Marc Goodwin is one of the UK’s most successful pros, but four years ago he was grinding out a living as a double-glazing salesman
Marc Goodwin is the centre of attention, and he’s loving it. Immaculately dressed in a sharp beige jacket and tan shoes, the self-styled ‘Mr Cool’ is revelling in his role as InsidePoker’s cover star as our photographer gives orders for a pose. Satisfied he has the relevant angles covered for our opening spread, the snapper tells Goodwin to relax. ‘I need some normal-looking shots,’ he says. ‘Normal?’ scoffs Goodwin. ‘That was normal pal… I’m naturally cool.’
It’s a tongue-in-cheek comment, of course. Goodwin, flanked by his wife and young daughter, offers no sign of his alter ego Mr Cool. He is welcoming and easygoing – keen to throw in a touch of storytelling as he is ushered from one corner of our hotel suite to another. It’s a refreshing mood, because in many ways it would be understandable if the 48-year-old came across as slightly unplayable. Wherever you look in Goodwin’s presence his wealth is on full display, from the Breitling watch that weighs heavily on his wrist to the jewelled belt buckle bearing his famous poker moniker.
But Goodwin’s warm nature is a reminder of his background and former lifestyle – not to mention what he had to do to forge a career in today’s poker world. ‘I was selling double glazing four years ago,’ he tells me. ‘Doing stuff like photoshoots and interviews is a walk in the park for me. I really enjoy it. I just wish I could have done all this 20 years earlier.’
Today, Marc Goodwin is one of the UK’s most recognisable poker players. His recent victory in the GUKPT Manchester leg reinstated his position as one of the game’s most popular figureheads. But while there’s little argument about what Goodwin brings to the table, it should be remembered that poker has been good to him. Chauffeur-driven in a Quattroporte Maserati he looks every inch the high- roller, and his multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with MANSION Poker suggests the wife and five kids will be smiling for some time.
Goodwin’s poker – and financial – renaissance came in late 2005, after years of making ends meet with his day job as a commission-based double-glazing salesman. It was, of course, a life-changing moment, coming on one of the biggest poker stages of all: the Monte Carlo Millions. But his real poker break had actually come three years earlier, when he was acting as a consultant on a part-time basis for Playtech (now known as iPoker). Goodwin had helped set up an affiliate deal with online operator USA Poker. In return, USA Poker was keen to get their man out onto the tournament circuit, wearing their colours – perhaps using a touch of that salesman magic to spread the word.
Goodwin recalls: ‘USA Poker came to me and said: “Do you want to be a poker player?” They wanted me to go out and play for them and asked if I knew anyone else who could play. Of course I did, but by that time, most of the best players had been snapped up. I told them that I wanted to do it, but I didn’t know how because I couldn’t afford to give up the day job.’
Despite the pressures of keeping his nine-to-five life, it was to prove an all too tempting opportunity for the Birmingham man. He took a chance, and his decision almost instantly paid off, as Goodwin finished runner-up in a 2005 heads-up circuit event in Barcelona. ‘I beat Carlos Mortensen in that event,’ he says, sensing my reaction to his victory over a man who won the WSOP main event in 2001 and who today remains the only player to have recorded a WPT and WSOP World Championship double. ‘I didn’t even know who he was. Then I went and played in the Monte Carlo Millions – and that changed everything.’
The event – remembered for the infamous bluff hand played between Phil Ivey and Paul Jackson – carried a first- place prize of $ 1 million. It would be loose change to eventual winner Ivey, but dream money to the likes of Goodwin. Hitting the final table alone carried a minimum cash of $ 100,000. In the event of getting that deep, Goodwin knew he would be facing a crossroads: stay and play or go back to the day job.
‘It wasn’t working out,’ Goodwin says, who admits to taking time off as holiday to play in Monte Carlo, only for his stay to overrun as he went deep in the $ 25k main event. ‘I had appointments booked, but then I had to ring up and cancel those because I kept on going in the tournament. Then I made the final table. I had my boss ringing up, shouting: “You were supposed to be back a couple of days ago! You’ve got appointments. Either leave and come back now, or you’re sacked.” I thought that was a bit severe. I had been with the company for 15 years. My boss told me it was my choice. It was a dilemma because if I stayed and came last, it was $ 100k. That’s not enough for long-term stability.’
Goodwin’s decision to stay has of course proved the right one. While he may not have threatened Ivey’s crown, or even made it to the heads-up battle, a third-place finish and a cash of $ 325,000 enabled him to justify his decision to the family. But even now, he maintains it was no easy decision for him.
‘I was being realistic,’ he says with a stern expression. ‘I do live in a bit of a dream world, but when you have a house, bills to pay and kids to feed, you have to think about every angle. I knew that $ 100,000 – basically £50,000 – was not going to go far. I may not win another poker tournament. How long would these guys [USA Poker] keep sponsoring me? I couldn’t afford to pay myself. No chance. Look at today’s climate of buy-ins! I wouldn’t pay $ 25k out my own pocket to play in a poker tournament. Never! So I was stuck, but yeah, it was the right decision.’
With 2005 drawing to its close, Goodwin was now a full-time poker player, with sponsorship. But better was still to come, and in late 2006, online giants MANSION came knocking for his services with a staggering offer to join their stable of pros. ‘I must have one of the best sponsorship deals out there,’ says Goodwin with something approaching a smirk. ‘They buy me in to all the tournaments and have fantastic resources behind them. But the whole thing goes beyond that; the time it really hits you that you are a professional poker player is on a Monday morning at 10am. I can do what I want. Go and play golf, spend time with the kids. That’s when you realise how fortunate you are.’
