It’s hard to call Joe Cada a grizzled veteran of the professional poker circuit. After all, the Michigan native just turned 30 years old last November.
Owning the distinction of being the youngest player ever to win the game’s ultimate title, however, is one way to add miles to your poker resume.
Cada was one week short of his 22nd birthday in 2009 when he outlasted nearly 6,500 players to collect more than $8.54 million for winning the World Series of Poker’s $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em, considered the “Main Event” at the annual tournament in Las Vegas.
Now, in 2018, Cada is having one of his best poker runs since capturing his first gold bracelet.
Going into play this week at the Rio Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, Cada is fourth in the standings for the WSOP’s Player of the Year. He has cashed in five events, including a first-place finish earlier this month in the $3,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em Shootout, winning $226,218 and his third World Series gold bracelet.
Overall, Cada has cashed in 33 World Series of Poker events in his career, including winning $670,041 in a $10,000 buy-in No Limit Hold’em six-handed event in 2014 for his first bracelet since the Main Event. He currently stands 11th on the WSOP money list with more than $10.3 million in career winnings.
Unlike other young champions, who disappeared from competition after winning millions of dollars, Cada continues to enjoy the game. There is less pressure, he said, adding the money help set up him and his family.
“Winning the Main Event put me in a spot where I just feel comfortable,” Cada said on a break from play at the Rio. “I don’t have to stress about it. It is almost an advantage going into these tournaments.”
Cada, who lives in Shelby Charter Township, often travels a short distance across the U.S. border to play at Caesars Windsor in Canada or in online poker events, where he first made his mark before joining the live game circuit in the U.S.
“Tournaments are always super-rocky,” Cada said. “I’m mostly a cash game player. This was the first time, from last year’s WSOP to this year’s WSOP, that I didn’t play a single tournament. I think that helped.”
The year was also spent helping in the recovery of his father, Jerry Cada, a retired auto worker, who suffered a serious stroke. His recovery was so strong, that Cada was able to convince his father to play in the World Series of Poker’s seniors event, and the son was there to assist.
“He super excited about playing,” Cada said. “There were some tough months when he was in the hospital. It was a long battle.”
Cada said winning the championship at a young age changed him for the better. He became more recognized on the poker circuit and made late night television appearances with Jay Leno and David Letterman.
He is still a bit in awe when he sees the giant photo of him surrounded by $8.5 million after winning the title in 2009. The banner is displayed with other past World Series of Poker champions inside the main tournament room in the Rio convention center.
“It kind of brought me out of my shell a bit,” Cada said. “I was shy and a bit of a homebody, but I got thrust into the spotlight, so that was a little different. I couldn’t really be the quiet kid anymore.”
Jerry Cada first noticed his son’s ability at math when tossing around equations and number problems the younger Cada quickly solved. After three semesters at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., Joe Cada decided to leave school and pursue poker. He had already started making money playing online.
By the time Cada arrived at the Rio in 2009, he had collected some $500,000 in winnings. But given the cost of tournament play, he decided to get a pair of backers. Two Detroit-area professional gamblers – Cliff “Johnny Bax” Josephy and Eric “Sheets” Haber – paid Cada’s WSOP tournament entry fees in exchange for half of any winnings.
The pair were there to sweat it out inside the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater as Cada endured the final table of nine players, that included a handful of unknown professionals and amateurs, as well as Phil Ivey, considered the game’s best player at the time.
In the end, Cada survived a few near-eliminations and a three-hour heads-up match with Maryland logger Darvin Moon to win the title. When the champion’s bracelet was placed on his wrist, Cada was 340 days – nearly a full year – younger than the next-youngest champion.
He also didn’t mind splitting the winnings with the backers.
Today, Cada backs two younger players as they try and emulate his 2009 run.
“One guy I’ve been teaching, and the other guy I met in Canada. He’s pretty good,” Cada said.
As for WSOP Player of the Year, Cada isn’t stressing over the title. With a record 78 events on the 2018 WSOP tournament schedule, Cada knows there is a long road. He plans to play in just 25 events – primarily pot limit Omaha and no limit hold’em matches. He avoided playing the $100,000 buy-in high-roller event because he was busy winning the bracelet in the shoot-out.
“I feel like I’m up a hundred grand because I didn’t play in it,” Cada said.
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.