Friday, November 14, 2014

Newhouse’s Ninth (Second Movement)

Back in mid-July when I was churning out preview articles during the World Series of Poker Main Event, I noted before the start of Day 4 how of the 746 players remaining, the only November Niner from 2013 left in the field was Mark Newhouse.

I made a reference in that day’s preview to Dan Harrington’s back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004, stubbornly suggesting the possibility that Newhouse could be the first since then to achieve the feat despite his being 131st of the 746 in the counts. I was as amazed as everyone else to see him sticking around through the next three days’ worth of poker -- even leading at the end of Day 5 with 79 left -- to make it to the final table again.

In 2013 he was eighth of nine to start the final table, and so his ninth-place finish wasn’t too unexpected. This year he was third in chips with nine to go, encouraging most to expect a deeper run.

On Monday night he’d suffer a setback in Hand #44 versus Andoni Larrabe. In that one Newhouse held pocket eights, but lost after Larrabe turned a set with his pocket fives -- a hand nicknamed “presto,” also the tempo performance direction of the second movement of Beethoven’s ninth.

As it would happen, Newhouse would choose a speedy pace thereafter in what would prove his final hand.

Newhouse would get back what he lost to Larrabe and then some right away, chipping back to 23.7 million (47 BBs) just a few hands before his showdown with William Tonking in Hand #56.

I’d been following the updates on PokerNews beforehand, and so knew when watching the hand develop what was about to happen. Was still suspenseful to see play out, though, in that oh-no-don’t-go-in-there-that’s-where-the-boogeyman-is kind of way. Particularly during the 10-second interval between Tonking’s river check and Newhouse’s fateful shove.

Newhouse had another middle pair -- pocket tens -- in the hand, and would bust in ninth when Tonking called his shove holding pocket queens. As it would happen, Martin Jacobson would be holding two tens as well in the hand that won him the bracelet a night later.

Jonathan Grotenstein has written an entertaining account of the final table for All In that touches on Newhouse’s story (among others). He notes the contrast between the extensive preparation of the other Niners over the last four months and the hiatus from poker taken by Newhouse, a time spent “doing his best not to think about anything at all.”

Speaking with several non-poker playing friends the last few days about what happened in the Main Event, Newhouse’s story is the easiest one to foreground. That would be true even if he weren’t from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, making his story kind of a “local” story, too.

Chapel Hill’s Mark Newhouse stunned after early elimination at World Series of Poker” went the headline in The Charlotte Observer. The article describes him as “the man who said he wanted to finish anywhere but ninth,” though doesn’t mention that incredible-in-retrospect tweet from Newhouse from back in July (see left).

I tell my friends about how remarkable it was for Newhouse to make the final nine of 6,352 one year then do it again in a field of 6,693 the next, never mind to finish ninth both times. Searching for analogies to help describe going out first at the final table both years, I reach initially for the Buffalo Bills’ four straight Super Bowl defeats, another example of an incredible achievement ending in defeat. Or the Patriots going 18-0 and then losing Super Bowl XLII.

But neither seems quite right as a comparison. Newhouse’s second straight ninth-place finish in the WSOP Main Event is a unique feat, a wonder highlighting poker’s capacity not only to provide us with a head-spinning number of possible outcomes but sometimes also to produce the one result that would seem the least likely of all.

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