World Series of Poker
Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News
Joe Cada is on top of the poker world.
Tuesday morning, the 21-year-old from Chesterfield Township became the youngest player to win the World Series of Poker Main Event in its 40-year history.
After 88 hands and nearly 3 ½ hours of heads-up play in Las Vegas, the $8.5 million first-place prize that was neatly stacked on the table belonged to Cada.
Joe Cada poses after winning the 2009 World Series of Poker at the Rio Hotel & Casino. (Associated Press)
"It's all been pretty surreal," Cada told The Detroit News on Tuesday, after a short night of sleep. "I suspect it will be pretty crazy and I'll be pretty busy for the next year."
Cada turned over a pair of nines after 46-year old Darvin Moon called his all-in wager with a suited queen-jack, setting up a nearly-even race for all the chips on the table.
The board fell 7-7-K-8-2 as Moon didn't connect with either his queen or jack to give Cada the win. The hand abruptly ended a final table that was a back-and-forth affair the whole way.
Cada's friend, Tony Gargano of Sterling Heights, went to Las Vegas to show his support of Cada and was part of the mob that engulfed Cada after he won.
Joe Cada fans cheer on their player during the World Series of Poker final table. (Associated Press)
"I started playing with Joe when he was just getting into poker at age 16," said Gargano, 25, during a phone interview. "We were always really tough on him when he first started, bluffing him all the time and showing him how to really play. It's amazing to be here and see him now. I was more nervous for him than I think I would have been if it was me."
Dean Hamrick, also a friend of Cada's, missed his flight out of Lansing to Las Vegas on Monday to watch Cada in person. But Hamrick, who finished 10th at the main event last year, stayed up throughout the night to follow Cada's progress.
"I guess you can say I was vicariously living through Joe because a bad beat prevented me from getting to the final table last year," Hamrick said.
Hamrick added, however, that Cada's victory "couldn't have happened to a better guy."
Moon, a logger from Oakland, Md., battled his way back to take a dominant chip lead after being down more than 2-1 in chips to start the night.
Cada entered the match with nearly 136 million chips to Moon's nearly 59 million. But Moon erased Cada's lead in just 12 hands.
The night started with Moon pulling pocket-queens to Cada's pocket-nines in the very first hand of the match. Neither player hit a set and Moon netted nearly 50 million in chips right off the bat.
After some chip-shifting, Cada was ahead by less than 4 million chips after 52 hands, with 194.8 million chips in play.
Moon jumped to nearly a 100 million-chip lead after a 20-minute break, but Cada's fortunes changed when he made one of the more memorable all-in calls in recent World Series of Poker history. Moon aggressively played a board with 10-10-9-5 after the turn to put Cada's entire tournament at risk. After several minutes of deliberating, Cada called the bet and flipped over a jack and a nine for a pair of nines. Moon bet big on a straight draw but didn't hit his hand on the river, giving the lead back to Cada.
The call put Cada back in control the rest of the way.
"I ran really well and I never really thought this was possible," Cada told reporters immediately after his victory. "It was one of those dreams and I'm thankful it came true."
Cada navigated his way through 6,494 entrants and on Saturday a 276-hand, 14 ½-hour marathon session with the final nine players to make it to the heads-up match with Moon.
Cada's run to the title is even more amazing considering he had less than 1 percent of the chips with seven players remaining Saturday.
"It helped being down before and having no chips earlier at the final table," Cada told The News on Tuesday afternoon. "I though about that and I continued to stay focused and tried not to make any mistakes. I just remained calm and it worked out well. Props to Darvin, he played great poker."
Cada is the first professional to win the Main Event in eight years.