Commentary

Newhouse's long road to redemption

Updated: October 23, 2013, 11:35 AM ET
By Bernard Lee | ESPN.com

Watch Mark Newhouse's journey to the WSOP main event final table every Tuesday night on ESPN.

The 2003 World Series of Poker changed the face of poker forever. After an accountant from Tennessee inconceivably defeated a field of 839 players in the main event, the poker world exploded to what is known today as "The Moneymaker Effect."

From 2004 to 2006, poker tournaments were set ablaze. Buy-in events of $10,000 were as commonplace as today's $1,600 events, with first-prize payouts regularly in seven figures. During this time frame, the World Poker Tour held 23 events with $10,000 or larger buy-ins within North America; 22 of them offered a top prize of more than $1 million. At the WSOP, the 2006 main event had the largest field in its illustrious history with 8,773 players, almost 10 times 2003's field, with a first prize of $12 million.

During the past two seasons on the WPT, there have been only nine tournaments with buy-ins of $10,000 or more, with just five of them having first prize at least $1 million. The industry has come back down to earth.

[+] EnlargeMark Newhouse
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonMark Newhouse enters the WSOP main event final table eighth in chips.

One of the contributing factors that began to temper this growth was the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIEGA), which was passed at the end of September 2006. The UIGEA was a precursor to poker's most recent setback, Black Friday in April 2011, which devastated the U.S. poker economy. The previous major tournament before the UIGEA was the WPT Borgata Poker Open, held Sept. 15-19. With 545 entrants, the first prize was $1,519,020, and the winner was a 21-year-old from North Carolina, who previously had made his first final table in his first major tournament at the 2006 WSOP. The future looked extremely bright for this young rising poker star.

However, Mark Newhouse was about to begin a major downward spiral, which lasted nearly five years. After constant struggles and attempts at self-improvements, Newhouse may finally be on the road to redemption after making the 2013 November Nine.

Newhouse became interested in poker watching Chris Moneymaker win the WSOP. Under the moniker "Newhizzle," he began playing online, which inevitably consumed him during his time at Appalachian State University.

"I went to college for two semesters," Newhouse said. "The second one really all I did was sit in my room and only played online [at Party Poker]. I had two big months in a row, winning over $100,000 [playing $100/$200] and just decided that this is what I wanted to do. I went out to LA, started playing at the Commerce and haven't really looked back."

In Los Angeles, Newhouse became a regular winning player, sitting down anywhere between $300/$600 to as high as $800/$1,600 limit hold 'em. For more than a year, he ran well, with limited downswings in his bankroll.

During summer 2006, Newhouse traveled to the WSOP with a primary focus of playing in the limit cash games. His good run continued as he final-tabled the first tournament he ever entered ($3,000 limit hold 'em) and after besting more than 330 players, Newhouse came up short of the coveted bracelet, finishing in fifth place for $56,470.

"At that time, a [WSOP] bracelet really did not mean much to me at all," he said. "I was just out there playing cash games, limit hold 'em at the Bellagio. I figured this is my game, I might as well play this tournament and see what happens."

After a successful summer, Newhouse continued to follow the cash games at the tournament stops.

"That was a time that everyone traveled the WPT circuit. Wherever the tournament was, that was where the cash games were," Newhouse said. "So, I went to Atlantic City without the intention of playing in [the main event] …somewhere around 5 in the morning the night before the tournament, I was playing in $200/$400 game and it broke. Me and two other people from the game decided to play in a satellite. I won it. I did not sleep and went in to play the tournament."

Playing in his first WPT main event and only his second big buy-in event (he played the 2006 WSOP main event) didn't excite him. "I really didn't care about the tournament. I did not take it seriously at all. I was really just sitting there having fun, trying to outplay everyone every hand and just trying to run everyone over and it worked."

Even though he had a mound of chips later in the tournament, Newhouse was still more focused on the cash games than the tournament itself.

"By Day 3, I remember I had a lot of chips and I remember there was a really good $500/$1,000 game going. Everyone was telling me I needed to go to sleep and take the tournament seriously. I didn't care about the tournament. In my mind, I thought if I get lucky in this tournament I could win $20,000, where in the cash game I could win $50,000."

Still not realizing the gravity of situation, Newhouse completed his unforgettable triumph by claiming the WPT title and first prize of more than $1.5 million. The moment finally sunk in when he was holding the bricks of money in his hands, as it was more about the money than the fame.

"That was big," he said. "Before that, I was doing well in poker that year. That was a huge boost [to my bankroll]. It got me up to $2 million."

His future looked limitless. He was the newest young gun on the poker scene. He had just won a WPT main event title, which was must-see TV on the Travel Channel in 2006. He already had made a WSOP final table. Mark Newhouse was on top of the poker world.

His youthful innocence would not allow him to enjoy this success for long. A combination of bankroll mismanagement, ego, and most importantly, losing the value of money, became the turning point for his fall from grace.

