It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we bring you the news that our chairman, founder, and friend Mike Sexton has passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 72-years-old.
The word legend is used by the poker community frequently and without much thought, but Mike was and will always be remembered as one of the game’s true legends
Mike lived a varied life and lived it the best he could, always with an almost trademark smile on his face. He was a keen gymnast in his youth and his love of flips and somersaults ultimately led to joining the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. Mike was stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, one of the largest military installations in the world.
Although Mike loved the army life, he decided to try new ventures when the option to re-up became available. Mike thought about re-enlisting in the army and forging a career for himself in the forces. Things could have been so very different.
He stayed in North Carolina, married, and began working as a sales rep. Some of Mike’s other jobs included teaching gymnastics part-time at the YMCA and teaching ballroom dancing. Poker, however, was always Mike’s true passion. He always joked that he majored in poker because he played almost daily during his college years.
Playing poker soon became Mike’s focus and he made good money from the game he loved. He once said he was prepared to go broke but never had another paycheck for the next 25-years. It’s fair to say a career as a professional poker player worked out for him. Mike played poker in North Carolina for eight years, becoming progressively better, before moving to Las Vegas.
Mike’s First Trip to the WSOP in Las Vegas
1984 saw Mike head to Las Vegas to play in his first World Series of Poker festival. Mike finished fifth in a $1,000 Pot-Limit Omaha event and sixth in a $1,000 Seven-Card Stud Split event during that trip from only three events he entered. This initial success led him to move to Las Vegas in January 1985.
Mike became an ever-present figure at the WSOP, winning $2,653,285 from 73 in-the-money finishes. He even won a coveted WSOP bracelet by triumphing in a $1,500 Seven-Card Stud Split event in 1989. A couple of runner-up finishes in 2002 and 2011 saw Mike narrowly miss out on becoming a multiple bracelet winner.
2009 saw Mike inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame, immortalising him in this fantastic game’s history. Mike will forever be remembered alongside such greats as Doyle Brunson, and his late friends Stu Ungar, Chip Reese, and Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott.
In 2012, Mike cashed in the inaugural Big One for One Drop event, a tournament with a massive $1 million buy-in. Mike finished ninth for a career-best $1,109,333. Our very own Sam Trickett finished second for $10,112,001 with Antonio Esfandiari collecting $18,346,673 for his impressive victory.
Although a veteran of the poker world, Mike showed the young guns he still had plenty left to give to the game when, in November 2016, he won the WPT Montreal Main Event for C$425,980. More cashes followed this incredible result and Mike’s live poker tournament earnings stand at $6,708,146. Only Mike knows how much more he made from grinding cash games.
An Incredible Honour
The impact Mike has had in the poker world cannot be understated and this was recognised further by the World Poker Tour when they renamed the WPT Champions Cup after him, with each new WPT champion earning their name on the Mike Sexton WPT Champions Cup.
A delighted Mike wrote about this in a blog where he said, “this is the highest honour I could ever receive in poker.”
Mike always found time to play in poker’s biggest, most-prestigious events, despite having an extremely busy schedule, first as part of the famous WPT presenting and commentary team with Vince Van Patten, and later as the partypoker Chairman.
He was part of the WPT commentary team from the tour’s inaugural season and quickly became a household name on television; not many people in poker can say that about themselves. Everyone has heard Mike’s famous phrase “May all your cards be live and your pots be monsters!”
Mike thrived in his role as an ambassador, not only for partypoker but for the entire poker community. Social media is awash with members of the poker community recalling their favourite memories of Mike. Many remember being delighted when Mike took the time to contact them personally and congratulate them on their victories. He also offered commiserations to those who fell short of glory. Mike loved poker and everyone who played it.
Even Phil Hellmuth took to Twitter to heap high praise on Mike.
“In 33 years of competing in high-pressure tourneys, I have never seen Mike Sexton off the rails! No poker brat moments, always class, always pleasant, and nice to everyone.”
“Mike has profoundly influenced the poker world. Poker would NOT be as big without Mike Sexton. The poker players would NOT have as much money without Mike Sexton. And poker would not have been this well regarded without Mike Sexton. The poker world owes Mike a huge debt of gratitude.”
It was like Mike’s career had come full circle when he was appointed partypoker Chairman. Mike was one of the founders of partypoker and it is because of him you can play on the site today.
Mike’s Amazing Contribution to the Game of Poker
Mike was instrumental in partypoker’s creation even before a virtual card had been dealt. It was he who chose the name “partypoker” and came up with concepts including the Tournament of Champions (which he, ironically, won in 2006 for $1 million), and the partypoker Million.
The inaugural partypoker.com Million in 2002 was ground-breaking. It was the first Hold’em tournament to offer a $1 million top prize, the first tournament to combine direct buy-ins with online qualifiers, and the first where its final was held on a cruise ship. Kathy Liebert won this tournament, but running the event came with massive costs and it was almost a one-time offering until Mike stepped in.
Mike believed in the concept and managed to convince the then General Manager of partypoker to give it another shot. The World Poker Tour was created before the second running of Mike’s idea and the Million 2 became part of its schedule. Some clever marketing later and partypoker was booming.
Without Mike’s vision, partypoker probably wouldn’t be here today and the online poker landscape would look completely different. People talk about Chris Moneymaker’s 2003 WSOP victory as being the catalyst for the “online poker boom” but Chris may never have played a single hand of poker online if it wasn’t for Mike’s vision and his role in raising the profile of the game.
The poker world will never be the same without Mike and his incredible contribution to the game will never be forgotten. Everyone at partypoker offers our heartfelt condolences to Mike’s son, Ty, and his family. We’re certain anyone who had the pleasure of meeting one of the games true legends will have memories they’ll treasure forever.