Seeing as the game of poker quickly gained popularity in the past decade, the so-called poker boom in the early 2000’s may have not been entirely possible if it were not for Mike Sexton. Famed as a successful player, outstanding commentator and an overall industry leader, Sexton is considered one of the field’s greatest ambassadors for his long list of accomplishments in the world of poker. Over the last three decades in which Sexton dedicated his work, the poker we all enjoy today has largely transitioned from being a mere card game in a casino into a recognized whole level spectator sport.
The passing of perhaps the most respected man in poker brings an unfortunate loss for the whole community, having played a huge role in shaping modern-day poker. Earlier this week, the 72-year old reportedly succumbed to his battle with prostate cancer leaving behind his wife, Karen and son, Ty. In this article, Somuchpoker presents a special tribute to the iconic figure in remembrance of six career milestones which ultimately made Sexton the poker legend that he was.
1. Making it among the best in Vegas with $2,500 in his pocket
A huge decision that heavily impacted Sexton’s career path was the courage to take a gamble on Sin City’s poker events back in 1977 despite only having a limited bankroll early on. With an initial net worth of $2,500, Sexton carried on to pursue tournament poker in which he delivered amazing results. Having already realized the potential of his successes with the game of poker, Sexton made two final table appearances right off the bat at his first World Series of Poker venture back in 1984. It was then he promised himself to never miss a WSOP again in his lifetime and pushed him to settle in Las Vegas permanently.
“I won my first bracelet back in 1989. I’d been a professional poker player since 1978, but never went to the World Series of Poker until 1984. Back then they had one event every other day, so I went out for a week, but I could only play in three tournaments. I happened to make two finals tables at the WSOP, and it actually changed my life because I moved to Las Vegas shortly after that.”
Being at the center of the Entertainment Capital of the World, Sexton placed himself at a prime location to experience the limelight of the budding game. Throughout the years, the skilled player had proven his chops on the felt, gaining the most coveted titles available in the realm of poker. With a four-decade long list of tournament cashes, Sexton recordedly finished with over $6.7 million in total live earnings and sits as a member of the honorable Poker Hall of Fame.
2. WSOP Champion
It was a little over a decade after Sexton decided to take in poker professionally that he was able to successfully claim a WSOP bracelet. Dating back to 1989, Sexton secured himself a WSOP title after taking down Event #11 of the series, a $1,500 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi-Low-8 or Better tournament. Outlasting a total of 174 entrants, Sexton cashed in on his very first six-figure score amounting to $104,400. The WSOP champion later on shared with his followers a few personal reasons which explain why this specific victory serves as a win above the rest.
“In 1989 is when I won the bracelet, and truthfully, you know I’ve won million-dollar prize money in poker and a lot of other things in terms of bigger prize money, but nothing will ever compare to the joy of that first bracelet. The reason is because it was eight or better stud. At that time, that is what I played for a living every day. Because that was the game I played for a living, to me that was my World Championship. I’d never played no-limit hold’em at that time. I never played the Main Event until 1992. So to me the Main Event was just another tournament that didn’t mean that much to me because I never played it, but the eight or better stud was my championship event.”
Following his win, Sexton continued on to earn 72 more WSOP-related cashes, 20 of which were final table finishes. Having come close to winning another bracelet, Sexton settled for a runner-up finish in the 2011 WSOP Event #25 $1,500 Limit Seven Card Stud Hi-Low-8 or Better tournament, but this time in a much bigger field of 606 players. While Sexton fell short of the title, the American pro once again proved he was a force to reckon with even after being involved in the game for decades.
3. The early days of online poker; Building partypoker
Aside from his prowess with the game of poker itself, Sexton utilized his passion and expertise to innovate the field of online poker. Together with a small team, Sexton co-founded the well-known partypoker platform, what was once the biggest poker site across the United States. A founder of the partypoker MILLIONS live events as well, Sexton remained true to his beliefs and pushed through with its succeeding events despite the company being under a $500K deficit after its first launch in 2002. His vision of televised marketing, luxury million dollar events and convenient online qualifiers was a significant key which led to the rapid success in its early days.
“In less than four years time after launching PartyPoker from just a little poker site, they went public for nine billion dollars.”
Being an original stockholder of partypoker, Sexton sold out his shares for $15 million a year and a half prior to the public offering. What seemed as an untimely move, the Poker Hall of Famer reportedly has never regretted the decision. Estimating his losses to probably be worth roughly $500 million, he compares the move to a similar example in poker wherein you might have the five-seven of diamonds pre-flop while facing a raise and a re-raise, which leaves you with the obvious choice of a fold and the flop comes eight-six-four where you’re in a great spot to triple up. Instead of focusing on the possible favored outcome, Sexton’s point reveals it to be the right play at that time given the circumstances.
