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Capture the Flag: Dan Smith

by Erik Fast |  Published: Jun 13, 2012

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Dan SmithDan Smith has had a breakout year on the tournament circuit in 2012, making five final tables and capturing four titles, and in the process cashing for $1,758,285 in the first four months of the year. But before he joined the top ten of the Card Player Player of the Year race and made his first seven-figure score for winning the Aussie Million’s $100,000 AUD buy-in, the New Jersey native spent a lot of his time grinding online cash games as “KingDan23.” Card Player caught up with Smith to learn more about his background as a cash game player.

Erik Fast: Can you explain what you meant when you said recently on Twitter, “I really wish I didn’t have to play tournaments to get to play with tournament players.”

Dan Smith: I think a lot of tournament players have stumbled into a strategy that works, they just figured out that you have to min-raise a lot to steal the antes and some realized, ‘Oh, people are raising a lot, so I’m going to three-bet and four-bet.’ They are finding ways to win preflop, but I think a lot of them don’t understand the fundamentals of poker; They just happen to understand various things about playing aggressively. In tournaments you very regularly see winning players who are jaw-droppingly horrible. In cash games those players would just go broke, because the regulars are just a lot stronger.

EF: Tournament play seems to emphasize preflop play, is that perhaps why these players can’t do as well in cash games?

DS: It’s fair to say that tournament players do not play so well post-flop. I mean, it’s a vague generalization, and there are some tournament players who play very well, but the stereotypical tournament player will be min-raising even when the stacks are very deep and then betting very small on every street.

EF: In what discipline did you get your start in poker, and when did you starts to focus more on cash games?

DS: I started playing sit’n’gos actually, and saw that there was a lot of money to be made in cash games. So I jumped in, like about six years ago at $3-$6 no-limit and played absurdly nitty. I was definitely the tightest player in the game, but people were playing so bad, that even though I was horrible, I was able to beat everyone.

EF: How did you rise through the ranks? You won a $100,000 buy-in tournament this year, that’s a long way from playing $3-$6 no-limit.

DS: Well now when I’m in Toronto at my house, I don’t really play super high stakes online. Playing $25-$50 no-limit you can have days where you lose $25,000 and it gets to be very stressful. There isn’t that much action at higher stakes, and I don’t think you are making that much more than if you are playing $2-$4, $3-$6, $5-$10 you can still make good money. Now, I very infrequently have a day so bad that I end up in a bad mood. At $5-$10 if I got absolutely crushed, I would lose like $12,000 and that just isn’t that big of a deal. The difference is, when I play live, you are only getting in like 25 hands an hour, and I just feel that from a practical standpoint, it isn’t that reasonable of a way to make a living. So if I do play live, I feel obligated to play the biggest stakes possible to make it worth my time to play so few hands an hour. Even in these super high-stakes live games or big buy-in tournaments, I still feel that there are players who are fairly weak.

EF: You’ve taken part in some high stakes live cash games, how does that usually come about?

DS: Anytime big-stakes no-limit is running it is usually being run around someone, people don’t really just play. So if the game is running, it is probably pretty good. If there is ever a big no-limit game running, I think I am good enough at it that I am a favorite in just about any lineup. If there are any games running at the Rio, I’ll be happy to hop in. The thing is that it’s not easy to get into the games, there are a lot of politics involved and waiting around it just becomes a big ordeal. If I want to play online, I can play for three hours, go the gym and then go get lunch. If I want to play live in Vegas, I have to get in my car, go get money, drive to the Bellagio, wait for 45 minutes, and by the time I’m actually playing, I feel obligated to play for 12 hours. There are some guys who always manage to find themselves in the good games, who have reputations for giving off action. Also, I don’t have a ton of experience with this, but it seems that the guys who tip the floormen the best get the calls when a game opens up.

EF: A lot of the old-school high stakes grinders have said that it was important to show amateur players a good time while they’re playing, and have criticized younger players who are too quiet and serious at the table. You come off as a friendly guy while playing, is that at all contrived?

DS: I don’t do it as a shtick to make more money. It’s just that the majority of the time you are not involved in a hand, and you might as well be social. When you are playing high stakes you very frequently come into contact with interesting people, a L.A. bigshot who makes movies or a lawyer involved with working on Black Friday who had great insight into that situation. I do think that a lot of the younger players are unpleasant to be around at the table. Sometimes you even see people berating a fish, and just wonder what they are hoping to accomplish.

EF: Have you mostly sought out games where you are fairly sure you have an edge, or have you ever found yourself in a game that might have been too tough?

DS: In live poker that has never happened, but over the years I have also played a fair bit of heads-up no-limit and some of the people I played had to have been better than me. Sometimes I would see someone’s strategy and view it as flawed, but in retrospect I would think back and decide that their approach was right and I was wrong. There was a period of time where I would play everyone; as long as it was at stakes I was comfortable with. By playing people who are better than you, you can improve more quickly. Playing heads-up really helped me get better in both cash games and tournaments; you play more hands, get better at hand reading, get better at picking off bluffs and deciding when to overbet, basically just get better at a lot of the guessing games.

EF: In your time playing cash, has there been anyone in particular who you were impressed with?

DS: In terms of people I am friendly with, I have always thought very highly of Isaac Haxton. I’ve played a ton against him, and if he does something that I didn’t expect, I will spend time trying to figure out what he is doing, because I think he is a smart guy. Over the years I have played a lot with LuckyChewy (Andrew Lichtenberger), and we rented a house together in New Jersey a couple years ago with me, him, Zugwat (Steve Silverman) and RandALLin(Randall Flowers), and I really think the four of us all got a lot better that summer bouncing ideas of each other and watching our different styles and how they work. As far as people I don’t know, takechip (Phil D’Auteuil) has always giving me a very hard time over the years. I feel like he has always gotten the best of me.

EF: Have you ever found yourself in a cash game that was above your head?

DS: When I was 18 I would sometimes play games I couldn’t afford. For a while I was short stacking $200-$400 pot-limit Omaha because I thought that some of the players played fundamentally bad, but I really didn’t have the money to be doing that. That was really degenerate, but that was 2007 and if you lost a bunch of money, you could just move down to $5-$10 and just crush everyone. Since then I have not been playing over my head. I think the biggest I have played since then was multitabling $50-$100 heads-up online, but my opponent was very, very weak so it was a great spot. ♠