Marc Goodwin: Chilling with Mr Cool

Marc Goodwin

05 October 2009

When he was younger, Marc Goodwin played a lot of blackjack, employing sophisticated systems to beat the casinos. He won a lot of money on the tables of Europe, which he promptly lost playing some game he’d just discovered called Omaha.

Soon, though, Marc had the game figured out and became a regular in what was, in the eighties, one of the biggest cash games in Europe – a private setup in Birmingham that included the likes of Dave Colclough, Devilfish, Mickey Wernick, Surinder Sunar, John Shipley and Lucy Rokash.

By the time his old muckers were busy making TV appearances on Late Night Poker, however, Marc had long settled down to start a family. He got a job selling conservatories and tried to forget about the highs and lows of the poker lifestyle. In 2005, however, his feet got far too itchy and he turned up at the Heads-up Poker Championship in Barcelona, finishing second. From there, he hot-tailed it to the Monte Carlo Millions and finished third, behind Phil Ivey and Paul Jacckson. The man they called “Mr Cool” was back.

Last year, Marc Goodwin was European number one, and last month in Barcelona he was whisker away from nabbing his first EPT title, placing second for his biggest cash ever. Bluff thought it was high time to show Mr Cool some “respeck”.

Congratulations, Marc...

Thanks, it all started with me calling up Littlewoods and asking if they wanted another sponsored player. They said, “We’ll let you know,” and then a week or so later they said yes. That’s the reason I was in Barcelona in the first place, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone. The €8,300 buy-in is quite severe. Plus your expenses, you’re looking at 10 grand if you come back without cashing.

Is that why you think numbers were a little down on last year?

Well, they had a WPT on at the same time, and a GUKPT in England, so that’s always going to dilute things and I actually think the turnout was pretty good, considering. They’ve changed the structure of the tournament itself, so that you now get a 30,000 starting stack and an hour-long level, and that adds another two days to the thing, but it stops it being a luck-fest and chip-race, and that was borne out by the fact that, when they got down to 24 runners, the likes of ElkY, Michael Greco, Roland de Wolfe and Jan Boubli were all still in – I believe there were five previous EPT winners still there, which was great. At the end of the day, it’s all well and good to give everybody a chance, but when it’s the postman one week and the milkman the next, it gets a bit much. I challenge you to name the last ten EPT winners, or even the last five. It’s impossible. I think if we get the big players doing well, it adds more credence to the competition.

We heard the atmosphere was pretty special in Barcelona...

It was amazing. I’ve never been to a tournament with an atmosphere like that. It was like a football match. There was a local lad in the last eight and they were all singing songs and cheering him on. I was joining in. It was brilliant! It was just really, really good fun.

Spain seems to be going through a bit of a poker boom at the moment...

Yes, it seems like most of the players you meet at the EPT’s these days are Spanish or Italians.

Are they getting better at poker? They used to be the butt of all the jokes...

I think, as a general rule, everyone’s getting better at poker. The standard’s getting higher and higher, and that’s because of access to information. You don’t have to be Einstein to go on the net and get some poker tuition or pick up a few books.

As an “old school” pro, how do you adapt to that? How do you keep on your toes?

The way I look at it is that you have to be fluid when you’re on any table in any tournament. You have to adapt your style and try to find countermeasures to the styles of the players around you. You quickly pick up on people that are making bad plays. It shouldn’t take long; no more than an hour to spot every bad player or good player on your table and target them accordingly. Sometimes it’s actually better to target the good players because you have more leverage with them because they’ll actually understand what you’re trying to do.

All poker players have got big egos. If someone gets more acclaim than you for being a superstar, you immediately think, “Why are they saying that? I’m better than him,” and so on, but what you have to understand is that you’re constantly learning throughout your career and you’re never the finished article. I can sit down at a table with six beginners and I’ll still have learned something. I’m always willing to learn. I read books, I watch live webcasts of different situations and the way different players play hands, I read blogs where players discuss certain hands, I talk situations over with players who I regard as good players all the time, and I take all that information on board. I often say that poker’s a game of opinions, and some people’s opinions are more important than others (laughs).

