Matt Waldron (Flickr)
Mike Sexton, often called “The Poker Ambassador” passed away on Sept. 6, at age 72. Sexton was involved in almost every aspect of poker and enjoyed a high level of success in all of them.
In 1989 he won a World Series of Poker bracelet in seven-card stud hi-lo split.
He was perhaps best known as the longtime announcer of the World Poker Tour with announcing partner Vince Van Patten. Sexton and Van Patten were teamed up from the inaugural 2003 WPT telecast until Sexton retired from announcing in 2017. Before leaving, he won a title at the WPT Montreal event in 2016.
Sexton is one of a small number of players to win both WSOP and WPT titles. Even Phil Hellmuth, record 15-time WSOP winner, has not been able to win a WPT title.
Sexton was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009.
Sexton graduated from Ohio State University in 1969. He enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam War and served from 1970-72.
It was during those stints in college and the Army where he realized he had a talent, coming out a winner in regularly played poker games.
After returning home to North Carolina and continuing to come out well ahead in local poker games, he decided to move to Las Vegas in 1985 to forge a career as a full-time professional poker player.
I first heard of Sexton while living near Foxwoods casino in Connecticut, the largest Casino in the world at that time, where Sexton won the inaugural World Poker Finals in 1992.
He then became known to many in the Poker Community as a featured writer in Card Player magazine.
Sexton would go on to create poker’s ‘Tournament of Champions’ in 1999. A massive undertaking, Sexton worked with casino operators around the world to bring together the winners of every major poker tournament that year, along with any past WSOP bracelet winners who wanted to participate. Sexton gathered a total of 664 champions for the first edition of the TOC at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas. Sexton’s TOC ran again in 2000 and 2001.
Years later the WSOP itself held a Tournament of Champions based on Sexton’s model (all former WSOP bracelet winners). Ironically it was Mike Sexton who won the WSOP TOC event in 2006 along with its $1 million first prize, defeating all those former WSOP champions including Daniel Negreanu who finished second.
Sexton kept the successes coming. In 2001, he helped launch Partypoker.com. By 2003, it had become the largest online Poker site in the world and remains as the largest and most successful site ever operated in the USA. Partypoker pulled operations out of the USA in late 2006 after Congress passed Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which hampered online gambling.
Partypoker.com’s signature event was the Partypoker Millions annual cruise to Mexico. The Partypoker Millions guaranteed One Million Dollars to the winner, and was televised as an annual WPT event, all aboard the annual cruise.
The entry fee was $10,000, as it is for most events on the WPT tour. However, at Partypoker.com there were multiple smaller tournaments where you could win one of those seats for as little as a few bucks. My second encounter with Sexton was when I happened to win one of those cruise packages and $10,000 tournament seats and Mike Sexton welcomed me and 734 other players on board the 2005 WPT Partypoker Millions Mexican Cruise.
Sexton sold his shares in Partypoker for a cool $15 Million in 2004, but continued to be a paid representative of the company.
In 2017, Partypoker hired Mike Sexton back as its chairman, in a bid to reclaim their former #1 status. Although available worldwide, New Jersey is the only US state that Partypoker.com is currently accessible in.
Sexton was a good friend of Stu Ungar, perhaps the greatest raw talent that poker has ever known. Ungar won the WSOP Main Event a record three times. Sexton wrote the foreword of the late Ungar’s biography, One of a Kind, then went on to write his own autobiography, Life’s a Gamble in 2016.
In Sexton’s book, he spends as much time on the people he met along his poker journey as on himself, a microcosm of his life where he elevated the other players as well as the game of poker itself.