|Sexton's Corner, Vol.45:
Mike Sexton: Poker Visionary, Part 3
"2006 WSOP/TOC Victory"
o continue my brother's story as a poker visionary,
we will look at what happened to his dream of the
Tournament of Champions the last two years and
when and how PartyPoker and the World Poker Tour
entered the picture.
Poker on the Internet and on television was just around the corner and
Mike Sexton was about to be tabbed as the starting quarterback in
both stadiums! As it turned out, he was the right person in the right
place for all of us in the poker world. Mike is extremely modest, and
would be the first to tell you that there is no one individual who
deserves the most credit. The poker explosion that happened did so
due to many components and pioneers in the industry. That said, few
on the planet could deny the fact that Mike Sexton's key role as a
poker visionary and pioneer truly helped lead us all to the top of the
mountain -- poker was about to be legitimized, respected, and revered
beyond previously imagined limits.
First, let's examine the TOC, as it only occurred in three years, 1999, 2000 and 2001. The three respective champions were David Chiu, Spencer
Sun, and Brian Saltus. Mike has always felt the TOC was the classiest event in poker, but the fact is, the event lost about $100,000 each year. As an
outside promoter, with no drop in the casino, and considering the extra cost of drinks, food, promotions, pageantry, live music, an independent film
crew, an extra ballroom, year-round administration and promotional exenses, and juice from one event only… well, it is no wonder the event was first-
class for the players, but expensive to promote. Mike felt corporate sponsorship was right around the corner. He was right, but the TOC was a little
ahead of its time.
After the first TOC in 1999, Mike had a choic: Either drop the event, or bring in a partner to help defray the costs. This event was so spectacular for
the players and did so much good for the poker world, in terms of elevating the game's image, there was no way Mike wanted to abandon the event.
Thus, Chuck Humphrey entered the picture as Mike's partner in the TOC. Chuck was a brilliant guy, with several degrees from the University of
Michigan in law and business. Mike was a "people" person who could promote and host the event unlike anyone else in the world. The talent the two
of them had seemed to complement each other perfectly.
I remember the night the three of us went to dinner at the steakhouse to celebrate
the beginning of their partnership. During dinner I said, "Chuck, I just want to say
congratulations on you and Mike being equal partners now in the TOC. This may
be a stupid question, but in the event you and Mike disagree on any issue, how
will you resolve it?"
Chuck said, "Tom, that is easy. All I want is input on each issue… the final
decision will always be Mike's."
That answer sounded pretty good, but as each month went by and Chuck was
investing his money into the event, it was only natural that he insisted on doing
things the way he wanted to. Looking back, it didn't really matter who ran the
event, as without corporate sponsorship it was destined to lose about $100,000
per year. In the end, Mike always felt Chuck didn't get the credit he deserved
from many of the poker players, as they really didn't realize the obstacles Chuck
was trying to overcome as he worked hard to help keep the 2000 and 2001 TOC
as first-class events.
(Above) Chuck Humphrey and Mike Sexton became partners in
the TOC by 2000 and 2001. Mike will tell you, if it wasn't for
Chuck assuming the day to day duties of running the 2000 and
2001 events, as well as providing the needed finances, Mike's
opportunity with Party Poker and the WPT might not have
happened at all in 2001. "Thanks Chuck".
Mike relinquished control in the event to give it a greater chance for financial
survival. Mike was brought in to emcee the event each year, while Chuck worked
behind the scenes during the year and at the head table during the final table each
year. Due to circumstances beyond Chuck or Mike's control, the third year of the
TOC was also its last. Neither Chuck nor Mike ever made any money out of the
TOC, but they opened the poker world's eyes on how to run a first-class
tournament for the players.
After Mike found incredible success with Party Poker.com and the World Poker Tour, he went out of his way to buy the rights to the TOC back from
Chuck, even though it was a dormant event. This was Mike's way of thanking Chuck for his time and investment in the TOC. It was the TOC that
Mike founded and created that launched him into the two best jobs in poker, host of PartyPoker.com and commentator for the World Poker Tour.
