By Sean Chaffin
Douglas Smith (pictured) has plenty of action on the line at the poker tables every day at the Commerce Casino and other southern California properties. However, he only plays a day or two a month, and instead, his money goes to a collection of about 20 players that are part of his backing crew.
“I mostly stake players in cash games and tournaments,” he says. “I used to play myself, but people would see me play and say, ‘Man you play so bad. Let me play for you.’ So when I actually started putting people in and they started winning I was like, ‘Yeah, okay I can do this.’”
Those winnings started adding up for this professional poker backer, and he had to make a tough admission about his own skills at the tables.
“They were right,” he says laughing. “Because I used to just go all in with anything. People would be lining up to get to my table because they saw me playing.”
Apparently, his game has since improved, and while the 50-year-old may be more apt to back players than play himself, Smith jumped in the action here at the WPT L.A. Poker Classic. He’s finding solid results and was close to the money on Day 3 when WPT.com caught up with him on the break.
Let’s Make a Deal
Growing up in L.A., Smith played linebacker and defensive end in high school and continued his football career at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi. After earning a degree in business administration, he moved back to California and found poker as a way to stay competitive.
That degree may not have been used for a traditional job in the corporate world, but Smith manages his own small business providing funds for other players and reaping some of the rewards of their winnings.
“Over the years, I’ve staked a lot of people,” he says. “I get rid of people and new people come in. I try to go with the best.”
After college, Smith hit the card tables himself but found backing much easier and that there were much better players than himself. The gig definitely comes without some challenges, however, and he has to manage his “investments” like a real business. He heads to the casinos daily to see how his players are performing and cheering them on as they go deep in events.
“The business can be brutal,” he says. “It’s up and down. Lately, it’s been good. I had a couple horses who hit in a PLO $100,000 guaranteed [tournament].”
Each summer, Smith also heads to the World Series of Poker, not necessarily to play himself but to back his pool of players.
While keeping tabs on his players is usually the extent of Smith’s own action on the felt, the record turnout here at Commerce interested him in ponying up the $10,000 buy-in. So far, that’s been a wise decision.
“I’m usually on the side just watching,” he says. “But this tournament just got my attention. I saw all this crowd in here and I was like, ‘I want to play this.’ I usually just help two or three other players get in.”
As Day 3 played out, Smith continued moving closer to making the money and had about 170,000 in chips in Level 16. Being around so many of his good players has rubbed off and he’s been able to stay in the zone.
“It’s a lot of focus and patience, and I like this style of play,” he says. “I’m using 20 different players’ styles. I’ll think about a person and I play tight. I think about another person and play aggressive. Or I think about somebody else and I’m going to make a move. They’re in my head when I’m actually in a hand.”
A final table appearance will not only be a personal highlight for his own poker career, but also offer a nice windfall for his lucrative backing business. Smith, who says he’s a big fan of the WPT and follows the tournament action online, notes that he’s always open to new players.
“A lot of players need help,” he says. “I’ll stake anybody. Even if you’ve never played before I’ll stake you. I’ll give you one shot.”
This former linebacker is now taking his own shot this week on the WPT – and hoping that investment pays off.
Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas, and his work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.
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