At 6am on the morning of November 8, the 2009 World Series of Poker Main Event final table found its two heads-up players. The biggest and most recognized no-limit hold’em tournament in the world played out in the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater, and about 17.5 hours after it began with nine players, only Darvin Moon and Joe Cada remained. It was the elimination of Antoine Saout that made it possible, and the last two players standing were in for a day and a half of media attention and anxiety before returning to play for the win.
When play began on November 7, Moon was the chipleader by quite an enormous stack of chips, though he was not one of the favorites to make it to heads-up. Cada, on the other hand, was favored by many due to his years of poker experience, even at the tender age of 21, and did what it took to secure a spot in the final match. The two ended play on November 8 with a handshake and the following chip counts:
|Darvin Moon ||58,850,000 |
|Joe Cada ||135,950,000 |
The heads-up duo was formally introduced to the public and the media on November 9 on the Masquerade Stage of the Rio’s casino floor, complete with sponsor Jack Link’s mascot Sasquatch posing with the $8.5 million and coveted WSOP Main Event bracelet to be awarded to the ultimate first place winner. With lights on the stage and media and fans gathered around, WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla took to the microphone with his best announcer voice to introduce the two players.
Moon emerged from an upper balcony and descended the stairs to the stage first, donning an off-white polo-type shirt and New Orleans Saints football team cap. He looked anything but excited to be in front of a crowd and in the spotlight, barely even cracking a smile for the crowd. The prevailing thought amongst media members in the audience was that he would rather have been anywhere else, most likely in the woods, than on that stage.
Cada was then introduced and walked down to the stage via an opposite set of stairs, complete with PokerStars jacket and baseball hat to show his loyalty to the online site he chose as a sponsor. With his youth and inexperience in such a spotlight as the likely factors, he looked a bit like a deer in headlights, his wide eyes scanning the crowd for - and finding - friendly faces.
Both players were asked by Dalla what their intentions would be at the final table when it gets underway at 10pm tonight. Moon’s response was as simple as has come to be expected: “Just win.” Cada was quick to note, “It means everything.” The players weren’t exactly chatty in such a setting, so the media was invited to the stage to take photos, and then they were separated to take questions directly from the media that surrounded each of them instantaneously. With microphones in their faces and cameras rolling, Moon and Cada fielded questions that ranged from the standard “What will you do with the money?” to details about their play and personal histories with poker. While none of their answers differed much from those they’ve given in interviews over the past few months, the one question they both answered the same - in response to questions on separate ends of the stage - was the one about how they felt third-place finisher Saout played at the final table. And both said he was undoubtedly the best player at the table, and Cada added that he handled himself with a great amount of class.
Taking a look at the two WSOP finalists, they couldn’t be more different, which will make for an interesting match-up when play gets underway tonight.
Darvin Moon is a 46-year old logger from Oakland, Maryland who runs his own business and lives a simple life, one without credit cards or computers. His first time on an airplane was for the purpose of traveling to Las Vegas to compete in the WSOP Main Event in July of 2009. He has vowed since he made the final table that his life would not change much, specifically noting that he would not buy any fancy cars or a bigger house or gifts for his wife, or quit work. He noted that he would shun the media spotlight, which he did with the exception of an in-person appearance on ESPN’s Inside Deal and an interview with the Washington Post.
His performance at the final table this week has been consistent with what ESPN showed of his journey to that table.
On the night of November 7, Moon started with some fairly aggressive plays, knowing that the others, especially short stacks, would be hesitant to get involved so early. His raises and reraises seemed well-timed, and they were successful. But one of those moves got him into trouble early, when he tangled with Antoine Saout on a flop. Moon bet, Saout raised, and Moon pushed all-in with only . The ace-high was called by Saout’s , and though the turn brought the and the straight draw for Moon, Saout ended with a and full house on the river. Moon dropped, but only to a bit less than 50 million. But Moon stayed aggressive, taking a big pot from Cada a short time later.
After Kevin Schaffel was eliminated in eighth place, Moon would eliminate a player in a move that disappointed a great majority of the poker world. When Ivey pushed with A-K, Moon called with A-Q and found a board of . Catching that queen on the flop kept Ivey from winning with the best hand, and the much-loved Ivey took seventh place.
Moon took a hit as Steven Begleiter took a pot worth close to 20 million from him, but after a dinner break, Moon seemed ready to move again. And it was after Ivey left in seventh place that Moon and Begleiter tangled again, this time with Begleiter holding pocket queens and Moon with A-Q. The harmless board started with 7-4-8 and a 3 on the turn, but the came on the river to eliminate Begleiter and push Moon back into the lead.
Moon and Cada competed in a hand that started with a Cada raise, went to a Moon reraise all-in with , and a call from Cada with pocket aces. Moon couldn’t suck out to win that pot when the board showed 6-9-3-4-3, and Cada doubled through Moon. But the latter found his luck again when Eric Buchman pushed a short stack all-in with and Moon called with . The flop was innocent with 2-9-Q, but the on the turn won it for Moon and eliminated Buchman in fourth place.
Darvin Moon may not always get his stack all-in with the best cards, but he seems to be able to suck out when necessary and win key hands to stay alive…with a healthy chip stack. But coming to the heads-up match with a severe deficit to Cada may find him moving with almost any two cards, and if Cada plays a solid game, Moon might not be able to use his signature luck to pull off a win.
Joe Cada is a 21-year old professional poker player who had much online poker success under his belt before he was old enough to play in live U.S. tournaments. Poised to become the youngest WSOP Main Event champion ever, even taking the title from last year’s winner Peter Eastgate, the fame and fortune seems to have taken Cada a bit off guard. But his youth allows him the ability to enjoy it and make the most of it, despite owing 50 percent of all winnings to his backer, Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy. And the benefit of the experienced backer in any tournament advice can only help the young pro.
Cada was quite active at the final table, but he seemed to choose most of his spots carefully.
Cada was short-stacked early in the tournament when Moon took the aforementioned chunk of chips from him, and he had only 6.75 million at one point before the dinner break. He took another hit after that break when Shulman doubled through him, leaving Cada with less than 3 million. He subsequently moved all-in with against the of Buchman, and when the board brought only a 4 to either player’s hand, Cada doubled. Still short, moved again a few hands later, this time with pocket fours. Ivey called with , and the board bricked with . Back up to 12.5 million, Cada had room to breathe.
With five players remaining, Cada was the short stack again but got it all-in with pocket threes, though Jeff Shulman called with pocket jacks. The flop came , and the turn and river brought blanks, allowing Cada a suck-out of his own to double up and leave Shulman as the short stack; Shulman busted shortly thereafter. Cada then doubled again during four-handed play with pocket aces against the K-9 of Moon. The flop brought a nine to make it more exciting, but Moon couldn’t get lucky enough to eliminate Cada then, and the latter soared with more than 45 million chips.
Three-handed play went quickly, and Cada sucked out again, this time being all-in with pocket deuces against the pocket queens of Saout. The board came , and Cada doubled directly into the chip lead. Not long after, Saout pushed all-in with pocket eights, and Cada called with A-K. The flop of 5-4-5 didn’t help anyone, nor did the 10 on the turn, but the K hit the river to give Cada the win and eliminate Saout in third place. That allowed Cada to take a massive lead into heads-up action.
Cada had his share of luck during final table play, though his knowledge of the game and its intricacies will help him during heads-up play. He clearly outweighs Moon in the experience department, and as long as he can keep a calm demeanor, the tournament may be his to win.