Mark Vos is no stranger to controversy. He's irritated many a tournament director with his fondness for building precarious-looking edifices with his chips and often finds himself on the receiving end of complaints from high-stakes online players who dislike his penchant for short-buying into the $500-$1,000 no-limit and pot-limit cash games that he plays on a daily basis. Vos himself agrees that his short-stacking strategy can be annoying to his opponents — but playing poker is about making money, and Vos' tactics have turned him into one of online poker's biggest winners in 2009. The ginger-haired 25-year-old is already an estimated $1.9 million winner in the high-stakes games on Full Tilt Poker this year… and it's only March.
Mark Vos was born on October 20, 1983 in Cape Town, South Africa. As a high school student he demonstrated an aptitude for math and went on to represent his province in national mathematics olympiads. In 2001, Vos left his home country for Australia, where he enrolled at Macquarie University to study to become an actuary. Like many of his peers, it was at university that he discovered online poker. Vos started out playing micro-stakes games on Prima Poker, winning a few hundred dollars at $0.05-$0.10 no-limit hold'em. He moved up too quickly, though, playing the $1-$2 no-limit games with only a few buy-ins to his name and quickly lost the small bankroll he'd built. After boning up a bit more on strategy and seeking out advice from some fellow players at Macquarie, Vos was able to turn things around. In January 2005 he was regularly playing $1-$2 NLHE on Full Tilt Poker under the handle "pokerbok" and only six months later was taking shots at the $25-$50 NLHE games. When he realized he could beat poker in the long run and earn a good living at it, Vos decided to abandon his studies and focus on playing full-time.
Though Vos was (and still is) primarily an online cash-game player, he decided to give tournaments a try after Joe Hachem came home to Melbourne with the 2005 WSOP Main Event bracelet on his wrist. Vos' first tournament victory came in August 2005 when he won the $200 Pot-Limit Omaha event at the Victorian Poker Championships, good for a $16,450 score. The following winter, he made three cashes and two final tables at the 2006 Aussie Millions, including an eighth-place finish in the $10,000 buy-in main event. Vos hit the road that summer, making trips to Europe and the United States to play more tournaments. Vos notched a runner-up finish in the €2,500 No-Limit Hold'em event at the Rendezvous de Paris and two final tables at the Grosvenor World Masters in London earning over $100,000 on the European leg of his journey. Even more success, though, awaited him in America at the World Series of Poker.
In July 2006, Mark Vos won the $2,000 No-Limit Hold'em event at the World Series of Poker, beating out over 1,900 players and banking $803,274. Getting there required overcoming the nearly 3:1 chip deficit he faced against his heads-up opponent, the aggressive and tricky Nam Le, but after a two-hour battle royale, he came away with his first bracelet. That year he also cashed in the WSOP Main Event, logging a 457th-place finish out of over 8,000 entrants. Back home in Australia, Vos earned another victory, winning a tournament at the Victorian Poker Championships for the second year in a row, taking down the $200 No-Limit Hold'em event. He also had another successful year at the Aussie Millions, cashing twice and making the final table of the $3,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event where he ultimately finished sixth.
Vos continued to travel the world for poker throughout 2007 and 2008 while still finding time to play about 35 hours a week online. He made three WSOP cashes in '07 including a sixth-place finish in the $1,500 Razz event in Las Vegas and an eleventh-place finish in the £2,500 H.O.R.S.E. event in London. He returned to the U.S. for the '08 WSOP and made four cashes, including a deep run in the Main Event where he finished in 80th place. While Vos enjoys playing tournaments for fun, his bread and butter remains the online cash games at Full Tilt Poker, where he is a sponsored pro. Using a short-stacking strategy where he buys in anywhere from the minimum 20 big blinds to about 50 big blinds, Vos regularly sits in the $500-$1,000 HA (pot-limit hold'em/pot-limit Omaha) mixed game, populated by high-stakes legends including Phil Ivey, Gus Hansen, Ilari "Ziigmund" Sahamies and Tom "durrrr" Dwan. As of press time, he is closing in on $2 million in cash game winnings for 2009.
Though his Hendon Mob profile cheekily lists him as "Homeless," Vos resides in Australia when he's not on the road.
Nicole Gordon's profiles of professional players appear each Friday at PokerNews.com