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The Windmills of My Mind: Remembering Gavin Smith

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Personal | 18 comments



This is an article I never expected to write.

Gavin Smith died last night.

Wait.  Did I just type those words?  Gavin Smith died?  What the fuck?

I mean, it’s just not fair.  This isn’t right.  It can’t be.  It’s a mistake.  This must be some kind of cruel joke.  Yeah, it’s a joke.  Gavin can’t possibly be gone.  He’s a survivor.  An iron man.  Nothing stops Gavin.  He’s indestructible.

I’ve seen Gavin pull more than a few all-nighters and then come back and do it all over again.  I’ve seen Gavin wreck brand new cars.  I’ve been wild and crazy enough to get on the back of a motorcycle with Gavin wielding the handlebars.  I’ve seen Gavin utterly penniless and still somehow show up at a $10,000 buy-in tournament gushing with a huge smile on his face acting like he was the luckiest man alive.  I’ve seen Gavin slam down 20 cocktails in a single bar session.  Numerous times.  I’ve seen Gavin up and down and over and out — and yet I never envisioned this most sobering and shocking moment.

Gavin’s gone.

I haven’t read anything yet about the reported “cause” of death nor do I want to know.  That’s because I can’t bear the pain of going there.  Not yet.  I don’t want to break down and be left in some darker and sadder place pondering questions to which there are likely no answers.  They all want to know what happened, to know how he died.  Well, I don’t care how he died.  Right now, at this instant, all I want to do is cherish this moment and relish some memories of how he lived.  All I care about is my dear friend — and he’s gone.

Gavin’s gone.


I’ve known Gavin Smith for more than 20 years — 22 years, to be exact.  I deliberately write “known” instead of “knew” because I can’t put Gavin in the past tense.  Not yet.  Not now.  That painful reality of life in the past-tense will take time.  Lots of time.  I chose to squeeze Gavin for one more selfish minute if I can.  Let this reflection be that elusive embrace.

No poker player, past or present, provided me with more laughter.  No friend made me angrier.  No one drove me crazier.  No colleague inspired move genuine love and compassion.  No person was more infantile yet also so eloquently expressive.  No man in the game I spent much of my life covering was such an open book.

Gavin’s flaws were many and they were glaring.  Those flaws only made his virtues all the more spectacular.  Gavin was everybody’s merry sidekick, a man-child, a motley court jester who spoke an unfiltered truth on all subjects.  He sputtered whatever popped into his mind and often expressed sentiments everyone else in the room was thinking but who lacked the courage to speak.  Gavin may have lacked proper decorum, at times, but he was brutally honest.  Sometimes, way too honest.

Gavin was the toughest not on others, but on himself.  He acknowledged his many failings.  He did make earnest attempts to correct some of them.  He cleaned up his act when it came time to do the right thing.  Sometimes, he succeeded.  Other times, he failed.

A few years ago, Gavin showed what he was capable of doing when he set his mind to a goal.  He quit drinking for nearly a year, cleaned up his act, straightened his life out, and won custody of his two children.  Gavin loved being a dad.  He even put poker on hold to be with his kids.

Gavin is the most loyal and devoted person I’ve ever known in the game of poker — selflessly loyal to his friends, loyal to animals which he absolutely adored, and loyal to his children who shall someday remember their dad in ways that will surely be as painful as proud and pleasing.



I first met Gavin at the 1997 World Poker Finals, at Foxwoods in Connecticut.

Portly, half-shaven, a terrible dresser — he was just some obnoxious Canadian kid no one had ever heard of who didn’t seem to let anything faze him at the poker table.  We spent an entire week together playing nothing but single-table satellites.  Gavin knocked me out of more than a few of those tables, and I busted him a few times, too.  Win or lose, Gavin’s reaction was always the same.  He’d smile and laugh.  His cackle drove people crazy.

