This past week, the poker world had to come to grips with the fact that World Poker Tour and World Series of Poker champion, Poker Hall of Famer and the worldwide recognized Ambassador of Poker, Mike Sexton, was in the battle of his life against prostate cancer and in hospice care. It was announced on Sunday night, through former WPT tournament director and lifelong friend Linda Johnson’s Facebook feed, that the 72-year old former WPT announcer had passed away, surrounded by his family and friends. We should not mourn Sexton’s passing, as he stated that he didn’t want the poker world to do such…so that is what I am doing, by thanking him for two of the biggest poker moments in my life.
Always Time for the Little Man
Back in 2004, I had just lost my job at the time and, with time on my hands, taught myself how to build websites through HTML. What I did was build a website about poker – reviewing products, reporting on tournaments and interviewing players. Essentially, I did what I have done for the past 16 years. But back then, I was a nobody on the scene, but that didn’t matter to Mike Sexton.
After running down his email address at PartyPoker (it was capitalized then), I fired off a request to Mike in hopes of interviewing him for my website. Within 24 hours, he had responded, saying that he would be happy to do an interview and to send him the questions. Of course I immediately sent a laundry list of questions to him – even though I had been in the radio industry previously and had interviewed plenty of rock stars before Mike Sexton, you never know when you’re going to get another chance to speak to someone. He calmly sent back extensive answers to my questions and, as it turned out, the interview was one of the biggest hits on my website and helped me to get my first gig in the poker industry.
We would meet several times after that interview (including the next story), usually walking the floor at a WPT event, and Mike always had a smile for me and a hearty handshake. He never thought he was bigger than anybody. And he always treated everyone with the epitome of respect.
Also a Hell of a Player
Because of his work off the felt, many forget that Mike Sexton was a hell of a poker player, too. And I was there for what, for me, was one of the finest displays of tournament poker that I have ever seen. We’d have to jump in the Wayback Machine to see it today, but it is something that has been permanently etched into my mind.
In 2006, the WSOP Tournament of Champions invited 27 players to take part, the previous WSOP Circuit event champions, the nine people who had made the final table of the 2005 WSOP Championship Event and six “wild card” choices from the WSOP and the sponsors of the WSOP. Sexton was one of the players chosen as a “wild card,” and he would make the final table against an array of talent that would be daunting at any point but, at this particular one, the players were all at their peak talents.
You had Chris Ferguson, the former winner of the Championship Event and Circuit event champion, along with the defending Tournament of Champions winner Mike Matusow, the 2004 WSOP Player of the Year Daniel Negreanu, Ireland’s Andy Black and “The Great Dane” Gus Hansen…and that was only half the table! Sexton came to that final table in seventh place, but he would put on a demonstration of poker skill that few have ever seen.
He would slowly grind his stack upwards, but Matusow and Negreanu would be leading when they reached three-handed play. For over sixty hands, they squared off against each other, with Sexton whittling away at Matusow’s stack. It seemed that irritated “The Mouth,” who would move all in pre-flop and saw Sexton call him. Taking pocket sevens against Matusow’s A-4, the board blanked out to give Sexton the hand and his first lead at the final table going to heads up against Negreanu.
What proceeded to happen next is something that I didn’t believe and haven’t see repeated since then. For the next 12 HOURS, Sexton and Negreanu fought for the million-dollar first place prize. The display of poker prowess between the two champions amazed those in attendance, although by the light of the early Vegas morning there was only Sexton, Negreanu, the dealer and three others watching – myself, then-WSOP Media Director Nolan Dalla and noted poker photographer BJ Nemeth. It was arguably the greatest display of poker I’ve seen as the duo battled it out with post flop play that simply bordered on the astounding.
In the end, Sexton was able to finally vanquish Negreanu. Negreanu pulled out of the tournament at the WSOP he was scheduled to play that day and Sexton, while still looking surprisingly good after spending nearly 18 hours at the table, was pretty spent himself. “You know, sometimes I’m glad I have a day job,” he joked at the time, “I’m proud of the way I played and maybe I proved that the “old school” guys still got some game.” Sexton would then proceed to donate half of the million-dollar prize to five charities at $100,000 a pop.
You did have some game, Mike. And you’ve proven it every day you came to either the green baize to battle against the best players in the world or stepped to the mic for a WPT broadcast to call the actions of the best in the world. You’ve inspired generations to play the game, those that heard you give your familiar WPT signoff of “may all your cards be live and may all your pots be monsters,” and you always treated everyone like they were a poker champion. You are a gentleman, Mike Sexton, and there won’t be another one like you.
Mike…you’ve done your job here. There’s a game going on that has a seat with your name on it. Godspeed, Mike Sexton, and thank you for all you’ve done for the world of poker and beyond.