I’ve had lots of highlights in my poker career, but attending the dinner and ceremony during which Mike Sexton was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame is certainly among the highest. By now, I’m sure you know that Sexton was the only one who got inducted this year. If I were a betting woman, I’d bet that he got the nod from 100% of the voting media and living Hall of Fame members.
I was thrilled for Mike and honored when he called to let me know that he was the 2009 Poker Hall of Fame inductee. The night before the induction, I went to a private party at Mike’s house. Tales from Mike’s earlier days were being tossed about and this one was my favorite. When Mike was fairly new to Las Vegas, his longtime relationship with Chip Reese and Danny Robinson led to him hang out with many of the high-limit players at that time.
He met Puggy Pearson through Chip and Danny. Puggy was a “hustler” and eventually Mike and he made arrangements to play backgammon at a local bar for some fairly high stakes. By the time they actually played, Mike was, as he said, “between bankrolls.” He was a bit concerned that there might be some trouble if he lost because he couldn’t pay Puggy that night, so he asked his brother Tom to go with him in case things got out of hand. Puggy won the first few matches and had Mike stuck about $1,000. Puggy then said, “Son, I think we should settle up every time the figure gets to be $1,000, so pay me now and then we can continue to play.” Uh-oh… bad beat for Mike!
He looked at Puggy and said, “Well, I hate to say this, but I didn’t bring any money with me tonight. You know I’m good for it though.” Puggy then glared at Mike for about two minutes before breaking out into laughter. “What’s so funny?” asked Mike. Puggy replied, “Well son, I didn’t know what to do if I lost. I didn’t bring any money either.”
We swapped Sexton stories. I recalled the most exciting bet I’d ever been involved in: In 1998, Sexton, Bonnie Damiano, Jan Fisher, and I made a $5,000 bet with Erik Seidel that we could pick the winner of the WSOP Main Event if we got to choose 60 players. Erik would get the field versus our 60 players. Additionally, he was allowed to select 10 players that would be considered neutral, so if any of those people won, the bet would be a push.
This was a huge bet for us at the time, so Bonnie, Mike, Jan, and I met every day during the WSOP to modify our list. We would add players based on who was playing well and delete names of those who were having personal problems, money problems, doing drugs, etc. The final list that we turned in to Erik on the morning before the Main Event started looked nothing like the list we had originally concocted. To our dismay, there was a large number of entrants that year, 350 to be exact, which meant that after ruling out ten neutral players, we had 60 players against Erik’s 280.
Our dismay turned to joy as the field narrowed. We were already counting our winnings because there was one spoiler for us, Kevin McBride, who no one had even heard of before the final event. T.J. Cloutier was at the final table, but was a neutral player, so if he won, the bet would be a push. We had Scotty Nguyen, Lee Salem, and Dewey Weum on our list. I give Mike extreme credit for such great handicapping since back in those days, no one would have picked those three guys. When we heard Scotty’s words, “Call this baby and it’s all over,” it was music to our ears!
The Rio hosted a first-class affair for Mike’s induction. The decorations and the food in the Brasilia Room were impressive. Mike’s wife, Karen, and his 16-month old, Ty, were there as well as a veritable “who’s who” of poker.
In Mike’s acceptance speech, he credited the eight other nominees and then thanked some people who had helped him along in his career. Mike acknowledged that I was the one who gave him his start when I hired him to write a column for CardPlayer. That gave him exposure to the world, which ended up in him getting a call from Ruth Parisol to come help to India to help get an online site off the ground. That company turned out to be Party Gaming, which eventually sold for about $9 billion when it went public.
What Mike didn’t mention on his special night was that in the beginning, PartyPoker wasn’t all roses. Mike had encouraged PartyPoker to hire me as one of its spokespeople to add credibility to the site. Party definitely needed that credibility since there were problems with the software in the early stages. Mike and I went on public forums to soothe the naysayers and encouraged everyone to trust the site and give it time to fix the glitches. The players hung in there and the software became the best at that time.
Next, Mike came up with the idea for the PartyPoker Million. He had a vision that called for players to qualify online in $22 buy-in tournaments and then those players would win a cabin on a cruise ship and a shot at a $1 million prize pool. The only problem was that he needed someone to guarantee the $1 million. Card Player Cruises stepped up to the plate and made the guarantee. My word that the money would be paid was good enough to get lots of players to qualify. Unfortunately, not enough players qualified, so Card Player Cruises had to make up the $400,000 deficit. The Party Poker Million cruise launched with Kathy Liebert winning the first event.
Mike told some great stories at his induction and as usual, the audience was mesmerized. I’ve known Mike for 20 years and cherish our friendship. Way to go, Mike!