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Mike Sexton

Farewell to Mike Sexton

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This weekend the poker world lost The Ambassador, the venerable Mike Sexton. Sexton passed away at age 72 from prostate cancer.

Crowning a single person as the foremost at anything generally provokes debate. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the poker community who would debate that Mike Sexton was the first person they wanted out front to represent the game.

Always immaculately dressed and debonair in public, Sexton lent an air of civility to a game that frequently lacks it. He possessed a rare combination: affable and extroverted yet inoffensive and humble.

Mike Sexton had plenty of cause for pride. Few, if any, individuals influenced poker in the various ways Sexton did. As a player, he boasted close to $7 million in tournament earnings, and mixed it up in big-time cash games as well. He stood at the forefront of the online poker movement, assisting with the development of PartyPoker. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2009.

However, Sexton’s job as a poker commentator brought him the greatest renown. So many of us enjoyed his role as the straight man alongside Vince Van Patten on the World Poker Tour. Sexton brought a dry sense of humor and stability to the broadcasts, and allowed viewers to settle in with someone they liked and trusted. He would call out players for behaving poorly to others, but did so calmly and without affectation. Although Sexton retired from his WPT duties in 2017 to chair PartyPoker, this summer the WPT named its Champions Cup for Sexton.

In Sexton’s autobiography, Life is a Gamble, the dimension of the man came through – not surprising Sexton’s life was much wider than poker. As a gymnast at Ohio State University, a paratrooper in the US Army, a ballroom dancer, and a salesman prior to his poker career, Sexton brought his life experience in his approach to the game. He pursued several charitable endeavors, including co-founding, an organization that helps facilitate charitable giving among the poker community.

Most poignant in Life is a Gamble was Sexton’s personal humanity, particularly as it manifested in his relationship with the gifted, but troubled, Stu Ungar. Sexton was dazzled and respectful of Ungar’s ability, but clearly heartbroken when his and others’ efforts to help Ungar through his darkest moments proved unsuccessful.

Those of us at want to lend our voice to all who say goodbye to Mike Sexton today. But, most of all, to thank him for bringing a sensibility to poker that too often evades many. Being a good man and treating others well can go hand-in-hand with being a serious and competitive poker professional. You’ll be missed, sir.

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Paul Gearan

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