Ironically, a few weeks after Mike bought back the rights to the TOC, Harrah's
announced they were going to start their own WSOP Tournament of Champions.
Annie Duke won the first one in 2004; Mike Matusow won the 2nd one in 2005;
and Mike Sexton himself won the third one in 2006, which to many people seemed
like poetic justice. After Mike created the original TOC, he ended up winning the
WSOP's TOC a few years later.
Mike won $1,000,000 when he won that 2006 WSOP TOC! The year Mike
won, the final table lasted a grueling 17 hours with heads-up play between Mike
and Daniel Negreanu lasting seven hours! The marathon ended about 7:00 AM,
and it was one of the most satisfying moments in Mike's poker career.
(Right) Mike's 'money shot' after winning the TOC (provided by Tom)
.(Above) Mike Sexton is all smiles after he defeated Daniel
Negreanu and Mike Matusow in the 2006 WSOP TOC.
After being the creator and founder of the original TOC, the
players who have been around a while, were so happy to see
Mike win this prestigious title. PartyPoker.com sponsored the
$1,000,000 first place prize money, and was so proud of his
victory, and his benevolent jesture of donating half to charity!
Mike called me, excitedly, after that original phone call from Ruth. He told me,
"Ruth is flying out to Vegas in a few days with a contract for me, under the
condition I can be in India within ten days' time." As you can tell, Ruth is a no-
nonsense businesswoman, a real mover and shaker, and within ten days of
meeting Ruth, Mike was off on an amazing adventure to India!
All of us in life have taken phone calls that we may have been somewhat leery of,
and we either hung up or listened. This was one of those times it paid to listen!
It is said that timing is everything… and then some. Mike didn't know it at the
time, but he was on an adventure that would open the eyes of the entire poker
When he arrived in India, he was met by Ruth's business partner, a very pleasant
gentleman named Anurag. When they arrived in Hyberadad, Anurag introduced
Mike to a five-member team of young computer experts who were going to
develop the poker website. One of the first questions Mike asked them was,
"Do any of you play poker?" No hands went up. Mike said, "Well, that makes
us even as I don't know anything about computers."
A list of about ten domain names were presented to Mike, as he was asked to
select the one he thought the name of the sight should be. He stopped right
away, saying, "I love this one -- PartyPoker.com!" He went on to say,
"PartyPoker has a nice ring to it and I see a lot of marketing potential with that
name!" A short discussion ensued and they decided to go along with Mike's
choice. PartyPoker.com would be the name of this new site.
Mike was astonished at how hard these computer kids worked. Their work
ethic was amazing. They put in 18- to 20-hour days on a regular basis. Quite
often they might catch a few hours sleep curled up on a cement floor. With this
kind of dedication and work ethic, Mike really felt they had a great chance to
succeed with their new website.
After working with the software development team for a few months in India, Mike then flew to the Dominican Republic, where the customer support
team was located. Mike was to train them about poker. The CEO of the company, a truly brilliant guy named Vikrant Bhargava, was located in the
Domincan Republic and Mike was very impressed with him. The first thing Vikrant said to Mike was, "Okay, we've got software, now how do we
get players to the site?" The company was not only counting on Mike's expertise in poker, but relying on him to come up with promotions and
marketing ideas that no other site had put forth.
Mike felt that PartyPoker.com had to come out big-time to catch the attention of the poker world… thus, the PartyPoker Million concept was born!
Mike came through with what turned out to be a brilliant idea, and poker players loved it! For $22 a poker player could win a seat in a big
tournament hosted on a luxurious cruise ship that would guarantee a $1,000,000 first-place prize! (This was quite an idea and a big gamble for a
company to take, considering they didn't have one customer yet.)
Mike presented the idea to his good friend, Linda Johnson, who with her partners Jan Fisher and Mark Tenner owned Card Player Cruises. Mike
made a presentation to Card Player Cruises to become partners with PartyPoker.com in this venture and host the tournament on a Card Player
cruise. At the end of his presentation, Mike looked at Mark and asked, "So what do you think?"
