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Admired Poker Ambassador Mike Sexton Dies of Cancer
The past week has been a sad one for the world of poker.
First, poker icon Linda Johnson informed the poker community that one of its most beloved members – Mike Sexton – was in home-based hospice care. He was battling advanced prostate cancer that had spread to other organs in his body.
Days later, Johnson informed everyone that Sexton died. He was at home, surrounded by family and friends, on Sunday evening, September 6, when he took his last breaths.
A Giant of the Poker Industry
No Limit Texas Hold’em, a game that takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.
Bingo, bango, bongo!
May all your cards be live and your pots be monsters!
These were all phrases that the poker world learned from Mike Sexton during his 15 years as the poker commentator of the World Poker Tour. He sat alongside color commentator Vince Van Patten from the first episode of the show when it debuted on the Travel Channel and through its first 15 seasons.
His voice welcomed new poker fans to the game every Wednesday, which became poker night on the Travel Channel, the network that took a chance on the World Poker Tour’s version of televised poker. Sexton and Van Patten introduced the game to the world, explaining the cards and betting and why players made the moves they did.
Sexton’s voice became synonymous with poker. And he ended every show with the now-famous phrase, “Until next time, may all your cards be live and your pots be monsters!”
A Journey to Poker
Sexton’s poker career started in his youth, when he learned the fun and value of competition. When he attended Ohio State on a full gymnastics scholarship, he spent a great deal of time playing competitive bridge and poker.
After serving in the United States Army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1970s, he tried a career in sales. He also coached Little League baseball teams and taught ballroom dancing. But Sexton kept returning to poker, eventually playing professionally. He finally made the move to Las Vegas in the mid-1980s for more poker opportunities.
Sexton started accumulating poker accolades in tournaments in Nevada and then in California. He won a World Series of Poker bracelet in the 1989 WSOP Seven-Card Stud Split tournament and continued collecting winner mementos in series like the Queens Poker Classic, L.A. Poker Classic, and World Poker Finals in America. Overseas, he won titles at the Euro Finals of Poker and the Crown Australian Poker Championships.
One of his most important wins came in 2006. Sexton had worked hard for many years to organize a Tournament of Champions, one that recognized previous winners and gave them a chance to compete for the ultimate championship title. The World Series of Poker finally agreed to host one in 2006, and Sexton won it for $1 million.
Of course, Sexton proceeded to give $500,000 of that prize to charities. He split the money evenly between five charities. He wanted other poker winners to follow in his philanthropic footsteps and encouraged this through an organization he helped found called PokerGives.
An Unforgettable Win at Playground
For most of his poker years as a WPT commentator, Sexton and Van Patten were not allowed to play in WPT tournaments. However, the WPT lifted that ban in 2010, and Sexton played often.
In 2011, Sexton made the final table of the WPT Bay 101 Shooting Star Main Event in California. He ultimately finished sixth for $148K. He made a WPT Venice final table in Italy in 2013 and cashed in numerous WPT events through the years.
In November 2016, Sexton traveled with the World Poker Tour to a favorite stop in Kahnawake in Montreal, Quebec. Playground Poker was a familiar setting for the WPT, and Sexton played the Season XV C$3,500 WPT Montreal Main Event there.
The tournament attracted 648 entries, creating a prize pool of C$2,199,960. By the time the final table began, Sexton was still in the tournament…and the chipleader. Personally, he eliminated Ema Zajmovic in fifth place and Nadir Lalji in third to get to heads-up play against Benny Chen.
According to the WPT, Sexton noted, “I’m feeling the vibe, doing this for the old school players and my WPT family.” The two battled for 158 hands, and Sexton was nearly out numerous times. But he finally soared into the chip lead over Chen and kept it. He took pocket queens into battle against K-J, and the queens found another on the flop. Sexton won.
Of course, he collected C$425,980 in winnings, but more importantly to him, he won a WPT title. And it happened at Playground Poker.
A Multi-Faceted Poker Icon
Sexton was one of the founders of PartyPoker. His ideas about the game and how to market it to the masses around the world were a key part of the beginnings of PartyPoker in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
When WPT creator Steve Lipscomb first approached Sexton, along with Linda Johnson, about the World Poker Tour idea, Sexton didn’t just sign on as a commentator. He helped fine-tune the ideas, the planning, and the execution of those plans. Lipscomb always credited Sexton and Johnson as instrumental in the formation of the WPT.
Through the years, in efforts to share his poker knowledge, Sexton wrote numerous columns for Card Player Magazine. He also penned his first book called Shuffle Up and Deal through the WPT, and he then wrote an autobiography and storytelling book published in 2016 called Life’s a Gamble.
Most of all, Sexton was a poker ambassador. He didn’t play that role as a part of a sponsorship deal or for any compensation whatsoever. He served as a poker ambassador because of his deep love of the game, his strong belief that it brought people together and brought joy.
Sexton didn’t do any of it for awards, but he received them anyway.
- 2006: Card Player Top Poker Ambassador Award at annual gala
- 2009: Poker Hall of Fame induction at WSOP
- 2016: GPI Lifetime Achievement Award at American Poker Awards
- 2017: WPT Honors Award by World Poker Tour for exceptional contributions
And just a few months ago, the WPT renamed its Champions Cup, which bears the inscribed name of every WPT winner throughout the tour’s history, as the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.
WPT and PartyPoker Say Goodbye
Several years ago, PartyPoker asked Mike Sexton to return and serve as the company’s Chairman. As difficult as it was to leave the World Poker Tour, Sexton made the move.
He remained close to his WPT family throughout the past few years. As he began to battle prostate cancer outside of the public eye – not wanting to burden the public with negative news – he worked for PartyPoker from his home in Las Vegas.
The WPT made the official announcement of Sexton’s passing. From CEO Adam Pliska:
“It is with great sorrow that I announce the passing of my friend and the greatest ambassador in poker, Mike Sexton. … Mike’s legacy will forever be a part of poker’s history. The WPT Family joins the entire poker community in sending our thoughts and deepest condolences to the Sexton family, including his young son Ty.”
PartyPoker added a note on Twitter:
“We mourn the heartbreaking loss of our chairman, founder, and friend Mike Sexton. We have seen so many wonderful stories being shared. The world of poker will never be the same but his huge contribution will never be forgotten. Our condolences go to Mike’s son, Ty, and family.”
Sexton was 72 years old, just weeks from his 73rd birthday. His son is 12 years old and was with his father, among other family members and close friends, at the Sexton home when Mike died.