Meet Our Instructors
"The very, very, very best players in the game are still learning. And everybody’s going to keep on learning all their lives… Because for all of us, poker is a constant work in progress."
- WPT Player of the Year
- More than $6 million in tournament winnings
- World Series of Poker bracelet winner
If you saw Gavin Smith playing a tournament, you’d think he was having the time of his life. He laughs, jokes, and banters with the other players, all the while pulling in pot after massive pot—the rewards of his well-known aggressive style and deep-stack expertise.
And Gavin would be having fun. “Poker is a fun game and a very social game, and I’m a very social person,” he will tell you. “So that in itself will keep me enthralled. Card games interest me, social outlets interest me, and making money interests me. So you know—it’s the perfect storm!”
What Gavin might not tell you—and what you might not realize unless you followed his twenty-year career as a highly successful tournament player—is that Gavin is also working as hard as he can to succeed at the game he loves. “Working hard is an important characteristic for anyone,” he says. “People often look at players and pick out the ones they think are the luckiest. I think you’ll often find that the luckiest players are the hardest workers.”
Although Gavin has always worked hard at poker, he believes he’s working harder now than he ever has, taking the game more seriously—and taking himself more seriously as well. Known for a long time as a happy-go-lucky guy who liked to party, Gavin credits poker itself with turning him into a hard worker…but only after a long, slow journey.
Growing Into the Game
Like many players, Gavin’s introduction to poker came from his family.
“I’ve played card games my entire life,” Gavin says. “That’s what I’d do with my father, growing up. I used to play poker at golf courses, but I stumbled upon a Texas Hold’em game at a charity casino. Played it, liked it, and you know, twenty or so years later, here we are!”
Also like many players, Gavin enjoyed poker because it seemed to be a form of gambling that favored not the house, but the player with the best knowledge of the game.
“I’ve always been a bit of a gambler,” he says. “I’ve just never cared enough to count cards or learn how to be a winning gambler, so I was always a losing gambler. So I liked the fact that poker was kind of an intellectual game where you could actually get some sort of edge and beat it.” Eventually, says Gavin, “Becoming a winning player became a game in itself.”
Gavin came for the challenge—and stayed for the thrill. “It’s exciting when you win,” he says. “Especially in tournaments. When you’ve won a tournament, especially a big one, it’s a feeling that keeps you going for a long, long time.”
Enjoying the Fruits of Success
Gavin got plenty of excitement four years into his career, when he finally turned pro. That year, Gavin played in his first poker tournaments during the World Poker Finals at Foxwoods, where he made two final tables. The following year, also at the World Poker Finals, he took down a tournament, a triumph he repeated the year after that. Gavin’s journey as a high-stakes tournament player was well underway.
In 2005, the already successful Gavin had a string of wins and cashes that included some of the high points of his career. At the Mirage Poker Showdown, he won two tournaments, including a $1.1 million victory in the World Poker Tour championship.
Gavin calls that win “absolutely huge”, and says that it was “massive” to take home an even bigger honor: being named World Poker Tour Player of the Year in 2006.
But one of Gavin’s personal favorites was “not even a very big win—when I came fifth at Championship Poker in the Plaza in 2004.” He treasures that victory because it cemented his professional relationship with top player Erick Lindgren.
Erick and Gavin had been friends for a while when Erick backed Gavin on a short-term basis at the 2004 World Series of Poker. “I cashed twice quickly. Then I took fifth at the Plaza, and he decided to take a stab at backing me for a year,” Gavin recalls. “Then, just about a year later, it all came together at the Mirage, and things started to roll.”
“That changed the course of my life,” Gavin says. “It gave me a shot.”
But chief among Gavin’s personal career highlights is winning his first World Series of Poker bracelet. That, says Gavin, was “very emotional and very special”.
Gavin had been so well-regarded in the poker world for such a long time that he had become a regular on “best player without a bracelet” lists. When he finally took home the gold, enthusiastic reporters suggested that the victory was just a matter of time. Gavin sees it differently.