But you also have to be really tough mentally as a tournament player. When I won the European Rankings last year, from January to May until I won the GUKPT in Manchester, I think I had one cash for about $3,000, and I wasn’t playing any differently from how I played for the rest of the year, but from that point I started making loads of final tables and cashing all the time, but until May I hadn’t earned a single point.

Is there any point in poker ranking systems if variance plays such a big role?

Well, the criteria they use to work them out are as about as fair as they can be, but what does it mean at the end of it all? It doesn’t mean anything really. I think when Dave Colclough won it a while back he actually made a loss for the year, which tells you a lot about tournament poker back then. It was a personal goal for me, though. I wanted to win it, and I knew I had a shot, so I went to play in every event I could to give myself the best chance. When I won it, it was a bit of a letdown. I mean, you can’t really go into Sainsbury’s and spend it.

Back to Barcelona. Talk us through some of the critical moments...

Really early on, there was a raise in mid-position and four callers. I had a pair of tens on the button and decided to smooth-call it and see what happened – I might get the lot. The flop came 10-J-Q with two diamonds. I’m not really sure where I stand here because the first guy could have raised with jacks or queens or A-K and someone else could have a bottom straight. It’s checked to me and I bet half the pot. Everyone passed around to the guy on my right in the cut-off, who called. Well, he might have the bottom straight or the flush draw.

The turn is a blank and now he comes out betting quite strong. I decide to call. It’s lucky we started with 30,000 because this bloke’s crippling me. Not only that, the river comes a king, which is really scary and the guy bets again. Now I think he had the flush-draw with the Ad and he’s hit the nut straight, so I pass showing my tens, and the guy shows me A-K. So I was able to escape because we had 30,000 starting stacks. I did 8,500 in this pot and I would have done all 10,000 because I would have had to call on the end. So the big stack allowed me to get through those early “set-up” hands and from thereon I ran really well.

I survived a big all-in when I had 60k against a guy with 58k – that was when the average chips were something like 40,000. He raised under-the-gun, I re-raised on the button and he shoved. I thought, “That smells like A-K. Do I want to gamble?” I decided that if I were to go anywhere in this tournament I needed lots of chips, so I took the coin flip and he missed. That could have easily been the end for me. It was a critical pot. That’s what you have to do – win races.

When is it a good time to take a coin flip and when is it right to avoid them?

Well, sometimes you need to gamble to get a big stack, like I say, but after that pot I tried to avoid them all and play lots of small pot poker instead. People might look at that as being passive, but I was always trying to get my chips in good with little chance of being outdrawn. I didn’t want to give anyone who I would consider to be an inferior player the chance to gamble with me big.

For example, the American Cornel Cimpan, who finished tenth and had won the LA Poker Classic this year, was a serial raiser on our table. He raised and I’m on the button with A-K. Normally I’d definitely be raising him back here, but I’d seen him shove three times after a re-raise and twice he’d shown nine-high. So even if he does shove with nine-high, I’m still in a race. I’m a favourite, but do I really want to get my all chips in against this guy on a 60-40? So I just call and it comes 10-J-Q – an absolute dream! He just can’t put down 9-10 and I win 40,000 in chips. This style gives you an appearance of being totally passive and you actually get paid off a lot because they will try to fire three bullets at you. A lot of people don’t know who you are so you can just sit at the table and be Joe Average. It’s only when the bloggers come round that the game’s up.

On Day 4, two days before the final, the lad that won it, Carter Phillips, is to my left. He raises under-the-gun and it’s folded all the way around to me. I’ve got Js7s, which is no kind of hand, but I know if I hit he won’t see it coming, so I just call. The flop comes Jc7c4c. I check, he checks. The turn is a seven, so now I have a full house. I check, he bets 18,000 and I make it 120,000 – a massive over-bet – but I know he can play and he instantly calls me. I’m praying for a club, because he obviously has the Ac or Kc in his hand. It comes the Kd. I go to bet 100k, and as I do I see him instantly go to his chips to call me. So I stop and pull back and decide to make it 250,000, because I know he’s thinking, “Oh, he was going to bluff for 100,000 and saw I was going to call, so now he’s trying to bluff for 250,000.” If I wanted to get paid, of course, logically I’d still bet the 100,000 because he’s already showed a willingness to call.

