The World Series of Poker opened its doors for the 48th year in 2017, drawing on a long and rich history. The original WSOP pros – Johnny Moss, Amarillo Slim and Puggy Pearson – cast long shadows over the mostly 30-somethings that fill the tables under their banners in the Rio. But John Smith is a throwback to the original era, drawing on 50 years of experience and card sense to finish runner-up twice in the Heads Up Championship in back-to-back years.

“They couldn’t compete because I changed my game so much,” Smith said. “They didn’t know how to read me and it was very successful for me.”

“I kept it up for the second year in a row and it worked,” he added. Smith earned $398,730 in his back-to-back runs. “I think I found a niche.”

Smith’s impressive run and eventual championship match-up against Adrian Mateos is available to watch exclusively on-demand on PokerGO.

“They underestimate me,” he said. “I’ve been playing poker for 50 years. I’ve got a lot of reads and tells over my time and they seem to underestimate every time.”

John Smith a rare show of emotion after doubling up. (Photo: PokerPhotoArchive.com)
Underestimating Smith is a dangerous thing; it’s something he doesn’t do to the younger generation. He also doesn’t rush to give a player too much credit by researching their results.

“You know, I actually don’t even look to see who I’m playing with ahead of time,” said Smith. “I just watch them, the moves they make – that’s how I learned . Then I take advantage of them by using what I see.”

Smith’s first WSOP cash came back in 1991 – 26 years ago. There are 347 players in the 2017 Main Event that were born after his first cash. Upon learning that Smith smiled and laughed. “It means that sometimes older people can have the talent that the younger people develop,” he said. “I’ve seen to maintain that and I feel lucky because of that.”

One thing Smith hasn’t done in his career is cash in the Main Event. He won a sizable pot before the break, eliminating an opponent young enough to be his grandson and chipped up to over 200,000.

We asked what cashing in the Main Event would mean to him and he said, “Well, that’d be nice – very, very nice to do that. I’m doing ok right now and if I make to the top 800 today I’ll be happy.”