Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Comeback Kid Cada 2009 WSOP Main Event Champ

What they were battling for (photo by the great FlipChip)Sat up into the wee hours following online that there heads-up clash last night. Went much longer than most observers -- including yr humble gumshoe -- had guessed it would. Over three hours, I believe, with Joe Cada finally outlasting Darvin Moon in a genuinely compelling, hard fought battle for the bracelet.
(Photos in this post by the great FlipChip, natch.)

Had great fun following the coverage on PokerNews, reading all the tweets, and listening to the Bluff Magazine audio. Usually I’d first read insta-reports of each action on Twitter, then hear David Chicotsky, Phil Hellmuth, Joe Sebok, and a rotating group of others comment on the Bluff feed, then read the short hand narratives by FerricRamsium and Donnie Peters. I’d also occasionally skip over to Dr. Pauly’s live blog, the ESPN blog kept by Andrew Feldman, the PokerStars blog, and a few other sites, too, to help fill out the scene. (Oh, and while yr poking around those links, check out F-Train's “November Nine Errata” for a few more items of interest.)

Altogether gave a pretty good sense of what was happening, although I’ll certainly be intrigued to watch what ESPN puts together for tonight’s show, too.

As I say, the action last night was fairly gripping, I thought. Some high-drama hands in there, as well as enough back-and-forthing for some thought-provoking patterns to emerge.

It appeared on the very first hand that Moon had missed a great opportunity -- and perhaps displayed yet another example of awkward (or flat-out bad) play. Moon chose to limp in from the small blind/button, and we’d soon learn he held pocket queens. Cada then raised to 3.5 million from the big blind, and Moon called. The pair managed to put another 20 million each in the middle on the next two streets, but both checked the river, at which point Cada showed pocket nines. The two kings and one ace among the community cards surely kept all of Moon’s chips from going into the middle in that one, and it seemed clear that had he gone ahead and committed them preflop, Cada probably would’ve come along.

In other words, it looked like from the first hand that Moon should have doubled up and taken the chip lead away from Cada, but instead he’d only closed the gap to about 110 million to 85 million. It also looked like the night was going to be over quickly.

But that didn’t happen. For the next ten hands Moon chipped away, then took the lead in Hand No. 12 of heads up. Cada raised his button to 2.5 million for the sixth straight time, and Moon called. The flop came 6s5dJc, Moon checked, Cada continued for 3.5 million, and Moon check-raised to 8.5 million. Cada called. Both checked the Qd turn, then when the river came 2h, Moon bet 7.25 million and Cada called him. Moon showed Qh8s -- the flop check-raise had been with air, and he’d paired up on the turn -- and Cada mucked.

Was partly happenstance, but somehow Moon had gotten the lead without going all in. Not once had Moon been all in with his tourney life at risk for the entire WSOP Main Event. That streak was still alive! And would remain so until the very last hand of the tournament, in fact.

Darvin Moon and Joe Cada (photo by the great FlipChipAfter those first dozen hands it had become clear that Moon (a) was not going to play a passive, easily exploitable game, and (b) was not appearing to be playing an orthodox or “standard” game, either. Won’t presume to judge how well either player played without seeing hole cards, but it certainly seemed that despite Moon’s own protestations that he’d had practically zero experience at heads up, he was providing Cada -- who plays mostly heads-up online -- a genuine challenge.

Cada would soon take the lead back, though. And by the time they took their first break of the night (after 52 hands played) they were essentially dead even. Over the next dozen hands Moon took several sizable pots, and suddenly he was sitting with a nearly 3-to-1 chip advantage with 145 million to Cada’s almost 50 million. Cada pushed all in before the flop on Hand No. 70 of heads up, but Moon declined. Then in Hand No. 80 came what was really the pivotal moment of the match.

The blinds at that point were 600,000/1.2 million (with a 200,000 ante). Cada raised to 3 million from the button, and Moon called. The flop came Tc5d9h, and both checked. The turn brought the Td, and after Moon checked Cada bet 3 million. Moon check-raised all in, and after a long think Cada made the call with Jh9d. Moon showed 8s7s -- an open-ended straight draw. The river was the 3h, and Cada had rebounded to take the lead once more.

An interesting play by Moon, and it sounded like Cada nearly let go of his hand, but he ultimately made the big call. There was a little break right after that hand, and one could hear the two players talking in the background of the Bluff Magazine audio broadcast. Cada could be heard sincerely complimenting Moon’s play, making reference to the fact that he plays a lot of heads up and that Moon compared favorably to his usual competition. Struck me as a pretty mature-sounding thing to say for the kid from Michigan who doesn’t turn 22 until later this month. Also humble, providing a stark contrast to the commentary by Hellmuth in the foreground.

Speaking of the Poker Brat, he was just 24 when he won the 1989 WSOP, holding pocket nines for the winning hand. And as it would turn out, Cada would also have pocket nines -- 9c9d -- in Hand No. 88 of heads up, what would turn out to be the last hand of the night.

Again Cada raised to 3 million from the button, Moon reraised to 8 million, Cada pushed, and Moon called with QdJd. The board ran out 8c2c7sKh7c, and Cada became the youngest Main Event champ ever.

After a wild Saturday night/Sunday morning full of surprising suckouts and some pretty obvious missteps, it seems that Monday’s denouement helped improve the reputations of both players as skillful competitors. While each surely benefited from good fortune, sometimes in highly dramatic fashion, both showed they can play Texas hold’em, and so in that battle between luck and skill I was alluding to yesterday, skill did (in a sense) perhaps “win out.”

I’m not alone, I don’t think, in liking both of these guys. Probably somewhat better for poker that the one who seems primed to join the professional circuit -- and not the fellow content to go back into the woods with his chainsaw (as amiable as he is) -- ended up on top.

Am thinking more and more that next year I might just have to angle a way to get back out to Vegas in November to witness this spectacle go down. As I mentioned already, in 2008 I didn’t really have much of a pull to be there once they finally resumed the sucker. But this year I did, and I don’t think it was just because of the prospect of being there to see a Phil Ivey victory.

Yeah, as fun as the online coverage was to follow, I think it would be fun to see the November Nine with my own peepers. And my peeps.

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Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for all of your recaps and analysis. Do you think skill really won out? What about all of the coin-flips?

11/11/2009 7:24 AM  
Blogger Short-Stacked Shamus said...

Thanks, Scott. Hey, you are reading my mind -- check out today's post, in which I avoid answering the question (haha).

11/11/2009 7:45 AM  

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