UK big name pro Mark Goodwin is the silent assassin of poker so we found out how he does it: “I don’t worry about anyone that I play against and I believe in my own ability, but every single time I play I learn something and I improve”

We find out how a big win in Monte Carlo catapulted ‘Mr Cool’ Mark Goodwin into the big league

A bunch of guys are good-humouredly bickering on the first tee of a north London golf course about how much money they’re going to bet on each hole. They look familiar, and when you hear what they’re planning to play for – $20,000, possibly even $50,000 a hole – you realise why. These are some of poker’s biggest gamblers – Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Barry Greenstein and Ram Vaswani – all of whom fancy themselves as contenders for the Ryder Cup.

But the focus is on a lesserknown man, dark-haired, slim, 47 years old. It’s clear he’s the best player (actually he plays off a handicap of one) and the others are determined to weight the game accordingly. Eventually the action gets under way. It’s theoretically possible to lose over $300,000 during the next two or three hours, but, of course, Marc Goodwin – the dark-haired guy – won’t. He’s already about $600,000 up on these players from earlier games, because he’s not only a good player but fearless. And that goes for his poker, too.

A few days later he’s the only Brit playing in the richest cash game of poker ever filmed in Europe. All the players have to put down $100,000 to play and only half of Marc’s buy-in will come from his sponsor, USA Poker. He’s putting up the rest himself. This is risky stuff, because also with him at the table are a bunch of players who form a who’s who of world poker. In addition to Ivey, Hansen and Greenstein, there is Howard Lederer, Erik Seidel, Jennifer Harman, John Juanda, Mike Matusow, Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Tony G.

This is Full Tilt’s Million Dollar Cash Game (you can see it on Sky Sports in January) and Marc (who eventually wins about $60,000) is there because he’s the only Brit with the nerve to put up the money. This confidence comes from an amazing year that at one point saw him top the European rankings (he’s currently third), and could still see him supercede fellow Midlander Mickey Wernick as European No. 1.

Path of glory

It’s been an extraordinary ride to fame and fortune for Goodwin. He was born in Birmingham and, like his friends Paul ‘Action Jack’ Jackson and Mickey ‘The Legend’ Wernick, he talks in an uncompromising, Midlands accent. He had a top quality grammar school education, is clearly as bright as a button, but couldn’t settle for a nine-to-five office desk job. He started playing cards for money at Birmingham’s Rainbow Casino and elsewhere in the Midlands, but, as befits a man who now has five children, he has a surprisingly keen sense of responsibility for a gambler, having for 15 years combined his poker-playing with selling windows and conservatories. Last year his game took off.

He came second in the 2005 World Heads-up Poker Circuit in Barcelona, winning €30,000, and then came third (one place behind his friend Paul Jackson) in the Monte Carlo Millions, winning $325,000. He’s finished in the top seven in tournaments 14 times this year, including most recently being one of the last four who made a deal to take £40,000 each out of a big event at the Vic, the others including Liam Flood and Willie Tann.


After the Monte Carlo Millions his career as a salesman was over, as Goodwin recalls. ‘After sitting down at the table for a few hours [in the tournament] and being a bit nervous I suddenly realised that these people didn’t have moves that I didn’t understand. I realised that I could make the moves too, and they didn’t really know how to handle me.

Obviously I had some good cards as well, because you have to have that – you can’t just win on skill alone. Anyway, I was due to be back at work on day three, but the odds of making it to day three were so remote that I didn’t contact anybody because I fully expected to be back. I had to ring the office on the night I got to day three and say I wouldn’t be there. And that happened again the next day because I hadn’t expected to get through that either. But I did, and suddenly I was in the final. So I rang them back and said, “I just got into the last 36 and at this moment I’m getting something like $50,000.” My boss rang me up and said, “This isn’t working out… don’t ever come back”, and he put the phone down.’

‘All of a sudden I hadn’t got a job, so I had to make one of the hardest phone calls ever – to ring up the missus and say, “I just lost my job”. She said, “You shouldn’t be playing poker – forget poker, keep your job, we need regular income.” Which I fully understood… but then, fortunately for me, I ended up winning $375,000, which is about seven or eight years’ income. I was up and running. And my confidence grew. I learned a lot just watching Paul [Jackson] and Phil Ivey, and I realised I had to improve. So I started to look at all the areas I could improve in.’

Learning curve

Mark may be fearless, but he’s not arrogant. ‘I don’t worry about anyone that I play against and I believe in my own ability, but every single time I play I learn something and I improve. Even from the worst players I learn… as long as you’re always willing to improve then you will get better.’

He plays more flops than almost anyone else. The books say you should fold about 80 per cent of starting hands; Mark plays about 80 per cent. ‘I’m actually playing the flop and not my hand, their cards not mine, and I find I can read them fairly well – I can put them on a hand and play the hand accordingly; fortunately for me, I get it right more times than I get it wrong.

‘Of course, it’s not a foolproof system by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want to get chips you can’t just sit there and wait for premium hands and raise, because anyone who is even half-watching will fold. You’re only going to get money when you get answered and I get answered and called all the time.’

‘I may even call and raise or re-raise on 8-9, 9-10, 4-5, and if I don’t hit the flop then I don’t bet it, unless I think they’ve missed it, then I will bet it…or, if they bet into it, I’m thinking that they have to respect a raise here. Say I’ve called with 8-9 and the flop comes 4-5-7 and they bet, then I may well re-raise which forces them to think, ‘What the hell has he got here?’, whereas I know they shouldn’t play this flop because they’re going to play premium cards; they’ve got Ace-King or a pair of Tens and I can knock them off by smooth-calling, then later betting the pot, putting them under huge pressure. You play more flops with these weaker people and you win more chips.’

The World Series was one of the few times this happy-go-lucky, self-confessed ‘sick gambler’ got really down, when he came 22nd in a big Omaha tournament. ‘I was fourth or fifth in chips and I went into a massive pot with the guy who ended up winning the bracelet. I knew the winner of this hand would probably win the tournament.

In Omaha a 60/40 advantage is usually as good as it gets, but I was 80/20, and he still won the hand. I couldn’t play for two days after, I was so frustrated.’

Even so he cashed three times in Las Vegas. But he’ll do better than that. Mark Goodwin is probably the country’s most improved player, one of the top Europeans and still a rising star. A bracelet seems inevitable.

Career highlights

9/9/06 London All Star Challenge (European Poker Masters), London – £2,000 No-limit Hold’em; 2nd, £26,800
22/3/06 European Poker Classics, London – £1,000 Pot-limit Omaha; 1st, £37,500
20/11/05 Monte Carlo Millions, Monte Carlo – $25,000 No-limit Hold’em; 3rd, $325,000
9/9/05 Heads-Up Poker Circuit, Barcelona Open 2005 – €2,500 No-limitHold’em; 2nd, €30,000

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