Months later, we hung out together at the World Poker Open, at the Gold Strike in Mississippi.  Gavin watched me take a few particularly brutal beats and would laugh uproariously when I slammed the table with my fist.  He drove me utterly insane.  Man, was he obnoxious.  What a loudmouthed son-of-a-bitch.

Well, one thing led to another.  Resentment faded.  Laugher won out.  Arguments led to cocktails and the trading of deeply personal confidences and eventually friendship and love.  Gradually, I came to realize that Gavin’s life-of-the-party persona masked some deeply concealed vulnerabilities.  He wasn’t alone.

You know when you try to fall asleep at night and you can’t turn your brain off and thoughts and memories tumble — those are the windmills of the mind.  And I can’t turn them off.  Gavin is windmill of memories, some painful, all fond.


Money never mattered shit to Gavin.  Perhaps that’s a serious flaw in these times so obsessed with money and materialism.  I don’t know.  But being so selflessly carefree provided a sense of liberation most of the rest of us lack, but silently do seek.

I hung out with Gavin the night after he won a million dollars.  I also hung out with Gavin when he wasn’t just flat-ass broke, but well over six-figures in debt to backers.  He was the identical person in both circumstances.  No one could tell the difference.  Gavin might have $2 or $20,000 in his pocket and he was exactly the same person.  Gavin just had a completely different mindset.  He had his own barometer for success and happiness.  Money wasn’t an end.  It was merely a tool.  He didn’t use the tools of his trade well, but if friendships were gold then Gavin was the federal reserve.  He had the King Midas touch.

Gavin knew every bartender in every casino from Pompano to Poughkeepsie, and they all knew him by name and remembered precisely what he drank.  I walked into at least 50 bars with Gavin where time and time again a tall greyhound with a double vodka pour was served and garnished on the counter by the time I had a chance to take a seat.  The man was a living legend.  He’s the only guy I ever met who could drink on credit.  Perhaps that endearing generosity made us all his enablers, guilty contributors to his ultimate sad fate.  Let such judgment be reserved until later.  All I know is, Gavin was as brutally honest and devotedly loyal after 19 drinks or on the wagon.  Vice might have been Gavin’s crutch.  But vice was never Gavin’s illusion.

Gavin held my sick cat for hours like a baby at a poker table at Binion’s Horseshoe (true story).  Once, Gavin showed up in upstate New York with no money and no credit card, expecting to play and stay for a week in an expensive hotel (yes, he got everything comped and left with cash in his pocket).  Gavin and I once talked about writing a book together on (get ready to laugh your ass off) — “how to pick up girls.”  I shit you not.  That was the subject matter.  Gavin was a master craftsman.  He was the most unsexy man alive who somehow had a quality that endeared him to women, and everyone else.

His passions and his laughter were infectious.  Whatever you were discussing before Gavin walked up, the subject was about to change one.  He was a mover.  A shaker.  A force.  A terror.  An earthquake.

Here’s an article I wrote years ago about going out to a bar in Las Vegas with Gavin when neither one of us had any money.



Gavin was one of the very few people I’ve ever known who could and often would change an entire room….simply by walking into it.

Years ago, I was at a fancy steakhouse in Chicago.  This was one of those crusty old-fashioned places ranked with lots of stars, with walnut-wood paneled walls, where everyone inside whispered, where they sipped martinis, where the establishment ruled and people like Gavin Smith usually bused tables if they were allowed inside, at all.  Chris Bell was there with me as we waited in the bar for Gavin to arrive.

The bar was filled with blue-haired women, old bartenders sporting white beards like ship captains, accompanied by a pianist playing Tony Bennett songs.  Neither Chris nor I knew what condition Gavin would show up in.  But we feared the worst.

Gavin busted in the door and every head turned.

“Hey, you fuckers, I’m here!”

