Gavin Smith’s ‘PokerRoad’ Family Reflects On His Passing

Written By Jessica Welman on January 17, 2019

For hundreds of poker fans, the name Gavin Smith goes hand in hand with a legacy of hilarious and enlightening “pokertainment.”

The late Smith was more than a poker pro; he was a media personality who pulled back the curtain on the tournament circuit for six years.

Smith’s cohosts and others who worked with him on the podcasts were an unofficial family. The one that people may know best for “PokerRoad.”

PokerRoad was a website dedicated to creating a range of poker content, including a half-dozen podcasts and a handful of video shows. At its heart was “PokerRoad Radio.” The flagship show featuring Smith, Joe Sebok, and a couple of different hosts, including Joe Stapleton and Ali Nejad.

Several members of the family are long gone from the poker world, but they all were quick to reach out to the community following the news of Smith’s passing. Nejad relived some favorite memories on Twitter, summing up his friend, the Caveman, with this:

It is not enough to talk about his results when remembering Smith. It has to include what he meant to the “PokerRoad” family. We reached out and gave them a chance to remember their friend in their own words.

Scott Huff on Smith’s lasting impact in the poker media

Scott Huff was Smith’s first cohost and one whose talents Smith was always quick to praise. Since retiring the poker mic, Huff has gone behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. With so much media expertise, not to mention years of friendship, Huff is more than qualified to reflect on how impactful Smith’s media appearances on the entire poker community.

Huff’s own words

Gavin Smith was in many ways a pioneer in poker, certainly in poker media, which may seem like an overstatement, but is true. Gavin was one of the first big-name professional poker players to truly embrace the new forms of media available to promote the game. He was one of the first, if not the first, big-name pro to appear on a long-running poker radio show.

He hosted “The Circuit,” “Pokerwire Radio” and “PokerRoad Radio,” which, all told, amounts to hundreds of hours of radio. And that’s to say nothing of his highly entertaining appearances on televised and online poker shows. It would be hard to quantify just how many people likely took up the game as a result of Gavin’s role as one of poker’s most outspoken voices and welcoming ambassadors.

He did those hundred hours of radio, video and entertaining of fans for extremely modest financial reward. He did it because he loved the game and the community surrounding it. Gavin Smith had a huge impact on the popularity of the game, but he was also a great colleague and friend to so many, and for that reason his contributions to the poker world are immeasurable.

Joe Stapleton on Gavin Smith’s lasting legacy

Joe Stapleton first podcasted with Smith on “PokerWire Radio.” Then he returned to hosting duties on “PokerRoad Radio.” Since then, Stapleton’s star kept rising, something Smith predicted years ago.

Stapleton, or “Stapes” to his fans, is currently in the Bahamas, doing commentary for PokerStars and its PokerStars Caribbean Adventure event. Even with the long streaming days, he found time to reflect on his friend. His memories are a lot like Smith himself — brutally honest, but filled with love.

Stapes’ own words

I’ve gotten some flack, albeit very little, for mentioning that Gavin had his demons. I’ve always thought it was weird when people pass away and everyone acts like they were a saint. Gavin was no saint.

The first time I met Gavin, he berated me for choking at shuffleboard. The first time I proudly introduced him to my best friend – Gavin punched him. The last time I saw Gavin, he spent nearly two hours destroying a live TV show I was hosting (and he also punched a rock ‘n’ roll legend).

He abused substances (though I had heard he had really turned things around recently). He owed money. He aggressively and uncomfortably hit on nearly every woman he encountered.

Now imagine how the enormity of the heart that must have been beating inside that man’s chest to completely overshadow all of those things. I can barely imagine it, but it was there. It was huge, and now it’s gone. He was funny and loud and lit up a room in a way I never will. He was an attention seeker, but never when it came to matters of generosity and kindness. He was obsessed with charity and insanely loyal (which I think was mostly so he could have an excuse to punch people).

Gavin would have given you the shirt off his back, even though we all wish he would have kept it on more often. Gavin’s good qualities were admirable in any walk of life, but they were oh so important to the game of poker, and to the people whose lives he touched, whether in person, on the radio, or on television.

For those watching on TV, he made the game look fun. For those in the room, he made the game be fun. That’s just what he brought to the world at large. We all have at least a handful of stories of absolutely golden things he did for us as individuals. All I will say is that when I started in this industry, I was broke and I was a nobody. When you’re Gavin’s friend, you’re never broke and you’re never a nobody.

I’m sorry I have to mention the bad things. I really am. But, I think it’s important to take the bad things into context for people to truly understand the magnitude of the net positive Gavin had to have on all of our lives for us to still love him that much. We loved him in spite of those things – and I can’t even really explain it – but we also loved him because of those things. And my god, did we love that guy? We loved him so much. We still do.

Joe Sebok reflects on his partner in crime

The hosts changed over the years, but the two sidekicks were always the same. Where there was Smith, there was also Sebok. Joe Sebok knew they had a special chemistry, which is why he pushed forward on the “PokerRoad” project in the first place.

Since then, “PokerRoad” closed its doors, and Sebok closed the poker chapter in his life. He lives and works in the Bay Area, but took time to address the loss his partner in crime:

Sebok’s own words

Some days just hurt more than others.

As I sit here in the Bay Area watching the rainfall, it matches exactly the kind of day today is. My phone started buzzing this morning with the terrible news that an old friend had passed away, long before his time. 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 sugarcoat 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 when 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.

“Circuit,” “PokerWire,” “PokerRoad,” “RawVegas” and (the) poker community at large, raise those Greyhounds tonight in the Caveman’s honor. He gave us all a lot more then we were able to give back to him. Sending light and love, old buddy. This Cub will miss you.

Jessica Welman Avatar
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Jessica Welman

Jessica Welman has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for A graduate of Indiana University and USC, Welman is not only a writer but also a producer. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.

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