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Rest In Peace Mike Sexton: The People's Champion

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Sep 08, '20


Last night, we lost a giant who in the words of the other voice of poker, Mr Jesse May, “put on a suit and tie every day to demand respect for the game we love, whose vision for poker came to pass. He gambled hard, he burned for the underdog, he walked with honor”.

I was devastated when Karen told me this morning that he was gone, even though things had looked very grim for months. Karen was fighting right by his side, all through their nightmare journey as they tried to draw out on cancer (Mike’s words). Mike was a great short stack player. I used to tell him that was because he had so much practice! Sadly, he lost this one but not before fighting tooth and nail defending every chip.

When Mike finally accepted that there was no way out, he characteristically told family and friends he didn’t want any tears, but to be remembered by people telling stories and laughter. So this morning, I rang Jesse and we spent an hour swapping Mike stories. I told him one he hadn’t heard before.

I was playing the Main Event a few years ago. Starting stack was 30k. At the end of Day 1, I had 11k. Day 2 was going a lot better and I had 15k at the dinner break! Then, things improved somewhat until I got knocked out when I lost a 320k flip in the second to last hand of the day. I phoned Mike when I got back to my hotel and told him what had happened. He laughed and said it wasn’t all bad. At least, I’d avoided a long line at the Rio taxi rank! Did I mention that I was playing with his money?

I first met Mike in London in the mid nineties. Over a few beers, he passionately outlined his vision for the future of poker: TV, sponsorship, respectability. He saw the potential if he could drag poker from the backroom to the living room. I thought he was nuts, so we quickly became good friends and I accidentally had a front row seat as he made his predictions come true. I should never have doubted him. Beneath the fun loving exterior, he had the heart of a champion. Thankfully, he was our champion.

He was years ahead of everyone. And unique. There was always going to be a Moneymaker. There will never be another Sexton. From the mid nineties, Mike was a regular visitor to Europe. He showed up regularly in London, Amsterdam, Dublin and especially Paris. It looked like he was having fun. And he was! Lots of it. But he was also building brand Sexton. Mike told me poker players will support and help you. But they like to be asked. He also said a bit of personality helps. But he persevered anyway!

There were lots of laughs along the way. He smuggled a bottle of tomato ketchup into the snooty Aviation Club restaurant to have with his daily steak and fries. The staff liked him so much, they kept it in a press for him and made a huge deal of presenting it every time he showed up. It’s only a little thing but it demonstrates how Mike’s popularity with the ordinary player and staff put him in a class of his own.

Mike had put himself in poll position when Party Poker came calling. He was Mr Poker. Then everyone got lucky. Party wanted Mike to go to India to advise their software guys. I’m not sure Mike knew where India was as he didn’t bet on cricket, so he went anyway because he needed the money. was born. After an initial hiccup that almost sank the boat, Mike persuaded the money people that they had a winner, even if it didn’t look that way. He was right and the rest is history.

Mike was also helpful in putting Steve and Lyle together to put the WPT together. He also commentated on it with Vince and they brought poker to people’s living rooms. They were great. They didn’t try to either impress or bamboozle the audience. They settled for entertaining and simplifying. Another home run for Sexton. He was a star.

I was given a huge honor when Warren Lush asked me if I’d like to write the mail nominating Mike for inclusion in the Poker Hall Of Fame. I did, but despite that he got in anyway. I was asked by several players to tell Mike that they would say a prayer for him during his illness. I passed the messages on though I was pretty sure most of them couldn’t remember the words of any prayer at gunpoint. Then, someone told me you could make up your own prayer so I joined in myself.

Our thoughts are with Karen and Ty and Mike’s whole family. Thanks for what you did for all of us Mike. Thanks for the laughter and thanks for being a fantastic friend. God Bless.

Padraig is currently involved with Jesse May in hosting Irish Pub Poker Tours for medium-sized corporate groups. For info you can contact him on Twitter @padraigpoker.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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