Mike Sexton, 'Greatest Ambassador for Poker,' Dies at 72
With a genial Midwest accent that evoked his Indiana roots, confident gambler’s charm and impeccable style, poker great Mike Sexton gracefully wore the title others in the card-playing world conferred on him as the game’s greatest ambassador.
At once both erudite and homespun, Sexton, 72, who died Sunday, accepted the ambassador role earnestly and effectively as the longtime broadcaster for the World Poker Tour and as a championship player. The WPT announced Sexton’s death.
While other poker players became notable for table eccentricities or conversely, shrank into anonymity underneath hoodies, at the table Sexton made a point of exhibiting good manners, demonstrating admirable sportsmanship and unfailingly sporting a crisp wardrobe. He conveyed an aura of glamor without ostentation.
Importantly, he was always accessible for media interviews promoting the game as poker tried to gain traction as a legitimate sport following its boom in the early 2000s.
News of Sexton’s failing health was confirmed when another respected poker personality and fellow Poker Hall of Famer, Linda Johnson, received permission from Sexton to detail his condition.
Johnson had tweeted on Sept. 1:
Mike Sexton is poker’s greatest ambassadors. He authorized this tweet. He has only wanted to deliver positive messages so he kept his health problems private. Mike has been battling prostate cancer that has recently spread to other organs. He began in-home hospice a month ago.— Linda Johnson (@FirstLadyPoker) September 1, 2020
Influence On 3 Platforms
Sexton’s considerable influence was felt on all three platforms on which poker has thrived: in casino cardrooms, on television and online poker.
As a player, he won a World Series of Poker bracelet in 1989 in a $1,500 7-Card Stud Hi-Lo tournament and made 23 WSOP final tables. Sexton’s TV career with the WPT spanned 15 seasons from 2002 to 2017 as the color commentator and co-host with partner Vince Van Patten.
Sexton broke through to win a WPT title in 2016 but he wasn’t permitted to play in the WPT events the first seven years. In 2006, he also won the WSOP Tournament of Champions that carried a $1 million prize but Sexton donated much of his winnings to charity. Overall, he has more than $6.7 million in live tournament winnings and he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nolan Dalla, who formerly performed communications and reporting duties for the World Series of Poker, was one of the many who knew and admired Sexton. Sexton wrote the forward to Dalla’s book about another poker great, the late Stu Ungar. Sexton and Ungar were close friends.
“I was not known very well at all in the poker community at the time I started writing the book,” Dalla said. “But Mike drove me around and introduced me to all the poker greats who I needed to talk to. He didn’t have to do any of that, but he did, and then he wrote the forward.”
Dalla said that Sexton, like many poker players, had his financial ups and downs ”but he’d give you the shirt off his back, and he did time after time.”
“Mike cannot be replaced either as poker ambassador or as a friend,” Dalla said.
Smooth TV Delivery
The WPT’s first televised event in 2002 was at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and Sexton said years later his heart was pounding from fright. “I walked in and saw all these machines and wires everywhere and the big set and the place was jam-packed,” Sexton said. “All the VIPs from the casino as well as all the VIPs from the poker world, they were all there. …. I must have drank at least six beers that night.”
But if Sexton had a case of the jitters on opening night, it never showed then or ever as he carried on with aplomb for 15 years delivering insights, stories and poker strategy advice.
Along with his playing success and TV work, Sexton was instrumental in getting the fledgling poker website PartyPoker started more than 20 years ago. And when he left the WPT broadcast booth, he returned to PartyPoker as an executive in 2017.
Signature Sexton Sign-off
Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, Sexton graduated from Ohio State University, where he was a gymnast, and he remained a lifelong Buckeyes fan.
In the Army, Sexton served in the 82nd Airborne during the Vietnam era but did not see combat. After the military, he tried his hand at sales but found he was better suited to playing cards.
While Sexton was a stellar tournament competitor and respected cash game player, most fans will surely remember him from his years of broadcasting when he entertained and educated a generation of aspiring players. And he’ll be recalled fondly for his signature encouraging sign-off that embodied Sexton’s generous personality:
“May all of your cards be live and may all of your pots be monsters.”
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