Mike Sexton Looks Back at Limit Hold'Em on the WPT (Part Two)
When we last spoke to Mike Sexton, he talked about the launch of the World Poker Tour — both literally and figuratively — as the inaugural partypoker Million took place on a cruise ship. But limit poker was to run into choppy waters, and despite the best attempts of Sexton and the whole team, there was no avoiding the rocks.
“The success of the first one was how the partypoker Million started as a limit tournament for a few years," he said. "Then we transitioned to no-limit like everyone else.”
The Days When Limit Was King
Sexton is emotional about the loss of limit, and with good reason. He played other variants of poker aside from no-limit hold’em for the majority of his career in cards.
“When I first came to Vegas, seven-card stud was king," he said. The whole card room was full of limit seven-card stud tables. You couldn’t find no-limit hold’em, because there wasn’t a game anywhere — it was seven-card stud and limit hold’em only.
"Then hi-lo split became very popular. The average Joe loves playing hi-lo split games. You split more pots, so you don’t go broke as fast and that’s why it’s so popular with recreational players. I played hi-lo split games for a living for 20 years and just loved it. They’re more fun and the atmosphere seems better whether it's tournament or cash games.”
"Limit is better than people pulling up their hoodies and putting on their sunglasses in no limit hold’em games."
The WPT bent to pressure and moved over to the newest game. No-limit hold’em was a beast that couldn’t be tamed in TV terms.
“For a long time, people wanted us to go back to a limit tournament. I do think other players miss it too. For years, before the turn of the century, pre-2000, back in the day at the WSOP, by far and away the largest event was the first limit tournament. It had two or three times more entries than any other tournament, including no-limit events. It was the biggest event going.
"Back in the day, you only had about 12 events at the WSOP. You had one event for seven-card stud, razz, 2-7 limit, stud eight-or-better and they all led up to the Main Event, but limit hold’em was always the most popular.”
It may not just be Sexton who bemoans the absence of more limit poker games on TV. How many final tables have we seen in recent years when the viewers might know just one or two names? Would it be a good idea to let the cream of the crop rise more often to that final table?
For Sexton, the sheer enjoyment of limit hold’em is its biggest appeal. He was recently reminded of exactly how great it is to play when he fired in the H.O.R.S.E. event at the recent Caribbean Poker Party.
“It was so much fun to play because everybody plays fast, they joke around, you get in so many more hands," Sexton said. "It moves so quick and it’s just fun to play. Now, with the delays and staredowns and all the stuff that goes on in no limit hold’em, it’s just not as much fun to play anymore. Limit is better than people pulling up their hoodies and putting on their sunglasses in no limit hold’em games.”
Is no limit...limiting the appeal of poker? The slower nature of recent gameplay is a point of worry for many players, including the partypoker chairman.
“It concerns me," he said. "We’re putting shot clocks in and trying to speed up play, but guys even delay for 30 seconds. Right on the flop they know if they‘re going to play the hand or not and they take their time and it just gets frustrating.”
So if limit was to be brought back, TV executives might need convincing. Perhaps Sexton could pitch some reasons to bring it back to the powers that be. He thinks only one reason would suffice: the speed of play.
"It’s quick, and for good players — you just lose one pot, you don’t lose your whole stack," he said. "Because of that, you’d think top pros wouldn’t mind going back to limit poker, where the best players are going to last longer. You don’t get outdrawn for your whole stack like you do in no limit hold’em.
"It’s more dramatic and exciting, no-limit hold’em, and for years the audience has understood that no-limit was king of the hill. You either won the pot or you got knocked out of the tournament. They understood that but now, everybody understands poker way better and I think they’d appreciate how the game moves [in limit hold’em] and how much more you get out of it.”
The WSOP as a Model
No-limit’s popularity is such that any new game — which limit would be to the majority of any poker audience — would need to thrive to work. So, the million-dollar question is, could it?
Sexton maintains it could.
"I say that because I’m old school," he said. "The new players have never played limit hold’em. They grew up playing no-limit. But they’re so sharp they’d catch on quick. I believe they’d like it if they ever played it. Since television came on board, it’s been strictly no-limit hold’em for every championship event we have. It’s just what people are used to.”
Sexton is passionate about so many different forms of poker. He believes that the WSOP is a fantastic festival, and one that has kept some variants alive. It's a model he'd like to see spread to more tournaments around the world.
“Poker isn’t just hold’em," he said. "[The WSOP] would get more entries if they changed every event to no-limit, but the whole concept of the WSOP would be looked down on if they didn’t have the other games.”
"I believe it was the most fun event by a mile to play at the entire festival."
Could partypoker be about to include a H.O.R.S.E. or limit variant on each tour? It’s something that Sexton would put his own name down for, and he pointed to the aforementioned CPP H.O.R.S.E. event as proof of concept.
“Everybody who played it loved the tournament," he said. "I happened to get lucky and finish second in it, but I believe it was the most fun event by a mile to play at the entire festival.
"I’d love to see a H.O.R.S.E. event with a bigger buy-in, then more players would play. Monetarily, hold’em brings in way more money because they have way more entries, that’s why you lean towards the hold’em events because they bring in more money and that’s where you make your bread and butter. But it’s fun, it’s fast and I love it.”
Maybe limit Hold’em won’t make a glorious comeback. But if it does, then you could see a galaxy of stars at the final tables. Sexton himself would almost certainly be either at the table or presenting the coverage in his inimitable way. It just wouldn’t be the same without him.