Poker lost one if it’s foundational fathers on Sunday, when Mike Sexton lost a short battle with cancer. He was 72 years old.
The game wasn’t always looked upon as a noble pursuit. For decades it languished in the dark, back corners of pool rooms and social clubs. People whispered under their breath that they were going to go play, or made up reasons to disappear for an evening to jump into a game of cards in a sketchy gathering of like-minded gamblers.
Today you’ll find Poker on TV in almost every country. The game has professional players, lucrative sponsorship deals and star players. There are a few people that are primarily responsible for that and Mike Sexton is surely one of them. In 1998, he would tell anyone that would listen about his plan for poker to have a Tournament of Champions. The main goal was to bring corporate sponsorship to the game, as Mike felt that would catapult Poker into respectability. He was right, of course, but even though the TOC would only last three years it was the spark that lead to his position at both the World Poker Tour and PartyPoker.
As the World Poker Tour’s lead commentator and ambassador, Mike quickly became the gold standard in poker broadcasting. Despite having no experience, he instinctively knew that the announcers had to be both engaging and educational. His infectious enthusiasm became synonymous with the WPT broadcasts and those that followed in his path had a blueprint for describing the action.
Mike was the perfect person to lead the game to new heights at a time it so desperately needed it. He was unrelenting in his belief that the game was entertaining and that the masses would take to it, even those that didn’t play. His positivity was inspiring and you couldn’t help but believe whatever he was telling you. This team can’t lose this game, or this is the greatest lay down he’s ever seen or this guy is gonna be the next best poker player in the world. If Mike said it, it had to be true.
Not only was he the greatest ambassador the game has had, but Mike was a great poker player as well. He won a WSOP bracelet and and WPT title on his list of poker accomplishments, as well as playing cash games successfully for decades in card rooms around the world. He amassed over $5,400,000 in tournament winnings and was regarded as a top player by his peers.
The man also had more gamble in him than almost anyone in Poker. Mike won and lost hundreds of thousands in a single round of golf and was always willing to offer a line or take a bet, whether it was on a sporting event or flipping quarters into a glass.
There is little doubt that Mike Sexton got the most out of his life and will be remembered as a friend to those he crossed paths with, as well as Poker’s greatest ambassador.