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Mark Newhouse Makes History

As First Player To Record Back-To-Back WSOP Main Event Final Tables In A Decade

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Dec 24, 2014


It clearly wasn’t what he wanted, but Mark Newhouse accomplished one of the most incredible feats in poker history. In the 2013 World Series of Poker main event, he finished ninth, and he followed that performance up by finishing ninth in 2014. He pocketed $730,725 for the 2014 deep run.

He was disappointed after the knockout, especially considering he entered the 2014 final table with 26 million in chips, good for third position on the chip counts. He played fast and loose and ended up hitting the rail after making a daring bluff against William Tonking. Newhouse put all his chips into the middle with pocket tens on a JHeart Suit 4Club Suit 2Diamond Suit 4Heart Suit JClub Suit board and Tonking called with pocket queens.

In July, Newhouse became the first player to record back-to-back WSOP main event final tables since Dan Harrington did so in 2003 and 2004. Harrington did it at the start of the poker boom, so the main event field sizes hadn’t quite reached the plateau it had reached in 2014.

Newhouse outlasted a field of 6,352 in 2013 and 6,683 in 2014.

Though his achievement is one for the ages, and who knows when, or even if, it will be duplicated again, Newhouse wasn’t too impressed. You could argue that it is his humble personality, and that is surely partly true, but it is also something that comes with years of grinding out a living on the felt and experiencing the ups and downs of poker. Variance can be a tough pill to swallow, and the poker pros who last the longest in this game are the ones who have developed a certain emotional fortitude to weather the storm when things aren’t going well—but also not get too excited when an upswing unfolds. Newhouse said just a couple of days after his defeat that he’d be okay.

It’s an attitude that is in sharp contrast to what he was like at the start of his poker career.

“When I was 21, I had $2 million, and all I wanted to do was play the biggest poker games in the world and run it up so I could play bigger,” Newhouse said. “My mindset is the total opposite now. I’m very glad I’ve been through all that and can make some different decisions this time.”

In poker, protecting yourself from emotional swings is a crucial part of the game and something that Newhouse has learned to do at a very young age. It’s an ability that isn’t only relevant when talking about someone’s poker career, but also important for every single tournament. It’s usually called composure when thought of in the context of one event, and that’s exactly what Newhouse had throughout his deep run in the 2014 main event.

He was able to take setbacks in stride and never let them throw him into tournament-life-ending tilt. Doubling up opponents comes with having a big stack, and you can’t let it put you at risk of dusting off a chip lead. Newhouse played with world-class poise over several days, even though he made some blunders on the last day of play when most of the money was on the line.

Here’s a brief look at the story of 29-year-old poker pro Mark Newhouse.

Preparing For The Final Table

When hearing about Newhouse’s game plan leading up to the 2014 main event final table, it’s tempting to consider it lackadaisical. However, for him, it was mostly about keeping the stress away.

“I’ve been killing time, as I kind of had my life put on hold waiting to see what happens,” Newhouse said before the final table. “I’ve been trying to get organized and pass this time, and then get there and get it over with.” In hindsight, his comments unfortunately foreshadowed an early exit.

He said he was not trying to soak in the accomplishment or anything like that. He didn’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on himself. “I need to just go out and play some poker like I have been,” he said.

When asked whether he thinks his accomplishment is up there with other great moments in poker history, he said that he doesn’t think it’s his “place” to consider it. It surely wouldn’t be arrogant to say it’s one of the most unlikely feats in the history of the game.

“I’ll let everyone else do the talking about that,” the North Carolina native said.
For comparison, when Johnny Chan won two main events in a row and finished runner-up in the third one, he outlasted fields of 152, 167, and 178, respectively. Obviously, Newhouse crushes Harrington’s survival through fields of 839 in 2003 and 2,576 in 2004.
“From what everyone says, what I did is pretty good,” Newhouse admitted.

The Rocky Road Before Making History

Like all poker players, Newhouse has had downswings. Some of his have been tough to stomach, but he managed to make it through the tough times and not walk away from the game for good.

The lowest point of his career happened in Las Vegas in 2009 or 2010 (Newhouse can’t remember exactly). He was renting a house from Huck Seed, but was completely broke. The power ended up getting shut off in his house, and Newhouse was sitting there one day contemplating his plight.

“Huck and Joe Cassidy were trying to beat down on my ego and make me play $1-$2 no-limit,” Newhouse said. “I couldn’t take that seriously. It wasn’t going well. Things didn’t feel like they were looking up, but a friend of mine from L.A. called me when I was going through that period and said, ‘Come out here and play some poker.’ I started playing $300-$600 for him. I started doing really well and regained my confidence. That was the only time I was ready to quit.”

Those stakes are about what he has remained at ever since.

Newhouse admitted that there have been other rough patches, but he was always able to keep himself afloat and not go broke. Sometimes just staying in the game is the hardest task in poker.

Despite winning a World Poker Tour event at the Borgata in Atlantic City in 2006 for more than $1.5 million, two years later Newhouse found himself in debt. He had the debt up until these last couple of main event scores. Even though he didn’t win $10 million, he has still found financial freedom.

“I’d win a little money and start paying people off. It was hard to keep a bankroll of my own. I have been all over the place—up and down,” said Newhouse, who has played in the WSOP main event since 2006. It took him five years to cash in it.

The 2011 main event, in which Newhouse finished 182nd for $47,101, could have been a major setback in his career had he let it affect him in a negative way psychologically. Newhouse lost a huge pot trying to bluff eventual-winner Pius Heinz and then quickly dusted off the rest of his chips. Three years later, Newhouse had made back-to-back main event final tables.

Newhouse doesn’t let those horrific experiences fade from his memory. They remind him to keep his composure after losing a pot, or to give up on the river if an opponent called his bluff on the flop and turn. In other words, to not, “lose consciousness in a hand,” as Newhouse put it.

“We can also talk about the 2010 L.A. Poker Classic where I was chip leader days three, four and five, looking good to win it,” Newhouse said. “There were 13 left and I was second in chips, and I just literally gave all the money away. I’ve done this consistently deep in tournaments. You have to make [these mistakes] to learn not to do them. Even after you have made them a million times, it doesn’t mean you are going to stop entirely. But you have to put effort into always being conscious when you are at the poker table.” Though his play was loose, one cannot say Newhouse blew up at the 2014 final table.

Newhouse isn’t out to prove anything at a poker table anymore. When he has a big stack and someone plays back at him and he isn’t feeling right about the situation, he has no problem folding and moving on to the next hand. He isn’t interested in a battle of egos, especially when he has the chips that should lead him to a big payday, but that doesn’t mean he will pass on a spot that he thinks is a good bluff. Some, like Barry Greenstein, took to Twitter after Newhouse’s elimination and defended the hand against Tonking. However, others in the poker community have condemned it.

A Limit Hold’em Background

Before no-limit hold’em became as popular as it stands today, limit was the easiest form of poker to find action at, and thus many of the game’s best players today once called that game home.

Newhouse continued with limit hold’em even after venturing into the online poker space.
“Most of my experience online was trying to run up money playing the best players in the world in high-stakes heads-up limit hold’em and having crazy swings; just degenerate gambling,” he said candidly.

During that period, he did manage to win a PokerStars Sunday Million in 2009, which was a no-limit hold’em tournament he earned $245,897 for, but it was always more about the cash games for the young grinder. Despite playing above his head during the height of the poker boom, Newhouse does credit those hours logged on to Full Tilt and PokerStars as what made him the savvy deep-stacked tournament player he is today.

“Having a background in limit hold’em is very helpful,” Newhouse said. “Limit hold’em players know how to play well post-flop and read hands, instead of just knowing the push or fold type of situations. It’s a lot easier for a great limit hold’em player to become a great no-limit player, compared to the other way around.”

No Longer Trying To Be The Best

Newhouse has learned that surviving in poker is especially hard if you have an ego. Trying to be the best player around is something that can place a ton of strain on a poker player, and Newhouse was no exception. As mentioned, his once-large ego resulted in some blowups deep in tournaments, as he was trying to outplay people too often. For Newhouse, a balanced and relaxed approach has been crucial, but it just requires patience. Time will tell if he regrets playing so many pots at the final table.

It took 56 hands for Newhouse to be eliminated, and he voluntarily put chips into the pot 16 times. He won just five of those hands. That’s how quickly one can go from a big stack to the rail.

“Back then, I treated poker in such a way that I always wanted to play in the biggest games against the best players,” he said. “I was trying to look for tough spots. At the higher stakes, it was basically anyone who was willing to play me. Now, I am totally over that mentality.”

With the prospect of as much as $10 million in his pocket if he had stood in the winner’s circle (instead of Martin Jacobson), some might have been tempted to play big cash games while waiting for the final table to arrive. Some could argue that it would help keep you sharp, but for Newhouse it was really more about preventing his dormant ego from resurfacing at the worst possible time.

“The last thing I wanted to do in my free time [before the final table] was play high-stakes poker,” he said. “When I do play poker, I try to play in spots in which I am most profitable.”

During poker’s gold rush, when many people who didn’t really know the ins and outs of the game were dabbling in poker, it was possible to play in pretty much any game you could find because there would always be an ample supply of fish. Nowadays, there are usually a bunch of regulars going after one or two marks. Newhouse, like others in poker, has adapted to games that are, “smaller and tougher.”

Poker has been more and more like a “grind” for Newhouse, but that could definitely change if online poker takes off in the United States once again in the coming years.

“For the last few years, it has not only been a job, but something I have to do constantly just for survival,” he said. “It takes the fun out of it, and at this point, I’m over the daily grind.”

Newhouse dropped out of college at Appalachian State University to pursue poker full-time, and, even though it has worked out for him, he said he wouldn’t recommend that path to anyone in 2014. Basically, Newhouse said, stay in school and finish your degree even if you are succeeding at online poker or live poker at your local casino. Poker will always be there, but you don’t have many chances to complete your education. That’s not to say Newhouse wishes he had a time machine.

“I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done,” Newhouse said. “I’ve had a lot of experiences being on the scene for the last nine years or so, and that’s who I am, and who my friends are.”

“If you are 21 and in college, finish that,” he added. “I don’t know how easy it is to run [a large bankroll] up from the really small stakes these days.”

Doesn’t Have A Plan For The Future

The beauty of the main event for the spectator is that the money jumps at the final table provide a ton of excitement. For the players, they can be agonizing and prevent you from making any concrete plans for life after it’s over while waiting to take your seat in the Penn & Teller Theatre.

Newhouse said he tried really hard not to think about whether he would officially retire from poker, because it was possible anything less than first place might not afford him that luxury.

“If I have all these plans for what I’ll be doing if I finish top-three and I end up busting out sixth, that could be a major disappointment,” Newhouse said as a warning to himself before the final table. “But, no matter what, I still see myself traveling to play tournaments.”

Newhouse is a poker player at heart, and he said that all those years playing the game has shaped his consciousness to a point where he views the world in specific way because of poker. Whether it’s thinking about life in terms of odds and equity, being a little bit looser with racking up a bar tab, or pulling an all-nighter and sleeping through most of the day, Newhouse is content with thinking like a poker player for the rest of his life, regardless of whether or not he puts in full-time hours playing.

“I have definitely grown accustomed to the degenerate lifestyle, and that’s always going to be a part of me,” Newhouse admitted. “As long as I don’t go out and get a real job, my job title will always be professional poker player.”

With the poker player lifestyle, it’s been years since Newhouse has really felt like a certain city has been a true home. He has been sleeping in hotels for most of his poker career, in between periods of having places in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Whenever he has actually had an apartment or house in either, he ended up spending the majority of his time in the other city.

It’s about following the action.

“I have stayed at the Commerce for a long period of time, because you can pay by the day and don’t have to sign a lease and make a commitment,” he said. “You have maids come in and clean up. Of course, it’s convenient for playing poker, but it’s really not a good lifestyle.”

Since he busted in ninth, Newhouse will likely keep the grind going—“back to reality,” as he put it. Though, he solidified a place in poker history, which is something that can’t ever be lost. ♠