Most people playing for $10 million in a poker tournament might be a touch on the nervous side.
If Mark Newhouse was any calmer, he might be dozing off.
“I’m not really thinking about it much,” Newhouse said as he relaxed at the Rio Hotel and Resort on Saturday afternoon. “Last year it was a big deal, something worth celebrating.”
A Chapel Hill native who resides in Los Angeles, Newhouse has pulled off the incredible feat of making the final table at the World Series of Poker’s No Limit Hold’em Main Event for two years running – besting more than 12,000 players during that span.
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Newhouse is third among the event’s final nine players who will begin play Monday night. The final two will resume action Tuesday night with a $10 million first-place prize at stake. The tournament will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Monday (ESPN2) with the final set for 9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN).
“This year there’s really no anticipation,” said Newhouse, who was the first player eliminated in last year’s November Nine. “Last year was emotionally devastating. This time I’m in a position to do much better. I’m not stressed this time, I’m very relaxed. Life’s kind of on hold waiting for this big day.”
After winning his first big tournament and $1.5 million at age 21, Newhouse learned a hard lesson every poker player learns – when the cards go cold, the money goes away. Even the best players go broke several times.
“I’ve gotten used to not letting things get to me,” he said. “I think I’m a lot more disciplined now than when I was younger. I feel I’ve lost a lot of my animal instinct since then. But I can still find it when I need it.”
Newhouse qualified for the final table in July and has kept a low profile since. He attended a music festival in Europe and recently vacationed in Hawaii. In contrast to last year, he has not played a hand of poker since July.
In keeping with his personality, Newhouse has not scouted his opponents other than watching the ESPN broadcasts.
“I’m just going in there and going to play the best poker I can and do the best I can in any situation,” he said. “I’ll try and bust a few people.”
Several family members and friends will be rooting him on at the Rio’s Penn & Teller Theater.
“ESPN gave me 120 tickets for the audience and 10 tickets for the stage,” he said. “I’ll be spending most of my time the next two days giving those out.”
In Las Vegas, Newhouse is listed at 4-1 odds to win the tournament. He trails only event leader Jorryt van Hoof and second-place Felix Stephenson in chip counts.
One observer who has been impressed with Newhouse is ESPN analyst Norman Chad.
“He’s obviously laid-back and I think his attitude has helped him this year,” Chad said. “When he has chips he’s a dangerous man. Mark is more of an instinct guy – he senses when to pull the trigger and when not to.”
When asked about Newhouse making back-to-back final tables, Chad was flabbergasted.
“It’s beyond remarkable that he’s even here,” he said. “It happened – and it’s still not possible.”