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A gracious Mike Sexton is heading to the Poker Hall of Fame

19 October 2009

Mike Sexton was sitting in a London hotel room late Wednesday night last week when he received a telephone call he'll never forget.

Sexton was getting ready for bed on the night before his final table appearance in the PartyPoker World Open V when the phone rang. On the other end was World Series of Poker Communications Director Seth Palansky calling to deliver the news that Sexton had been voted into the Poker Hall of Fame. After a brief chat, Sexton hung up the phone and sat on his bed, looking around his empty room.

"It was kind of strange to be sitting there all by myself," Sexton told us a few days later upon his return to the U.S. "Because there were so many people I wanted to thank. I wish I could have called every one of them, right there and then."

Instead, the 62-year-old Sexton settled on calling his wife, Karen, and his older brother Tom, to share the good news. The other "thank yous" will come in the next few weeks and during his acceptance speech at the Rio in Las Vegas on Nov. 7, the night of the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The 25-year poker pro and longtime World Poker Tour television analyst will be the lone player inducted this year since he was the only one of the nine candidates to get the required 75% vote from the voting panel, which consisted of the 17 living Hall of Fame members and 15 media members.

mike_sexton

Mike Sexton says he will have a long list of people to thank when he accepts his nomination into the Poker Hall of Fame on Nov. 7 at the Rio in Las Vegas. (photo by Vin Narayanan/Casino City)

"There are a lot of people in my life who helped me reach the Hall of Fame," he said fondly. "If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be where I am today."

Sexton isn't exaggerating or being overly modest when he says his rise in the poker industry had a lot to do with him being in "the right place at the right time." The evolution of his career – as a player, broadcaster and overall "ambassador" of the game – included some fortuitous events, all of which helped him go from being a pretty good home game player in North Carolina to the Poker Hall of Fame.

First and foremost is the impromptu trip he made to the World Series of Poker in 1984. Sexton, who was living in North Carolina at the time and was a devoted Little League coach, decided to see if he could carry his good fortune at home games into the WSOP. He went to Las Vegas for a week, played in three events and made the final table in two of them, picking up more than $13,000.

"Making those two final tables gave me the confidence to pick up, move to Vegas and try to make a living as a poker player," said Sexton, who is a former U.S. Army paratrooper. "Who knows? If I don't do as well in those events, maybe I'm still living in North Carolina right now, playing in home games."

Instead, he dove head first into the grinder life of a professional poker player. He made a more than decent living over the next decade and earned a reputation as a solid player among his fellow professionals. He had an especially good run at the 1995 WSOP with six cashes and five final tables, but it was his improbable victory at the $5,000 Four Queens Poker Classic in September of 1996 that really changed his fortunes in a variety of ways.

Sexton didn't have the bankroll to buy into the tournament that year so he played in a satellite the morning of the Main Event. He made the final table and when it was three-handed he went all-in with A-K, but got beat in a race with a guy who had pocket jacks. Sexton packed up his stuff and started to walk out of the casino when he bumped into Scotty Nguyen.

"Scotty asked me where I was going and I told him I had just lost a satellite and I was going home," Sexton said. "Scotty said to me, 'What! You're not playing? I think you'll win if you play. I'd love to have a piece of you. How about I buy you in? How much would you want of yourself?'"

Within minutes, Sexton agreed to take just 20% of himself if Nguyen got the $5,000 together before the start of the tournament, which was getting ready to begin.

"Scotty turned around and started yelling, 'Who wants a piece of Mike Sexton? Who wants a piece of Mike Sexton?'" Sexton remembered with a big laugh. "He got six or seven people to take a piece of me and I was literally the last person to register."

By now, you probably know where this story is going. Sexton won the event and the $112,000 first-place prize, making himself about $23,000.

"It felt like a million bucks at the time," said Sexton, who defended his title at the Four Queens the next year. "It was unreal. Only Scotty Nguyen could pull off something like that…Only Scotty."

