Note: This is the featured story from the most recent challenge of Card Player Magazine, now out there on-line free of charge. Click here to learn your entire challenge.
The 12 months was 1992, and there have been indicators that maybe poker’s repute was altering. Card Player Magazine, then in its fifth 12 months of operation, determined to make observe, devoting a whole challenge to the topic of participant sponsorships.
It was an extremely novel idea. After all, what respected enterprise would need some seedy poker participant to symbolize them? Who may presumably break the mildew of the stereotypical rounder, haggard and grizzled from too many sleepless, smoke-filled nights on the desk?
Enter Mike Sexton.
Sexton had frolicked leaping out of airplanes for the 82nd Airborne Division as a paratrooper, and had a various profession earlier than poker that included gross sales, little league teaching, and even educating ballroom dancing. But regardless of his 44 years, the previous Ohio State University gymnast nonetheless maintained the fresh-faced smile that may mild up any cardroom he entered.
The firm that selected Mike to be their spokesperson was La Mode clothes, who felt that the affable Sexton was excellent for his or her line of sportswear. For the primary time ever, a poker participant was deemed priceless sufficient to affect the general public. Whenever Mike performed playing cards, he would achieve this in his La Mode visor, polo, and jacket, and he bought paid to take action.
It is smart that Sexton was the sport’s first sponsored participant, as he was at all times the one who unwaveringly believed that poker was destined for a much bigger viewers. The everlasting optimist was satisfied that in the future a poker match may rival occasions comparable to Wimbledon, the Super Bowl, and the Stanley Cup.
The ’92 function story was authored by two-time WSOP bracelet winner Susie Isaacs, who was fast to be satisfied of Sexton’s optimism, saying that he was “a great ambassador” who “would like to be a spokesperson to promote” the sport.
“Today, Mike Sexton plays poker for money and dances for fun,” Isaacs wrote. “Tomorrow, he could be making the rounds of the national TV talk-show circuit, promoting the future of poker.”
There have been nonetheless years to go earlier than on-line poker launched, and televised poker was as archaic because it was sporadic, but it surely was clear that Sexton noticed the writing on the wall, even again then.
“Poker players are too shallow-minded about the potential of poker,” he mentioned. “In order for poker to grow and meet its true big money potential, we need corporate sponsorship and support. Athletes in other sports get millions of dollars a year because of sponsorships. These same sponsors hesitate when it comes to poker because poker is related to the gambling industry and they fear that such publicity could hurt their image. But I believe that by the year 2000, all major tournament players will have sponsorships.”
Sexton ended up solely being barely off in his prediction, however he was proper on in regards to the timing of the upcoming poker increase, and he labored continuous behind the scenes to place himself for its takeoff.
A number of years after his first function in Card Player, Sexton discovered himself in a protracted downswing, and bricked out on a $530 satellite tv for pc into the $5,000 Four Queens Classic. He was practically resigned to spending the occasion on the rail, when he bumped into Scotty Nguyen.
“I have a feeling you’ll be lucky today,” mentioned Nguyen, as he roped in a handful of others to place up Mike’s buy-in, giving him a 25 p.c freeroll.
Sexton went on to win the occasion, placing a good amount of money in his pocket and ending his downswing. Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker and then-publisher of Card Player Magazine, requested Sexton to pen a column about his expertise. The article turned out to be successful, with Sexton entertainingly recapping how he scrounged up the buy-in, and his final-table expertise with the likes of Jim Bechtel, Erik Seidel, and the younger, brash Phil Hellmuth.
“Phil, we don’t mind you consistently winning our money, but please do it quietly,” Sexton quipped about his opponent.
Johnson requested Sexton to proceed writing for Card Player, and he accepted. Between 1996 and 2006, Sexton wrote greater than 200 columns, sharing tales from his high-stakes battles on the felt, (and the golf course), and profiling a few of the finest gamers on the earth whereas they have been nonetheless up and comers.
The Inside Professional Poker column was additionally continuously dwelling to lots of Mike’s predictions. Reading them as we speak makes it clear that he had his finger on the heartbeat of the trade’s struggles and potential alternatives.
“To attract corporate America, we must sell tournament poker as a competition, perhaps even a sport. We need to put on television programs that are exciting and that will attract viewers. As I see it, poker will only be successful on television when the viewer can follow the play of the hand (hands must be superimposed on the screen) and can see what, when, and how a player plays a hand, with expert commentary provided for analysis.” [Feb. 6, 1998]
It could be practically 5 extra years earlier than the World Poker Tour debuted on the Travel Channel, with gap card cameras, and naturally, Mike within the sales space to offer skilled commentary alongside Vince Van Patten.
Of course, not all of his concepts have been winners.
“Allow players to buy a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly ‘time’ pass, like a seasonal pass to a ski resort. Players would be issued a badge to place in front of them that would indicate to the dealers that time payment should not be taken from them (as they have already paid it). In a raked game, every time a player wins a pot, he would get the ‘drop’ back.” [Dec. 11, 1998]
His dedication to rising the sport led to creating the Tournament of Champions. Sexton needed to mannequin an occasion after the PGA Tour through which solely match winners from the earlier calendar 12 months may take part. Despite drawing a subject that was double the scale of the WSOP major occasion, the match struggled to show a revenue. However, it was there that Mike was in a position to unconsciously exhibit for WPT co-founder Steve Lipscomb.
“Mike is an extraordinary poker anchor with the ability to talk circles around anyone in the poker arena,” Lipscomb instructed Card Player again in 2004. “Although Mike is a hard worker with pen and pad in hand, he also has this raw natural ability to talk about poker far better than anyone else. Where other announcers’ language is riddled with poker-speak, Mike can talk about poker in an exciting, yet simplistic way that everyone can understand.”
More vital than speaking poker, he may promote it. When Lipscomb wanted funding to assist launch the tour, he turned to Mike and requested if he knew anyone who would have an interest.
“I had two people in mind for him,” Sexton recalled, telling the story on Card Player’s Poker Stories podcast. “One was Lyle Berman, who is a Poker Hall of Famer and who was also once the Casino Man of the Year. And the other one was going to be Jerry Buss, the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers. Well, we never got to Buss. Linda [Johnson] and I went with Steve to Lyle, and the rest is history.”
Sexton was the voice of the WPT for 15 years. For many watching at dwelling, he was their first introduction to carry’em, explaining the foundations of “the Cadillac of poker,” a recreation that took simply “a minute to learn, and a lifetime to master.” He would finish each episode with the log off, “May all your cards be live, and may all your pots be monsters.”
Despite his senior standing Sexton was removed from a poker traditionalist, and was at all times very bullish about the way forward for on-line poker. He bought concerned with partypoker.com within the early levels (he picked the title), and was even despatched to India and the Dominican Republic to lend his poker experience to the programmers who have been inexperienced to the sport.
It was Sexton’s perception that the location may develop their participant pool by tying on-line qualifiers to a reside occasion, which led to the CelebrationPoker Million, a marquee match aboard a cruise ship with a then very-risky seven-figure assure. With unexpected bills and a smaller-than-anticipated turnout, the primary operating of the occasion misplaced $600,000.
“From a financial standpoint, the tournament was a failure,” wrote Mike O’Malley, Sexton’s colleague on the web site. “The site was treading water, not making money. The gig was up, the PartyPoker Million was over, as far as [site co-founder] Vikrant [Bhargava] was concerned. Mike would have none of it. The three of us sat in Vikrant’s office while Mike yelled at us about how successful it [actually] was, and how people were talking about the site and how the next tournament was going to be huge.”
“There was no reason to believe him,” O’Malley continued. “I specifically remember telling him how delusional he was, and how he always thought the sky was blue. For some reason, to this day I don’t know how or why, Mike was able to talk Vikrant into giving it one last shot. That was it, one last try. Three years later the company went public on the London Stock Exchange and shortly thereafter had a market cap of $12 billion.”
His profession off the felt was booming, however Sexton at all times made positive to remain sharp as a participant. He gained his WSOP bracelet again in 1989, within the $1,500 seven card stud eight-or-better occasion, however he had quite a few scores over time on the match circuit, even if he was contractually forbidden from enjoying in WPT occasions.
In 2000, he gained the Euro Finals of Poker in Paris. He had no downside sitting down with the excessive rollers for the WSOP’s $1 million buy-in Big One For One Drop in 2012, and completed within the cash. He had 24 closing tables on the WSOP total.
After his restrictions on enjoying WPT occasions have been lifted, he additionally proved greater than succesful, making 4 closing tables and even successful a title on the WPT Montreal major occasion in 2017 for $317,817. The victory meant that his title was added to the WPT Champions Cup, which has since been renamed in Sexton’s honor.
Sexton was thrilled to see his creation, the Tournament of Champions, return in 2004, and he was overjoyed in 2006 when he gained it, beating Daniel Negreanu heads-up to take dwelling the $1 million first-place prize. He later donated half of his winnings to charity.
Alongside Johnson, Jan Fisher, and Lisa Tenner, Sexton co-founded PokerGives, a corporation devoted to bolstering the poker neighborhood’s picture by offering companies for the much less lucky in Las Vegas.
“For poker to go to the next level, we must embrace charities,” Sexton mentioned in 2004. “The future of poker must include becoming big in its donations to charity. The most ardent adversaries of poker could not be against poker if we were to start donating huge bucks to worthwhile charities. And why not? It’s the right thing to do.”
Sexton will eternally be thought to be poker’s biggest ambassador not solely due to his iconic voice, forward-thinking improvements, and steadfast optimism in regards to the recreation’s potential, but in addition due to the way in which he carried himself on the desk each day. It was that tireless instance of sophistication that noticed poker go from a recreation hidden away at the back of a on line casino to a authentic sport watched by hundreds of thousands of fellow gamers from throughout the globe.
“I’m amazed that players criticize and ridicule weak players in a game. Only two things can happen when they do this. They convince the bad player that he is inferior, and he quits the game, or they smarten him up so that he plays better,” Sexton preached 25 years in the past. “The time has come to put more class into poker.”
Mission completed, Mike. Rest in peace. ♠