Fatherhood adds new perspective to the life of Mike Sexton

30 June 2009

LAS VEGAS – Poker is no longer the top priority in Mike Sexton's life.

That may come as a surprise, considering his stature in the game and the fact that he's long been considered "The Ambassador of Poker." But Sexton's perspective changed dramatically about 10 months ago when his son Ty Michael Sexton was born.

"I'm a father for the first time and all of a sudden parenting is far more important to me than poker," Sexton admitted Tuesday afternoon as he stopped to chat with us during a visit to Day 33 of the 2009 World Series of Poker. "It's been a wonderful and eye-opening experience. And I'm loving every minute of it."

Mike_sexton

Ambassador of Poker Mike Sexton mingles with the crowed at the World Series of Poker on Tuesday. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City

Indeed he is. Sexton may be a rookie father at the age of 61, but he's as enthusiastic about his new role as someone more than half his age. Without being prompted, he quickly whipped out his iPhone to show off a photo of Ty's wide smile and blond hair. As he talked about his son and Karen, his wife of two years, there was a Kris Kringle-like sparkle in his eye.

"Just watching Ty grow up so fast has been an absolute joy," he said with a smile. "Just in the last month or so he started standing up and pulling himself around like a little tank. He'll be walking pretty soon. And he says 'Da Da' all the time. That's the best."

But as smitten as he is by fatherhood, poker is obviously still a major part of who Mike Sexton is. He's a WSOP bracelet winner and just this year he recorded his 46th-career WSOP cash, which puts him 10th on the all-time list.

Sexton's time at the poker table has dropped a bit since Ty was born. He played in around 12 events at this year's WSOP, with just the single cash in a $1,500 Pot Limit event.

"It's disappointing because I usually do much better during the World Series," said Sexton, a Las Vegas resident who later this week will be looking for his seventh-career cash in the $10,000 Main Event -- a tournament he has played in 15 times in the last 17 years. "But I'm looking forward to the Main Event. As long as I'm living and breathing air, I'll play in it. And who knows? Maybe I'm saving all my luck this year for the big one. A cash there would certainly make up for all the other ones."

Overall, Sexton has won more than $3.7 million worldwide and his voice and face is as recognizable as anybody's in the game thanks to his work on the World Poker Tour's TV broadcasts. He also helped develop the software for PartyPoker.com.

"I'll never be done with poker," he said. "It's been a huge part of my life and it's been good to me."

And after watching him mingle with the fans at the Amazon Room on Tuesday, there's no doubt Sexton as is popular as ever. He was at the Rio to watch a couple friends – Richard Sklar and Matt Savage – play in the final table of the $1,500 Seven Card Stud Hi-Low-8 or Better event. But he didn't get to see too much action on the felt because every two minutes someone was tapping him on the shoulder, asking for an autograph or to pose for a picture.

"No, I don't mind it all," he said of the constant interruptions. "I appreciate the fact that people consider poker people as celebrities. We should be grateful that we have fans that actually watch poker on TV so I always try to do my part and I know that most of the other players do the same."

Sexton – an Ohio State graduate and former U.S. Army paratrooper – remembers the days when there was no such thing as a "poker celebrity." The fact that he will be starting his eighth season next month as part of the WPT announcing team with Vincent Van Patten simply blows his mind.

"It's pretty amazing that we've been on for seven seasons; not too many shows can say they've lasted that long," he said. "Vince and I have had a nice run. We're like the Abbott and Costello of poker, I guess. But we've had a real good time doing it and I think that comes across on the show."

Another poker "project" that Sexton has been with from the very start is Party Poker. He joined the development team nine months before the site launched in 2001 and is actually the person who came up with the catchy name. His longtime relationship with the online site is something he's quite proud of.

"We came from nowhere to become far and away the most successful site in the world," said Sexton, who was wearing an untucked, pink dress shirt with a Party Poker logo on it. "They're a publicly traded company and they made the decision to pull out of the U.S. after the UIGEA, so we're not No. 1 anymore. But we're hoping that we get the chance to return someday and I think that could happen in the next year or two."

Sexton's success on the felt, and in the public's eye as "poker ambassador," has many talking about how this is the year Sexton should be nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame. He said that kind of chatter has been "flattering."

"It would certainly be nice to get in and be mentioned in the same breath with the true legends like Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese and Stu Ungar and all the sure-fire future Hall of Famers like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey," said Sexton. "To be considered among the kind of players who really had an impact on the industry for a long period of time is really flattering."

But even if the Hall doesn't call for him this year, Sexton is more than fine with what he's accomplished. He's even beginning to look forward to a life in semi-retirement.

"It's a couple years down the road because I still love what I'm doing, but I'm sure at some point I'm going to slow down a bit," said Sexton. "When you have kids when you're younger, you can't make all of your kids' events because you gotta work and you gotta go out there and make a buck. I'm fortunate enough that by the time Ty is 5 years old, I'm going to be in the position where I won't miss one school play or a single Little League game. I'm going to be there to see it all. And that's what I'm looking forward to."


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