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Q&A: Joe Cada Talks His Historic Run At The 2018 World Series of Poker

The 2009 Main Event Champ Won His Third and Fourth Bracelets and Finished Fifth In This Year’s Main Event


Joe Cada wrote his name in the poker history books as the youngest ever champion of the World Series of Poker main event, topping a field of 6,494 entries in 2009 to win more than $8.5 million. Cada has arguably been one of the most successful main event winners in regards to his tournament success since winning poker’s biggest title. He has added another $5 million in live cashes and won three more WSOP bracelets.

Cada had an incredible streak this summer, kicking off the series by making a final table and then winning the $3,000 no-limit hold’em shootout for his third bracelet. He closed the series by outlasting 7,869 players to finish fifth in the main event for $2,150,000, coming incredibly close to being the first two-time world champion in poker’s modern era.

Cada rode the momentum of his final-table run in the main event all the way to his fourth bracelet. He topped 3,120 total entries to win the $1,500 no-limit hold’em event known as ‘The Closer’ to take home another $612,886. Card Player caught up with Cada after the WSOP wound down to discuss his unbelievable run.

Card Player: Joe, you had an incredible summer. Winning two titles and making the final five of the WSOP main event, with seven total cashes. Many were calling your summer one of the most impressive ever in terms of a performance in big-field no-limit hold’em events. What are your thoughts on all of the hype around your run?

Joe Cada: This is just how tournaments go sometimes, and I’m one of the lucky ones and some people just aren’t. That being said, I’ve always felt confident about my game and I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone. People were asking me, ‘Does this validate you?’ The way I see it, the millions of hands that I played, battling it out online, being willing to play anyone in that arena… I really did play against some of the best players, and all of that experience has translated to some big results on the felt.

CP: You live in Michigan and primarily play cash the rest of the year, correct?

Joe Cada at the 2018 WSOP main event final tableJC: Yeah, that is primarily what I do and it has been so for most of my career. This last year was one of the first times I’ve taken an extended break from grinding online. It wasn’t because I wasn’t doing well, either. 2016 and 2017 were some of my best years playing online, surprisingly. I was just a bit burnt out from playing so many hands, so much volume.

CP: Given the fact that you had taken a break, not playing a tournament since last year, are you a little surprised to have had such a dominant summer?

JC: No, not really. I came in fresh and I have 15 years of experience as a pro, working hard on my game throughout, so I don’t think it really hurt me too much. I’ve played poker more than I’ve done anything else in my life. It comes naturally to me at this point, and I’ve become even more disciplined in my ‘old age.’ My hand ranges are on lockdown now, but when I was younger I was still experimenting a lot because of the differences between tournaments and cash games, which was my primary background. The antes, the stack depths, they just make things so different. In tournaments you raise smaller to steal more, in cash games you have to raise larger and get to steal less in terms of forced bets. That impacts the ranges quite a bit. Over time I’ve just gotten used to the adjustments you need to make to tournaments.

CP: So you started off the summer with a bracelet win, but the hype really started building with your deep run in the main event. Obviously, it is such a unique event, in terms of the prestige, the field size, and the money on the line. Having already won it all, did you ever really imagine you’d be back at the final table?

JC: It’s always possible and that is why I play it every year. It is very tough to achieve, there are so many landmines you have to avoid along the way. For some weird reason I really did feel like I would make it back someday, and now maybe I can do it again. But it’s such a great event, there is a ton of room to play. You just have to be very disciplined over the course of the tournament and run well.

CP: The other players deep in the main event this year had to be thinking that this might be their only shot at the championship bracelet. Did you find it to be freeing knowing that you’ve already achieved that goal? Or was the prospect of becoming the first two-time main event champion in the modern era stress inducing?

JC: It might have felt like there was a little less pressure. That being said, pressure usually won’t affect my decision making all that much. When I’m playing poker I really don’t think about the money outside of the ICM (independent chip model) implications. I’m just trying to make the best play I can at the time. So before you restart I might feel a bit nervous, and that was intensified by the fact that this time there I was on a featured table being live streamed every day once we got deep. Every hand was going to be scrutinized. I just told myself that I wanted to feel good about how I played and besides that just tried not to think about it.

CP: You ran some bluffs and played some interesting big hands during your main event run. Which was your favorite or most interesting hand during your run this year?

