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Young gun Cada looking to make history at November Nine

29 October 2009

Life-changing decisions aren't supposed to be so straightforward and easy. But for Joe Cada the decision to become a professional poker player was just that.

Sure, he was letting down his parents by dropping out of college and giving up his job as a bus boy at the age of 19, but there were extenuating factors. Factors like the $300,000 he had sitting in the bank from his poker winnings.

"Yeah, that pretty much made it a no-brainer," Cada says with a hearty laugh. "My parents weren't thrilled about it, especially my mother. But I explained it to her carefully. I sat her down and told her that I was already having success as a poker player and that if things didn't work out, I had money set aside to go back to college."

Two years later, Cada isn't worrying about filling out college applications. Instead, the 21-year-old is preparing for the World Series of Poker Main Event final table that will be played in November at the Penn & Teller Theater in Las Vegas. If Cada, who has signed a sponsorship deal with PokerStars, can rise from his fifth-place chip stack and outlast the eight other players at the table, he will not only win the $8.5 million first-place prize, but also become the youngest winner of the event, a record that stood for 20 years before 22-year-old Peter Eastgate took the distinction away from Phil Hellmuth, who was 24 when he won poker's most prestigious title in 1989.

But just because he's the youngest member of the November Nine, Cada is by no means the most inexperienced. In fact, Cada thinks that he may have played as many poker hands as anyone at the final table, which is quite a statement considering there are some veteran poker pros that will saddling up next to him on Nov. 7, including a guy named Phil Ivey.

"Poker is my life," says Cada, a native of Shelby Township, Mich. who bought a house – with cash – when he was 19. "I may be young, but I've been doing this a long time. I'm not going to be intimidated just because I'm the youngest player at the table.

"But I have to admit, breaking that record would be really cool. I told Eastgate when I saw him this summer that I was going to break it. He just laughed and said, 'Yeah, you probably will.' I hope he's right."

Cada grew up 30 minutes north of Detroit and graduated from Utica High School in 2006. At Utica High, Cada was your typical high school kid. He loved sports. He played everything, but soccer was his favorite. He's still an active player on the pitch, although he is sidelined right now with a separated shoulder. He's a diehard fan of the University of Michigan. And he also still follows the Detroit Lions, "even though they suck," he adds.

Cada, the youngest of four children, says he was an average student, but mostly because he didn't exactly exert himself when it came to his studies. He did, however, always love math and logic, which he thinks helped him when he started playing poker.

"After the Moneymaker thing at the World Series (in 2003), that's what everyone my age started to do," Cada remembers. "I played a lot of home games and always seemed to do pretty well. Then I heard that you could play online so I started dabbling in that a little bit."

Cada had mixed results online at first, saying he was "basically a break-even player." But he quickly got better and better and worked hard to go from a good player to a great player. He played as much as he could, both online and in home games. He studied how other people – both good players and bad players – played the game and he visited a number of different poker training Web sites. He endlessly watched hand histories of himself and other great players. When Cada turned 19 he began making the 45-minute drive to Windsor Casino over the Canadian border to play tournaments on weekends. And eventually, thanks to making a major commitment to the game, he began making huge profits.

After high school, Cada enrolled at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., mostly, he says, to please his parents. He also picked up a job as a bus boy at a local restaurant, but in reality he was keeping the hours of a full-time poker professional, playing around 40 hours a week online and driving to Canada every Sunday for live tournaments.

"It just got to the point where I couldn't do school, a job and poker," he says. "I had to pick one and it wasn't hard to choose poker over everything else."

Once his parents gave him their "semi-blessing" for his career choice, Cada started to ramp up his time at the tables even more. In January of 2008 he took down a $750,000 guaranteed tournament on Full Tilt that won him $147,000. He traveled to Costa Rica, Aruba and the Bahamas for tournaments. And the more success he had, the more it confirmed to both him and his parents that had he made the right choice.

During the last few years, Cada has seen the usual ebb and flow of a poker professional. He has hit dry spots, but they have been manageable because of the bankroll he has built. One of his worst dry spells came just before this year's World Series of Poker, the first he could play in because the age requirement is 21.

"It was brutal," Cada says with disgust. "I was playing in some big live tournaments and playing a lot of high-stakes Omaha online and having absolutely no luck."

The timing couldn't have been worse because the WSOP was right around the corner. That's why he made the decision to see if he could get someone to back his WSOP buy-ins. A friend introduced him to Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy and Eric "Sheets" Haber, who decided to buy Cada into the WSOP with the agreement of getting 50% of his winnings.

Cada says he played in about 15 events before the $10,000 Main Event, cashing in two of them. He won $21,533 by placing 17th in a $1,500 No Limit Event and took home $6,681 with a 64th-place finish in a $2,500 No Limit event. So heading into the Main Event, Josephy and Haber were about even with their investment. But that all changed when Cada made the final table. Every November Niner has already received a check for the ninth-place prize of more than $1.2 million.

"People ask me if I regret [getting backed] all the time and I always say no way," Cada says convincingly. "I was running bad at the time and the last thing I wanted to do was drop another 50 or 60 grand at my first World Series. I did what I had to do and it honestly doesn't bother me one bit. They had confidence in me and it's paying off. Good for them."

As he gets ready to play the biggest final table of his life on poker's grandest stage, Cada says he's more than ready for the experience.

"I'm sure there will be some nerves at first, but I'm ready for this," he says. "It's not like I'm being asked to go out and try and play in an NBA game for the first time or something. It's poker. I've done this my whole life. I'm going to do what I always do. It's just going to be watched by a lot more people, that's all."

Cada will enter the final table with the fifth-biggest stack at 13,215,000. He trails the three top chipleaders -- Darvin Moon (58,930,000), Eric Buchman (34,800,000) and Steven Begleiter (29,885,000) – by a wide margin, but feels his experience and his position at the table make him a threat.

"I like where I'm sitting," Cada says as his voice rises in excitement. "I've got aggressive players to my right (Buchman and Begleiter). I'm directly across the table from Ivey and to the left of the chipleader. I'm good with that."

Good enough that Cada firmly believes he has a chance to win the Main Event. But even if he falls short, Cada is thrilled to have made it this far in his first WSOP, if only because he feels it has legitimized his life as a professional poker player.

"The one thing I've noticed during the last few months is that people take me more seriously when I tell them what I do for a living," says Cada, who added that he envisions playing professional poker for the rest of his life. "I think people have a better understanding of what I do now.

"Before when I told someone I was a professional gambler, they'd immediately think I was some kind of degenerate. Hopefully, I can win the whole thing. I think that would end those thoughts forever."

Young gun Cada looking to make history at November Nine is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT