A familiar face

Mark Newhouse on his second trip to the final table

When cards finally get back in the air for the WSOP Main Event on Nov. 10, Mark Newhouse will have waited 129 days for his second straight shot at poker’s most prestigious title. And frankly, he’s just so over the waiting.

“So this year, going into the final table, I haven’t even been really thinking about it much. I’m just killing time and ready to go play,” said Newhouse. “I haven’t been doing much, just hanging out with friends and living a normal, boring life.”

Newhouse references “this year” because it was just a year ago he was in the exact same spot, a member of the November Nine, waiting for the final table to get underway. He was the short stack and most people expected him to bust out in ninth not long after play resumed. They were right.

This year, Newhouse sits third in chips, behind only Jorryt van Hoof and Felix Stephensen, but that doesn’t mean the 29-year-old is feeling any pressure despite having a much better chance at life changing money.

“Last year, it was a bigger deal to me, it was more like something worth celebrating,” said Newhouse. “Whereas this year, it’s just ‘All right, made the final table again so we’re doing this again. Let’s get through these four months and go play this thing and figure out what I’m going to do with my life after.’”

The chip stack he’s returning to isn’t the only difference for Newhouse between this year and last. He’s changed his approach up a little bit and that relaxed attitude is a big part of it. But he’s also avoided some of the things that he did last year.

While waiting in 2013, Newhouse spent nearly an entire month living at the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, playing cash games day and night to continue to build up his bankroll. He then traveled all over Europe, played the WSOP Europe events in Paris and then found himself back in Las Vegas for the final table festivities.

And this year?

“I haven’t played one hand of poker,” said Newhouse. “I took a short vacation, but for the most part I’ve just been relaxing. I was sort of considering going to Australia (for WSOP APAC) but didn’t end up making it.”

That’s not to say he hasn’t at least considered it. The trip to Melbourne for the 10 bracelet events at WSOP APAC was on one day, off the next for a good 10 days in September. With the final two days of play nearing, Newhouse admits he’s thought about jumping into action somewhere — just to shake off the ring rust and get ready for the big show.

“I was thinking about maybe trying to find some small tournament that’s not too hard to get to, because I feel like I should try to get some sort of practice,” said Newhouse. “But if I do, then I do. If I don’t, then I don’t.”

Newhouse is chomping at the bit to get back to playing the tournament that’s been paused since mid-July. He’s tuned in every week to the coverage on ESPN, all the while sitting at home watching the days go by.

“Basically, I’m kind of just ready to get (the break) over with,” said Newhouse. “My whole life is kind of on hold. Just got to get this thing over with and then start figuring it out from there.”

While observers and experts on the Internet weren’t really expecting much from Newhouse last year — he began the final table with just over seven big blinds — the 29-year-old certainly wanted to do better than ninth.

“I told myself going into it that I wouldn’t care, whatever happens, happens and I wouldn’t be disappointed by it,” said Newhouse. “But the reality was it ended up being pretty devastating. I didn’t prepare myself for it.”

What he didn’t prepare himself for was all the well-intended well wishers he ran into at poker rooms, restaurants, movie theaters — anywhere he went that a poker player or fan recognized him. All of them congratulating Newhouse for finishing ninth.

“(Finishing ninth) was like an absolute disaster. That’s not really what I wanted to hear from anybody. It ended up being the last thing in the world I ever wanted to talk about,” said Newhouse. “I just had so many random people I’ve never met before, all wanting to talk to me about it, congratulate me, tell me what an amazing accomplishment it was. It was like, really, just leave me alone. I don’t want to hear about it.”

Reading that, it’s easy to paint Newhouse as ungrateful but that would be ridiculously unfair. Yes, finishing ninth was worth $733,224 — the second biggest score of his career — but he wasn’t pocketing all of that. He had backers to pay and make-up to pay off. If you want to believe the rumors that followed Newhouse to the 2013 final table, he needed eighth place or better just to make ends meet. Busting in ninth meant his November Nine experience paid nothing. All nine players were paid ninth-place money when they left the Rio in July.

“After somebody finishes ninth … you take four months off, you’ve got all this hype, you’ve got a shot at really big money, everybody’s talking about it, a lot can happen and then all of a sudden it’s just over. You don’t really want to hear about it anymore,” said Newhouse.

Almost a year removed from the “absolute disaster” and Newhouse is a little bit more willing to hear from people who envy his accomplishment.

“Now that I’ve done it again, now you can start talking to me about it again,” said Newhouse. “During the four-month break, that’s when you want to say congratulations.”

Lance Bradley

It also helps that he’s a little bit better off financially, thanks mostly to his ninth-place finish — rumors be damned. Newhouse’s mindset during the last three or four days of this year’s Main Event was completely different. He found himself enjoying the game in a way that he thought he’d lost.

“As I was playing Day 5, 6 and 7, I felt a lot more relaxed this year than I have in previous years or that I felt last year. There’s really more at stake, just getting to the final table this year. I felt a lot more relaxed. I didn’t really care as much. I just kind of wanted to have fun and play poker and whatever happens, happens,” said Newhouse. “(Those days) were the most fun I’ve had in a while. I was probably getting burned out on poker, but being chip leader of the Main Event — it’s hard to not enjoy yourself when that’s going on.”

While Newhouse wasn’t on the 2013 broadcast long, it was long enough for people to learn a little bit more about the North Carolina native. Most casual poker fans probably recognized him, but might have had trouble remembering where from. Look at his tournament results and the memory clicks. In 2006, he won the World Poker Tour’s Borgata Open, earning a little north of $1.5 million. Then just 21 years old, Newhouse was instantly labeled as one of the game’s bright young stars of the future.

Unfortunately, that narrative never really got a footing.

“I was doing pretty well in poker before that. I was winning, playing high stakes Limit Hold’em and didn’t really take the tournaments very seriously at all at the time. In fact, that was the first WPT event I had ever played. I had my head together and was doing well,” said Newhouse, looking back on 2006. “I won that tournament, and now all of a sudden I’ve got $2 million and I just somehow lost it, went on a pretty big losing streak and lost my mind. I wasn’t playing well.”

Living out of a suitcase, traveling from one poker tournament to the next, Newhouse simply no longer treated money with any sort of respect. He was a fresh-faced 21-year-old with a $2 million bankroll and no real understanding of what that meant.

“I did not have any real value for a dollar. I didn’t care after that. Your money’s just not going to last very long when you’re thinking that way,” said Newhouse. The money didn’t last long and Newhouse found himself grinding cash games again, trying to rebuild his game and his bankroll.

One of the people that helped Newhouse during the rough years was former WSOP Main Event champ Huck Seed. When Newhouse made his 2013 Main Event run, Seed was one of the bigger benefactors as he’d bought a significant piece of Newhouse. There was more to it than just a simple business transaction though. There was a real friendship there. During Newhouse’s roughest stretch, Seed took him under his wing and was a crucial player as Newhouse worked his way back up and got his life back in order.

“A couple of years ago he was somewhat of a mentor. He’s a guy who has definitely been through all the ups and downs, he’s a guy that was at the lowest low and managed get out of it and be successful,” said Newhouse. “He’s a good guy to use as an example and to learn some things from. A few years ago, when I was doing really bad, I was renting a house from him in Vegas. It’s hard to really describe in detail everything he did, but I can say I definitely just learned a lot just being around him.”

In the midst of all of this success, Newhouse is able to look back at his time in poker and easily recognize the things he’d do differently. Given the chance to go back now and have a conversation with himself in the moments after the WPT win, he knows exactly what he’d say.

“I’d say take that $2 million and go do something else. That’s a pretty significant amount of money in the real world,” said Newhouse. “Either that or play poker, but keep it fun. Don’t really let it consume your life.”

First place this year pays $10 million. So how does Newhouse make sure he doesn’t just repeat what happened to him early in his career? No longer 21 years old, Newhouse has a wealth of experience to draw on to prevent him from doing things that led to his undoing in 2006 and 2007.

“I’ve grown a lot in the last few years. I don’t really have a way of making sure I’m not repeating anything. I’m actually trying not to put any thought whatsoever into what happens if I win, what happens if I finish third, what happens if I finish fifth — just because I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment,” said Newhouse.

For a lot of poker players of his generation, becoming a famous poker pro was almost as important as becoming a successful poker player. Not so much for Newhouse. He hasn’t played an overwhelming volume of televised events — he has just 15 career cashes — and, outside of making the most difficult final table two years in a row, hasn’t done much to garner any media attention.

“Never really cared about fame,” said Newhouse.

Of course, if things go really well inside the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio, Newhouse is going to become very famous, very suddenly. Winning $10 million and earning the World Champion title live on ESPN will do that. Newhouse has avoided thinking too much about what happens if he outlasts the other eight players.

“I think I’m prepared. I’ve been in the spotlight through a fair amount of my career and know about it, know how to handle it. I think,” said Newhouse. Having been through this once already, Newhouse’s mindset is different for one reason.

“I feel a lot less pressure this year,” said Newhouse. “Now that I’ve done this two years in a row, I’m in a little bit of better spot (financially). But still, a lot can change with every spot I move up.”

Every player who registered for the Main Event this year probably had a conversation or two with family or friends about what they’d do if they won the $10 million. For almost every amateur in the field the answer was probably similar. “Quit my job and play poker for fun all over the world.” Newhouse, with all the trials and tribulations he’s experienced in his career, has a different take.

“I wouldn’t necessarily leave poker, I’d still probably travel around and play tournaments. I have a lot of friends in the poker world, so I’m always going to sort of be a part of this community. But I would definitely get out of the day-to-day cash game grind,” said Newhouse. “So we’ll see what happens and figure the rest out from there. That’s also sort of why I’m just kind of killing time right now. Like, the four-month break? It’s actually getting really old to me.”

Most of the attention heaped on Newhouse since July has been because he’s made back-to-back final tables — the first time anybody has done it in the November Nine era. Dan Harrington is the last player to make the Main Event final table in consecutive years. That was 10 years ago and field sizes were much smaller. Harrington outlasted 3,408 players over the span of two years.

Newhouse had seen that many players fall to the wayside before Day 3 of the 2013 Main Event began. He’s more than happy to let others decide just how impressive his accomplishment is.

“Apparently they say it’s a pretty big accomplishment. I don’t really like to quantify my own accomplishments, if that makes sense. I’ll let other people do the talking for me,” said Newhouse.

For all his talk of wanting the four-month break to be over, for cringing every time somebody patted him on the back for finishing ninth last year, and how this thing he’s pulled off is for others to judge him on, Newhouse is acutely aware of just how fortunate he is to be back in this spot.

“You know, these opportunities for most people don’t come up that often. I’m lucky enough to get a second shot at real life-changing money here. I know that this next two days of poker in November can really change a lot of things for me,” said Newhouse. “I know it’s very important, so I can definitely appreciate it. It’s like years of work and years of stress and being down, it can all change in a matter of these next two days of poker. Hopefully I’m going to do well with it.”