He did call and when I showed J-7 he said, “How can you defend your big blind with J-7? You’re so bad. You over-bet it, you idiot,” and all this stuff. Cornel Cimpan, down the other end, piped up and said, “Well, I thought it was a pretty good play.” Then Phillips blew up, saying, “I’ve been sitting here for three hours wondering how you ever won a WPT! You’re terrible!” and all this.

The next day, Carter came over to me and said, “Look, I really, really want to apologise for yesterday. I’d had a bad day.” I said that he should really apologise to Cornel Cimpan, and he said, “Yes, I will.” It took guts to apologise and he showed class and that he’s really a nice kid, but also what had happened was that when he’d complained at the bar about some donk at his table, someone had said, “That’s Marc Goodwin. He’s the European number one.” And that had thrown a completely different light on the whole hand. Now that he realised he’d been played, I was OK, but yesterday I was an idiot. Like I say, poker’s a game of opinions.

So you had a lot of history before you went heads up...

Yeah, the one massive hand was where he bluffed me with 6-8, which they were all talking about on the internet the next day. Carter, who was a serial raiser, raised and got two callers. I look down at A-K. I fancy that if I make a big over-bet here, they might read it as a big squeeze play and if one of them re-raises, I can shove. At this point, the four of us in the pot had ten of the 14 million chips in play. Back around to Carter and he flat-raises me and it really throws me off. I can’t pass – the minimum I’m going to do is call, but he’s really inviting me to back come over the top, and back over the top is all-in. So I just call.

The flop comes 9-10-Q with two diamonds. When he checks I think that he can’t have any part of this – I mean, even if he’s got a set of queens, he can’t give me a free card because of all the huge draws out there. He can’t have hit it. So I check and the turn’s an ace. Now he bets 750,000 and I have 2.2 million. I know if I call, he’s going to bet again on the river, so I’m thinking should I shove, because I’ll do my chips anyway if I have to call another bet on the river. But then I think, well, if I’m dead here, why not play it the way to get the extra chips just in case it’s a bluff? So I decided I would call, wait for him to bet, close my eyes and call the river, and if he checks I’m checking too.

Just as I’m picking up my chips to call, the Spanish guy, who’s not even in the pot, calls the clock on me. I’m like, “What are you doing? You haven’t got a single chip in this pot and we’re playing for 50% of the chips in the tournament! We’re playing for €800k!” As I was saying all in this, I completely lost my train of thought, and suddenly it hit me: “This guy wasn’t supposed to say anything! Maybe it’s Divine Intervention to stop me doing all my chips!”

So I fold and decide to turn over my hand. I show for two reasons. Firstly, to demonstrate that there had been a genuine thought process behind my decision making and that I’d needed time, and secondly, because if I show and Carter doesn’t, then I know I’ve made a great fold, but I know he will show me any bluff. Sure enough he turns over 6c8c for a stone cold bluff. That kind of set the tone for the rest of the match. I was pretty sure I was going to end up heads up with him.

How did heads up play out?

Carter played well throughout the tournament and deserves his success. Heads up, we were both playing correct from position and all that sort of thing – pretty A-B-C stuff – and I think he out-flopped me quite a lot. I don’t mean massively – just things like I’d raise with A-10, he call with K-Q and the flop would come king-high. That sort of thing. That’s no big deal really, but it slows you right down. Then, in the final hand, I just made a massive move on him. He raised, I just called with A-10, thinking that I’ll catch him if an ace comes because he’ll definitely come bluffing into me. The flop came a dry K-4-5; I checked, he bet, I called him. The turn came a queen and I moved all-in for 4.2 million. He thought for a long time when he called. I was actually thinking there was a good chance he’ll pass because I think he hasn’t got a good king. He actually had K-J, but it was still a tough decision for him. But he made a good call and he won. If it was going to be my day it would have come an ace or a jack, but it bricked. That’s how it goes...

How gutted were you?

I felt absolutely sick coming second and that’s because, when I knock out the third player, I’m already second; I’ve already got the money. I could have sat at the bar and let myself get blinded away and the result would have been the same. I could have sat there reading the paper and still have come second, so yes, it’s gutting. But then afterwards, you sit at the bar and it dawns on you. That’s an awful lot of money...