WPT and Poker Community Mourn Passing of Gavin Smith

By Sean Chaffin He had a big personality and an even bigger heart. Always quick with a smile or a joke, Gavin Smith brought plenty of fun to the table and poker world – some of what many say has been lacking in the game in recent years. Tuesday was a tough day for players…

Matt Clark
Jan 15, 2019

By Sean Chaffin

3457 Gavin Smith

He had a big personality and an even bigger heart. Always quick with a smile or a joke, Gavin Smith brought plenty of fun to the table and poker world – some of what many say has been lacking in the game in recent years. Tuesday was a tough day for players and fans as the longtime poker player passed away unexpectedly at his home in Texas.

Originally from Guelph, Ontario, Canada, the 50-year-old Smith was one of the most beloved players in the game and his vibrant personality was a perfect fit for televised poker with his storytelling and humor bringing life and spirit to what, in essence, is just a card game.

His energy, liveliness, and love for all things betting made him one of the game’s true first television stars – a character that viewers watched for more than just his card playing. Smith not only played poker but touched many along the way and made a major impact in the process.

WPT Warrior

While Smith may have brought plenty of fun and entertainment to the game, he also brought plenty of skills – including big runs on the WPT for many years. On Day 3 at the WPT Gardens Poker Championship, players held a moment of silence before the start of play in his honor.

WPT President and CEO, Adam Pliska, echoed the sentiments of many in the poker community about Smith’s passing.

“Gavin Smith was one of the best representatives of what it means to have fun at a World Poker Tour event. The WPT Family has Gavin’s friends and family in our thoughts and we will greatly miss his presence at the table.”

Gavin Smith Mirage Poker Showdown

Smith became a regular on the tournament scene in the late-1990s and found early success. A mainstay on the WPT in the 2000s with plenty of big finishes, his first major breakthrough win came at the Mirage Poker Showdown in Season IV (May 2005) for $1.2 million. That same year he finished third in the WPT Doyle Brunson North American Poker Championship at Bellagio for $327,610, and also took fourth at the World Poker Open in Tunica for $173,052.

Gavin Smith WPT Player of the Year

The huge run earned him the Season IV Player of the Year title (pictured) and plenty of fans. The big scores on the WPT continued and in Season VII (2008). Smith came close to adding a second title, finishing runner-up in the North American Poker Championship at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls for $532,545.

Gavin Smith 2

At WPT Montreal at Playground Poker Club in Season XI (2012), he added a fourth-place finish for $212,937 and accumulated more than $2.6 million in lifetime WPT winnings.

At the WPT Tournament of Champions at ARIA last June, Smith was among those in the field. In recent years, Smith had moved to Anchorage, Alaska, and then to Houston, Texas, area to raise his two sons as a single parent. Poker had been put on hold for the most part for a while, and he was enjoying his new life in Texas.

“I don’t really play much poker these days,” he told WPT.com. “I’m raising two kids. Last year, I think I only played maybe three or four tournaments, and this is the first tournament I’ve played this year.”

Being a single dad and a family man wasn’t easy for a poker player, Smith said at the time, but relished his role and loved the time with his two sons.

WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage says Smith was extremely proud of his WPT title and overall success on the tour. Most of all, Savage remembers the type of person he was and the fun-filled life he lived.

“Gavin and I used to have battles on the golf course and I loved every minute of it,” he says. “If you have been in poker for the last 15 years you most likely had a story to tell about Gavin Smith. Gavin 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. I cannot remember any other player dying having this impact.”

A Life in Poker

Beyond the WPT, Smith was a force in poker. He had a long list of six-figure wins and cashes that would rival most players’ resumés. In 2010, that included adding a World Series of Poker bracelet to his trophy collection. In a $2,500 Mixed Limit and No Limit Hold’em event, he topped a field of 507 to win $268,238.

1353 Gavin Smith mocks the Q-9 of Joe Sebok

“I’m just an older guy from Guelph, Ontario, who used to drive a taxi and cut greens,” he told WSOP.com after the win. “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.”

Beyond his work at the tables, Smith was also memorable as a frequent voice on the popular Poker Road Radio podcast with Joe Sebok and Joe Stapleton during the poker boom. His tales of life on the poker road resonated with other players and fans alike. There was no shortage of fond memories for the lovable poker shark on social media after news of his death spread on Tuesday.

“Gavin Smith was one of the more authentic human beings I’d ever met,” Daniel Negreanu tweeted. “Rest in peace, my friend.”

Along with Vince Van Patten, Mike Sexton commentated on Smith’s memorable WPT final table appearances and remembers him as one of the most highly thought of players in poker.

“Gavin Smith, WPT and WSOP champion, was one of the most fun and beloved players in poker history on and off the felt,” he tweeted. “His laugh was infectious.”

Sexton added that Smith was “One of the most fun-loving guys in poker history, both on and off the felt. It seems like yesterday that he won his WPT title. I loved Gavin because he was very funny, had an infectious laugh, and bet on everything – props, golf, sports, whatever. More importantly, he was a great dad for his two boys (of which he had sole custody). He will be missed. Condolences to his family and all the best to his boys.

Van Patten added his own words about the WPT Champions Club member.

“Truly saddened by the loss of Gavin Smith,” he says. “He was one of the great personalities of poker. He was always fun and would make you laugh. My condolences to the family.”

Longtime poker photographer Joe Giron was typical of those who knew him, offering a few fun memories and some insight on the type of person Smith was away from poker.

“There was never a day that I saw Gavin Smith that he didn’t take the time to say hello and make me laugh,” he says. “Genuine, kind and a big personality. We had fun times at WPT events – Beale Street Memphis with wrestler Disco Inferno and the prop bet at Foxwoods to see how many random people he could high-five. Rest in peace.”

Leif Force and Gavin Smith

Helping Hands

Quickly after news of his death, the poker community came together to offer help for Smith’s two sons. A Gofundme account has been established to seek donations for his children and had collected more than $30,000 in the first few hours with a goal of $100,000. Donors posted memories of their own unique experiences with him.

“Gavin made poker fun for everyone – including his opponents,” Washington poker player Steven Garfinkle posted. “And I have fond memories of him singing to me from across the poker room.”

Other fundraising efforts were also in the works with WPT Raw Deal host Phil Hellmuth announcing an upcoming charitable tournament.

“You were LOVED Gavin Smith!” he tweeted. “We are setting up a charity poker tourney in Phoenix on Super Bowl weekend: 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Gavin Smith’s two sons through a trust.”

Smith touched so many in the poker world with photos of good times with the poker star flooding social media throughout the day on Tuesday.

“Can’t believe Gavin is gone,” poker legend Doyle Brunson tweeted on Tuesday. “My Bible says that there is no guarantee for tomorrow. We should all remember and live our lives accordingly.”

If there’s one thing most remember about Gavin Smith, he certainly lived life to the fullest.

Sean Chaffin is a freelance writer in Crandall, Texas. His work appears in numerous websites and publications. Follow him on Twitter @PokerTraditions.