Mark said, "Mike this idea is genius… I don't see how it can miss!"
PartyPoker.com launched its site in August 2001, nine months after Mike signed on, with PartyPoker Million qualifying tournaments. And as they
say, the rest is history.
Kathy Liebert won the first PPM in March of 2002, collecting the $1,000,000 first-place prize. In 2003, the winner was Howard Lederer. Here's an
interesting tidbit that most people don't know: The first year of the PPM, Howard Lederer had entered the PPM tournament but wasn't allowed to
board the ship with his wife because she was too far pregnant. (Cruise ships don't allow third-term pregnant women on board.) Howard was
disappointed because he wanted to play, but wouldn't board the ship if his wife couldn't go. The fact that Howard won the second PPM was truly
poetic justice after he and his wife were left at the dock on the first one.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of Mike's story, as we will take a look at how Steve Lipscomb and the World Poker Tour entered the picture. You'll also learn
how PartyPoker.com became the #1 poker site in the world, reaching unimaginable heights of success, and eventually going public on the London
Stock Exchange, with a capitalization of eight billion dollars!
The Cab is Parked,
The WSOP held a beautiful ceremony at the top of the Rio in the Voodoo Lounge, with representatives from each charity there to receive their
gigantic $100,000 checks. This was a fine moment for the WSOP. PartyPoker had to be proud of their host, Mike Sexton, for not only winning such
a prestigious event, but as poker's "Ambassador," doing good deed by donating half of his winnings to charity. I certainly was proud of Mike that day,
as what he did truly made a difference in the lives of many deserving recipients. In December 2000, Mike got the telephone call of his life from
someone he had never heard of, a lady named Ruth Parasol. She said she had been searching for the right person to be what she described as a
"Poker Domain Expert". Mike understood that his function would be to travel to India to advise an expert software development team that was
waiting in the wings, assigned to design an online poker site. Mike, who at the time knew nothing about computers, did know lots about poker.
Ruth especially liked the fact that Mike was not only a poker guy, but a man of vision.
(Above) Steve Lipscomb, Linda Johnson, and Mike Sexton.
On the first PartyPoker.com Million held in 2002, a lot of people
forgot Steve came on board to make an independent film of the
very successful event and sold it to Travel Channel. It was a big
hit, and set the stage for Travel Channel to air the WPT events by
the following year. PartyPoker.com was one of the original charter
members of the WPT, as a result.
After working with the software development team for a few months in India,
Mike then flew to the Dominican Republic, where the customer support team
was located. Mike was to train them about poker. The CEO of the company, a
truly brilliant guy named Vikrant Bhargava, was located in the Domincan
Republic and Mike was very impressed with him. The first thing Vikrant said to
Mike was, "Okay, we've got software,
now how do we get players to the site?" The company was not only counting on
Mike's expertise in poker, but relying on him to come up with promotions and
marketing ideas that no other site had put forth.
|The First Party Poker Million Cruise, 2002.
| Tom Sexton is the featured columnist on www.SextonsCorner.com, which has become one of poker's most popular and unique online web sites
around. It offers poker's most colorful stories with amazing photos and film clips to enjoy, with easy navigational capabilities. A new story appears
every Monday for the readers to look forward to. Check out the multiple home pages, the Archives, the Las Vegas Poker Rooms,
Poker's Trivia pages, and the Poker Store, where unique poker products are available for purchase. Tom was the official WSOP photographer
for Binion's Horseshoe from 1999 thru 2002, and is well known in the poker world for his world class artistic collages of poker's biggest stars with
Poker Masterpieces! Tom was an Ohio High School State All-Around gymnastic's champion as well as the 1st NCAA All-American and Big Eight
gymnastic's champion in history at the University of Oklahoma. He went on to teach High School and coached the gymnastic's team to several State
Championships. His brother, Mike Sexton, found TV fame as host for the World Poker Tour, now entering it's seventh remarkable season, and
was voted by his peers as Poker's Ambassador for his contributions to the industry. Tom welcomes your thoughts and comments about any of his
articles. His email is: Tom@SextonsCorner.com