Over the next 15 minutes, I witnessed an absolute transformation that defies any logical explanation.  Gavin was spewing out wild stories, going up to blue hairs on barstools offering to do shots together (some accepting his outlandish offer), introducing himself to everyone as a poker pro who somehow blew through a million dollars within three months.   Any other loudmouth jerk would have been tossed out on the sidewalk as an insane crank.

To this day, I still can’t explain it.  I can’t explain his appeal, I mean.  Call it a gift.  Gavin had those blue-hairs and bartenders eating out of his hand like mule deer at a petting zoo.  He changed that room simply by walking into it.  If he was selling aluminum siding, everyone in that bar would have left holding a signed contract, convinced they not only got a great deal but made a new friend.

As I said, I can’t explain.  But I do know he possessed was a gift.

That’s the story I recall when thinking about Gavin in a bar.  Or, anywhere.



I had the occasional honor and fleeting privilege of being present at the high point of the careers of many poker players — which is when they finally win a gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker.  I’ve witnessed and presented on occasion about half (around 600) of all the gold bracelets awarded in history.  I’ve seen them all — Brunson, Chan, Ungar, and the rest.

In the span of three decades I’ve attended the WSOP starting in 1985 up through 2016, no single moment gave me more joy than what happened on June 27th, 2010.

That day, Gavin won his first and only gold bracelet.

The specifics of which event he won or what hands he played or the amount of prize money isn’t what I recall, now.  That money’s long gone.  What I do remember was — all the love.  The fucking love, man.  The love everyone had for Gavin.  What I remember was the spectator rail, stacked 10-deep.  What I remember was not just Gavin’s tears flowing down the side of his face but the tears of everyone who was there that day.  What I remember was my own tears flowing and of being so proud of the marvelous mess of a man who had made the long day’s journey into night and then had survived long enough to see a new sunrise.



The next day, presenting Gavin with his gold bracelet wasn’t at all about poker or prize money.

Gavin’s real victory was in standing upon a stage and peering out into a vast sea of beloved friends and colleagues and well-wishers, many of whom had vociferously battled him at the tables days earlier to prevent that moment from happening, but then taking absolute joy in watching the joy of another.

History loves the flawed hero, the victor who struggled most, the honest and the brave.

Gavin has been compared to Ken Stabler in football and John Daly in golf.  All three were lovable lions who were the life of the party, but who struggled in the dark when party time was over.  He was like sticking Robin Williams, Ozzie Osborne, and San Kinison into a giant blender, dousing the concoction with vodka and grapefruit juice, then hitting the puree button.  There was only one Gavin.  And, thank goodness for that.  One Gavin is all we could handle.  Barely so.

When Gavin accepted his gold bracelet upon that stage, they all cheered.  Everyone was rooting for him.  Indeed, Gavin had changed yet another room, this time a much bigger room, just by being in it.


Let’s not gloss over the obvious.  Gavin was a man with serious problems and severe troubles.

Gavin fought many battles, not so much with what was on the outside, but what was hidden on the inside.  If the highs were high, the lows were cruelly low — his restitution.

Those of us who knew him well were aware that he never shied away from those personal deficiencies, nor did he ever deny talking about them.  But those flaws and failures also were composed into a rough uncut diamond of lasting friendship and loyalty.  Gavin was a gemstone for those lucky enough to have ever heard him tell a funny joke, or share a cocktail, or been involved with him in a hand of poker.

Everyone who met Gavin probably remembers some kind of story.  As so often was the case, Gavin often became the story, by being there.  Just by being in the room.

How I wish to spin the windmill of my mind with Gavin, just one more time.





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NFL Divisional Playoffs: Analysis and Picks

Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments



Can Rest Lead to Rust?

Every week is different in handicapping.  Circumstances which apply one week might not apply to the next.  Yet, there are some commonalities which apply to the first two weeks of the NFL playoffs which are unique.

