At one pivotal point in time and space, Gavin Smith crashed the poker party in 2005 and for a short period he was one of the top no-limit tournament players in the world. Very few players can ever achieve that distinction, but if you played poker against Smith in 2005, he probably ran right over the table with his mouth and his chips. Gavin Smith was a serious shit-talker but because he was a Canadian, he got a pass and everyone thought it was more fun and endearing than your typical table braggard. The majority of poker tournaments are dull affairs with much ado about nothing the majority of the time… unless you had Gavin Smith at your table. Then you'd have to buckle up for a wild ride. One minute you're in tears laughing your ass off, another there's a round of drinks for the table, and in another flash Gavin Smith is raking in your chips and shaking your hand after he sent you to the rail with nothing except a free drink and a heck of story to tell about the time you played with a poker boom legend.
Todd Brunson confirmed the news of Gavin Smith's passing. Brunson posted about the tragic news on his social media feed when he posed with a group of friends with greyhounds. They toasted to Gavin Smith, who had an affinity for vodka and grapefruit juice. Smith roamed this planet for 50 years and during his adventures he amassed $6.3 million playing tournaments.
If you've been in poker long enough, you have a few Gavin Smith stories and all of them are equally hysterical as the rest. In a world of malcontents, Gavin Smith was often the proverbial life of the party. Didn't matter if you had a good or bad work day, Smith was always ready to have fun. The poker biz got super serious over the years and lot of the fun got squeezed out of the mix. Whenever Gavin Smith sat down at a table, you knew the action would pick up. The endless talker knew how to loosen up a table. And if the chatty banter didn't work, he'd order a round of cocktails for the table.
Gavin Smith is a working class hero (and former cab driver), which is why he will always be a popular pro among the poker media. Many pros have a holier than thou attitude, but Smith never forgot his roots as a former poker dealer turned pro. Smith took care of the press. Food. Booze. Laughter. You name it.
In the film Almost Famous, Lester Bangs advised a young Cameron Crowe that “You should never make friends with the rockstars!” Many of us made an exception for Gavin Smith. He didn't care about who you were or where you came from. At the end of a long day at a poker tournament, Gavin Smith could be found at the bar closest to the poker room drinking with the media and fans alike.
“That was our boy,” said Amy Calistri, who covered the rise of Gavin Smith from local grinder from the early days at Foxwoods in the Northeast to his meteoric run in Vegas in 2005.
Gavin Smith was an important team member of Poker Road Radio. Gavin and Joe Sebock co-hosted a show while they played on the poker circuit. The Poker Road crew recorded onsite at various casinos and hotels all over the country. During the summers, you could find Gavin sitting in the Poker Road Radio booth in the hallway at the Rio.
For a nine-year period between 2004 and 2012, Smith cashed for at least six-figures every year. He banked $112K in 2004 including a 52nd place finish at the WSOP Main Event. Smith caught lightning in a bottle in 2005 and followed up his breakout year with back-to-back seven-figure cashes. In 2005-06, Smith won over $3 million. His last big year on the circuit occurred in 2012 when he cashed for $355K.
Gavin Smith took the poker world by storm in 2005. As the story goes, he won a $2K side even at the Mirage for $155K. He wanted to ride the rush and keep his hot streak alive, so he bought into the $10K WPT Mirage Poker Showdown. This was during the fourth season of the WPT and at the peak of its popularity. Gavin became an overnight star with his victory after he faded 317 entries and shipped the event for $1.1 million. Gavin outlasted a final table that included Eugene Todd, Chris Bell, Ted Forrest, and Thang Pham.
If you ever had a drink with him, he'd gladly tell you the story about a super-paranoid drive home with $1 million in the trunk of his car.
In October 2005, Smith final tabled another WPT event at the WPT Bellagio (Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship). Minh Ly would go on to beat Dan Harrington heads-up for the title. Gavin busted in third place.
In 2006, Gavin Smith started off the year with a bang in Mississippi. He made an appearance at the final table of the Gold Strike World Poker Open in Tunica. If you drive south of Memphis into northern Mississippi, you'll find Tunica, which would become the hotbed for poker every January. These days, the circuit regulars are in the Bahamas or down under at the Aussie Millions, but in the early 2000s, Tunica is where all the rounders, grinders, and degens ended up for a couple of weeks.
A couple months later, Gavin Smith headed to the South once again. He rolled up to New Orleans and nearly won a WSOP Circuit event. Peter 'Nordberg' Feldman beat Smith heads-up for the title and ring. Smith banked $293K for a runner-up share. He finished 2006 with a cool million in cashes.
Most sponsored poker pros did whatever they could to weasel out of appearances, photo shoots, interviews, and charity events. Gavin Smith always showed up to charity events. Didn't matter if it was in Las Vegas or somewhere in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, the kind-hearted Gavin Smith was there to donate his time and money.
Like all good Canadians, Gavin Smith played hockey as a kid. He often joked about how the size of his head would be the source of fisticuffs. One enforcer in particular took a disliking to Gavin and tried to engage him in a fight. Gavin knew he was outmatched and did his best to avoid him. Until the bully yelled, "Hey pumpkinhead! You wanna go?" And with that taunt, Gavin dropped his gloves and threw down.
Las Vegas has too many vices and even the top pros succumb to the dark side. For Smith, his biggest issue was the bottle. He often joked that as a Canadian, drinking was in his blood as a national past time. He made effort to curtail his drinking at different stages of his life. When he cut back substantially in 2010, he saw immediate results by winning his first-ever WSOP bracelet. He faded a field of 507 runners and took down a $2,500 mixed game title for $268K.
Gavin Smith's last significant cash occurred at the 2012 WPT Montreal. He final tabled the event and finished in fourth place for $211K.
Smith spent time in Alaska before he relocated to the Houston area. He is survived by two children.
Chops from Wicked Cops Poker summed it up in a tweet, "Gavin Smith maybe didn't always do the right thing--but he really, really wanted to. One of the few genuine force of nature personalities I ever met. Lived his life in big ways. Loved his boys. Someone you really rooted for."