'I live all year for this;' Michigan poker stars hit tables in Vegas, in search of more big paydays
Every sport has a preseason to get in game shape, as much physically and mentally.
So what about poker?
"I actually play a lot less leading into the World Series," said Joe Cada, the Shelby Township card shark who is among the game's all-time leading money-makers.
"It's one of those things, you know for 40, 50 days, you're going to be playing 14 hours every day. I just don't want to overdo it beforehand.
"Then I can really go hard at it."
This month and next, tens of thousands of poker players will flock to Las Vegas and the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino for the annual World Series of Poker, an 89-tournament bonanza that draws professionals and amateurs alike — all searching for that life-changing payday.
It'll come to its conclusion in mid-July, with the crowning of the 2019 Main Event champion, who'll take home more than $8 million.
Cada, 31, won the Main Event 10 years ago, the payout at $8.5 million. Clarkston's Ryan Riess, 28, won it four years later, for $8.4 million. Cada, remarkably defying the odds, made it to another Main Event final table last year and took fifth, while Muskegon's Nic Manion, 36, finished a spot better. Cada and Manion each won more than $2 million.
All three are back in Vegas for the spring-summer grind, along with dozens more Michigan poker stars.
"I live all year for this," said Jordan Young, 32, a Muskegon native who resides in Vegas year-round. "I'm living my dream.
"I'm really, really excited about the chance at winning (one of) 35 bracelets."
Young still is chasing that elusive first bracelet. His best showing was a runner-up finish in a 2017 No-Limit Hold'em tournament that earned him $242,160. He boasts 33 cashes in the WSOP, which he started playing in 2011, and has earned nearly a half-million bucks on the circuit.
Chasing bracelet No. 2 is Riess, who plays a lot of poker year-round — much more than Cada — and is coming into the WSOP after some impressive paydays, including nearly $300,000 cash for a fourth-place finish in a tournament in Monte Carlo in April, a $264,000 prize for fifth place in a Las Vegas tournament in February, and a $492,000 takehome for second place in another Vegas tournament in February.
His total live-play earnings have exceeded $14.5 million, but there's still something that's missing. A follow-up to his 2013 Main Event championship.
"I definitely want another one," said Riess, who now lives full time in Las Vegas, and who this offseason welcomed a baby girl, Mila. "But it doesn't bother me, because I already have the best one.
"But I do want another one, and hopefully this is the year. I'm gonna play a lot."
Riess does own five tournament championships outside the WSOP circuit, including one last October and one last August.
Cada, who was dubbed "The Kid" when he won the Main Event in 2009 and still has somewhat of the baby face to pass for that, cemented himself last year as one of the game's greats — a far cry from 2009, when his stunning win was dubbed "lucky" and other choice, not-fit-for-print words by some of poker's most established professionals.
But after a two-bracelet run in 2018, he now has four — his fourth coming just hours after he busted out of last year's Main Event, quite an impressive way to get over that disappointment. He's one of just 46 poker players ever to reach that plateau in the WSOP, essentially poker's Grandaddy Of Them All.
In total WSOP earnings, Cada has eclipsed $13 million, seventh all-time, and trailing only the likes of legends Antonio Esfandiari, Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.
Any pressure for a fine follow-up performance?
"Ummm, no. I kind of know how it is in tournament poker. It's a really high variance, in a sense," said Cada, who plays mostly in cash games, and mostly online, when he's not in the WSOP. "Cash games are more consistent. Tournaments, sometimes you're going to have a drought year, and sometimes you crush it.
"So, yeah, I mean I try not to have too much expectation."
Cada was pleased with his start to this year's WSOP. He busted out of the fifth tournament, a $50,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold'em tournament in which he finished 19th — two spots out of the money. Manion is off to a good start, sitting with a healthy chip stack after Day 1 of the $500 buy-in Big 50 No-Limit Hold'em tournament which has drawn so many players that registration lines are literally hours long, and there's not a parking spot to be found at the Rio.
All chasing that dream, in hopes of making it a reality.
World Series of Poker
What: 89 tournaments, featuring a variety of poker games
When: Through mid-July
Where: Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
Ones to watch: Shelby Township's Joe Cada is a three-time WSOP bracelet winner, won the 2009 Main Event, and made the 2018 Main Event final table; Clarkston's Ryan Riess won the 2013 Main Event; and Muskegon's Nic Manion made the 2018 Main Event final table.
Michigan's tournament earnings leaders
1. Ryan Riess, Clarkston, $14,515,898
2. Joe Cada, Shelby Township, $13,662,042
3. Daniel Heimiller, Livonia, $6,270,296
4. Jeff Gross, Ann Arbor, $3,217,182
5. David Baker, Bloomfield Hills, $3,102,061
Michigan poker stars on Twitter