Consider last week’s four playoff games.  All four road underdogs covered the spread, and three out of four won outright.  All four dogs had something very important in common.  All four of the teams getting points had superior, more experienced starting quarterbacks.  All four quarterbacks had far more playoff experience.  In fact, three of the starters for the favored teams had never started a playoff game before.  None of the four had ever won a playoff game.  This was one huge factor which I weighed heavily leading me to wager on all four underdogs.

The major difference between teams this weekend is — rest.  Which teams are rested?  All four home teams had last week off.  Based on their regular-season records, they are the superior teams in each matchup.  So, while last week the favored teams didn’t have nearly as much justification for laying points, this week’s four games are all markedly different.  Nonetheless, the point spreads — ranging from 4.5 to 8 — are about in line with the numbers from last week’s games, which ranged from 2.5 to 8.5.  So, the numbers haven’t shifted significantly even with a huge step-up in the class of opposition and far less disparity at the QB position (however, note that Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes is making his first playoff start).

I don’t think this point can be overstated, especially since 3/4 road teams won last week and must once again get on airplanes and travel.  The rest factor might not be as big a deal win the DAL-LAR game, where Dallas had some advantages of being at home.  But it’s going to be tough for teams like INDY and PHILA to travel again, in addition to licking wounds from game fatigue.

Accordingly, the key question we must ask ourselves is — have oddsmakers given the proper number of points to these four superior, well-rested teams?  Moreover, might there be a situation or two where oddsmakers have overreacted?  Can rest lead to rust?

“Rest” is the key concept when evaluating the divisional playoff games.  Weighing this factor correctly is probably the most important determination of winning and covering.

This will factor heavily into my commentary and selections this week.





CURRENT BALANCE:  $14,924.   [+ $4,924.]

OVERALL W-L RECORD:  70 wins / 56 loses / 4 pushes



LAST WEEK’S RESULTS:   6 — 1 — 0  (+ $2,180)

Teaser:  Indianapolis +7.5 / Seattle +8.5 — WON $1,000

Teaser:  LA Chargers +8.5 / Philadelphia +12.5 — WON $500

First Half:  Indianapolis +.5 — WON $200

First Half:  Seattle +.5 — LOST $220

First Half:  LA Chargers +1.5 — WON $200

First Half:  Philadelphia +3.5 — WON $200

Game:  Philadelphia +6.5 — WON $300




Indianapolis / Kansas City UNDER 57 — Risking $330 to win $300

This total opened at 56 and was quickly bet up to 57 (why!?!?!?), and is now headed downward.  I got this number last night at 57 (available everywhere in Las Vegas).  This high total is absurd, even under the very best of playing conditions.  NFL playoff games tend to be played much closer to the play-calling vest.  This isn’t a Sunday night game in early October in primetime.  It’s a critically-important playoff game played in mid-January.  Didn’t anyone check the weather forecast?  Snow and temperatures are expected during game time, which won’t help either passing-oriented offense.  Neither of these starting quarterbacks has demonstrated any ability in the past to play in adverse weather conditions, particularly Chiefs starter Pat Mahones, who has yet to play in a frigid environment.  Andrew Luck plays most of his games in a dome.  So, why is this total so high at 57?  What causes people to bet this total up to one of the key numbers — 57 is one of the higher key numbers in totals betting?  I have no idea.  Playoff choker Andy Reid has been a notoriously conservative playoff game coach and while fresh young Mahones gives him far more options, I’m not sure Reid will put all the pressure on his young QB.  Add the Colts emerging defense playing as well as any unit in the NFL at the moment, and I don’t think Kansas City will match its explosive production level of earlier in the season.  In their last 11 games (the streak in which the Colts have gone 10-1), Indy has not allowed ANY opponent more than 28 points.  Six of those games, the Colts held the opponents to less than 20 points.  Colts have gone 7-4 to the UNDER in that stretch.  No doubt, the Chiefs have been an offensive powerhouse all year, scoring at least 27 points in every game this season.  That’s a staggering statistic — something I’ve never witnessed before.  However, later in the season, Kansas City did trend down in scoring averaging “just” 28 PPG in their last four home games.  I realize that sounds like a poor justification for suggesting a Kansas City game will go UNDER, but if we add in the playoff pressures, adverse weather conditions, and perhaps some jitters (all the pressure probably is on Kansas City here), I think this total is too high.  One of these offenses will struggle — not sure which.  But even seemingly high-scoring games that lands 34-23, 30-27, 37-20, 38-21, 41-16 and the like gives us a push.  In last year’s playoff game at Kansas City, the Titans ran the hell out of the ball and came away with a victory.  I don’t think Indy wants to get into a shootout here, so look for a balanced attack from the Colts that eats clock.  We’re freerolling the weather on this number, as it’s based on ideal conditions.  I’m hoping things worsen and that creates havoc for at least one offense.

