Mike Sexton has been playing poker most of his life. At age 14, the now host of the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel started on a path that would make him not only a World Series of Poker bracelet holder, but also an icon for the exploding poker industry.
Sexton, who now lives in Las Vegas, began his early poker years playing against the likes of Danny Robison who eventually went on to be considered one of the best seven-card-stud players in world. Sexton took the skills he learned and applied them to his college games. "I literally played bridge or poker every day. I played a lot of cards. The games always just came naturally to me, whether it was poker, gin, or bridge. I just had a natural knack for it. But I really loved poker," he said in an interview.
After spending time in college, Sexton joined the army. It wasn't long before he realized that the military wasn't his calling, so when he finished his service he found a job as a salesman selling various products to military PXs and commissaries. Shortly after that, Sexton decided poker was more profitable that sales.
"I started playing home games and I loved playing them. I had recently gotten a divorce, probably because I played too much cards, and I finally realized that it had always bugged me that I would have to leave games to go make a sale. I could make more money at the game and there was no guarantee that I would make a sale. I just decided to quit my job and started playing professionally in North Carolina via a number of home games. I knew if I went broke I could always get another job. I played home games for eight years in North Carolina before I moved to Las Vegas in 1985. For a period of over 20 years I didn't have a paycheck. I literally played poker every day of the week."
His move to Vegas was well thought out. He had been there previously and had watched the local talent. "I was never intimidated by the competition. I always thought I could hold my own and play with anybody," he said.
But according to Sexton, it's not necessarily a lack of talent that can kill your game in Sin City. "It's really about discipline there. The problem with Las Vegas is that if you have any bad habits, be it drinking, drugs, or gambling, it will find you out there because it's a 24-hour town. Money management is also as key as being a good player. There are just so many pros who fall into the large number of traps. If you have any weaknesses, it's going to be a problem trying to play winning poker."
Despite the pitfalls that come with playing poker, Sexton believes it is the best game on the planet. "The great thing about poker is that it has all the things that people like. Poker has the luck factor, the skill factor, and the risk versus reward payout. I believe people like to gamble and take a risk once in awhile. It's attractive to them." he said.
For Sexton and other pros, it is the Cinderella stories like Chris Moneymaker who keep the dreams of home-game players alive, but in the end, he believes the results will speak for themselves. "Certainly with playing poker there is a little bit of luck and gamble to it, but players like myself like to think that it is a game of skill and over time, we will win the money," he added.
Sexton does warn, however, that the life of a pro can be rewarding but is more often difficult than not. According to Sexton, "Being a pro is not the glamorous lifestyle you see on TV, and if you follow tournaments, similar to pro golfers, you're away from home a lot. Certainly the guys you see winning millions on TVlife is great for them. But most of the guys are barely scraping up the buy-in and they're away from home way to much."
Despite economic struggles of some, according to Sexton the poker world is going to continue to grow and skilled players will reap the profits. "To me, it's been very satisfying to see the public recognizing that poker is a game of skill. When they see the same WPT players at the final table, they understand that there is more than just luck involved. Now players can make a living at it. People use to look down at poker players saying they were gamblers. Some would ask me how I could gamble for a living and I would tell them that I played poker for a living, not gambled," he said.
According to Sexton, the WPT is one of the reasons for this change in opinions about the game. "You come across some of the greatest players on the planet, as well as amateurs who think they can take down the best. Certainly I believe the WPT events are the premier events in poker. Its mega-bucks they're playing for. We give million-dollar payouts to our winners."
Sexton has a message for the next generation of poker players. "Don't play to many hands or call your money off. In poker its all about knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them, so to speak. Stay within your limits. Move up slowly. Poker players have too much pride. It's the downfall of most poker players. If you're getting beat, drop down to a level you can beat consistently. Swallow your ego."
You can see Mike Sexton and the rest of the WPT crew and players on the Travel Channel.
Ed Note: Mike Sexton proudly endorses Party Poker...Can the Ambassador of Poker be wrong?