There may be some nerves, but Roger Smith is not nervous. He’s excited.
And why wouldn’t he be? The 52-year-old ClubWPT stalwart from Richmond, Virginia (known online as ‘Smiffy Roge’) is the latest online qualifier into one of the biggest, most prestigious tournaments of the year – the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas.
And, sure, one might think that with fewer than 10 live tournaments on his poker resume, Smith could feel a little anxious. But for Smith, a return trip to Las Vegas is more about competition and taking on the biggest challenge of his poker journey, one that started two decades ago.
“[Poker] started out as a bit of a hobby,” Smith said. “I grew up with card Games and things like that, but I really got into it probably 20 or so years ago, playing properly. I didn’t really know much about what I was doing, so I had to read some books and figure out how to play a little bit. I was on ClubWPT for a little while, I think in 2013, for a year or so. And then I really got back into it in 2018.”
When COVID put the world (poker and otherwise) on lockdown, Smith turned to ClubWPT. He watched as WPT talent, including Lynn Gilmartin and Matt Savage, streamed tournaments from their homes and then he took the leap himself to stream his own play on ClubWPT. It was a place to find community as well as competition.
“I think definitely competition is a big thing,” Smith said. “I was a semi-pro soccer player over in England growing up and sports has been sort of a bigger thing for me and this is sort of a competitive outlet for me.”
If it was competition Smith was looking for, ClubWPT has delivered. Last year, Smith finished third in ClubWPT’s Player of the Year leaderboard, awarding him a seat into the 2022 $1,100 WPT Prime Championship at Wynn Las Vegas. And now, lightning has struck again. Only this time it hit even harder as the IT Project Manager won an online qualifier and now prepares to make the journey back to Las Vegas – this time to play in the $10K World Championship.
“I mean it’s definitely a challenge for sure,” he said. “I think people’s ability to buy into a $10,000 tournament is a next level. I mean $1,100 [the WPT Prime buy-in] is not small, but it is much more available. This is different. And I think there will be many, many more stronger experienced players. So that’ll be a challenge. Yeah, I’m hopeful that my game holds up against some of those people. And the potential, if you play well and run good…I mean it could be an amazing payday, right?”
Speaking with Smith it’s clear, he’s game for the opportunity despite not having a lot of experience playing live. According to Smith, his first “real” big tournament entry was just last year in the $777 Lucky Sevens event at the World Series of Poker. Since then he played in the aforementioned WPT Prime Championship as well as a couple smaller events in a nearby WSOP Circuit stop. But he’s unconcerned with his potential lack of live experience and ready to rely on the skills he’s honed at ClubWPT that got him to this point in the first place.
“I mean obviously I’ve got a lot of experience playing online. It’s different. Live is a bit different, but I’ll still try to keep my game. I’ve had a lot of jobs where you’re interacting with people constantly, so that’s not too difficult,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to just get into my game. But yeah, there’ll be some nerves if you get near the money…that’ll be interesting. So yeah, there’ll be some nerves for sure.”
There’s also the excitement of returning to the WPT World Championship festival. Just last year Smith made the trip to play in the WPT Prime Championship and was able to partake in a carnival of ClubWPT activities as the red carpet was rolled out for qualifiers. VIP lounge access, exclusive sit-and-go’s, and a meet-and-greet with some of the people he’s been watching on TV for years were just a few of the activities.
“I mean obviously you see these guys on TV all the time, right? Matt [Savage] and Lynn [Gilmartin] and all those guys. And they were super accessible when we were there,” he said. “Then guys like Tony Dunst and Brad Owen and some of those other pros were involved. So yeah, you sort of pinch yourself a little bit.”
“So access to that and then just being in the room and just being around everybody, it’s just crazy to be involved in that. And then this [World Championship] is going to be next level.”
Aside from his family, there will be a community of ClubWPT players rooting Smith on. From those who watched his livestreams during COVID to those he battles online, his next experience at the WPT World Championship is sure to be an experience that every poker player can dream of.
“That’s what I came to ClubWPT for and it’s amazing to have some success,” he said. “And now this is just amazing. You can’t do any better right now. I don’t think you can do any better than win this seat, right? It’s such a big tournament. It was so successful last year. $40 million guarantee this year. That’s absolutely crazy.”