Plays:  UNDER 57

Leans:  Indianapolis +5.5


LA Rams -7 — Risking $330 to win $300

I’m counting on a rested, well-coached, offensively-geared Rams team will be able to easily handle the sporadic and perhaps fatigued Cowboys, who have struggled much of the time on the road this season.  Dallas was lucky to get out of the Wild Card week with a home win (Seattle’s play-calling was horrific).  The explosive Rams won’t be nearly as predictable as the Seahawks.  Dallas went just 3-5 straight-up on the road this year.  Moreover, the much celebrated Cowboys defense has allowed 25 PPG its last five games, not exactly impressive.  To pull off the upset, Dallas will have to run the ball effectively, establish ball control, and eat up lots of clock to keep the Rams’ offense on the sidelines.  I’m counting on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to come up with one of his better game plans to stop the Cowboys, the former team he coached for four seasons.  I also expect mediocre starting QB Dak Prescott to be exposed here.  While WR A. Cooper clearly has been a bonus to the offense, Prescott’s passing remains inconsistent and isn’t up to the level of what’s needed to advance in the playoffs.  I do have some concern betting the Rams, who haven’t won a game at this level yet, let alone covered by more than a touchdown.  However, I expect the added rest and preparation time will factor in heavily here.  Rams are 7-1 at home this season, and averaged nearly 40 PPG.  So, this offense is expected to produce yards and points.  Given the Rams’ advantages, I’ll lay the chalk.

Plays:  LA Rams -7

Leans:  Tease LA Rams down to -1


New Orleans -8 — Risking $330 to win $300

What a remarkable turnaround by the Super Bowl champion Eagles, which likely ends here in New Orleans.  Let’s remember the Eagles wouldn’t even be in this game were it not for the unlikely double-doinked last-second field goal miss in Chicago last week.  Philadelphia’s offense struggled much of that game.  While the win showed some gritty determination, the conditions this week will be about as different as imaginable.  New Orleans has been as dominant as any team in the league at home.  They destroyed the Eagles 48-7 in mid-season.  While that likely won’t be the margin again, the Saints do enjoy almost every conceivable advantage.  New Orleans runs the ball more consistently.  New Orleans has the far superior passing offense.  New Orleans also fields the better defense, statistically speaking.  One could argue Philadelphia is a different team with QB N. Foles as the starter, who brings the entire team a renewed sense of confidence.  I certainly agree.  However, Foles has been very average statistically (7 TDs and 4 INTs since starting).  This is also the Eagles’ third consecutive road game — never a good omen for a win.  They’ve played six straight nail-biting games that went down to the wire.  Essentially, the Eagles have been faced with the weight of a playoff game every week since early December.  It’s very difficult for any NFL team to maintain that level of performance, especially when the opposing team now represents such a steep rise in class.  I look for the Saints to be ready for this one

Plays:  New Orleans -8

Leans:  Tease New Orleans down to -1


San Diego / New England (NWE -4 / Total 48)

