The poker world learned last week that longtime World Poker Tour commentator Mike Sexton had been battling prostate cancer. After a month of hospice care, he passed away on Saturday at age 72.
Remembered as one of the game’s key ambassadors and visionaries, Sexton leaves a long legacy in poker. Beyond his 15 years with the WPT, Sexton was also a cofounder of partypoker and has numerous other accomplishments in the game.
“It is with great sorrow that I announce the passing of my friend and the greatest ambassador in poker, Mike Sexton,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska announced on Saturday. “Mike served as a WPT commentator for 15 seasons and spent a lifetime growing the game of poker around the globe.
“His glowing presence resonated with players and fans of poker alike, who will all miss him onscreen and at the table. 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.”
Poker players stunned by news
Players and fans only learned last week of Sexton’s cancer battle. Poker player and friend Linda Johnson was in contact with Sexton and was authorized to release the news via Twitter on Sept. 1.
Johnson noted that the cancer recently spread to other organs.
Many players expressed support and affection for the “ambassador of poker.” That ranged from big-name players to fans of his work on the WPT television show.
“Jan Fisher and I read your tweets to Mike Sexton today and he asked me to thank you all so much for your love and support,” Fisher noted later.
“He is too tired to personally answer emails, texts, and Tweets but he wants you to know he is touched by them.”
A tribute to a poker legend
Just two days after the announcement, Mike Matusow produced a live stream honoring the poker player that meant so much to the industry. Pliska and Sexton’s longtime WPT commentating partner Vince Van Patten appeared on the tribute.
The Mouthpiece Episode 48: Mike Sexton Tribute https://t.co/Hw02nD2WAY
— Mike Matusow (@themouthmatusow) September 3, 2020
Others offering some words of support included Phil Hellmuth, Jennifer Harman, Jonathan Little, Erik Seidel, Norman Chad, Jennifer Tilly, and numerous others. Hellmuth also penned an article on what Sexton meant to him and the industry.
“Mike’s vision led to where the poker world is today,” Matusow said during the opening of the stream. “I know this from the bottom of my heart, that everyone out there that’s made money in poker would never have made money in poker if it wasn’t for Mike Sexton’s vision of bringing poker mainstream. It means so much to me what Mike has done and how he has touched my heart.”
Harman said Sexton reached so many on a personal level. She described him as a great family man and father.
“He’s always been a complete gentleman and was a wonderful person for the community,” she said. “He has put poker on the map at a different level. Poker wouldn’t be where it is because of Mike Sexton.”
A lifetime of growing poker
While he may have started out as a poker pro in the 1980s, other ventures would come along to help grow the game. Many players remember his effort in the late 1990s with the Tournament of Champions of Poker.
The event almost doubled the number of entries to the WSOP Main Event in its first year in 1998. While it only lasted three years, many consider it a forerunner of today’s big-field events. The tournament attracted some of the biggest names in poker from around the world.
The company remains one of the largest online poker operators in the world. Sexton served as the chairman of the company until his death.
Success for Sexton also came behind a keyboard. His work as a writer began with a monthly column in Card Player magazine in 1996. That lasted a decade and he also wrote two books.
Those included a strategy book and his popular autobiography, Life’s a Gamble, released in 2016. He went on to add partypoker blogging to his literary resumé as well.
Behind the WPT microphone
In 2002, Sexton landed his biggest role in propelling poker into the mainstream. Along with Van Patten, he broke down the action on the table weekly as part of the WPT television show.
The tour featured some of the biggest poker tournaments in the world. Seeing hole cards for the first time, and how players played them, fascinated viewers. The massive prize pools also kept fans coming back for more.
Ratings soared and so did poker’s popularity, including the game of No Limit Texas Hold’em. Suddenly everyone from accountants to mechanics to celebrity actors were heading to the tables.
Sexton’s everyman approach to the game made him a favorite. A generation of poker players grew up watching the action with Sexton and Van Patten. The poker visionary served as inspiration for many of poker’s new generation.
RIP Mike Sexton- those early seasons of the WPT all over Canadian TV during the hockey lockout were what made me want to pursue poker
— Mike McDonald (@MikeMcDonald89) September 7, 2020
Life at the tables
While his commentating duties and other roles occupied much of his time, Sexton also starred at the tables. No stranger to the WSOP, Sexton had $2.7 million in series winnings in a poker career stretching back to the 1980s.
He won a bracelet in 1989, a WPT title in 2016, and accumulated $6.7 million in live tournament winnings. In 2006, he won the WSOP Tournament of Champions for $1 million.
After beating Daniel Negreanu heads-up for the title, he went on to donate half of that to charity.
A competitor, a friend, a remarkable human being.
RIP Mike Sexton
This pic taken at the start of a 6 hour heads up deal in the TOC that Mike went on to win. He played so well that day I remember being truly shocked and impressed. pic.twitter.com/cKRaqwbWux
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) September 7, 2020
In 2009, Sexton was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame. When he left the WPT broadcast booth in 2017, Tony Dunst stepped in to take his spot.
They were big shoes to fill and Dunst reflected on how Sexton always looked out for players. Like others, Dunst said Sexton always greeted others with kindness and kept a positive attitude.
“Very sad to hear about Mike’s passing,” Dunst noted on Twitter. “He wasn’t just a champ for winning poker tournaments, but because he always championed for the players. Most of all I’ll miss his incredible stories, and I hate knowing how much of poker history left with him.”
Friends and family were able to watch the streaming tribute with Sexton and reported he had a smile on his face. That’s something friends and poker fans had come to expect.
Van Patten experienced Sexton’s smile and friendliness first-hand for almost two decades.
“The great Mike Sexton is gone,” Van Patten noted in a special WPT tribute video. “My buddy, my partner, what an exceptional human being you were and are.
“The world will not be the same without you. We love you Mike. Rest in peace.”
Montreal championship photo courtesy of WPT