By now, you know that poker pro Joe Cada became the youngest winner ever of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event at age 21 earlier this month, shattering Peter Eastgate’s standing record set one year ago. Cada has since traveled the live television circuit, appearing on mainstream programs like the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “SportsCenter.” He has also popped up in Time, USA Today, and a bevy of other brand name print media sharing his story of banking a colossal $8.5 million.
MacPoker.com was on site at the Penn and Teller Theater at the Rio in Las Vegas during the 2009 WSOP Main Event final table and had a unique perspective on the action. With that in mind, we’ll review some of the highlights of the $10,000 buy-in feature tournament’s conclusion.
First and foremost is the large number of supporters who turned out at the Rio. The auditorium, which regularly plays home to Las Vegas’ most famous magic duo, was jam-packed with Cada supporters dressed in neon yellow long-sleeve shirts, Steven Begleiter fans wearing blue “Begs! Begs! Begs!” clothing, and Antoine Saout supporters donning light blue gear. No matter what the action was on stage, the fans were rowdy and overwhelmingly positive. Several media members compared it to a soccer match in terms of its atmosphere. Two Cada supporters even got tangled and were thrown out, escorted by police.
Despite the 17 hours of play that saw the field trimmed from nine to two, those in attendance were just as frenetic at 5:00am as they were at Noon. It was amazing to watch the fierce cheers of “Jo-ey! Jo-ey!” at all hours of the night, even as the attention span of others dwindled. You need to give kudos to the fans that turned out from all over the world and spent two evenings hooting and hollering in Las Vegas while watching nine guys play cards.
The level of interest that the weekend received was truly impressive. It wasn’t just a poker tournament. Instead, the event was chalk-full of side diversions like a meatball eating contest, music memorabilia auction, a charity fundraiser, and UFC-like player introductions in the middle of the Rio’s casino. Sasquatch, the mascot of WSOP sponsor Jack Links Beef Jerky, was also on-hand to pump up the crowd in a circus-like atmosphere. The Rio was packed at all hours of the day, with lines to enter the Penn and Teller Theater stretching all the way down the hall to the former entrance to PokerPalooza.
Press from around the poker industry turned out and were treated like royalty. In fact, the media area inside the theater regularly plays host to the VIP guests of Penn and Teller and featured couches, wireless high-speed internet, and a flat space to work on. The setup rivaled that of many collegiate and professional sporting events and made reporting on the 2009 WSOP Main Event final table a breeze. I was seated next to the French media, who were ardently rooting on their local hero, Saout. Also present were outlets like Bluff, CardPlayer, Poker News Daily, ESPN, and USA Today.
The ESPN setup was surprisingly simple. About 20 staffers were seated behind the stage watching a series of video monitors that contained shots of the table, crowd, and players. No hole card information was displayed, but hands were logged for production the next day. ESPN announcers Lon McEachern and Norman Chad were present watching the action, taking notes on the major storylines throughout the day. Trucks parked outside allowed for editing and the Main Event final table aired on the cable network about 12 hours after its conclusion.
We look forward to the 2010 WSOP.