The poker world is mourning the loss of Gavin Smith today, who passed away unexpectedly in his sleep last night at the age of 50. Smith, a native of Guelph, Ontario, was one of the most formidable poker pros during the poker boom and was by far one of most loved, most popular players among his peers.
I had the good fortune to interview Gavin Smith at the World Series of Poker in 2006. I was still a relative unknown in the industry (though it’s not like my stature has improved much since) and he had no idea who I was, but he was nothing short of gracious and generous with his time when he spent his entire break in the middle of a tournament with me.
My questions were generally awful, as I stuck with generic, stock questions most of the time, but Smith was patient and even in that short time, showed me the character that he was known for. When I asked him what was the worst part about being recognized now that he was famous, he told me, “I don’t really think there’s anything all that bad about it. There’s no ‘worst of it,’ because, you know, I kind of feel a little bit lucky that people care enough about me to come up and say hello or to want an autograph or a picture, so I don’t really have too many downsides.”
He appreciated where he was and where he came from, that it was a joy being able to play poker for a living, getting to travel all over the world, and getting to know so many interesting people. In 2010, he won his only WSOP bracelet and famously told WSOP.com afterward:
I’m just an older guy from Guelph, Ontario, who used to drive a taxi and cut greens. Now, I’m sitting here and hundreds of people have come over to me. Play poker for a living, and I just won hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is nothing in my life that can be considered a curse. Every single minute of it is a blessing.
Smith won the WPT Player of the Year title in Season IV after winning the WPT Mirage Poker Showdown, finishing third at the 2nd Annual Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship, and finishing fourth at the WPT Gold Strike World Poker Open. He told me that the highest point of his poker career at the time was a toss-up between the Mirage win and the POY award, though he’d probably put the Mirage on top, as it was his first “huge” win, calling it “kind of euphoric.”
My colleague, Earl Burton, spoke with Gavin Smith in 2014. By that time in his life, Smith had greatly decreased his poker workload, focusing more of his time on raising his kids. He was recently married, though he went through a divorce shortly thereafter.
“I haven’t fully enjoyed poker for quite a while,” Smith told Earl. “I do enjoy tournaments once we are deep, but I don’t still have the drive to travel as I once did. Being married with kids is completely different for me but is awesome, it is harder than I ever dreamed it would be. I wouldn’t change a thing, though…my family comes first and we can still throw some poker in amongst it all.”
Naturally, loving words have come in from around the poker world. On Twitter, fellow Canadian Daniel Negreanu wrote, “Gavin Smith was one of the more authentic human beings I’d ever met. Rest In Peace my friend…”
“If you have been in poker for the last 15 years you most likely had a story to tell about Gavin Smith,” Tweeted Matt Savage. “@olegsmith was usually the biggest personality in the room. Popular, gregarious, and generous to most who knew him and always went out of his way to be a friend. #RIPGavin”
Said Sean McCormack: “I’m in disbelief that Gavin Smith passed away unexpectedly this morning. His love for the game was only a fraction of this gentle giant. His generosity was incredible, and his love for his children was second to none. RIP my friend.”
Gavin Smith was the everyman who found his path to success at the poker tables. It is often said of people when they die that they “brightened the room,” but in Gavin Smith’s case, it was true. He was one of those guys opponents wanted to sit at a table with even though they were trying to take each other’s money. He was one of those guys who you wanted to have a beer with and who, in turn, wanted to have a beer with you. He was one of those guys who made a fledgling poker reporter feel welcome.
Gavin Smith was one of those guys.
Gavin Smith’s friends have setup a GoFundMe page to help raise money for his two children.
Lead photo credit: World Poker Tour via Flikr