Top 2010 Poker Player Stories – #30 Joe Cada
6,494 Players began the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event, and all of them ended up with fewer chips than Joe Cada. The 21 year-old from Shelby Township, Michigan played solid poker for 8 days, and then used some luck to wiggle his way from 2% of the chips, all the way to the chip leader when heads up play began against Darvin Moon. The heads up specialist found a way to emerge victorious and booked a cool $8.5 million and the title of Poker Ambassador for winning pokers most coveted prize.
From that point on, Cada did Letterman, CNN, ESPN, and a whole host of other television media running the gambit as poker’s next coming wonder-kid, and serving the sport by showing up at countless WSOP and PokerStars appearances while traveling the globe. He also made appearances on high stakes televised cash games and I think that as a whole, he did an above average job embracing the role. After taking some time off away from the felt, Cada found his first score since the WSOP win in the Bahamas this January at the $25,000 buy-in High Roller Event at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He finished the event in 11th place, and booked a $51,450 score. And then, he just went stone cold.
Cada’s 2010 poker tale is one that surprised me. I expected bigger results than he posted, which makes his story one of woe as people expected more than just 1 cash from the young pro. But it’s more interesting from the standpoint of a guy who had been labeled a “luckbox” by so many in the game. I personally remember his awesome play over the first 8 days of the WSOP Main Event, his two other cashes at the WSOP that year, and will continue to think that the kid has some really great game. Most people only remember the 2-outters that Cada hit against Jeff Shulman and Antoine Saout because they were great “fireworks hands” that were broadcast on TV, and then they forget about the fact that there were other days in the tournament that he had to play great in order to get there, and play great he did. This year’s play however was simply unfortunate in that Cada just didn’t reach the money at the WSOP one time, which I think has more to do with his exhaustion and the pressures associated with the role, and standard tournament variance.
When I first saw Cada at the WSOP this year, he was announcing “Shuffle up and Deal” for event #3 (the first of the $1,000 buy in No Limit Hold’em Events). After the pictures on the stage, and all the pomp and circumstance subsided, Cada marched to his seat at his table in the massive Pavillion room swarmed by cameras and fans looking to get a glimpse of the champ. He easily had the biggest rail of anyone there, and it was quite clear to me at that point what a microscope Cada had to operate under. Seeing him there, in that light, it became clear that so many people forgot that this was a guy who was 21 years old when he won the event, and is still just 22 now.
When you win the WSOP Main Event, you immediately become the center of the poker universe. Your name is the one kicked around water coolers at offices, and you’re the one whose play becomes scrutinized by the haters with every hand that you play. Counting Chris Moneymaker, there have been 8 men who have held this title since the poker boom really exploded, and less than half of them have managed to get their game on the live felts going in a positive direction. While Moneymaker still plays a great deal, his two wins over two smallish fields at the APPT are the deepest runs he’s made in a tournament post bracelet, and hasn’t cracked the six-figure mark in earnings since 2004 (although, he did come close with $97k in 2009). Jamie Gold has earned less than $100k in his 4 years since becoming champion, and Jerry Yang has only slightly more than that, with $75,000 coming from a 5th place finish at the 64 player NBC Heads Up Championship in March this year. Jonathan Duhamel just won the event in November, but he was one of the few of the November 9 who went without a score during the 3 month layover between July and the November Final Table. His story is too new to tell whether he’ll be able to face the pressures.
Then, there are the good stories. The bar has really been set by Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem. Raymer had a bad 2008 by his standards with just $34k in earnings, but has been over $100k every other year since he won in 2004, including $556k in 2005, and $780k in 2009. Hachem has also been over the 6-figure mark in tournament earnings every year since he won the title in 2005. His career was given further credence that he wasn’t a fluke when the year after he won the WSOP Main Event, he shipped a $2 million score from winning the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic at the Fifth annual Five Diamond World Poker Classic in Las Vegas (aka – the longest tournament title in the history of poker). But the face of poker from the 2008 WSOP became somewhat of a story when Peter Eastgate decided to quit poker this year. He played excellent poker in the year of his ambassadorship, booking a win at a smaller event at the PCA, and then finishing runner-up at the EPT as well as a host of other cashes, en route to a 78th place finish in the WSOP Main Event in his title defense year. Overall, Eastgate had a pretty impressive year for a 21-year-old champion, with $1.2 million in tournament earnings in his title defense year. But the weight of it all just made him walk from the game altogether, as he announced his retirement from poker as the Main Event of the WSOP began this year. That’s a whole different story.
Cada doesn’t seem like the type that will fall off the wagon, and suddenly lose his game like Yang or Gold, and he certainly doesn’t look like he’ll be hanging em’ up anytime soon like Eastgate did. But it was written all over his face, that he was tired of the role of ambassador. Every time that he sat down to play, he looked worn out. Initially, he said that he wanted to play 25 events at the World Series this year, but I believe that he was closer to half of that number, and he didn’t cash in a single one of them. You can also put up a doughnut on the scoreboard for the other events that he participated in this year, which means that his grade has to be incomplete when you’re assessing if he’s been good or bad for the game.
While this will certainly be remembered as a year to forget for Cada, I firmly believe that he’s just experiencing some standard tournament variance. He’s played much less poker this year than he’s accustomed to. Most of his events have been live appearances and autograph sessions, commercials, and everything else that has stepped into his path, preventing him from working on his game. But from the times that I did see him play, he’s still got great game. And I think that with the volume that Cada is playing, he’ll end up more like Raymer and Hachem in the coming years than any of the other champions.