Saturday, January 9, 2010

Is Joe Cada, WSOP Main Event Winner, A Donkey?

Is Joe Cada, 2009 WSOP Main Event Winner, A Donkey?

After ESPN televised the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event, many poker players started to post negative opinions about the way Joe Cada played the game. The nicest of these opinions was that Joe was lucky and the most critical called him a donkey. In poker, calling a player a donkey is a sign of disrespect as it is reserved for only the worst of poker players.

Let’s analyze the three key hands at the final table where Cada has been called a donk.

Hand No. 1

Situation: It is down to the final five players. Shulman and Joe Cada are the low stacks. Shulman has $18 million. Cada has $11 million. The blinds are $300,000-$600,000. Shulman raises to almost $2 million with pocket Jacks.

Cada goes all-in with pocket threes. If Shulman calls, he will be risking almost all of his chips. He calls. Shulman is an 80 percent favorite. On the flop Cada hits the set and wins the pot.

Analysis: Cada has about six percent of the total chips in play. Shulman has been playing very tight poker and his pre-flop raise should signal a big hand. However, Cada has also seen Shulman fold to a re-raise earlier in the game.

Cada can’t fold a pocket pair being low in chips. A call is a bad play—he would be risking almost 20 percent of his stack in the hope of hitting a set on the flop. If he moves all-in, he is putting the pressure back on Shulman (if he has a hand like A-J, or K-Q he would probably fold) and even if he gets called, he has a better chance of getting a set by seeing all five cards.

One final point: If Cada had just made the call, Shulman would have lost the same amount of chips given the eight, four, three flop.

Hand No. 2

Situation: It is down to the final three players. Blinds are at $500,000-$1 million. Cada is the low stack with $39 million. He finds pocket twos and raises to $2.5 million. Antonine Saout is in the big blind with QQ and he re-raises over $5 million.

Cada moves all-in, risking his entire chips stack. Saout calls, risking half his chips. The pot is almost $80 million. Saout is an 80 percent favorite. On the flop Cada hits the set and wins the pot!

Analysis: When Cada is dealt pocket twos, there is only about a 12 percent probability that an opponent will be holding a higher pair. However, when Saout makes a re-raise, Cada should have slowed down. Saout had been playing a solid game.

I think a fold would have been a smarter play than moving all-in here. But, in a poker tournament, you do have to get lucky.

If Cada had called the re-raise, Saout would have lost the same amount of chips given the nine, seven, two flop.

Hand No. 3:

Situation: It is still the final three players. Blinds are $500,000- $1 million. Cada has A-K and raises to $2.5 million. Saout with pocket eights goes all-in for his final $47 million. Cada would risk half his stack with a call.

Cada calls. It’s a $95 million pot. Saout is a 54 percent favorite. The flop is five of hearts, four of spades, five of clubs. The turn is 10 diamonds. If Cada misses the river, Saout would be back in the lead. But, the river is the King! Saout is knocked out.

Analysis: This is really a typical all-in, heads-up situation in poker tournaments; an A-K heads-up versus a pocket pair. After Saout took a bad beat in the previous hand, it was even possible that he had a hand worse than pocket eights.


Overall, if you haven’t been in a WSOP tournament, you don’t realize how difficult it is to get to a final table. You not only have to be a skillful player, but you also have to get lucky to win.

There were over 6,400 players in the 2009 WSOP main event. There is no question that every player at the final table got lucky at some point during the eight days of play, and put a bad beat on an opponent.

Joe Cada is far from a donkey.

He is an accomplished online poker player and he won the most prestigious title in poker. While he got lucky at the end of the event, the fact is that anyone who criticizes his play doesn’t truly understand tournament poker.

Tournament poker is about winning all of the chips in play. This often results in risking all of your chips and putting your opponent to the test for all of his chips. Sometimes you lose. But by getting lucky and winning one major event, you can win millions of dollars.

Note: My article originally appeared a few days ago on the SF Bay Area Bleecher Report.

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