How 70-year-old US Vietnam veteran John Smith took on today’s ‘poker youth’

  • The 70-year old war veteran makes final of 2017 WSOP Heads Up Championship
  • Smith believes he has an edge over his opponents because they have problems reading him correctly

John Smith may sound like the most generic name you could think of, but there is nothing generic or simple about the John Smith, a war veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and experienced poker player with more than $1 million in live tournament earnings.

John Smith believes players find it hard to read his game, thanks to his age.
John Smith believes players find it hard to read his game, thanks to his age. Picture: PokerStars

Smith walked away with the runners’ up prize on Friday in the 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Heads Up Championship, going nearly all the way in the $10,000 event, one of the most prestigious prizes of the entire Series.

In the end Smith came runner up to Adrian Mateos, but still emerged with a payday of $200,538. His conqueror was also 48 years his junior.

His story caught the attention of PokerNews, which published a story about Smith’s colorful life, inside and outside of poker.

Heads up specialist

Today, heads up poker is considered the young folks’ playground. Looking at the structure of most heads up events, this is probably true, but 70-year old Smith has no problems with that.

He decided to focus on this particular format, doing very well for himself over the years. Just a year ago, Smith finished second in the Heads Up Championship, and just like this yeawr, earned $200,000 for his efforts.

To reach the finals, Smith defeated Ryan Riess, the 2013 WSOP Main Event winner, in a head to head skirmish.

The war veteran who was seriously injured during his deployment in Vietnam, explains one of the reasons why he decided to specialize in live heads up poker is the importance of reads. He believes he can gather a lot of information from his opponents’ behavior and patterns and, if they want to beat him, they have to do the same.

However, Smith explains that the players he plays against often have a hard time reading him correctly, in part due to his age.

Road to poker success

John Smith discovered poker at the young age of just 18 when he started playing in home games with his friends.

Like many others who found success on the felt, Smith was immediately attracted to the game, and it would become a life-long hobby that he takes very seriously.

Looking at his life, John Smith is the man who’s truly seen it all. Serving in Vietnam, he was wounded in 1967, just a few months before he was scheduled to return home. Although injuries caused by the land mine that exploded under the tank Smith was in were serious, they were not fatal, and shrapnel didn’t cause any long-term damage or disability, for which he counts himself as blessed.

He returned home and, like many others, started a job hunt. He got hired as a road contractor and, thanks to his hard work and dedication, managed to move gradually move up, eventually setting up his own company. His asphalt company is located in Los Angeles, and they do work all over California.

His story has been told as one of success, persistence, and finding happiness in doing things you love and believe in.

He was inches away from seizing his very first WSOP bracelet and continues to prove that poker is the game where passion and dedication surmount all the hurdles along the way – especially age.

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