Remembering wonderful guy, Mike Sexton

Known as “The Ambassador of Poker,” Mike Sexton died on Sept. 6 after battling prostate cancer. He was 72, just a few weeks shy of his 73rd birthday.

The news was tweeted to the poker world by Linda Johnson, “The First Lady of Poker,” who was a close friend of Mike’s for many years. An announcement was also made by the World Poker Tour with whom he had worked for many years.

Michael Richard Sexton’s accomplishments and contributions to the poker world are many and legendary. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009 for both his accomplishments in poker and his “lifetime of stewardship of the game.”

His smile and personality illuminated the room when he entered. I was pleased to know him, thanks to Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher, who introduced us during a tournament at the Commerce Casino in California. From chatting with this modest and unassuming person, you would never know of his great accomplishments and credentials. 

At the time, I was pondering a concept for starting hand selection in hold’em. As we sat waiting for the tournament to shuffle up and deal, I brought up my idea for what later would become the Hold’em Algorithm. Mike listened patiently and made several suggestions that contributed to the concept. A bright man.

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There was another occasion when Mike and I happened to bump into each other at a local casino. Mike asked me what I was up to. As it so happened, I had just started writing my book on “The Art of Bluffing.” A bit earlier, I had discovered a poker tactic that my then teen-age granddaughter Esther had used against me as I was teaching her to play low-limit hold’em. When bluffing, she would bet with great confidence; and to reinforce her bet, Esther used a reverse tell.

“How clever,” he smiled, and then explained why it would work. Mike encouraged me to proceed on my venture. I sent him a copy of my book when it was published. I suspect he used some Esther Bluffs along the way.

Mike was accorded many honors during his life. In 2017 he was awarded the WPT Honors, the organization’s highest distinction recognizing the most vibrant and vital members of the poker industry, in appreciation of his exceptional contributions to the World Poker Tour and the poker community as a whole.

Sexton’s contributions to the World Poker Tour were further ­honored earlier this year with the naming of the coveted WPT Champions Cup as the “Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.”

“Mike served as WPT commentator for 15 seasons and spent decades growing the game of poker around the globe,” said Adam Pliska, CEO of the World Poker Tour. “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.”

For those of us who grew up watching the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel, Mike Sexton became the “voice” of poker. His delightful poker commentary became the soundtrack for millions of poker players and fans watching the WPT final table coverage.

In 2017, Sexton left the WPT to become the chairman of — an online poker site he had helped to create in 2001.

Card Player Magazine recognized him as poker’s Top Ambassador at its Player of the Year Awards gala in 2006. That same year, he won the WSOP Tournament of Champions, winning $1 million in prize money.

Sexton was also a philanthropist. In addition to donating half of his $1 million winnings in the 2006 Tournament of Champions, he, along with Linda Johnson, Jan Fisher and Lisa Tenner, co-founded, an organization that helps poker players and companies to give to worthy charities.

Rounding off his many talents, in 2005 Sexton published his first book, an autobiography, “Shuffle Up and Deal.” More recently, in 2017, he wrote “Life’s a Gamble.”

Mike Sexton will long be remembered as he joins so many other memorable poker celebrities who have moved up to the big game in the sky. Let us share his famous sign-off: “May all of your cards be live and may all of your pots be monsters.” 

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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