This is the second and final part of an in-depth interview with Dan Smith, one of the biggest winners and still youngest players on the international poker circuit. Read the first part here, in which Smith talks about learning the game, playing chess and his magical 2012 where he put on one of the most impressive stretches of good results ever.
In the second part Smith talks about utilizing his skills, the online poker grind in Toronto post-Black Friday and taking shots on the highest stakes and the infamous 'beach house' he rented one summer in New Jersey.
The Online Grind
In chess there are rankings and Smith never managed to get to the level he aspired to reach. In poker there is no such thing, besides tournament leader board like the GPI, but those tell us nothing about the true skill of a player. We asked Smith if he ever encountered someone who was just better than him as a player.
“In poker it really depends on the form you’re playing. A couple of years ago I was playing a lot of heads up No Limit Hold’em, after which I ended up taking about six months off where I was playing mostly live poker. After not playing for a long time I just decided to jump right back in it, and this must’ve been around 2008 or 2009, and I saw WGCrider playing. This was before he was ‘the guy’ at heads up, and we might’ve played for about three hours on four tables.”
“After that session I realized that this guy was so much better than me, and because we were friendly with each other, we ended up getting sushi the same night we played. We talked about heads up play and I was shocked by how much more advanced his thinking was. At that point I realized that people at heads up were already getting to be extremely good and the action was starting to dry up a little. That for me was a reason to focus more on tournaments, while it also taught me something about heads up No Limit. That experience still helps me right now when I get heads up in tournaments and I think that’s a very important skill to have as well because of the huge difference in payouts between first and second place. Especially nowadays in the 40-player High Roller tournaments, that edge makes a big difference,” Smith said.
Nowadays Smith lives in Toronto, Ontario after Black Friday forced him to move out of the US in case he wanted to keep playing online poker. The move has been good for him, as he explained it was that situation that ultimately got him to play more live tournaments.
“We have a four-bedroom house in Toronto and one of the bedrooms downstairs is an office. I think it’s good psychologically to have a place where you play poker, separated from the other spaces. We have three computer set ups downstairs and I’m sitting behind two 30 inch monitors on your typical IKEA desk,” Smith described his office.
“Dani Stern used to live here, but he recently moved to Playa Del Carmen so now it’s LuckyChewy (Andrew Lichtenberger), Aaron Jones and myself. Up until the last couple of weeks I’ve been putting in the most hours, but now it’s Aaron who’s been grinding Zoom and Rush poker very seriously. He’s been on quite the heater and I personally love playing those as well. For instance last night I was two-tabling $25/$50 and honestly the games were quite good, but I was so bored because it was so slow. Rush and Zoom are smaller stakes, but the 800 hands per hour really makes up for it. The $2/$4 Zoom games are a little tougher than those stakes should be, but it’s a good trade off to play so many more hands an hour. Also, I’m not always playing just to make money, it’s also good practice in order to be sharp for these big buy in tournaments where you have to be extremely sharp with your ranges,” Smith said.
“I try to be pretty diligent when it comes to note taking during online play. If you see someone stack off too light in a given situation you can extrapolate that they might do so as well in other situations. On the opposite, if they see that they fail to pull the trigger in an obvious bluff situation, maybe they don’t bluff enough. Sometimes it also happens where you see someone make a move that immediately makes me question if they have a strong theoretical understanding of the game, so I’ll seek out that play and go after them,” Smith said.
Dan Smith after winning WPT Five Diamond in December 2013
The Black Friday Move
“For me moving to Toronto was great because I wouldn’t have played nearly as much live poker if it weren’t for Black Friday. Before Black Friday, I played a lot of Rush poker online in Las Vegas and I was happy just doing that. At the time I was considering moving to New York or San Diego and keeping up a similar schedule, but that fell apart and I decided to play more live events after Black Friday. I went on an immediate heater, as even before moving to Toronto I got second in a tournament at Parx in Philadelphia. When I went to London a month or two later I had two final tables and in 2012 I had my biggest upswing,” Smith said as he ended up cashing for $3.7 million over the course of 2012.
We tend to easily overlook online results of players with big live scores, but in 2012 Smith also managed to take down the Sunday Million on PokerStars for $8,000 more than the initial first-place prize. Smith had half the chips in play and the others agreed on a chip chop, something that always favors the chip leader. Smith locked a little less than first place with five players remaining, and ultimately he took down the tournament and win the additional prize as well.
Online poker did not always go so well though, as he recalled taking shots on the highest stakes at a time when he was not properly bankrolled for these types of swings.
Taking Shots and Grinding it Up
“I had a short-lived endeavor when I was younger on the $200/$400 PLO because I thought some guys were playing way too loose. There was an easy counter strategy to that, but unfortunately there is a little bit of variance in PLO,” Smith sarcastically said, “It was a short-lived experiment that did not end very well.”
“I also wasn’t that good at the time and it probably wasn’t the most responsible thing to do. At that point, the idea of downswings wasn’t really worrisome. I thought I could just blast off $100,000 and grind it back up at $5/$10. Bankroll was irrelevant because your implied bankroll is huge, that’s what we thought back then. Even though I wasn’t rolled to play those stakes yet, I knew I was going to be eventually,” Smith said as he also pointed out that shots like these are not as easy to take in the current poker climate.
“Nowadays it’s certainly much harder to get into poker compared to when I started. When I started, I jumped from site to site to clear bonuses and that was a nice way to pad your bankroll. People nowadays are so good, that even the small stakes aren’t a joke anymore. I don’t know too much about the $0.25/$0.50 games, but I’m aware there are people making a living playing at those stakes. The rake is also something you have to take into account when grinding up the stakes, but I still think I could turn $1,000 into a nice bankroll within a year if I was to start all over. For someone new it’s a huge challenge, but who knows the next Isildur1 might be out there somewhere,” Smith said.
