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The “Gutting Loss” Of A “Giant For The Game”

by Card Player News Team |  Published: Oct 21, 2020


Mike Sexton passed away on Sept. 6, following a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. He was two weeks shy of his 73rd birthday.

The announcement came from fellow Poker Hall of Fame member Linda Johnson, who had been among those by Sexton’s side as he entered hospice care.

When news of Sexton’s condition broke online, it spread quickly and sparked an outpouring of messages and stories on various social media platforms. Just days before he passed, Sexton was even able to watch a special webcast featuring many of his friends and colleagues who got the opportunity to say goodbye.

“A gutting loss. Mike Sexton was a giant for the game,” wrote 10-time WSOP bracelet winner and WPT LA Poker Classic champion Phil Ivey. “Very few people did more for the game of poker than he did.”

Daniel Negreanu, who has two WPT titles of his own and finished runner-up to Sexton in the 2006 Tournament of Champions, echoed Ivey’s sentiment. “A competitor, a friend, a remarkable human being,” Negreanu said.

WPT Executive Director Matt Savage admitted that he hadn’t been coping well with his grief over Sexton’s death, saying, “There comes a time in everyone’s life when people we love pass away, but this really hurts. I loved him like a brother.”

High-stakes tournament standout Justin Bonomo, who is second on the all-time money list with more than $49 million in earnings, published a nine-tweet thread detailing how Sexton played a pivotal role in his poker journey.

Bonomo stumbled upon an episode of the WPT while staying with his uncle in Los Angeles. He had been traveling the world playing Magic: The Gathering tournaments, but after a watching a few episodes and hearing Sexton break down the game, Bonomo dove into poker and never looked back.

“The innovative hole card camera let you get in on the action, and Mike Sexton’s legendary voice turned it into an exciting, gripping story,” Bonomo wrote. “I was hooked. Thank you, Mike Sexton, for the crucial role you played. Thank you for all the captivating stories you shared at the tables. Thank you for always saying, ‘hi’ and treating me with respect. It meant a lot to me.”

Jason Koon, who is also in the top 10 of the all-time money list with $32.1 million in earnings, gave Sexton credit for his role in the poker boom.

“Without your influence and inspiration, many of us would have never made the plunge to playing poker for a living,” wrote Koon. We’ll see you on the other side, brother.”

Fellow high roller Mike McDonald, who has $13.5 million in earnings himself, agreed that if it weren’t for Sexton, he also might not have ever tried to play poker professionally.

“Those early seasons of the WPT all over Canadian TV during the hockey lockout were what made me want to pursue poker,” McDonald said.

WPT President and CEO Adam Pliska offered similar thoughts in a seven-minute tribute video published by his company.

“To his friends, Mike was known as a humble man, and a kind and generous soul,” said Pliska. “Never without a smile on his face and always game for a new adventure, Mike was never too busy to share a laugh, stop and take a picture with a fan, or, a fact to which many of his friends can attest, take your money on the golf course.”

Tony Dunst, who took over in the commentary booth for Sexton when he left the WPT to rejoin partypoker as chairman, knew that the poker world had lost one of its greatest storytellers.

“He wasn’t just a champion for winning poker tournaments, but also because he always championed for the players,” said Dunst. “Most of all, I’ll miss his incredible stories. I hate knowing how much of poker history left with him.”

Although 15-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth has been a recipient of plenty of Sexton’s ribbing and roasts, he pointed out that Mike’s friendly demeanor had real longevity.

“In 33 years of competing in high-stress, high-pressure tournaments, I never saw Mike Sexton go off the rails,” Hellmuth wrote in a blog post. “No poker brat moments. Always classy, always pleasant, and always nice to everyone. Mike always handled himself well at the poker table.”

“It’s hard to overstate the impact Mike has had on our world,” said WPT Foxwoods Poker Classic champion and eight-time WSOP bracelet winner Erik Seidel. “His enthusiasm and love for poker has been so infectious and pure, he changed the game forever.”

The appreciation and the memories continued to pour in online. For seemingly the first time in the history of the internet, you couldn’t find a negative sentiment. The man was universally loved by everyone who had the pleasure of being in his orbit.

His WPT co-host of 15 years, Vince Van Patten, summed it up perfectly.

“My buddy. My partner. What an exceptional human being you were,” said Van Patten. “The world won’t be the same without you.” ♠