By: Jenny Foughner

Long ago (last week) in a land far, far away (Uncasville, CT), Made Man visited the majestic Mohegan Sun Casino Resort to experience the third leg of the Pokerstars.net North American Poker Tour. While there, we learned some important life lessons. One: don’t go all-in on an eight-high hand after drinking your weight in free Jack and Cokes (more on that later). Two: being a professional poker player is definitely one of the best jobs in the galaxy.

If you dream of betting, calling and raising your way to a career as a professional cardshark, then you’ll be glad to know that all it takes is a heaping helping of confidence, an equally high amount of intelligence and a more-than-healthy dose of cajones. Easy, right? For our further edification, Pokerstars.net Pro Joe Cada, winner of the 2009 World Series of Poker, took some time out of his busy tourney schedule to discuss cards, ladies, and how his life hasn’t changed since he became the youngest Main Event champion in history. And won approximately $8 million. And turned – wait for it – 22 years old.

Did you ever think it’d be possible to play cards for a living, and that you’d be incredibly successful at it?

When I started doing really well in poker, when I was 18, I definitely thought it was possible. Prior to that, not a clue.

What’s your favorite part of playing poker professionally?

I think my favorite part is not having a boss. You get all the free time in the world because you make your own schedule. You also get to travel a lot; you get to go to different places that you wouldn’t normally see.

What’s the coolest place you’ve ever played?

I like a lot of different spots. The first time I went to the Bahamas for Pokerstars’ Caribbean Adventure was probably the most fun I’ve had. Definitely the best stop I’ve ever been to.

What did you guys do there? Do you party a lot when you’re out doing this?

It depends, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. A lot of times I don’t like drinking a lot before I play (Note: most of the poker pros we spoke to said they avoid the booze during tournaments to keep their heads clear, at which point we decided that we just aren’t cut out for the world of pro poker). If I have free days, or if I’m out of the tournament early – if you get knocked out of the tournament, at least you’re at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas – I’ll go waterslide, go to the clubs, see marine life, stuff like that. There’s a lot of stuff to do outside of poker. (Like… drink? Wait. No. Dammit. See? It never would’ve worked.)

What advice would you give aspiring professional poker players? Is there a secret to success?

I think it’s important to recognize that poker is one of those things that’s a slippery slope. If you want to start playing poker, start off playing for fun and only bet what you can manage to win or lose. Start off with nickels and dimes and work your way up to the bigger stuff. I started small. There’s nothing that’s ‘too small’ to start because you can always work your way up … If you decide you wanted to play for a living, just have fun with it and don’t let it upset you.

Perhaps on a website like… pokerstars.net?

Exactly.

Would you advise someone who’s really good at poker to go ahead and try to make a living at it?

I think you realize you’re good at poker when you have long-term results. A lot of times good poker players are already doing it for a living because they’ve had good long-term results. You can get lucky for a month or two months, but when you’re playing millions of hands online for two or three years, you’re not going to just be getting lucky with such a large sample base. A lot of my friends who are good have been doing it for a living for some time.

Some people think you have to be a math whiz to be good at poker. What do you think?

Yeah, math was something I always excelled in. English not so much, as you can probably see. (Note: No! This is quite pleasant, actually.) Math has always been my strong point. I think math is very important in the game, but when I started off playing, I had no idea how to use it in the game. You start to pick up patterns as you play more regularly.

What does your family think about your job?

Ah, the family. My mom was skeptical at first – she deals at a casino, she deals Blackjack – so when I first started playing poker, she looked at it the same as gambling, you know, you’re always going to lose, the house always wins. In most cases that’s the scenario, but poker’s different. She was a little skeptical, but after the years went on and I had success, she slowly started changing her mind.

Your family must be very proud of you.

They are, but they’re proud of their other kids, too.

More you, though, right?

(Laughing, because this is an inappropriate line of questioning.)

Do you feel like this is something you want to do for a while?

I love playing poker. It’s something I’ll definitely be doing in 10 years. Even if I’m not successful, it’s something I still want to do. You can have fun with it. I think I will be successful, but even if I’m not, I still want to be playing poker.

Do you prefer playing online or playing at the table?

I think a little bit of both, probably the majority online because it’s so convenient; I can wake up and just open up my laptop, put in two hours online (which is equivalent to maybe 14 hours live), then get everything else done during the day and go hang out with my friends. Live is time-consuming, but at the same time, playing live gets you that social interaction, and you go to these destinations and see new places. There are good things with both.

Congratulations on your big win in November, by the way.

Thank you!

What has surprised you most since you won?

Realizing how many celebrities actually play poker… all of a sudden these people that it would be a dream for me to meet play poker and want to meet me. It’s really weird.

Do they ask for your autograph?

Around the poker tournaments there are a lot of people who ask for autographs, yeah.

JGiron for NAPT.com

How did it feel to become famous virtually overnight?

I’m kind of going through the motions right now, it’s so weird. It hasn’t fully hit me yet. I’m kind of just going with the flow.

Has your day-to-day life changed since the Main Event?

It hasn’t, really. I traveled a lot before, when I wasn’t 21 and couldn’t play in Vegas or in the states. I would travel to Aruba and the Bahamas and Costa Rica where I could play legally. I did a lot of traveling before, and played poker before, so nothing has really changed except the fame.

Has your dating life been effected by this job?

No, I’ve had the same girlfriend for a while. My dating life hasn’t been different.

So would you say that being a pro poker player ‘ups one’s game’ with the ladies? Not to get you in trouble with your girlfriend, of course.

Well, not many girls follow poker – it’s mostly guys who follow poker – but I guess girls follow money. So. That might be an incentive.

Ha! Very true. But there is a lot of psychology involved in poker (reading people, trying to figure out who’s bluffing); are there lessons to be learned from the game that can be applied to other aspects of human interaction?

It’s funny, I think poker, as cheesy as it sounds, applies to a lot of things. There’s so much logic involved and so much psychology. You always have to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes, you have to think how they’re thinking, so when you first talk to someone or meet someone, you start trying to figure out how they think and predict how they’ll react to things. There are little subtle things, it just naturally comes. You don’t really have to think about it..

What life lessons have you learned from the world of poker?

Life lessons? Well, when I was younger and I’d have bad days in poker or went on big downswings, I would let it affect me personally. Not on purpose, but sometimes it’d put me in a bad mood. Over the years I became a lot more mature through poker; every day I’d try to wake up and just be in a good mood and have a positive attitude towards the day. I really don’t let anything upset me anymore. When I lose, it’s just another day. Every day I try to enjoy it and make the most of it. (Laughs) So philosophical.

(At this point, the tables turn and Joe starts asking the questions. It is disarming.)

How long have you been doing what you do?

Well – wait, this is your interview! But, okay. For a while now.

So you like it a lot?

Yes!

That’s good. As long as you’re happy with what you do. That’s the biggest thing.

Wise words, sir. Wise words.

Watch Joe and the rest of the NAPT poker pros in action on ESPN2 beginning Monday, April 19th at 9:00 PM EST. The Mohegan Sun $5,000 Main Event will be shown on May 10, 2010 at 10:00 PM EST.

JGiron for NAPT.com