Poker Ambassador: An interview with Mike Sexton
Arguably, there are few people that have done more for the game of poker than the "Ambassador of Poker", Mike Sexton. He is recognized as one of the great players in the history of the World Series of Poker, sitting among the leaders in most all-time cashes with 37. He has won many major poker championships worldwide and, by his own hands, helped Party Poker become the leader in the online poker world. And you might have seen him hosting something called the World Poker Tour over the last three years!
2005 has been a great year for Mike as well. Not only has he watched the WPT blow past the $100 million mark in purses, he achieved a lifelong goal with the release of his own poker book, "Shuffle Up & Deal". Not only has it drawn acclaim for its approach to the game of poker, in May it reached #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List for how-to books, a rare achievement for poker books overall. I caught up with Mike by phone recently to congratulate him on his achievements and find out what the Ambassador of Poker is currently up to!
PN: Hello, Mike! It's great to catch up with you!
MS: Hello, Earl! Listen, if we get cut off, give me about ten minutes and I'll catch up with you on a landline! I'm working my way through the airport as we speak! (Laughs)
PN: (Laughing as well) No problem, Mike...I wanted to take some time to congratulate you on "Shuffle". What was the driving force for you to do something like this?
MS: Thank you, Earl. Well, the World Poker Tour wanted me to do something along these lines. There is an idea that it might start off a series of books from prominent players, talking about the game and different styles of poker, and they wanted me to start it off. Needless to say, I was excited by the opportunity!
PN: Why is that? Is it something you have wanted to do for a while now?
MS: Oh, it was always something that I had in the back of my head. I have been writing my articles for CardPlayer since 1996, so I always thought that I might get the chance to do it. I am most proud of the factor that it has been so well received. It has been on the New York Times Bestseller List, which was quite a thrill for me.
PN: What were you most proud of in the book?
MS: While everything I wrote I was proud of, I think the best part of it was the first chapter, the introduction, written by Steve Lipscomb (the creator of the WPT). He really detailed out everything that he went through to create the WPT, from the original idea he had to taking it to all the major networks and being rebuffed by them all. It really showed his perseverance to his plan and, I think, gives a great background to everything that went into the creation of the World Poker Tour.
PN: I know I read it and was surprised to see that you emphasized situational play and position over playing certain groups of hole cards. Why the differing approach?
MS: As you know and anyone who plays the game well knows, position and opportunity are two things that are very important in the game. While the cards are a constant, the one thing that makes the game different each time you play are the people. Poker is a people game, and by learning to play the game from that standpoint, rather that a set list of cards, you'll learn the feel of the game much better.
PN: I think you got that across well. What else does "Shuffle Up & Deal" bring that other poker books don't?
MS: I think that it is entertaining and easy to read. Some books really focus in on the statistics and things along that line. I'm not the best mathematician (chuckles), so I wanted to make sure that I didn't get too caught up in the numbers. While math's important, it isn't the only thing to consider when deciding to play a hand.
I also believe that it gets someone to start thinking like a player at the table and away from it. I think it teaches people to look at poker from a business aspect and gives them some insight to running their game like the successful professionals do, like a business.
PN: That came across well, I thought, in Chapter 3, where you emphasize the difference between winners and losers in poker. Are these things that you see today, even at the professional level?
MS: Well, you see it at the professional level, but not to the extent that you do with amateur players. Amateurs more often than not will play too many pots, call too much and "steam" (go on tilt). Those are things that any player has to avoid if they are going to be successful at the game.
PN: In Chapter 8 you have some great suggestions for a player to improve their online game. How much more of an impact will the online game have on "live" poker?
MS: Oh, online poker will continue to have a great impact on the game. The people that are drawn to the online game, most naturally, want to step into the B&M games and tournaments. This will continue to expand, even now.
Online poker is tremendous for the poker industry because it does bring new players into the game. Poker is seeing a tremendous influx of young people coming into the game. Online poker provides a place new players can learn how to play, and play for free. No casino is going to say, "Come on in. We'll provide a table and dealer for you. Sit at this table and practice your poker." Online poker provides that for players.
PN: How much of "Shuffle" do you use in teaching at the WPT Boot Camp?
MS: I use a fair amount of it when I teach. We have such a great background of information to use, with the WPT and all, that it makes for a great seminar for a player.
PN: What is the most surprising thing that you have seen from the students at the Boot Camp?
MS: I have done three of them now and I am always happy to hear from the players whose games have been changed. I have gotten quite a bit of feedback from people whose games have improved, they are winning at the game now and have a much better understanding of it as well. I am proud of the fact that the Boot Camp has helped so many players.
PN: One thing I wanted to ask you about was your play at the Authors tournament on the WPT. You were very critical of yourself and your play. Is that something that is important for a player to do, to be honest with themselves when they aren't at their best?
MS: I think so. A poker player will know when they are running good or bad. They will know when good play won them a particular hand or tournament and they will know when they are making mistakes. You have to be honest on both aspects and realize when you get lucky and when you are just getting beaten by that same luck. So it is important to continually analyze what you are doing and being honest with yourself.
PN: What corrections did you make, because you came back well in Australia after that and did well also in the Heads Up Championship?
MS: Honestly, I looked it over several times and I really didn't play that badly, after I thought about it. Yes, I missed a couple of opportunities and wasn't aggressive, but I really wasn't playing that bad after I looked at it. The analysis did help, though, because I did come back well in those tournaments that you mentioned.
PN: Do you plan on playing in the World Series? What do you think of your chances?
MS: Oh, yes, I'm going to play. I used to think that I had a good chance, in the past, but it isn't quite the same now. With the numbers they are expecting, it really has become almost a lottery now. Still, I'm going to be there!
PN: Can we expect to see more books from you?
MS: The possibility is there. The WPT is encouraging me (laughs), so it is a possibility.
PN: Speaking of the WPT, the fourth season is about to start. (Laughs) Can it get any bigger, Mike?
MS: (Laughs) Oh, certainly, it will just keep getting bigger and better. There are definitely more players out there now, they keep coming and they want to play. We recently passed the $100 million mark and everyone wants some of that.
We have also proven that we aren't a fluke. Poker is going to be around and the WPT is going to be a huge part of the future of the game.
PN: Well, Mike, thanks for the time!
MS: Thank you, Earl and good luck!
I want to thank Mike Sexton for a few moments out of his busy schedule and wish him continued success with "Shuffle Up & Deal". It is a very useful guide for any player and, in my opinion, is a book that should be in your library. The book, if you haven't already picked up your copy, can be found at any bookstore ($19.95 US/$27.95 Canadian) or by visiting the publisher's website at HarperCollins.com or by visiting the World Poker Tour website at worldpokertour.com.
Ed Note: Mike Sexton proudly endorses Party Poker ... Can the Ambassador of Poker be wrong?