Marc Goodwin was born in the leafy suburb of Selly Oak on the outskirts of Birmingham city centre in 1960. As a child, he excelled at the private grammar school his father paid for him to attend. A bright future was expected. But Goodwin admits to ‘drifting’ after leaving college. He ended up stacking shelves in a supermarket and painting railings to help pay the bills.
Like most of his peers, he confesses to being a ‘sick gambler’ from an early age – a point he is keen to reiterate throughout our meeting. ‘Everything has to be a gamble,’ he says. ‘Poker players need that fix. Someone once said that adrenaline is the champagne of all drugs. Well, the kind of champagne we get is from a gamble that hurts. You have to gamble beyond what you should do. The biggest winners are the biggest gamblers. And the biggest winners have all gone broke.’
It’s hard to argue with his point. Prop- betting tales fly relentlessly around the tournament circuit among the game’s big guns. Goodwin is no stranger to the scene: ‘Myself and Ram Vaswani were playing £50,000 a hole at golf once. I remember Roland [de Wolfe], Ram and I had an argument about the button and its value at Omaha and hold’em. We ended up playing $ 20,000 a game heads- up, just to prove a point.’
The most infamous of Goodwin’s bets concerns a game of golf he and Ram Vaswani played against Phil Ivey in Australia in early 2007. Ivey won a six-figure sum off Goodwin, but the game ended up in a dispute over Ivey’s handicap and caused a furore online. It was finally resolved (amicably Goodwin insists) by an arbitration of some fellow pros. Goodwin says the ruling was that although they were ‘hustled’ they should pay. But a year on he doesn’t look back on it with anger. Losing so big it hurts is one of the things that goes with being a big gambler.
Gambling has always been a part of Goodwin’s life, and his education came in one of the toughest environments in the country. While his early gambling fix came at school when he would dabble in horse betting, his introduction to poker arrived when he was 18, playing three- card brag in Birmingham’s notoriously gamble-heavy casino, The Rainbow. Goodwin would earn his stripes among such names as Dave Colclough, Dave Ulliott and Lucy Rokach. But despite showing early promise in a mixture of poker variants – most notably pot-limit Omaha – it was through his skills as a fearless blackjack player that Goodwin first found success. ‘I travelled the world playing blackjack,’ he recalls. ‘I earned good money from playing until I was barred from everywhere.’
Such was his form that, throughout his early twenties, Goodwin admits to having a cash bankroll of up to £250,000 as a result of his success at the blackjack tables. But his winnings meant very little to his parents, who struggled to come to terms with his lifestyle. Their concerns were not unfounded. Less than a year after one of his biggest runs in the game, Goodwin was broke.
‘I remember going to the golf course once and I didn’t have enough money for beans on toast,’ he says with a head scratch and a pause for breath. ‘I thought the money would last forever. I was unemployed, on the dole picking up £40 a week and I couldn’t see any way back. My parents were not gamblers. Understandably, they detested it.’
It was around this time that Goodwin also became involved in the legendary cash games at the city’s notorious Barry’s Club. It was the early eighties. At the time, Barry’s was home to perhaps the biggest game in the country, frequented by gamblers who were not shy of breaking a man’s financial spirit. It was a period of Goodwin’s life where he would be forced to scratch around – a win here, a loss there. Out of the action for several weeks, he would somehow find a way back in. There were other dangers; gambling heavily on pool and blackjack – not to mention being held up at gunpoint. Such a lifestyle was not sustainable, especially when he married his wife Sandra and family life loomed.
Goodwin adds: ‘With no money, and I mean real money, there was no way back into the big game at Barry’s. You needed serious money to stay on top – about £20,000 to play there. I had kids on the way, so I got a job. It had to be done.’
For the next 15 years, Goodwin would work full-time until he was thrown his poker lifeline in 2002. He earned a healthy living from his day job. He had the company car and phone, although he claims to have always lived beyond his means. ‘We had credit cards building up and I was kind of trapped in that job. There’s no real way to turn when you’re in that position. I wanted to leave and do something better, but before I knew it, a large part of my life had gone.’
After Monte Carlo, Goodwin played consistently throughout 2006 but failed to net that one big win. His ambassadorial duties with MANSION meant he was never far away from the limelight. And although a dry run at the tables followed in 2007, his return to form in 2008 – where at the time of writing he has already bagged $ 272,364 in tournament winnings – has propelled him back into poker’s premier league.
MR NICE GUY
As a professional player, there is little doubt that Goodwin holds the right cards. He is respected as a person first and foremost and his charismatic yet genuine nature sits well in a world of cocky self-publicists. And although he carries something of a ‘Flash Harry’ persona, his appreciation of his former life has kept his attitude healthy. It’s something that undoubtedly encouraged MANSION to renew his monster contract at the start of this year.
‘MANSION feel comfortable with me,’ he says. ‘I’ve been in sales and worked with people for years. I understand the etiquette of it, what you can and cannot say. It’s probably because I’m older and have done a lot more than these young players. I enjoy doing the corporate thing. I don’t think it’s below me.’
Goodwin also offers a down-to-earth take on today’s game and the new breed of pros. ‘A lot of people get so far up their arses that they think it’s a lot more than a game of cards,’ he adds with a rare touch of menace. ‘But that’s all it is. At the end of the day I could make all the wrong decisions – mathematically incorrect, game-theory incorrect – but still beat you.
And while I’ve got that I’m always going to believe I can beat anyone. I could go to a pub league and some guy with A-4 will beat my Kings and go screaming around. It happens. Poker has always been the same.’
When it comes to offering advice to those aspiring to follow in his footsteps, Goodwin’s response is simple. In his own words, you need ‘the balls to go through with it’. ‘It’s not easy,’ he says, ‘but you have to have big balls. I had responsibility, bills to pay. But if you can do it, if you feel you have the game to do it, you just have to take that chance.’
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