A 21-year-old college drop-out from Michigan's upper peninsula and a 46-year-old logger from Maryland's rural panhandle make up an unlikely duo that will play heads-up no-limit hold'em poker tonight at the Rio to determine the champion of the World Series of Poker.
Going in, it would seem that Joseph Cada of Shelby Township, Mich., who is seeking to become the tournament's youngest-ever champion, might have the edge on Darvin Moon of Oakland, Md.
The pair will meet at 10 p.m. on the stage of the Rio's Penn & Teller Theater with Cada holding an almost 2-to-1 tournament chip advantage over Moon. The winner of the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold'em world championship collects $8.5 million. The runner-up takes home $5.182 million.
"This will clearly be a final table for the history books," World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said.
Cada, who wasn't even old enough to watch play at the Rio a year ago and dreamed of being a poker champion since he was a teenager, has won about $500,000 in online poker and played in 16 different World Series of Poker events this year, cashing in two.
Moon won his entry into the Main Event through a satellite game at a casino in Wheeling, W.Va., had never been to Las Vegas before July, doesn't play online, and said the fiercest poker competition he's faced was at the local Elks Lodge in his 2,800-person hometown.
"Darvin seems to make his game up as he goes along," Cada said. "He does some pretty unorthodox things."
But Moon, who said he has never really played heads-up -- "We just chop the pot back home" -- said Cada is favored.
"I hear he's better than me, but I'm confident. It will be a learning experience," Moon said.
But this hasn't been the most normal of World Series of Poker Main Events.
Cada and Moon outlasted seven other players and a 141/2-hour final table that began Saturday afternoon and ended Sunday just before 6 a.m. The field included one of poker's best players -- seven-time World Series of Poker individual event bracelet winner Phil Ivey -- and others with far more experience than the two finalists.
Several times Cada was seemingly drawing dead. He was down to his last 2.25 million in tournament chips when he staved off elimination on the 123rd hand.
As morning rose over Las Vegas on Sunday, Cada had 135.95 million in tournament chips, eliminating France's Antoine Saout in third place. On the round's 276th hand, Cada pulled a king on the river card for a pair to beat Saout's pair of eights.
"I felt like I was playing short-stacked the whole day and I just played the cards I had," Cada said. "Sometimes I got lucky. I'll never complain about poker again."
He may have left community college in Michigan after just three semesters to follow his poker dreams, but Cada thinks like a mathematician. Often he took his time to consider the odds or chances of a certain hand.
"Sometimes I played a hand based on logic and where I was sitting in position," Cada said. "But that's poker."
Moon came into the final table Saturday first in chips with 58.93 million. He'll enter heads-up play tonight with almost the same figure, 58.85 million.
"I'm the underdog, I know that," Moon said. "But I've learned I just have to recover some hands and not worry."
Moon led the final table early and often traded the chip lead with three other players during the night: third-place finisher Saout, Eric Buchman, who finished fourth and Steven Begleiter, who placed sixth. Cada did not take the chip lead until he doubled-up on Saout on the 264th hand.
Both players were backed by boisterous cheering supporters whose shouts seemed to grow louder in the early morning hours when eliminated players reduced the theater's crowds.
Moon was given 150 white T-shirts with the logo of the Wheeling Island casino to hand out to supporters. However, he wasn't happy about the slogan on the back, "Bad Moon Rising."
He told reporters early Sunday he still won't sign a lucrative endorsement deal with an online poker company.
"I'm self-employed and I don't want a boss," Moon said. "I don't want anyone telling me I need to do something. If I signed with them guys, I'd be in a lawsuit within a month."
Cada's fans wore yellow long-sleeve T-shirts with the University of Michigan logo and PokerStars.net logo on the front. Cada's name was the backside.
If Cada wins, he'll break the record set a year ago by Denmark's Peter Eastgate as the youngest-ever World Series of Poker Main Event Champion. Cada turns 22 on Nov. 18.
"I knew everybody that was here," Cada said of happy followers. "It was fun, but I just want the (champion's) bracelet."
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871.