Gavin Smith was a really fun dude. Maybe even too much fun, at times.
But there's no doubt he brought a lot of joy to almost every poker table he ever blessed with his presence.
He was no slouch in the poker skills department, either.
Home Games to Dealer to Pro
Known as one of the most fun and most aggressive players on the tournament circuit, Canadian pro Gavin Smith learned to play cards as a youngster; his father taught him cribbage and rummy at the kitchen table in his childhood home in Guelph, Ontario.
His introduction to poker came years later, in 1994, when a traveling charity tournament was hosted at the golf course Gavin was working at.
Having earned a bachelors degree in economics Gavin has a keen understanding of mathematics and is a natural poker player. Intrigued, he began playing home games with friends and co-workers and in 1996 took a job as a poker dealer, a position he held for nearly two years.
During that time Gavin opened and ran his own poker club in Kitchener, Ontario for about one year before going pro in 1998.
Gavin Smith Storms the WPT
That year Gavin headed to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn. to compete in the World Poker Tour (WPT) World Poker Finals, where he made two final tables. In 1999, Gavin returned to Foxwoods and won his first major tournament, the No-Limit Hold'em event at the WPT World Poker Finals.
The next year he won the Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Eight-or-Better tournament at the same annual series.
In his first years as a pro Gavin became acquainted with fellow up-and-comer Erick Lindgren, who helped bankroll him and also coached him in strategic and analytical play. Both players signed on as representatives of Full Tilt Poker and rose to prominence in the world of poker during the heady days of the poker boom.
In 2000 Gavin placed fourth in the Seven-Card Stud Hi-Lo Split tournament at the United States Poker Championship in Atlantic City, N.J. In 2003 he placed second to "Miami" John Cernuto in the WPT World Poker Finals at Foxwoods, earning $33,630 - his largest tournament win at that time - and beating out poker pro Kenna James, who took third.
In the years after Smith shifted his focus from cash games to tournament play and the results speak for themselves. He placed in the top 10 in 14 different events, four of which were first-place finishes.
His most prominent wins include first place in the Mirage Poker Showdown Championship in 2004, third place in the Second Annual Doyle Brunson North American Poker Classic and a win in the World Pro-Am Challenge in 2006.
In the spring of 2006 Gavin's talent was recognized when he was named WPT Player of the Year and the exposure his wins and skills garnered him led to other poker-related opportunities, including a deal to film an instructional poker DVD.
Made for Poker TV
Smith's total career tournament earnings are an astounding $6.3m. He might be remembered most, however, for his appearances on Poker After Dark, where he won several shows and endeared himself to poker fans worldwide.
In spite of his lucrative sponsorship deals and skyrocketing poker career Gavin always remained grounded by returning to his roots and giving back to those less fortunate. As just one example, Gavin and the poker community helped raise funds for the young daughter and surviving family of a woman who passed away from terminal cancer in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Inspired by Gavin, several top pros including Scott Fischman, Phil Gordon, Joseph Hachem, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Ivey, Isabelle Mercier, Michael Mizrachi, Daniel Negreanu and Mark Seif donated money and autographed merchandise and photographs to be sold in a silent auction on eBay to benefit young Peyton Novoa and her grandparents, who had spent all their money trying to keep Peyton's young mother alive.
To bring further attention to the cause Gavin discussed the charity initiative on ESPN and brought it to the attention of the poker media, including PokerListings.com, where articles were published to help generate funds and awareness.
A Tumultuous Decade
As one of the many faces of Full Tilt Poker during the poker boom Gavin had an open ticket to all of the highest-profile poker events and took full advantage, appearing on poker TV shows large and small and being a regular at the WSOP and on the WPT.
He finished 3rd in the NBC Heads-Up Championship in 2007, won a couple of his weeks on Poker After Dark and won his only career WSOP bracelet at the 2010 WSOP in a $2,500 Limit/No-Limit Hold'em event.
As the decade wore on, though, the hard nights of partying and living the poker lifestyle took its toll and Smith stepped back from the poker scene more and more.
In recent years he'd still pop by to play the WSOP and smaller events in Canada and Vegas as he felt like it. His last cash came in the 2017 WSOP Main Event for $20k.
Loud Mouth, Big Heart
Though Gavin's massive amounts of empathy and compassion are wonderful traits, they're not usually the most desirable when sitting at the poker table. Smith, however, had no trouble putting them aside when playing poker and was known for his talkative nature and "wild" play at the table.
Combined with his instinctual style of play that gave him an edge over his opponents at virtually every poker table he ever sat down at.
When he wasn't rising the ranks of the poker world or leading charitable initiatives Gavin liked to relax by playing golf, rollerblading, playing pool with his friends and raising his two sons.
A resident of Las Vegas, Anchorage and Houston, Gavin sadly passed away on Jan 14, 2019, at his home. A GoFundMe fundraiser was initiated by his friend and fellow pro Josh Arieh to help support Gavin's sons. Click here to donate.
Friend and fellow poker pro Joe Sebok paid tribute to Gavin on Facebook with the following:
"Gavin and I spent roughly 10 years together traveling the world, playing poker, partying, fighting, creating ‘pokertainment’ with a wonderfully talented cast of characters, raising hell, and sharing a lot of good times and a lot of bad times.
"He affectionately called me his “little bro” and I did always feel that connection with him. His spirit was larger than life, and he was the soul of everything that we created. He made up for his lack of common sense with a double sized dose of love.
"Let’s not sugar coat it though, Gavin was a bit of a mess, complete with inner demons that would rival most purgatories. I think that’s why we identified with each other so well, on a primal level, despite having wildly different experiences.
"That’s the thing though, Gavin was a mess in all the ways that LIFE is a mess. Life is beautiful and perfect for all it’s maddening difficulties and struggles, and so was Gavin. He encapsulated every piece of that and that’s why I think we all loved him so much.
"He, in many ways, is what life should be: full of love and loudness. It ain’t ever going to be a smooth ride, and neither was Gavin, but in a lot of ways that is what’s perfect about it, and him. We talked poker, life, love, struggles, antagonized the living hell out of each other, and went through a ton together. Any story I could jot down here would just make me think of another that I forgot.
"Countless hilarious moments. Endless prop bets (hope you enjoyed that tattoo of my initials, big fella), cocktails, and late nights. I saw him less the last few years but did have a night in Vegas with him and a day in San Francisco, and they were special to me.
"Gav changed his flight so he could pop into the city and spend an afternoon with me where I skipped out on work. Typical Gavin stuff – going out of his way for someone else to help make a memory. He softened as he got a little older, I think we all do, and it was nice to see happen. That day will be my final memory with him, and it’s one I cherish.
"... He gave us all a lot more than we were able to give back to him. Sending light and love, old buddy. This Cub will miss you."