There will never be another poker player quite like Gavin Smith.
The hard-living, boisterous Canadian passed away in his sleep at his home in Houston, Texas, earlier this week. He was just 50 years old and left behind two sons. The cause of death was not disclosed.
The Guelph native, who sometimes went by the nickname “BirdSportsbook” or “Caveman,” was one of the original TV poker pros and juiced up numerous poker shows over the years with a personality that sometimes gave opponents fits but also delighted fans.
Smith had a reputation as one of the loudest, most authentic, blue-collar players to ever sit at a poker table.
One of the Best Canadian Poker Players
While Gavin Smith was renowned for his sense of humor at the poker table, he was also one of the most successful Canadian poker players of all time.
Smith amassed over $6.3 million in lifetime live tournament earnings and ranked in the top 10 for Canadian poker players for much of his career.
His biggest win came in 2005 when he outlasted 317 players and then beat noted pro Ted Forrest heads-up to take down $1.1 million at the WPT Sportsbook Poker Showdown.
Smith learned to play cards by playing gin rummy and cribbage with his father. He graduated to poker at the age of 26 and started playing a variety of games with his co-workers. Eventually Smith worked as a dealer and even set up his own poker club in 1998. During that time he also worked as a taxi driver.
Smith started to win No-Limit Hold’em and Seven-Card Stud tournaments in the late ’90s just before the online poker boom of the early 2000s. After winning his WPT title, he picked up a sponsorship deal with the burgeoning Full Tilt Poker. Known for his brash, sometimes tilt-inducing behavior at the table, Smith started getting invited to TV shows like Poker After Dark and Face the Ace.
In one of his most memorable appearances, Smith beat Phil Ivey, whom many consider the best poker player in the world, heads-up on Poker After Dark after consuming a number of alcoholic beverages.
Smith also had a long history of appearing on media programs and co-hosted a radio show on the defunct PokerRoad with Joe Sebok for a number of years.
Smith Admitted to Struggles in the Past
Gavin Smith would be the first person to admit he had some flaws. He had a reputation for partying, drinking and prop betting.
Over the years he struggled with alcoholism and was often intoxicated at the poker table or on the rail. At certain points he quit drinking but was never able to quit the habit completely.
Smith once told CardPlayer Magazine that he gave off the illusion of a happy person but on the inside had his own personal struggles.
Smith got a piece of validation in 2010 when he finally won his first WSOP gold bracelet for $268,000 in front of a packed room of friends and family.
Despite his struggles (or perhaps partially because of them) Smith was beloved in the poker industry by both his fellow players and the media. He was relatable. He was also a devoted father and often spoke of his two sons as being central to his life.
His passing inspired an outpouring of support from the poker community. Fellow poker pro Josh Arieh helped set up a GoFundMe page to help support Smith’s two sons. It took just one day to raise over $50,000, which illustrates how much the poker community cared about Smith.
Here’s a look at some of poker’s most famous personalities responding to Smith’s passing:
Gavin Smith was a smart, funny, talented character who loved the game of poker. The only thing he loved more than the game were his kids and my heart breaks for them today. RIP. pic.twitter.com/OLpVihrVk6— Lance Bradley (@Lance_Bradley) January 15, 2019
Gavin Smith was one of the more authentic human beings I’d ever met.— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) January 15, 2019
Rest In Peace my friend... pic.twitter.com/8sUlQhSxvS
You were LOVED OleGSmith!! We are setting up a charity poker tourney in Phoenix on Super Bowl weekend: 100% of the proceeds will go to Gavin Smiths two sons through a trust. Meanwhile, here is a go fund me page for his kids: https://t.co/bYgNxAXABr #RIPGavin— phil_hellmuth (@phil_hellmuth) January 15, 2019
If you have been in poker for the last 15 years you most likely had a story to tell about Gavin Smith. @olegsmith 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. #RIPGavin pic.twitter.com/7tvbA6Zuh2— Matt Savage (@SavagePoker) January 15, 2019
We're all working today with heavy hearts as we mourn the loss of Gavin Smith. He was a great friend to many of us. @Stapes, after mentioning the loss on the live stream today, stepped outside to talk about his friend Gavin, what he meant to poker, & what he meant to all of us. pic.twitter.com/P88WeTV4JQ— PokerStarsBlog (@PokerStarsBlog) January 15, 2019