Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.
Poker needs all types of personalities; it’s what keeps it so fresh and enjoyably unpredictable. While I admit that poker needs the loud types in the game, I also believe it’s the nice guys (and gals, of course) that have kept the game in the positive light that it has so needed, both in the past and in the present, as rough times may lie ahead. There have been many people that can be credited with helping usher in the “poker boom,” but if you had to single out one voice that has done more for poker than anyone as an ambassador to the game, you have to look at Mike Sexton. Sexton has been acknowledged many times for his contributions to the game, but received the highest honor just a week ago, when he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame – and he was the SINGLE nominee for 2009.
Michael Richard Sexton was born in Shelby, Indiana on September 22, 1947, but spent the majority of his childhood in Dayton, Ohio. His parents worked a collection of jobs, including dance instruction, to pay the bills. As a youngster he didn’t play much poker, but he did excel in athletics. At a very early age he took an interest in gymnastics. His talent for a few events caught the eye of college recruiters, looking to add Sexton to their gymnastics team. Sexton eventually decided on Ohio State University, earning a free ride on a full athletic scholarship. It was in college that Sexton first discovered poker. Sexton entered Ohio State wanting to earn a degree in Public Recreation, which he did, but he has often joked that the real degree he earned was in poker. Its unclear how well Sexton did at poker while in college, but it’s certain that the game stuck with him, and hasn’t let go.
In addition to learning poker in college, Sexton also learned Bridge, which for a while overtook poker as Sexton’s favorite game. Sexton enjoyed Bridge so much he even spent a year teaching classes on it, but not before he joined the Army about a year after graduating college. Sexton joined the 82nd Airborne Division, an elite infantry in the Army, in 1970. Not intentionally, Sexton missed any action, as the division had just returned from Vietnam shortly after he joined. Sexton instead spent his two year enlistment playing poker and following in the footsteps of his parents, teaching a ballroom dancing class. After his enlistment was over, he remained in North Carolina, which is where he was based.
When nearing his completion in the Army he was told by one of his peers that they thought he would make a good salesman. So he started selling supplies to the Post Exchange store on the Fort Bragg Army Base, the equivalent to a shopping center. He also taught a Bridge class, and a couple of dancing classes to help supplement his income, for him and his new wife. All the while Sexton continued to play poker, and overtime started to clean up local cash games in North Carolina. Sexton’s commitment to his sales job, and his poker playing, both jobs that kept him away from home a lot, forced a strain on his marriage. In 1978 he and his wife agreed on a divorce, and also proved to be a life changing moment in Sexton’s life. Sexton decided to quit his job as a salesman, which was a good job, to become a full-time poker player.
Sexton has said his early road was tough, and because he was committed to coaching a local little league baseball team, he missed out on quite a few of the bigger tournaments for the first few years he was a professional, including the World Series of Poker. One event he did cash in was at Amarillo Slim’s Super Bowl of Poker, which at the time was the second most popular tournament series, behind the WSOP. Sexton finished 3rd at the $1,000 Razz tournament for $9,500. It wasn’t a huge score, but combined with a decent run in cash games, it was enough for Sexton to continue pursuing his dream.
In the mid-1980’s Sexton realized it was time to take his game to the next level, leaving the little leagues for the big leagues of Las Vegas. Almost right away he felt like he hit a homerun, cashing in two events at his first World Series of Poker, for a combined $13,200. Again, not a huge amount of money, but cashing in two WSOP events, both final tables, has a way to give you confidence about the tough decisions you’ve made. Over the next few years Sexton continued to climb up the ladder in cash games while continuing to find success in tournaments. Sexton has commented many times that tournament prizes were a fraction of what they were back then, but for the time it was still good money. Between 1984 and 1988 he had a handful of five figure scores, but in 1989 he not only had the biggest score of his career up to that point, but also won a WSOP bracelet, winning $104,400 taking down the $1,500 Seven Card-Stud Split event.
While he has never won another WSOP bracelet, he has gone on to cash in 45 tournaments, including a 12th place finish at the 2000 Main Event. The year 2000 proved to be a big year for Sexton, winning the European Finals of Poker for $169,000 in Paris. Despite all these huge scores, including a 2006 one million dollar score at the Tournament of Champions (a tournament he founded, now defunct), he is best known by many poker players as being the “voice” of poker. In 2003 a poker boom hit the game like none ever before, and right there to help usher it along was Sexton himself.
Already a sponsored player at Party Poker at the time, (he helped create the popular Party Poker Million Cruise ) he was asked by Linda Johnson to do some announcing on a new project she was working on. That project ended up being the World Poker Tour, which continues to be the most popular poker show on television outside of taped WSOP telecasts. Along with Vince Van Patten, Sexton brought his voice to the unlikely Travel Channel, but because of his knowledge of the game and the excitement that viewers had while watching players go after millions of dollars, the show remained atop the ratings for a series of years. In addition to calling all the action on the World Poker Tour, Sexton has lent his expertise to a number of magazines, including Card Player Magazine and Gambling Times Magazine, contributing articles on a regular basis.
Sexton has also donated many of his winnings to charities, including half of his million dollar winnings from his Tournament of Champions victory. Early this year he co-founded the website PokerGives.org, which makes it easy for poker players to donate money to their favorite charity. Because of these contributions, and many others, Sexton was named the top poker ambassador in 2006 by Card Player.
As mentioned, Sexton earned poker’s top non-monetary achievement, when he was the only person elected to this year’s 2009 Poker Hall of Fame. For the first time in the history of the Poker Hall of Fame, people were allowed to nominate/vote for players and a panel of judges elected who would make the cut, and Sexton was the only name left standing. Upon hearing he was elected to the hall, Sexton said via press release, "I am deeply honored to be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame and it is particularly special because for the first time it was a process that involved the fans, the media and the living members of the hall of fame. To me the most meaningful aspect of this process was the acceptance by the living hall of famers who welcomed me into their exclusive club."
Sexton is married to Karen (Bellagio poker room visitors will know her from the poker office) and they have a toddler named Ty. And while Sexton and family call Vegas home, he is usually on the road, and despite being over 60 years old now, has showed no signs of slowing down.
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