The 2009 Main Event champion, Joe Cada, looks back on his success and poker’s hard lessons
Poker has taught me to open up a lot more. Before the Main Event I was really shy and could never handle giving speeches in front of class, or talking to people I didn’t know. But with all the media and people coming up to me after I won the bracelet, it massively helped me as a person.
When I was 18 I was playing $10/$20 and by 19 I was playing heads-up for $50/$100. I’ve had my downswings sure, but I’ve never gone busto. I would never let myself. I’ve learnt the hard way that losing any significant amount of money affects me mentally, so I know when it’s time to cash out and start over.
I hate being a negative thinker and I feel I’m a lot more mature now when I assess my wins and losses. So I should be. I got really lucky in life.
I still get criticised for a lot of hands I feel I shouldn’t. It’s funny. The hands I feel I made mistakes in back in 2009 are never the hands that get brought up. I had some live pros come up to me and say ‘you suck’, and I thought it was uncalled for. I’ve had to explain myself a lot. But I got extremely lucky and I’m the first one to admit that. When you’re a tournament pro, there’s luck involved in nearly every situation.
I have a lot of friends who have won bracelets or had top three finishes in big-money events, and it’s always helpful to have people around you who know what you’re going through in life. My high school buddies saw me winning a lot of money at poker, and when I made the November Nine they weren’t surprised because they didn’t understand the industry.
When I started playing poker I had so much drive, I wanted to be the best and play the highest stakes and poker really stressed me out. Now it’s the complete opposite. I don’t want to travel too much, and I like being at home. Working out a balance is always tricky.
You shouldn’t over-think in poker. In the months after I won the Main Event, I was guilty of over-analysing every hand I played. How do players perceive me? Are they trying to make a play? Beating your own psyche can become the hardest thing when you’ve won something that big.
In the past few years I’ve learned that you can’t trust everyone. I had a friend who I used to play cards with, and we shared a lot of the same interests like soccer and videogames. But then he stole one of my chequebooks and $60,000 from me. People can appear different to who they actually are and you have to be wary of those looking to get something for nothing.
I thought I’d be really nervous when I sat down at the final table in 2009, and that I’d struggle with the pressure. But the first thing you need to learn in poker is that no matter how big the stakes are, you’re just playing cards just like every other normal day.
I’ve played in games where the players were better than me, simple enough. But knowing your game selection, who you’re better than and where the weak spots are is something you have to teach yourself. Just because you’ve won the Main Event doesn’t make you the best player in the world. I was the same player before I won it and I’m the same player now.