“I don’t ever feel that any tournament victory is just a matter of time,” he says. “Tournaments are really, really hard to win. Especially the World Series—the events are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and there’s no guarantees that we do have our chance coming up. That’s why I think it’s all the more important to grasp your opportunities when you get them. And never give a second-best effort. Ever!”
From Second-Best Effort to Full-Out Commitment
That notion of “second-best effort” is a sore point for Gavin. “All my life, I’ve been guilty of giving way too many second-best efforts,” he says ruefully. “You just don’t get enough chances in life in anything to half-ass it. Anything worth doing is worth doing your best.”
But making a full-out commitment has not come easily to Gavin, as he’ll be the first to tell you. “In my life—not just my poker life, in my entire life—I’ve been my worst enemy,” he says. “I’m always having to fight against myself to have success, which makes it all the more important that I’ve ever had success. I think over the years I’ve been so scared of success that any time I got close, I would sabotage it so I’d never have to prove it was a fluke, you know?"
“I think my biggest problem in my entire life is I’ve never really believed in myself enough.”
What changed all that?
“Poker,” says Gavin. “Poker is the first thing that I had success in that I kept trying to do. Everything else, I would eventually get out of it before someone could prove my success was a fluke. So, yeah, poker helped me make a lot of major, major life improvements.”
Gavin has always worked hard at poker. But since his children were born, he’s worked harder than ever. “Now I’ve got two boys, and I’m playing for them both,” he says. “I don’t give half efforts any more. My kids deserve my best effort.”
Ask Gavin how his kids have changed his game, and typically for an expert player, he’ll answer you in terms of stack theory and risk-reward ratios.
“I’ve always been a very, very good big stack player,” he says matter-of-factly. “I think that’s very well known. I even wrote the chapter in the Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide about how to play a big stack."
“I’m also pretty good at playing a real short stack. I understand the concepts of short-stack play and the in and outs involved."
“But where I’ve always faltered is in between the two—having a medium stack or starting to get shortish or whatnot. I think my biggest issue is that I started mailing it in sooner than I needed to. I started thinking I was short well before I really was short. And I’d choose to go with marginal hands that I didn’t need to go with or lousy spots that I didn’t need to go with. And half the time it was because I just didn’t care enough. I either wanted to get chips, or I wanted to get out and go party or go hang out or go do whatever the hell else I wanted to do.”
Now, Gavin says, he takes every tournament seriously—“and now I fight for every single chip. I’m not saying because of my new attitude that I won’t make bonehead plays at times, but when I make bonehead plays now, I’m making them for a lot better reason than because I want to go and drink. You know?”
In fact, Gavin says, these days, he’s playing the best poker of his life. And every day, “I strive to improve, and I continue to strive to improve.”
Sharing His Hard-Won Wisdom
Because Gavin has worked so hard to become the serious player he now is, he appreciates the chance to share what he knows at WPT Boot Camp.
“I enjoy seeing people who are enthusiastic and who care about the game and who are in the room to try to learn,” he says.
Teaching also helps Gavin sharpen his own game. “It’s kind of nice sometimes to have to put your thoughts into words,” he says, especially since to a longtime poker pro, playing can almost become automatic.
“It’s like when you’re driving a car and your foot just moves to the brake, just because it’s time for your foot to move to the brake,” he says. “You don’t really know why your foot is moving to the brake. And I think the same thing happens in poker. I think it’s really important to sometimes go right back and know why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Gavin also appreciates teaching alongside a team of top poker educators and pros. “The people I teach with are all really smart guys,” he says. “And they have great stuff to offer. Every camp, they’ll say something that will make me think. And you know, thinking’s good! If you don’t keep your brain thinking, it’s going to stop working.”
What advice is Gavin most eager to share with his students?
“Stop thinking you’re going to conquer this game in a weekend or a day or a week or a year,” he says promptly. “The game isn’t really that conquerable."
“The very, very, very best players in the game are still learning. And everybody’s going to keep on learning all their lives. So whenever you start thinking that you’re better than the game, you’re done!"
“I think that students should try to identify what they get out of every Boot Camp and realize that and appreciate it. And not get overwhelmed about all the stuff they still don’t know. They should just keep on working on all those other areas of the game. Because for all of us, poker is a constant work in progress.”