I’m staying away from the Chargers-Patriots game, which appears to be lined and totaled just right.  We don’t know what to expect from New England, which has the dynasty pedigree in its favor but hasn’t much looked like the old Patriots this season.  To their credit, New England has been dominant at home, a perfect 8-0 straight up and 6-2 against-the-spread.  Rested, the Patriots would certainly be the play against any normal opponent.  However, the LA Chargers are unlike any team in recent memory.  Chargers play better on the road, posting an 8-1 mark, including impressive wins at KC, PITT, and BALT.  Chargers dominated the Ravens last week which could spillover here against a defense that’s not as good.  While Chargers have played a tougher schedule, New England has played patsies, having not faced a playoff-bound opponent in any of its last nine games.  So, the Patriots’ impressive 11-5 regular season record may be slightly misleading.  If I could get the Chargers plus 6, I’d probably make a wager.  Anything less, and it’s a no play.  Line appears to be dropping now, as its +3.5 in a few places.  Weather could also be a factor.  Temperatures expected in the low 20s.  That would seem to favor the Patriots.  Chargers are also playing their third straight road game, which for me is an almost automatic stay-away-from team.  Too much conflicting information to make a wager.

Plays:  None.

Leans:  None.



Arizona Cardinals OVER 5.5 wins -180 — LOST $450

Buffalo Bills OVER 6 wins EVEN — PUSH

Cincinnati Bengals OVER 6.5 wins -170 — LOST $400

Dallas Cowboys UNDER 8.5 wins +110 — LOST $500

Detroit Lions UNDER 7.5 wins EVEN — WON $400

Houston Texans UNDER 8.5 wins +120 — LOST $400

Jacksonville Jaguars OVER 9 wins -145 — LOST $725

Indianapolis Colts UNDER 6.5 wins +170 — LOST $400

New Orleans Saints OVER 9.5 wins -145 — WON $500

Seattle Seahawks UNDER 8 wins -150 — LOST $1,500



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NFL Week #17: Analysis and Picks

Posted by on Dec 29, 2018 in Blog | 0 comments



Handicapping the final week of the NFL regular season can be quite a challenge.  It’s unlike most other games.  Several games play much like during the pre-season.  Many starters are rested and younger, inexperienced players are given the chance to prove themselves.  However, all are inter-division games, which means the teams are more familiar with each other.  This raises many question marks but also provides unique opportunities to evaluate matchups based largely on motivation and situational handicapping where clear advantages exist.

Handicapping largely comes down to which teams appear most determined to win versus opponents who are playing out the final game and looking forward either to the upcoming playoffs, or a lengthy off-season and time for a re-evaluation.

I’ve tried to take all these factors into account entering the final full slate of games.  Here are my thoughts on all 16 games (listed below).

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Should Expressing Extremist Views on Social Media Be Grounds for Termination?

Posted by on Dec 17, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves | 5 comments



Should social media posts be banned if they offend a vast majority of people?

Most of us probably believe the answer is no.  We should all be allowed freedom of expression.  After all, free speech is a fundamental right.  Besides, who’s to determine what’s acceptable versus objectionable?

However, let’s also agree that social media posts widely considered offensive should be accompanied by consequences.

This too becomes problematic.

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On Tipping: Tapped Out and Pissed Off

Posted by on Dec 11, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Rants and Raves, Restaurant Reviews | 1 comment



I don’t mind tipping.

Some jobs pay such pathetically low wages that tipping is absolutely necessary to get people to do that kind of work.  Besides, anyone who repeatedly has to deal with the public probably deserves some kind of “survivor” bonus.  Hell, I’d rather dig a ditch in the summertime for minimum wage than serve a family at an Applebee’s with a couple of highchairs.  Please, hand me a shovel.  I mean hand me a shovel to dig the ditch — not to use on the kids.  Just want to make that clear.

The problem is….everyone who deals with the public now expects a tip.  Tip jars are placed everywhere.  Here in Las Vegas, tipping is probably my third-highest monthly expenditure, behind my mortgage payment and what I pay to the bookies.

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