PLAYER PROFILE – Mike Sexton, ‘The Ambassador of Poker’
Mike Sexton was an American professional poker player and renowned commentator. He was one of the most recognizable and influential modern-day poker personalities. His poker career includes 72 World Series of Poker (WSOP) cashes, one WSOP bracelet, a World Poker Tour (WPT) title, and over $6.7 million in tournament winnings.
While Sexton’s time as a player is also impressive, what’s astounding is his contribution to the game outside of playing it. He co-hosted the WPT broadcast with Vince Van Patten for 15 seasons and he helped develop software for and served as the chairman of Partypoker.
A class act on and off the table, he was a staunch promoter and ambassador for poker, advertising it with his spotless, scandal-free record. For all these reasons, he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009. Sexton was one of the biggest promoters of poker and the driving force behind it reaching a mainstream audience. It’s hard to imagine the game without him.
On September 22, 1947, Michael Richard Sexton was born in Shelbyville, Indiana. His parents were ballroom dance teachers, and he and his brother likewise became talented dancers at a young age. This experience also turned them into competent gymnasts, eventually granting them athletic scholarships at Ohio State University. He earned a degree in public recreation but played so much poker that he joked it was his true major.
After leaving Ohio State University in 1970, Sexton enlisted in the army, serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. While serving, he taught ballroom dancing, and one of his students convinced him to become a salesman. Sexton supplemented that job with poker, and like many other pros, his winnings from the game soon overtook his primary career. Seeing the success of Robison and fellow Ohioan David ‘Chip’ Reese, he entered the pro scene in 1977.
His friend Danny Robison introduced Mike to poker at age 13, frequently playing for their hard-earned money at the end of every week.
Sexton’s first-ever tournament cash was a third-place finish in the Razz event of Amarillo Slim‘s Super Bowl of Poker where he earned $9,500. Three years later, he placed fifth and sixth in the $1,000 Pot Limit Omaha and $1,000 Seven Card Stud events of the World Series of Poker (WSOP). On the heels of these performances, he decided to move to Las Vegas in 1985.
In 1989, he won his one and only WSOP bracelet in addition to the $104,400 first place prize at the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Split tournament. He continued to take down various tournaments, including back-to-back wins at the 1996 and 1997 Four Queens Poker Classic, a six-figure score at the 2000 Grand Prix de Paris, and a whopping $1,000,000 finish at the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions, beating Daniel Negreanu heads-up.
Shaping the Poker World
In 2000, Sexton traveled to India to help create the software that partypoker would later use. The website launched on August 1, 2001.
At this point, Sexton was well-known within the poker community for his numerous poker-related ventures. He was a professional player with a WSOP bracelet, a software developer for partypoker, and a columnist at Card Player Magazine, the world’s oldest and most respected poker magazine.
Sexton was also an active philanthropist. He was a co-founder of PokerGives.org, a nonprofit that gives poker players an easy way to donate to charity.
Donating winnings to charity wasn’t new to him. Sexton donated half of his post-tax winnings from his win in 2006 and the $1,000,000 first prize to five charities, pledging to do the same with all future winnings. He even received a Patriot Award from Paralyzed Veterans of America in 2008, thanks to his work supporting them.
After he won the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions, Sexton was Steve Lipscomb’s, the founder of the WPT, first choice for hosting the WPT. “There was only one voice that could be the anchor for that show,” Lipscomb said in a PokerGO documentary, “And that was Mike.” Paired with Vince Van Patten, Sexton commentated for 15 seasons as part of the WPT.
While he could not join the event for several years due to his commentator status, he won the Season XV WPT Montreal. He was both commentator and champion of the iconic tournament series.
The Poker Hall of Fame recognized Sexton’s numerous contributions to the poker scene in 2009, immortalizing him among legends like Stu Ungar, Johnny Moss, and Doyle Brunson.
In 2017, he stepped away from his position as WPT commentator to become the chairman of partypoker. He said that those were the two best jobs in poker.
On July 21, 2020, the WPT Champion’s Cup was renamed “The Mike Sexton WPT Champion Cup.”
“I was proud to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. I didn’t think anything could ever top that, but in my mind, this does. To have the WPT Champions Cup named in my honor and be part of the experience for all WPT champions moving forward is truly the highest peak in my 40 years in poker. Thank you to the World Poker Tour for this humbling distinction,” Sexton said.
After a battle with prostate cancer, Michael Richard Sexton passed away on September 6th, 2020. His legacy will continue as part of poker’s legendary history.