Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kudos to Cada: WSOP Champ on Letterman

The Late Show With David LettermanYou might have heard -- the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Joe Cada appeared as a guest on “The Late Show with David Letterman” last night.

Kind of a coup for the WSOP and poker in general, really. And PokerStars, with whom Cada has signed.

Stars sent out a presser yesterday noting that “Cada is the first poker player to be on the show since 2004.” Not sure, but I think the reference might be to Annie Duke having been on the show after winning the Tournament of Champions as well as a bracelet in the $2,000 Omaha Hi-Lo Split event that year. I know Chris Moneymaker appeared on Letterman’s show in June 2003 -- following his Main Event victory, but prior to its airing on ESPN (and thus, really, before the resulting “boom”).

You’ll recall how last year WSOP Director of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky noted that efforts to get players from the November Nine to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Ellen” had been unsuccessful. So you know folks like Palansky and others are proud -- justly -- to see Cada accept the invite and this moment in the spotlight.

The interview itself came in the second half-hour, following a monologue with a lot of Sarah Palin jokes (she was just on “Oprah,” apparently), the Top Ten Signs Your NFL Team Owner Is Nuts, and a couple of segments with Penelope Cruz. Finally, Cada was introduced, taking his seat as Paul Schaffer and the CBS Orchestra banged out the chorus to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” (surprise). Cada was wearing a spiffy black shirt and sporting his new WSOP Main Event bracelet, about which Letterman asked his first question.

“Yeah, that’s what you get when you win it,” said Cada, still grinning. He’ll probably be that way for a while.

Letterman’s questions demonstrated some familiarity with the WSOP, with poker’s increased popularity and changing status in the culture, and even his understanding of backing deals and other aspects of professional poker.

The host started out by referring to how the WSOP had been at Binion’s, and Cada explained that “after the Moneymaker year” it had moved over to the Rio. (2005 was actually the first year at the Rio, and 2006 the first year the WSOP ME final table was at the Rio.) Letterman then asked Cada how long he’d been playing poker, to which Cada responded “about four years,” then noted how he got started playing online when he turned 18. (Cada turns 22 today, in fact.)

Letterman followed by asking Cada how his parents felt about him playing poker. Cada explained that they weren’t thrilled. Interestingly, his mother is a blackjack dealer at a casino in Detroit, “so she relates everything the same as gambling,” said Cada. “She wasn’t too happy.”

Cada was asked what was the most he’d lost playing poker. “In a day?” Cada replied, and Letterman chuckled. The answer to that was $100,000, which Cada said had happened since July (after he’d already earned the $1.2 million-plus for making the final nine). Before that, his worst day was a $40,000 loss. But Cada explained he’d never lost more than he could afford. “It’s not like I’m in over my head,” he said.

Letterman asked more questions about how the WSOP and the Main Event worked, which Cada did a good job explaining, as well as about the mental and physical exhaustion caused by the ME and the “atmosphere” at the final table. The only real comedy came when Letterman addressed how poker’s cultural status has changed of late from a sketchy pursuit to a more respectable activity.

“All of a sudden poker is everywhere,” said Letterman. “And in my mind, the winner of a big pot... they find dead in a rental car.” As the audience laughed, Letterman asked “That doesn’t happen anymore?” Cada did a good job explaining how poker was indeed generally unlike what one sees in the movies, and that poker is “a fun thing to do, socially.”

Cada was circumspect when Letterman inquired about backing arrangements and whether he had to split his winnings with anyone. “Something along those lines,” said Cada, perhaps prudently avoiding sharing details of his arrangement with Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy, who reportedly had at least 50% of Cada’s action for the ME. “That’s where the rental car comes in,” Letterman cracked.

And that was it. Less than five minutes, but as I say, a coup of sorts for the WSOP and for poker. And Cada should be commended for conducting himself well and taking on the daunting responsibility of trying to represent poker to the rest of the world. Sort of stuff looks a lot easier than it is -- getting interviewed in front of a sizable studio audience and before an audience of millions. If you think about it, that test last week in which Cada had to perform before the crowd at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio -- and the ESPN cameras -- probably didn’t hurt as a kind of preparation.

Of course, last night Cada couldn’t really rely on getting lucky to do well.

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