When Smith was moving up the ranks there were plenty of others trying, and achieving, the same thing. Among those are some friends who all still frequent the highest stakes and biggest tournaments. During one of these first summers as a poker player, Smith decided to rent a house in New Jersey on the beach and he tells us what went down there.
The Beach House
“I just finished my first year of college, which turned out to be my last as well but that’s a completely different story, and I really enjoyed the independence. I really loved the social aspect of college, having people over and staying up late etcetera. Because I didn’t want to be throwing parties at my mom’s house I posted on the poker forums about this idea I was having. I knew Zugwat from the University of Maryland and he was very tight with Chewy, and both Chewy and Randal (Flowers) I’d met at Turning Stone casino before that already. We were all young up and coming players, but since we weren’t old enough to play in Las Vegas we decided to make our own plans. Some friends of mine helped me pick out this beach house in New Jersey, which turned out to be in the wrong neighborhood. It was a residential area, and the people living there weren’t too happy with a bunch of 19-year olds having multiple loud parties that would go very late. It was a little bit obnoxious and the cops showed up regularly, but it was fun and we did learn a lot of poker. I wouldn’t have changed it for anything but we could’ve organized it a little better looking back on it,” Smith said, as ultimately they got evicted from the premises.
“It wasn’t just about drinking; we were still playing a ton of poker as well. Especially Chewy and Zugwat were huge grinders at the time and went from $2/$4 players to $50/$100 and up in under six months. That was quite wild to be a part of and an extremely cool experience. Chewy had been very conservative with his bankroll for a long time and I think it wasn’t until aejones told him to move up because he was the real deal in his eyes, that Chewy started moving up. For me personally it was quite a tough time, given that my dad had just passed away and poker was going poorly. In the house though I won the $100 rebuy for a mid-five-figure cash and that really helped me out. This was right before the Heartland Poker Tour event where I really had no interest in going. I had however told the guys I was going to go, and since I was the only one with a car we ended up making the trip down. Short story, I ended up taking the tournament down for my first live cash and a huge bankroll boost,” Smith said as he won $101,960 in that event back in June of 2008.
During these tough times, poker was a positive outlet for Smith. Smith was however a bit naïve and influenced by a good friend he also thought staking was an easy way to make money.
Dan Smith during the GuangDang Millions in 2013
An All Consuming Game and Lucky Beers
“Poker was a game that I loved, it was consuming and I think it’s good for people to do thinks that they’re good at, and certainly a nice distraction at that point. There were also some naïve things I did back then. I needed money to pay for my tuition and I found someone who was willing to swap for cash with me. For some reason I ended up sending the money first, because I thought the guy was reputable, which he turned out not to be. He gave me his references, but I didn’t even bother checking them and after the fact they told me they would’ve never vouched for that guy. With staking players, I probably bit off more than I could chew as well. I thought, because it was so easy for me to make money, that it would be easy to teach some other people to make money for me. It all seemed like easy money at the time, but I went a little too big too fast. If a player needs a stake, you should sometimes consider why he needs it for certain games,” Smith said.
“It probably didn’t help that Timex was my first poker friend,” Smith laughed after a brief pause. “I thought it just went like he did, build a bit of a bankroll, you stake a bunch of other players and run it up to millions!”
“Timex makes everything look so fucking easy,” Smith sarcastically added.
Eventually Smith turned into one of the players that made things look easy, which is of course largely due to the ‘Lucky Beer Theory’ he invented. This theory, tried by many others but only perfected by Smith, involves ordering a beer during the last level of the day in order to summon some additional run good.
“Historically it has done very well for me and it’s also a fun social thing. When I got really deep in a $1,500 Event at the WSOP a few years ago I got super short and ordered a lucky beer in the last level. During the next 40 minutes my stack went times six and my table was like, ‘Holy shit, beers really are lucky!’ Four guys then started pounding beers and with two tables left in the tournament a third of the field was drunk off lucky beers. I ended up getting knocked out in 13th place by a guy who was completely shit faced,” Smith said as he burst out laughing.
“I’m not sure if the person who drinks the most gets the luckiest, because my sample size isn’t huge on this. I would have to run some more science on it, but I don’t necessarily think it’s the amount of beers; it’s also the timing of the beer. I do like the hypothesis that each beer is luckier than the previous one though,” Smith added.
The Year Off Spice
The word ‘science’ rang a bell and we wanted to get the full story on how the naming of each year came into play, and what it exactly means. Here’s how the previous years have been named.
“It started on New Years Eve 2012 when Peter Jetten announced it was going to be the ‘Year of Justice’. That year I ended up going on a huge heater after having had bad results in live poker for a very long time, so we of course said I was due to win and that there was ‘justice’ involved. That year they set Peter up as the oracle, and every year since he has announced what the year is going to be,” Smith said.
“For 2013 he announced that it was going to be the ‘Year of Science’ and 11 months later Webster announced that ‘Science’ was the word of the year. That was pretty hilarious!” Smith laughed. “The Year of Justice has been the best for me so far, but in the end science prevailed and that year also turned into a good one last December,” Smith said.
Right now we’re in the Year of Spice and that as well has proven itself to be good for Smith. The youngster has already won a TCOOP event on PokerStars for more than $125,000 and he chopped the $25,000 Challenge at the Aussie Millions for $243,567.
This year however will not only be about poker, as he told us it’s all about maximizing his happiness. One tournament could definitely be a factor in that, as Smith thinks strongly about playing the $1,000,000 One Drop tournament this summer.
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