Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Better To Be Lucky Than Good

Take a second to look at all that money. Those are all hundred dollar bills, and that guy is only twenty-one. All he had to do was play poker for hours and hours and days and days, and outlast 6,493 other players. Oh, and get ridiculously lucky over and over again at the final table. 

Joe Cada started the final table 5th in chips with just over 13 million, but at one point he had been whittled down to around 2.5 million, or roughly 1% of the total chips at the table. But he slowly climbed back up before a big hand against Jeff Shulman, the other short stack at the table. Cada had pocket 3's against Shulman's J's, but a 3 came on the flop to give Cada three of a kind and cripple Shulman, who eventually went out in 5th place. Later, again the short stack but this time with only three players left, Cada bet all his chips with 2's against Antoine Saout's Q's. Saout, who had played better than anyone at the final table up to that point, going from being the second short stack with 9 million in chips to being the leader three-handed with 90 million, was in a great position to eliminate Cada and go on to heads-up play with a dominant chip lead. But Cada's luck just kept up, and a 2 hit on the flop for another miracle set, and he doubled up again.

Just a few short hands later, Saout went all-in with 8's against Cada's A-K, needing to avoid six cards to swap places and regain the lead. Naturally, a K hit on the river, sending Cada and his supporters into a frenzy and leaving Saout in shock. Two nights later, Cada beat Darvin Moon in an exciting heads-up match to complete his incredible comeback, win $8,546,435, and also set the record for youngest Main Event champion. Don't get me wrong, the kid is a great player, but there were so many times when statistically he should have lost that you can't fault me for calling him lucky. On the plus side, he seems like a genuinely nice guy, and someone who will embrace the role of poker spokesman for the next year or so until someone takes his place. Or maybe he'll just do the really impossible and win it again.

There were a lot of exciting hands that I haven't recounted here, and overall this final table was about as entertaining as you could hope for. As much as I was disappointed that none of the pros I was pulling for (Shulman, Phil Ivey, James Akenhead) won the thing, poker isn't like other sports where the best team usually wins or there are clear mistakes and poor performances that you can point to. If a guy makes it this far, he must be playing really well and getting good cards, and to finish in the top nine is fairly incredible. I'm a little glad it's over too, since the more I watch and absorb the lingo and strategies and percentages, the more I start thinking I can do this. And then I remember that my heart races anytime I raise the pot pre-flop, and then I think that perhaps "general critic guy with random blog" suits my temperament better.

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