4. The voice of WPT
People often credit Chris Moneymaker for triggering the poker boom while many consider the occurrence to have begun way before then. Joining the World Poker Tour brand since its initial season in 2002, Sexton led the rise in popularity of the game with his undeniable skills in storytelling and inviting call of action. Referred to as the voice of poker, Sexton served as a WPT commentator for an outstanding total of 15 seasons. The number of poker enthusiasts and eager poker players quickly rose in number as viewers tuned in to the televised WPT events commented by Sexton alongside Vince Van Patten. Reaching a new dimension for the poker industry, the increased coverage of events soon led to the surge in poker popularity all over the world.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work with the World Poker Tour since its inception in 2002. When the World Poker Tour launched, it was a dream come true, and to be there from the beginning and see how the WPT changed the poker world forever by essentially turning poker into a televised sport has been amazing. It’s been quite a ride over these 15 seasons, and one that I’ve been extremely blessed to take,”
Adding to his exceptional collection of awards, Sexton received the highest distinction WPT Honors in 2017 for his formidable contributions throughout the years to the brand itself and the poker community as a whole. Just a few months back, the WPT officially renamed the WPT Champions Cup, the “Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup” in honor of the luminary’s legacy.
Adam Pliska, CEO of the World Poker Tour, said: “The WPT Family is proud to bestow this tribute and privilege to the greatest poker ambassador the world has ever known.”
5. A special victory: Winning WPT Montreal in 2016
Working as the voice of the WPT brand, Sexton was not allowed to compete in its events for many years. It was only in the ninth season of its operations where the situation ultimately changed. Having negotiated new terms with its partners, WPT finally granted commentators Sexton and Van Patten the opportunity to participate in WPT games. After two final table finishes, it seemed the saying “third time’s the charm” fit the circumstance as Sexton successfully got his name on a WPT trophy on his third final table appearance.
In what appeared to be years of grinding finally paid off for Sexton in 2016 as he accomplished yet again, another outstanding feat. This time topping a 648-entry field, Sexton took home the $317,817 first place payout and a championship belt by the Playground Poker Club. Having a WPT title under his name, Sexton found himself the recipient of a lifetime invitation to the WPT Tournament of Champions, a tournament the WPT commentator himself conceptualized and created. A $15,000 special invitational tournament, the event is restricted to players who have previously won a WPT tournament in the prior years.
Earning the opportunity to compete with fellow champions in a tournament originally conceptualized by Sexton himself, the WPT legend shared his delight with the SMP team back in 2017 saying, “The Tournament of Champions has a special place in my heart, because I created the original Tournament of Champions back in the 90’s, and to this day, I still think it’s the greatest event in the history of poker”.
6. A return to partypoker
Representing the WPT brand since its year of inception, Sexton left his long-time role as the show’s commentator in mid-2017 to return to partypoker as its chairman and ambassador. His new role presented the then 69-year old several responsibilities including investing in software development and improving customer care and service with loyalty programs. Sexton was also tasked to aid in creating a viable platform for recreational players by adding value to smaller events while restricting the use of third-party software, and oversee the growth and marketing of the partypoker LIVE tours.
In spite of his long-time commitment with WPT, Sexton saw “the position with partypoker an opportunity and challenge I [he] couldn’t pass up”.
Further commenting on his latest career setting, Sexton added, “This is an emotional time for me because I have decided to leave the World Poker Tour to focus on this new role. I was at partypoker from the start, before there was even a name or a single virtual card was dealt. I experienced the crazy times of the poker boom when we became the number one site in the world, I remember people sleeping on the office floor when we were all working 24-7 get the software launched and I remember the first partypoker Million on a cruise ship which overlaid $500K. It was devastating for me to see the decline of partypoker when we were forced to pull out of the US and then watch from the side lines as our competitors remained and benefited from our customer base. I am really looking forward to working with people that love the game like I do. We are not aiming for second place. We are all in. Shuffle up and deal!”
Overall, Mike Sexton will be remembered as one of the most influential personalities in the era of modern poker. Dedicating his life’s work to the respected field, the visionary’s contributions will remain highly regarded as notable components in pushing the game to a new level of prominence. The passing of an irreplaceable legend, although a huge loss for the whole poker community, will undeniably be never forgotten.
As Sexton would always say at the end of every WPT tournament, “May all your cards be live, and may all your pots be monsters”.