I can’t think of a better word to describe what just happened at this year’s WSOP Main Event.
Anyone with a modicum of interest in the poker world probably already knows that Mark Newhouse has become the first player since the November Nine era began to make the final table twice, doing so in consecutive years.
“So what?” you say. After all, didn’t other players go so far as to win back-to-back titles?
While that very well may be true, the circumstances have changed dramatically. So much so, I’d argue that Newhouse’s accomplishment ranks as the greatest in WSOP history.
Allow me to explain. But first, a look behind the man who achieved the impossible.
So just who is Mark Newhouse?
Mark was born on March 11, 1985 and spent his formative years in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. But it wouldn’t be until he enrolled at Appalachian State University that Newhouse would discover poker.
After learning the ropes at small-stakes home games, Newhouse – like so many other young guns of that era – started mixing it up online. Possessing a natural affinity for the game, young Mark would quickly move up the online ranks, and within months was crushing all but the highest-stakes Limit Hold’em games.
Mark (again, like so many others of his generation) would ultimately leave college after a year-and-a-half to pursue a full-time career in poker. This seemingly audacious move would pay off almost immediately.
At the tender age of 21, Mark won his first and only title – the 2006 Borgata Poker Open WPT Championship event – locking up a cool $1.52 million in the process.
Then came the fallout.
Throughout the next several years the high-flying Newhouse traveled the WSOP and WPT circuits in search of a second major title. But outside of winning a couple of satellites and a sole local tournament, the success he enjoyed in 2006 would elude him.
Dampening matters further, Mark proved irresponsible with his money, and before long found himself in severe debt. By his own admission, “[I] completely lost my mind, blew it all and got myself buried in debt.”
But with age comes maturity, and by 2013 Newhouse had gained the composure necessary to survive in the poker world.
In July 2013 Mark, along with 6,300 other hopefuls, registered for the WSOP. His historic victory from 2006 all but forgotten, Newhouse was regarded as an unknown quantity at the tables. At least, that is until he maneuvered his way to the November Nine.
Newhouse entered the 2013 WSOP Final Table last in chips, and despite doubling up early, would fall to eventual winner Ryan Riess’s shortly after.
But with the more than $733k he won for his finish, Mark was able to pay off his remaining debts, finally putting the remnants of his reckless past to bed.
And now, after what started out as a rather dismal WSOP in which he failed to cash a single event before the Main, Newhouse finds himself back on poker’s biggest stage as a return member of the November Nine.
How Newhouse’s accomplishment stacks up
When I think of the greatest WSOP Main Event heroics, five accomplishments come to mind:
- Doyle Brunson winning back-to-back titles in 1976 and 1977
- Johhny Chan doing the same in 1987 and 1988, and finishing runner-up to Phil Hellmuth in 1989
- Stu Unger winning the title in 1980 and 1981, and then coming back after years of cocaine addiction to win a third title in 1997
- “Action” Dan Harrington winning the title in 1995 and making back-to-back final table appearances in 2003 and 2004, finishing third and fourth, respectively.
- Greg Raymer winning the title in 2004 and then finishing 25th out of 5,619 entrants in 2005.
That’s quite the list. But even if Newhouse only repeats his ninth place finish this November, his feat arguably trumps all of them – for exactly two reasons:
- Modern WSOP Main Event fields are gigantic, typically eclipsing 6,000 players.
- Today’s players are far more skilled.
Doyle Brunson, arguably the best No Limit player of the past generation, defeated fields of 22 and 34 en route to the title. Stu Unger – fields of 73, 75 and 312.
Chan had a bit of a tougher road, ousting 151 others in 1987 and 166 in 1988. And certainly his near win in 1989, where he outlasted 176 runners, cannot be discounted.
Harrington’s feat is even more notable, if only because it occurred during the infancy of the poker boom. Still, “Action” Dan only traversed a field of 839 in 2003, although there’s no denying how impressive his fourth place finish (out of a field of 2,576) was in 2004.
Then there’s Raymer, who outlasted Harrington for the title in 2004, before making a legendary run at becoming the first defending champion to win a second title since Johnny Chan – a feat they say will probably never be accomplished again.
Finally, we have Newhouse, who finished in 9th out of 6,352 players in 2013 and at least ninth (given his big stack and experience, presumably much higher) out of 6,683 in 2014.
Tough call. Let’s see what the math has to say.
Assuming all WSOP entrants are of equal skill (which they’re not), these are the percentage chances each player on our list had of doing what they did.
- Brunson’s back-to-back titles: 1 in 748
- Chan’s near three peat: 1 in 2,258,824
- Unger’s back-to-back titles: 1 in 5,474
- Harrington’s consecutive third and fourth place finishes: 1 in 180,088
- Raymer’s feat in 2004-05: 1 in 579,006
Based purely on statistics, Chan’s miraculous effort to become a three time champion, despite much smaller fields, still stacks up as the most unfathomable WSOP Main Event feat of all time.
Did Newhouse lay a worse beating on Chan than Matt Damon did when he 5-bet bluffed him in Rounders?
Not yet. From a purely statistical standpoint, the odds of Newhouse finishing ninth last year and at least ninth this year are 1 in 524,079 – about on par with Raymer’s accomplishment, but nowhere near Chan’s.
But should Newhouse win, those odds would skyrocket to 1 in 4,716,967, blowing Chan’s mark out of the water by a more than two-to-one margin.
Which means Mark would have to finish at least second to front the list of most improbable feats in WSOP history.
No pressure or anything.
But let’s consider that most of today’s elite players have ready access to poker books, training videos, television broadcasts and software, not to mention the ability to put in massive amounts of volume online. Shouldn’t Newhouse gain some brownie points for navigating a sea of sharks?
Comparatively, the fields Chan and Harrington wader through were as soft as a newborn puppy. Sure there were some decent old-school pros in the field, but back then the amateurs didn’t stand a chance. Not like today.
Given this extra variable, I’m all but convinced that what Newhouse did in the past two years is just about the greatest WSOP Main Event story ever told, and that’s before a single card is dealt this November.