LAS VEGAS -- A 21-year-old playing in his first World Series of Poker main event is poised to become its youngest champion if he can beat an amateur logger who had never gambled for high stakes before entering the no-limit Texas Hold 'em tournament.
Joe Cada, from Shelby Township, Mich., is 340 days younger than Denmark's Peter Eastgate, who last year broke the age record set by 11-time gold bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth two decades earlier. Cada is an online poker pro who should bring more experience to the table than 46-year-old Darvin Moon of Oakland, Md.
"I have a feeling it's going to be a long match," said Cada, who had almost no chips less than halfway into the marathon final table but now has a more than 2-to-1 chip advantage over Moon after 276 hands.
He will face Moon on Monday night for the tournament's top prize of $8.55 million, and a coveted gold bracelet given to winners of world series events.
"I need some sleep. I've been up for I don't know how long," Cada said. "It's going to be fun to soak it in, I guess, for a little bit."
Cada's run stretching into Sunday morning was punctuated by a lucky king that capped a seemingly impossible comeback.
His ace-king had about an even shot against the pocket eights held by French professional Antoine Saout as the players gambled for Saout's tournament and most of Cada's chips. Saout had an 86 percent chance of winning after four community cards were dealt.
A king of diamonds on the river ended an improbable comeback that Saout staged himself, climbing from eighth in chips to start the session to finish third. He won $3.48 million.
Cada dodged elimination several times during what became the longest main event final table in history after passing 141/2 hours. After 123 hands, he held less than 3 million chips -- the shortest stack by far with 1 percent of the 194.87 million in tournament play.
"That's tournaments, though. You have to play in tournaments no matter what stack size you are," Cada said. "You can't give up, either, like even if you have no chips."
Moon, a self-employed logger, finished the session with about the same number of chips he started with. He had the chip lead at the beginning of the nine-way final table Saturday afternoon, but begins Monday night and underdog to Cada.
Moon has so far downplayed his skills in outlasting nearly the entire field of 6,494 players, and said he has played heads-up only once -- in the satellite tournament that qualified him for the main event.
"They say he's some kind of specialist online," Moon said. "But I'm not online to watch."
Moon hasn't played a hand of poker online, doesn't own a computer and doesn't have an e-mail address. He spent three weeks last month hunting in Wyoming with friends and playing cards in a two-room cabin without electricity.
He won the buy-in for the main event at a tournament in West Virginia -- and came close to taking the money. Since making the final table, he has turned down numerous sponsorship offers because he doesn't want a boss and shrugged off coaching because he doesn't think he can learn any new card tricks.
But his final table opponents think he can play, and Cada said he showed an improved game on Saturday and early Sunday.
"Darvin mixes up his game a lot. He played really tight back four months ago," Cada said.
Among the seven players eliminated behind Cada and Moon was Phil Ivey, one of poker's most recognizable faces.
The seven-time bracelet winner nursed a short stack most of the day, with opponents unwilling to call his all-in bets, until he got unlucky against Moon for his last 6.5 million chips. Ivey gambled with an ace-king and found himself ahead of Moon's ace-queen, but Moon hit a queen on the flop and Ivey failed to improve.
"It is definitely just about winning, so it's disappointing I did not win," Ivey said. "But I am happy with the way I played. I think I made pretty good decisions with the amount of chips that I had, and I think I gave myself as much possibility of winning it as I could."