By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun
5:11 PM EDT, August 16, 2013
Mike Smith has not welcomed a single guest to Maryland Live's new poker room, which won't open until later this month, but he already feels like a friend to many of the state's most serious card players.
It's not like Smith, hired as the first director of poker at the Hanover facility, had a preexisting relationship with the community here. He's spent his career working in Florida and Mississippi.
He's built the rapport by meeting them where they are — and where they have been since poker's mid-2000s surge in popularity: the Internet.
As speculation ramped up about Maryland Live's new 52-table room, the first in the state able to hold significant tournaments, Smith waded in and then stayed for a while at poker website TwoPlusTwo.com, sharing information on the room and talking shop.
Smith shared his thoughts on poker in Maryland and the importance of talking directly to customers in advance of the poker room's opening on Aug. 28.
How did you become an avid poker player, and how did you turn your love for the game into your career?
We always played poker on the weekends at my grandparents' house when I was growing up. The big game with my dad and the elders would be in the kitchen, and the smaller games with the younger cousins and some of my aunts would be in the living room. When I was 19, I moved to Las Vegas and tried to study political science and law, but took a job in a casino the day after I turned 21 and never looked back.
Poker experienced a boom about 10 years ago, and its popularity has seemed to level off. How would you describe the state of the game, both nationally and specifically here in Maryland?
It may have leveled off some, but poker certainly remains one of the more popular "sports," if you will. If you have the money to sit down, you can play with the best in the world and beat the best in the world. With all of the games I've seen locally and regionally, it's clear to me that Maryland is going to be a great poker area.
What attracted you to the job at Maryland Live? What benchmarks will the new poker room need to meet for you to consider it a success?
I was attracted to Maryland Live! partly because of my friendship with Rob [Norton, Maryland Live president and general manager], but more importantly, for the opportunity to build a state-of-the-art poker room from the ground up.
The hiring, training and development of the culture [will be our benchmarks]. I believe we'll be very good and will consider it a success when I see the accomplishments of our team transcend into positive comments from the guests and the guests returning to Maryland Live! because we have created a comfortable, consistent and pleasurable experience for them.
You've been very engaged with local players via Internet message boards, openly discussing how you'll run the room. Why is taking the time to do that important to you?
I think it's important that the players understand some of the policies. We're in a different world with all the social media, and the players are very vocal about their concerns. I feel these need to be addressed when we can, without getting into debates.
All poker players have a hand they remember for the right reason and a hand they remember for the wrong reason. What was your most memorable win? What was your most devastating loss?
I'm not sure if I'm lucky or not, but I have a very short memory for specific poker hands. I do remember playing in the World Series [of Poker] and getting eliminated with kings against aces. I was 100 percent sure he had aces, we both flopped a set, and I just couldn't get away from the hand and got broke. I knew I should have laid it down with every chip I put in the pot.
Title: Director of poker operations
Previous job: Director of poker at Isle Casino in Pompano Beach, Fla.
Hometown: Lynwood, Calif.
Education: University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Hobbies/interests: Golf, poker, fantasy sports
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