LAS VEGAS (USA TODAY) - Joe Cada's parents weren't happy when he dropped out of college to become a poker pro. Early today, they were elated (mom called it "dumbfounded") when at age 21 he became the youngest champion ever in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker and earned the top prize of $8.5 million.
At 4:20 a.m. ET, the winner from Shelby Township, Mich., used a pair of nines to win the hand that eliminated Maryland logger Darvin Moon, an improbable story of his own in a tournament that began in July with 6,494 entrants and came down to one head-to-head showdown.
ESPN will air its taped, edited coverage of the entire final table today at 9-11 p.m. ET.
At one point over the weekend final table that started with nine players, Cada was down to about 2 million chips, scant few by World Series standards.
At the end of play, he had all 195 million chips in the tournament after winning the last 72.5 million that Moon pushed all in. The youngest previous champ had been Peter Eastgate, who won last year at 22.
"I put in a lot of time in poker. Poker has been my life for some time,? said Cada. ?To win this the first year out, I got real lucky. ... I'm very fortunate."
Cada became fascinated with poker at an early age. He had older friends who played. He left community college after a few semesters to pursue it as a profession. Too young as a teen to play at U.S. casinos, where the minimum age is 21, he played online, traveled to Canada to play at 19 and made enough money to enter tournaments in the Bahamas and Costa Rica. He was successful before this, earning enough to buy a house .
This was the first year he was old enough to play in the World Series. Cada's fans here sported canary yellow T-shirts with "Poker Kid" on the back. Among those wearing the shirts was Cada's father Jerry, 53, who was laid off this summer by a firm that designs and makes interior trim components for the auto industry.
Was dad supportive when Cada went from Macomb Community College to pro poker?
"To be honest with you, not really," the father said a few feet from where his son was posing for photos with the gold winner's bracelet and a mountain of cash piled on the table. "I mean can you ever encourage your son to gamble? It's not something I was hoping he'd make a career out of."
"I didn't want to encourage it. And I would try to discourage it. I didn't think he would ever get to the level that he's at. I thought maybe he would suffer some disappointments, and I didn't want to see that. I guess I was wrong."
Cada's mother, Ann, is a black jack dealer at the Motor City Casino in Detroit. She, too, was not excited about the career choice.
"We wanted him to get his education," she said. "Then he started doing good, and so he's living his dream."
In summing up her feelings now, she said, "Very elated. I'm dumbfounded. It's just a dream."
Though he won $8.5 million, Cada will be sharing half of it with financial backers who covered his $10,000 buy-in for the Main Event, as well as buy-ins for other tournaments he entered as part of the 57-event World Series.
Cada got the backing from two veteran casino and online poker pros, Cliff "Johnny Bax" Josephy and Eric "Sheets" Haber, who saw his promise and invested in it. The nicknames are their online poker handles.
"I was on a big downswing. I was like on a $150,000 downswing before the WSOP," Cada said Monday afternoon before the final session. "There are a lot of people out there with backers. And I didn't feel like dropping $60-70,000 at the World Series."
After his win, Cada said of his the deal with the backers: "No regrets. I knew that I could win when I came in, and I'm very happy. I'm very grateful to them for putting me into the tournament."
Moon, 46, of Oakland, Md., who makes his living with a chainsaw, gets to keep all of his second place winnings of $5.2 million. So he actually makes more than Cada.
Moon earned his $10,000 buy in to play in the tournament for the first time by winning a tournament with a $130 entry fee at a casino in Wheeling, W.Va.
"I'll be back (in the World Series) next year no matter what," said Moon. "I've got enough money now I can play my way in."
Moon made his run for the bracelet, which he said "is what everybody plays for."
But in summing up his feeling, he said, "Am I sad about it or am I depressed? Hell no."
Moon will go back to Maryland and rev up his chain saw.
"I got to be back to work Friday. I've got a piece of timber I'm buying Friday," he said. He'll also play a Friday night tournament in Oakland, Md. "Thirty dollar buy-in. I can af-ford that," he said.
Moon started the final table Saturday with the chip lead. When Moon and Cada began their showdown here Monday night (1 a.m. today on the East Coast, Cada led with about 136 million ships to Moon's 59 million.
At one point during the final session, Moon had surged ahead by about 95 million chips, an advantage of about three to one. But Cada went back ahead to stay with he earned about 54 million chips in a monster pot.
Going into the final hand, Cada had 122 mllion chips to Moon's 74 million. Cada went all in with a pair of nines as his hole cards. Moon called with a queen and a jack.
Then came the five cards on the board. The three-card flop brought an eight, a two and a seven. Nothing for either player. The fourth card (the turn) was a king. No impact there either. Moon needed a queen or jack to make a pair. Cada's fans roared in celebration with the final card (the river) was a seven. They chanted, "Joey! Joey!"
"He's a great player," Moon said of Cada. "I had a choice to fold. He had a choice to fold. We both called. He won. I lost. That's the way it goes."
By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY