Step Back in Time: How Dan Smith Won a $1.1 Million Flip at Bellagio

By Paul Seaton When Dan Smith won the Season XII WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December 2013, he saw it as a defining win in a career which has now seen him net over $36 million in live tournament winnings, the fifth-highest total of all-time at the time of going to press. Six…

Matt Clark
Dec 10, 2019

WPT Doyle Brunson Five Diamond Champion (S12) Dan Smith

By Paul Seaton

When Dan Smith won the Season XII WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December 2013, he saw it as a defining win in a career which has now seen him net over $36 million in live tournament winnings, the fifth-highest total of all-time at the time of going to press.

Six years later, it is still the tournament that Smith looks back on with the most pride and satisfaction. We spoke to the modern poker legend about that life-changing moment and a hand that will stay with him forever.

Three-handed, Smith faced Eddy Sabat and Gary Benson in his quest to become a WPT winner and join the Champions Club. Three-way action would lead to a vital pot for the man born in Manalapan, New Jersey.

“You could make the argument that was the biggest win of my career,” says Smith. “I’ve won more money, but there’s something special about getting through very large fields.”

With 449 entries, Smith had more on the line than he might have done if he was playing a high roller.

“If you play a $100k event, you have investors, so maybe you have 25% of the action. You win a million dollars and you walk out with a quarter million. In this case, I had some swaps with friends, but I had the lions’ share of the action, so it was definitely the biggest win of my career at the time.”

Smith was down to his last 20 big blinds at the start of the hand and didn’t feel super confident putting it all on the line with ace-ten. But as bad as it could have been if he’s been called and was behind, Smith explains why he made the move.

“It seemed pretty clearly like a play that I had to make. He raised to 4.5 blinds, so plus the big blind and antes and the open limp [from Gary Benson], there were a lot of blinds out there compared to my stack. I don’t expect to be called by the limper very often and it doesn’t take that much for Eddie to decide that the player on the button is weak. It’s not great when I get called, but ace-ten can do well if he had a smaller pair or king-queen or king-jack suited, of which I’m ahead. But my play is banking on ‘it would be really great if he folds’.”

Eddy Sabat didn’t fold, although Benson did. On the flop, Smith couldn’t catch, meaning only two cards could come to help him. Despite this, Smith stayed in his seat, as opposed to Sabat, who joined his friends at the rail to cheer his own hand home.

“It was [$1.1] million for first place and only $450,000 for third place, so it was obviously a very important coinflip to win. I thought I need to stay at the table because I’ll need to, positive thoughts, but you couldn’t get all the way to the rail that easily.”

Staring at the community cards, willing a card to help him (“All you’re thinking is ‘come on, ace’”), Smith found it challenging to maintain his composure playing for such big money, too, especially it being so early in his career.

Dan Smith

“That was my first time coming in when I was very clearly the favorite. I came into the final table with the chip lead. Maintaining your composure when all eyes are on you is never easy.”

Smith felt freed by the experiences of the previous two years, having enjoyed some success in 2011 and 2012. It gave him the confidence to make the moves he needed to, whatever they were.

“I felt like the monkey was off my back; I could do whatever I needed to do. I’d had success on the high roller circuit and could play without worrying what people might think.”

Some players who hadn’t won big money might have balked at making big moves when huge money was on the line. But Smith took a philosophical outlook on proceeding, and still does today. He applied that same outlook to who he might face heads-up.”

“So little is in your control at the poker table that you don’t really have the opportunity to [target] one player where you’ll have a better chance. I feel like that’s not a good use of mental energy. I’d rather think about the situation at hand and what I can do. I didn’t really size up Eddie versus Gary in terms of a heads-up game.”

Facing a third-placed exit, Smith was overjoyed to hit his ace on the turn, giving it a fist pump before refocusing immediately on the cards to come. He would go on to win heads-up against Gary Benson for that top prize that he still feels is his biggest career win. The pressure was on heads-up, too, with a big lead.

“Before the start of the tournament if someone told you that you were going to get second place, that’s a wonderful result, but with 90% of the chips with two players left, second place is the worst thing you can achieve. It’s amazing at that moment that you don’t feel it.”

Since that landmark win, Smith has gone on to rack up $36 million in live tournament winnings, behind just four men in the all-time money list. How does he stay there, or even improve that phenomenal record?

“I like to play the biggest tournaments and that’s the way you make moves up that list. I hope to never miss a million-dollar entry NLHE tournament, but you can get too concerned. I have had and hope to continue to have a great career. I’ve been number one on the GPI and I don’t feel I’m short of accolades.”

Smith’s pride in his poker career doesn’t come as all-important to him, but his charity work does. He’s bursting with pride for the good he’s been able to do with the money he’s won.

“I’m on my sixth consecutive charity drive at and while poker is inherently a selfish game, the fact that I get to do my favorite thing to make a positive impact in the world is wonderful. I get to be profitable by playing poker for a living, traveling the world and seeing cool places. Getting to make a big difference in the world is pretty special.”

Dan Smith

Smith isn’t the only man who’s done so. The softly spoken modern poker legend is proud that some of his peers work alongside him in giving back too.

“Stephen Chidwick has been very involved. It’s very cool to see someone that I respect so much, someone who carries themselves so well at the table and away from it impressed by what I’m doing and inspired to be involved.”

When it comes to the WPT, Dan Smith will always remember his epic win at the Five Diamond Classic and loves the format and staff behind the furthest flung global poker tour.

“I like playing the World Poker Tour events; they’re well run by very good people and I know everyone. In particular, coming back to the Bellagio. I’ve had great success there and I feel like I have a home-court advantage. I know all the staff by name and have had a great record there.”

Dan Smith may never have a greater winning moment that that Five Diamond victory back in 2013, but that won’t stop him trying. Smith, one of the most dedicated players on the circuit, may enjoy taking a Step Back in Time, but he’s forever moving forward.