Mark Newhouse knows a thing or two about the emotional highs and lows of playing in the World Series of Poker.  The 29-year-old professional poker player now residing in Los Angeles was one of the famed November Nine in last year’s Main Event.  However, the North Carolina native and former Appalachian State University student lasted barely more than an hour once play resumed in the fall, becoming the first player eliminated at the final table.

Since that ninth-place finish, which paid a handsome $733,224, Newhouse’s roller coaster ride has continued.  At the moment, he’s back near the top, resting comfortably within the top-50 ranked players in chips in the 2014 WSOP Main Event.  As the only 2013 November Niner remaining in this year’s field, the heat of the media spotlight is likely to intensify on the player who’s eager to make it back for a chance to become the first repeat finalist in history.

While all the past World Champions now out of the tournament (Huck Seed was the last to fall, just shy of making the money), and fewer recognizable faces in the field with each passing hour, Newhouse knows what’s ahead for those who survive over the next few days.  Everything becomes magnified.

This year, Newhouse thinks he’s even better prepared.  Even though he admits he hasn’t played that many poker tournaments lately, choosing instead to focus more on cash games, the break gives him a fresh new perspective.  He’s also convinced he’s a better player now than he was 12 months ago when he made his big run.

“Throughout any poker player’s career, you’re always progressing,” Newhouse said.  “If you’re not, then you’re falling behind.  That’s just the way it is.”

True to his reputation as a player willing to make moves and risk his tournament life at any moment, Newhouse factored heavily into the storyline surrounding the last few eliminations before reaching the money in this year’s Main Event.  With 695 players remaining, and just 693 of them guaranteed to finish in the money, Newhouse faced John Dwyer in one of the most exciting hands played in the tournament so far. 
Dwyer started the hand with plenty of chips, around 220,000 to be exact (blinds were 2,500-5,000).  He was dealt pocket queens and flopped a queen, for a set.  Newhouse had more than three times as many chips as Dwyer, at about 600,000 when the critical hand as dealt.  Newhouse was dealt pocket fives, and flopped a five, meaning both players flopped sets.  This would normally have been great news for Dwyer, but another five fell on the turn, giving Newhouse four-of-a-kind, a powerhouse hand.  The river didn’t help either player and when Newhouse shoved all-in on after the last card was dealt, Dwyer faced a tough decision (it’s important to note an ace and king were also on board, meaning Newhouse could have held a bigger full house).  Dwyer tanked for a while and then finally called.  When the cards were turned up, the horror of seeing quad-fives meant Dwyer’s Main Event was over.

“I’m really surprised he took that long to call,” Newhouse said afterward.  “He knows my range of hands is pretty wide there and I’ve more than got him covered.  So, with queens-full he really has to call there.  He has no other option.  I think me made the right call.  Of course, there was no way for him to expect me have quad-fives.”

With that, Newhouse is certainly in the running and now primed perfectly to go even deeper.  That said, he’s not content with merely cashing this time around.  Incredibly, Newhouse won’t even be satisfied with making the November Nine again this year, even though it means becoming the first ever to accomplish that feat.  

“No way, let’s gamble,” Newhouse said when asked if he be satisfied with just a top-20 finish.

When pressed further and asked if he’d be content with finishing ninth again, since that will pay $730,725, nearly the amount he collected last year, Newhouse was adamant.

“I refuse to finish ninth again,” Newhouse said laughing.  “It’s almost better to finish tenth.  I said, almost.  Getting paid right away and then taking four months off, and then coming back again ready to play and make a lot more money – finishing ninth is really brutal.  I don’t know what’s worse for someone, finishing ninth or tenth.  Those are the two spots where you don’t want to finish.”

So, is Newhouse destined to top his ninth-place finish from last year and make history?

“I’m ready.  I feel it,” Newhouse said.