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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now - Bill Smith

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

When you take all of the World Series of Poker Main Event Champions that we have already covered (1970-1985), Bill Smith may be the lesser known of them all. In the grand scheme of things, being a poker player, and a relatively unknown one, might not be such a bad thing. However, in the case of Smith, he faced other demons that prevented him from being as well known as the other past greats of the game, when in reality, skill wise he was just as talented as any person to ever play the game.

Smith only won a single WSOP Bracelet, but his victory, at the time, was the highest prize awarded for any tournament ever. One hundred and forty-four players participated in the 1985 WSOP Main Event. By the end of day two, only 24 players were left, including Smith, and three past World Series of Poker champions. Of the three past champions, Johnny Moss was in the running to win his fourth Main Event. On the third day of the tournament the 24 players played until there were only nine players left, the final table. Moss didn’t make the final table, but a current great did, T.J. Cloutier.

Smith and Cloutier found themselves heads-up, and almost immediately Smith’s pocket kings held up against Cloutier’s pocket nines. Cloutier would battle back, just about making things even. Cloutier has said that he was fairly confident he would win because he thought Smith had too much to drink. Smith’s drinking was no secret among his fellow poker players. It was something he enjoyed doing and something he did often, usually to the detriment of his health and poker bankroll. Despite the confidence that Cloutier had, he was almost totally shocked when Smith called his A-3 all in with just a pair of Three’s. It’s unclear if this was considered a good call by Smith, but it is clear that having an ace or any pair in heads-up poker is usually a safe bet. The pair of three’s held up and Smith collected $700,000.

The ironic thing about poker is that in that very moment it appeared the poker gods were shining down on Smith, they were really just preparing Cloutier for a long successful career that continues today. Smith, as mentioned, would win only one bracelet in his career, and only two more times made a WSOP final table in any event. Cloutier on the other hand has gone on to win six WSOP bracelets, and has won approximately 10 million dollars in tournament prizes.

Cloutier has been able to describe Smith more accurately than anyone else who knew him. Despite his blunder thinking Smith was too drunk to beat him in the 1985 Main Event, Cloutier appears spot on when he says, “Bill was the tightest player you'd ever played in your life when he was sober,” recalled Cloutier later. “And when he was halfway drunk, he was the best player I'd ever played with.” No one could read opponents’ hands better than half-drunk Smith. “But when he got past that halfway mark, he was the worst player I'd ever played with.”

It seems a bit counterproductive to suggest that intoxicating yourself makes you a better player, but in the unique case of Smith it may be accurate to suggest that. It’s anyone’s guess as to when a person is “half drunk,” but if Smith was winning, he was probably at that point. Smith was what is called a “functional alcoholic,” meaning he didn’t “feel right” unless he was at least somewhat buzzed.

Smith certainly loved the game and the action, and proved that when he became the record holder of a rather interesting statistic. Smith was participating in an illegal poker game in his native Dallas, in the backroom of an office of a local businessman. Early in the afternoon the police became aware of this game and broke it up and sent the players to jail. After being fined and released, the players went right back to the same game and, hours later, were arrested again. Once again the players were released, and once again they returned to the same game, where, you guessed it, were arrested for a third time. Smith became part of a select group of people to ever to be arrested three times for the same crime in the same day. Unfortunately for Smith, that doesn’t get you into the Poker Hall of Fame, but it clearly showed he enjoyed the game, and if anything, he was quite persistent.

It’s been said that Smith didn’t have much regard for money, and that he was often broke, but at the same time seemed like he didn’t care. The downfall of Smith is apparent in just the tournaments he played in. In 1985 he was paying the $10,000 to participate in the WSOP, the most prestigious event of them all. By 1994, just a year before his death, he was having trouble scraping together $200 to play in tournaments in Los Angeles, far away from the lights and glamour of Las Vegas.

To be a winning poker player means more than just playing the right cards at the right time. For a very short period Smith showed he was one of the best players in the world, but was unable to pull away from the bottle long enough to make a serious run at becoming one of the greatest. Smith was not unlike Stu Ungar in the sense that he had a brilliant mind, yet was unable to put everything together, which includes a healthy lifestyle and a good sense of bankroll management, a common thread you see between the long time champions, such as T.J. Cloutier.

Major Tournament Results

14-Oct-94 $ 200 Lowball
Big Poker Oktober, Los Angeles 7th $ 445

21-Jul-90 $ 200 Limit Hold'em
Gold Coast Open, Las Vegas 3rd $ 5,781

08-Feb-90 $ 200 No Limit Hold'em
Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker, Las Vegas 3rd $ 22,030

08-Aug-89 $ 500 Hold'em
5th Annual Diamond Jim Brady, Los Angeles 1st $ 53,600

Feb-87 $ 500 Limit Hold'em
Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker, Las Vegas 4th $ 4,725

Jan-87 $ 750 Limit Hold'em
America's Cup Of Poker 1987, Las Vegas 3rd $ 4,425

12-May-86 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
17th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1986, Las Vegas 5th $ 51,300

Feb-86 $ 200 No Limit Hold'em
Amarillo Slim's Superbowl Of Poker, Las Vegas 1st $ 51,200

Jan-86 $ 1,000 Limit Hold'em
Grand Prix of Poker 1986, Las Vegas 1st $ 100,000

13-May-85 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
16th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1985, Las Vegas 1st $ 700,000

11-May-81 $ 10,000 No Limit Hold'em World Championship
12th World Series of Poker (WSOP) 1981, Las Vegas 5th $ 37,500

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