbers. His mother deals at a Detroit casino.

Cada spent three semesters at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., but decided to leave school to concentrate on poker. He was 19 and was earning about $75,000 a year playing online. School interfered with poker and he wanted to start traveling to places where he was old enough to play at a live poker table.

"I knew I was a good at this. I needed to get more experience," Cada said.

By the time the 2009 World Series of Poker rolled around, Cada came to the attention of professional poker players Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy and Eric "Sheets" Haber, who financially support dozens of players in the tournament by paying their entries. In return, the backers share in any winnings.

Reportedly, the gamblers in 2008 backed New Yorker Ylon Schwartz, who reached the main event final table, finishing fourth and winning almost $3.8 million.

"I didn't have the bankroll to play in the big live tournaments," Cada said. "A friend vouched for me."

Josephy was part of Cada's entourage at the final table. Often he offered advice in between hands. Cada said Haber and Josephy collected 50 percent of his winnings.

"I never even met Sheets until I played on the North American Poker Tour earlier this year," Cada said.

Today, Cada doesn't require financial backing.

The question, however, is will he have a career befitting a World Series of Poker champion?

"You can never tell with these poker guys who emerge out of nowhere," Chad observed. "One day they're chicken, the next day they're chicken feathers. Joe's personality suits him well at the table. He takes highs and lows in stride and tends not to tilt. He handles himself like he's been there before, which is quite impressive, since he hadn't been there before."
Joe Cada is back for more is republished from