"Before the tournament, everything was looking up," he said. "After that tournament, I was traveling around a little bit ... I was sort of brand new on the poker scene ... I just kind of somehow started to lose my mind and deciding to set all my money on fire ... I spent a lot of money, as there was some partying, too ... but it was mostly poker. I was playing really big and playing against anybody who would play."

Newhouse's mental state quickly deteriorated, yet he still decided to move up to $1,000/$2,000 and as high as $1,500/$3000 games.

"My head was not in the right place. I was not playing well," Newhouse said. "I guess I was playing just to gamble and have fun than actually take it seriously and make money. At some point I had lost so much that I did not care anymore ... I remember that once I got down to $400,000, I just felt so incredibly broke. I felt like it was worthless. What's the point of this last [$400,000], let's light it on fire."

After about a year, Newhouse blew through his $2 million bankroll, leading to the nadir of his life.

"I started borrowing, asking people for help. And that's how you find yourself buried in a hole ... After I first went broke, I started firing off other people's money. I wasn't conscious, was the way to describe it. ... It took a couple years of running out of outs and no one doing anything for me."

Finally, he found salvation in some of his poker friends, pros Joe Cassidy and Huck Seed.

"I think they really helped me change my mindset a lot and learn discipline and get in the right frame of mind to be successful and try to start doing things in a better way. ... A lot of it has to do with you needing to re-teach yourself the value of a dollar. You have to learn to not rely on anyone else."

Upon self-reflection, Newhouse believed his lack of discipline and inexperience in the world were the main factors for his decline.

"There are a lot of life lessons that you can learn by being engulfed in this world that you can't really learn anywhere else," he said. "And you have to make mistakes and sort of go through hardships to learn those lessons. Bankroll management is big. Not having an ego and thinking you're better than everyone else. Part of it has to do with not trusting every person you meet. A lot of it is emotional stability, also being able to quit a game losing. ... In the end, you really have to be conscious, need to be disciplined."

By 2010, Newhouse believed he was climbing out of his hole. While getting himself in the right frame of mind, he also began to appreciate the value of a dollar again. On the tournament trail, he made a deep run in the 2011 WSOP main event, which ended painfully in 182nd at the hands of Pius Heinz.

After making many mistakes deep in tournaments in the past few years, Newhouse decided to use a different, yet somewhat simplistic strategy in 2013.

"Throughout the whole tournament, my goal was always to play five levels and get through the day. And you do that enough times, all of a sudden it's Day 6 and you see them tearing down all the tables, especially with the main event, the structure is so slow. You don't try to win the tournament right away. I absolutely wanted to get past where I made it in 2011. Once I got past 182nd, I was already satisfied. I believe I went into Day 5 with about the same amount of chips in 2011. I told myself, I have to be conscious. I will not make these mistakes that I have consistently made deep in tournaments."

Newhouse, along with 26 other players, made it to Day 7, all competing for the most coveted final table in all of poker, the November Nine. He began that final day short, but it was just a precursor to an incredible roller-coaster ride.

"Day 7 was a crazy day for me," he said. "I started out short-stacked. Then I was chip leader at one point and then short-stacked again. I feel that I had a dinner break at the perfect moment. If I had not had that 90 minutes, I probably would have shot off whatever chips I had left. Now, it was time to really, really, really slow down and pretend that I'm playing a satellite and my only goal is to make the November Nine."

Entering the final 10 players, he had a clear target on his forehead with only had six big blinds. He finally got his chips all-in against Sylvain Loosli holding A-6 to the Frenchman's Q-4.

"All of the times that I had been all-in in the tournament, I never got up from my seat and never got nervous. But this hand, I was really shook, I was frozen. I needed that hand to hold."

It did. After the elimination of 2001 WSOP main event champion Carlos Mortensen, Newhouse made it through and sits in eighth with 7.35 million in chips, about 18 big blinds.

As he prepares for the big day, he will take the approach that has led him back to the top of the poker world.

"The plan is not play a whole lot of poker," he said. "The plan is to try to enjoy myself. I feel the best thing I could possibly do is go on vacation, be happy and go in with a right frame of mind and be ready to win."

After all of his trials and tribulations the past several years, Newhouse finds himself in a second moment on the felt that can define his life once again.

"This is as big as it gets. I got a real shot at really seriously changing my life right now and solely redeeming myself," he said.

Regardless, just his appearance at this final table has him on the right track. Newhouse knows what it's like to be on top of the poker world and if he's able to come through next month, he won't let a second chance at a positive legacy slip away.

Bernard Lee is a columnist for ESPN.com and the co-host of ESPN Inside Deal. Since finishing 13th in the 2005 WSOP Main Event, Lee has earned over $2 million in career earnings, including three poker titles. Along with his contributions to ESPN.com, Bernard is the weekly poker columnist for the Boston Herald and also the host of a weekly poker radio show in Boston, "The Bernard Lee Poker Show".

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