JC: Yeah that K-Q suited hand was by far the most interesting one for sure. (Authors note: with five players left in the main event John Cynn raised under-the-gun with JClub Suit10Heart Suit and Cada called with KClub SuitQClub Suit from the big blind. The flop brought the 6Spade Suit5Club Suit3Diamond Suit and Cada check-called a roughly half-pot bet. The turn was the 3Club Suit, pairing the board and giving Cada a flush draw. He bet out for 5.1 million, only to have Cynn raise to 10.5 million. Cada called, leaving himself with just over 15 million. The river brought the 2Spade Suit and Cada shoved all-in with just king high, drawing a fold from Cynn’s jack high.) On the river of that hand I was so torn… I felt like 100 percent he was full of it, and his line didn’t make much sense. I was sure he was bluffing and I really wanted to check-call the river with K-Q high, but I was like, ‘Man, if he’s bluffing with ace high or I don’t pull the trigger and make the call…’ it was just a weird spot. After I won the hand I went over to my rail right away and said, ‘I guarantee I was bluffing with the best hand on the river and think I should’ve possibly check called.’ I was a little upset about that hand because, if my assumption that he would bluff is correct and I do check-call, I would have more chips and the hand I played against Tony Miles with pocket tens might have played out a bit differently. The way it (the hand against Miles) went was a result of playing with Miles for a few days and seeing him three-bet some hands like A-Q, K-Q, and K-J. I finally got some chips, it was five handed, and the dynamic had changed. I didn’t want to four-bet and get jammed on by A-Q, so I just jammed it in. I had a strong enough hand and would increase my stack over 20 percent if I got a fold. But if I had played the K-Q hand a little different and check-called this hand might never have gone down like it did.

CP: Cynn’s raise on the turn, essentially a click back or min-raise, seems really interesting. What was your thought process when he did that?

Cada during playdown to the final tableJC: I thought about every option on the turn. I was not clear on what he could have. I felt like, in my experience, overpairs on this kind of board slow down after that type of turn against a player from the big blind. Either I’m bluffing or I have it, and an overpair should kind of want me to bluff off. So I didn’t think overpairs would raise me too often with the line I took. The turn is good for my range, and if he had a boat why would he raise and risk forcing me off the hand when he’s in position. That is when you make the most money in poker: when you have a great hand and you don’t have to raise to get more chips in the pot, you can just call in position. I didn’t think he had a made hand, the only hand I could possibly see was A-3 suited, and it just didn’t make much sense. So yeah, on the turn there were a lot of things to consider: whether it was better to call or shove all-in. I was never folding. And then when I called, it was the same on the river, it was going to either be check-call or move all-in, in my mind. I just felt like he was full of it the whole hand.

CP: So you busted out of the main event after weeks of non-stop intensity and then jumped right into ‘The Closer.’ Didn’t you feel like taking a break?

JC: It was kind of tied to my decision to take some time off from poker earlier this year. I was just a bit burned out, but when I started playing again at the WSOP this summer it was just really fun. The trend I’d noticed in recent years of people tanking forever on every decision seemed to reverse a bit, and each event I played was just more fun. When I busted from the main event I felt good about how I played and the hand that I busted on. It was just my turn to lose the flip. So, I was scheduled to be in Las Vegas for two more days and I just thought I’d play one more. I sat down and in the very first hand and got dealt A-K. I flopped top two pair and bet, the button called and the turn put a flush draw out there. I bet and the button jammed, with a queen-high flush draw. I called and they hit it on the river. I was out after one hand, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to re-enter. Maybe that was a sign to just call it a summer. I started walking towards the pool to hang out with my friends and family and at the last minute decided to turn around and register again. This time I doubled up on my first hand after I sat down.

CP: And the rest was history. You closed the summer by winning your fourth bracelet, joining some legendary names such as Bobby Baldwin, Michael Mizrachi, Brian Rast, Puggy Pearson, and Amarillo Slim. Is bracelet count something that is important to you?

JC: Yeah, it matters to me. It is not my overall goal as a player, otherwise I would be playing all of the mixed games and hopping in the high rollers. This summer I was one of the top WSOP Player of the Year contenders and I still decided to skip some events that I didn’t think were fun or that I didn’t believe I had an edge in. The bracelets definitely mean something to me, I just haven’t been ‘chasing’ them. I mostly just play for a living, have fun with it, try hard and hope for the best with the results. These no-limit hold’em fields are so large that it is very hard to win. You have to run very well.

CP: What’s the future hold for your career? Do you plan on mostly just keeping up what you have been doing, playing cash games and then showing up for the WSOP?

JC: Yeah pretty much. I’ve already been back grinding cash games since I got home from the series and I’m doing pretty well. I’ve only ever played four or five World Poker Tour events in my life, but I plan on going to the upcoming WPT Choctaw main event. I have a bunch of friends going and I just think it will be a fun trip with the guys. After that the next tournament I might head to would be the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. I used to always go to that, but skipped it last year. I hear the $25,000 event there is going to be massive, so I’m going to make the trip again.Spade Suit