The money wasn't the only thing that made the victory so valuable for Sexton. Linda Johnson, the publisher of CardPlayer magazine at the time, heard about the story and asked Sexton to write an article about it for the next issue. Sexton did a bang-up job with the article and after that Johnson asked him to become a monthly contributor. Sexton did so for the next 10 years.

"I honestly believe that writing for CardPlayer magazine is what got me the exposure (I needed) to become an analyst for the WPT," he said. "I think the players all knew who I was, but other people in the industry really didn't know about me at the time.

"I'm fortunate that I ran into Scotty that day and I'm fortunate that Linda Johnson gave me the opportunity to get my name out there by writing for CardPlayer. And then I'm indebted to (WPT founder) Steve Lipscomb for taking a chance on me as his announcer. I know a lot of people told him he was crazy for giving me that job, but he liked what he saw from me thanks to the exposure I was getting and, as they say, the rest is history. It's really amazing how things just fell into place for me."

Sexton parlayed his notoriety into other lucrative business opportunities as well. He was one of the founders of PartyPoker, a site that was one of the most popular poker rooms in the U.S. before the UIGEA. Sexton not only helped the engineers design the site before it was launched back in 2001, but he also came up with the name. He's still with the site as a spokesperson and he ended up placing sixth at the PartyPoker World Open V the day after hearing he had been voted into the Hall of Fame.

Another huge accomplishment and one that Sexton is quite proud of is helping create the Tournament of Champions back in 1999. When he won the event in 2006 he donated half of his $1 million winnings to charity.

As soon as the nominees for this year's Hall of Fame were announced, Sexton began receiving support from his fellow players. The fact that the current Hall of Famers had a say in voting him in has made it extra special for Sexton.

"That means a lot to know guys like Doyle Brunson thought I deserved to be in there with that exclusive class of people," said Sexton who won his lone WSOP bracelet in 1989 in a Seven Card Stud Split event, but ranks in the Top-10 of the all-time WSOP cash list, second in Main Event cashes and has won more nearly $4 million worldwide. "They have welcomed me into the club and, to me, that's priceless.

"And all of the other nominees were vocal in their support as well. Erik Seidel, Barry Greenstein, Daniel Negreanu…they were all nominated, but they went public for me, which was very generous.

"It was an amazing group of nominees," he went on to say about the list that included former Main Event champions Dan Harrington, Tom McEvoy and Nguyen as well as Greenstein, Seidel, Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Men Nguyen.

Sexton has asked his brother Tom to introduce him at the ceremony. Tom is one year older than his brother and the two have been very close their entire lives.

"I think I'm just as excited as Mike is about all of this," said Tom, who teamed up with his brother at Fairmont East High School in Kettering, Ohio to help the gymnastics team win a state title. Mike went on to become an All-Big 10 gymnast at Ohio State and Tom was an All-American at Oklahoma. "He's truly a poker pioneer. Anyone who has anything to do with poker should be glad that Mike has given so much to the game. On top of that, he's probably the nicest guy in poker as well. This is an honor that's much-deserved."

In addition to Tom, who is retired and lives in Las Vegas and is an avid poker player, Mike expects about 30 to 40 other people that are close to him to be at the induction ceremony, a night he said will be "very emotional" for him. He has four half-brothers and two half-sisters, a slew of poker-industry related friends and colleagues, as well as his buddies back in North Carolina that he used to play home games with 30 years ago. Sexton said he also hopes that all of the other nominees will be there as well.

"In truth, I feel like those guys played a part in me being in the Hall of Fame," he said. "And I think most of them will be joining me someday as Hall of Famers. I really believe that."

Another person Sexton is looking forward to sharing the honor with is his 1-year-old son, Ty.

"To me, that's what's going to really make this whole thing special," he said. "When Ty gets to junior high or high school and his friends will say to him, 'Wow, that's really cool. Your Dad's in the Poker Hall of Fame.' Those are the kinds of things that really make me proud and happy. In a way this is a lifetime accomplishment award. It's something that my family and I will always have. It's pretty special."

A gracious Mike Sexton is heading to the Poker Hall of Fame is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT