Weekly Poker Update: September 14, 2020

Mike SextonIt’s hard to overestimate what a loss it was to the poker world when Mike Sexton passed away a week ago this past Sunday (after the last edition of this set of news releases). Sexton was 72 years old at the time of his death. He had been battling prostate cancer, and there had been reports earlier in the week about his grave condition. Unfortunately, his death was impending and not a surprise to many.

But that didn’t make it any less devastating to the world of poker. Sexton’s well-known nickname was “The Ambassador of Poker.” Rarely has a moniker been more fitting.

The Loss of a Legend

Hardcore poker fans know that Sexton was, first and foremost, an ace player. He cashed over $6 million in live tournaments. Among his big victories were the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions in 2006 and, just three years ago, a win on the World Poker Tour.

In addition, Sexton was also a fixture in high stakes games. He was one of those pros who helped promote the game among the Hollywood elite. And those Hollywood folks, in turn, helped to popularize real money Texas Hold’em to a wider audience during the boom of the early 2000s.

Speaking of that boom, Sexton’s presence played a crucial part as well. Along with Vincent Van Patten, Sexton was chosen to co-host the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel in 2003. At that time, poker on television was relatively scarce, with the exception of token coverage from ESPN during the World Series of Poker.

It was around that same time that the innovation of cameras placed underneath the hold cards helped change the way that viewers were able to see the game. Before that point, poker hands, for those who weren’t in the middle of them, were quite boring to watch. There was no way of knowing what exactly all the betting meant, except for those rare occasions when the hands were played out to their completion.

Yet the success of those World Poker Tour telecasts went far beyond just the hole card technology. Sexton and Van Patten’s chemistry was undeniable. With Van Patten’s flash and Sexton’s good-humored presence, it was the ideal match.

More than that though, Sexton had a way of making what could, in lesser hands, feel like impenetrable jargon seem understandable to the average viewer. The more you watched, the more he would reveal the subtle nuances of what the players were doing with their bets and their decision-making process. He made it seem manageable even to those who didn’t know a straight from a flush.

Mike SextonWhile Sexton was quick to point out when a player made a mistake, he never did so in a way that felt nasty. As a player himself, he seemed to innately understand how difficult it could be to make that decision to raise, call, or fold in the heat of the moment. As a result, he was far more effusive with his praise at a great play than he was accusatory at a bad one.

There are a number of reasons why Texas Hold’em took off in popularity during that time period. ESPN’s own broadcasts of the World Series of Poker helped. But those weekly WPT shows had a captive audience, and Sexton, as the genial ringmaster overseeing it all, was integral to its success.

When he moved on from that gig, he immediately stepped into another ambassadorial role with PartyPoker. Again, it was all about promoting the game that he loved.

By all accounts, Sexton took his role as a kind of one-man ad agency for poker very seriously. And again, by all accounts, he was known as one of the nicest guys around. For all his talent as a player and his success as a broadcaster, his modesty was clearly genuine to anyone watching at home.

Many people have mentioned this week about Sexton’s signature sign-off for those WPT shows: “May all of your cards be live and may all of your pots be monsters.” Notice that he was aiming it at the viewers, wishing them well, not thinking of himself. That’s what we’re all wishing to Mike Sexton now as he moves on to the poker tables in the afterlife.

Negreanu’s Last-Minute Loss

We talked about the World Series of Poker Online Main Event, but it wasn’t actually the last of the bracelets handed out. That honor went to the winner of the “Super MILLION$” event held this past week, which featured a $10,000 buy-in and $5 million in guaranteed purse.

The obvious storyline was the tournament itself and who would come out on top. But there was also an interesting undercard going on, as Daniel Negreanu, who managed to be extremely visible during the summer without actually cashing much, was worried about his side bet. Before the beginning of the World Series of Poker Online event, Negreanu had made one-on-one bets with several top pros.

Closeup of a Pocket Pair of Aces

The gist of the bet centered on winning bracelets. If Negreanu should win a bracelet and the other player not win, he would win the bet, and vice versa. Should each player win a bracelet (or neither), it would be a push.

Up to the final event, Negreanu had come up empty, but so had the others who would accept the bet. It was looking like a giant push all the way around, meaning that the $100,000 bets would be unclaimed.

The last man standing who could change all that was Connor Drinan. Drinan is one of those guys often listed as the best player to never win a bracelet. He had been sniffing around one all summer long, with three Top 10 finishes, but he had still been unable to seal the deal with a victory.

He once again found himself at the final table in the Super Million$ event. Up to that point, he had survived a few close calls in terms of nearly being eliminated. And even when he got to the final table, he did so in sixth-place in terms of his chip total.

But once Drinan got on a roll, there was no stopping him. He ended up vaulting quickly to the top from that sixth-place start and building up a sizable chip lead. And he finally disposed of Daniyar Aubakirov, who finished second, when, on the last hand, Drinan drew the one card he needed on the river to prevent Aubakirov of doubling up and staying in it.

First of all, Drinan won the bracelet. With the massive influx of entries that took the purse way over its initial guarantee, he cashed for over $1.4 million. And, by the way, he also added the $100,000 side bet victory.

For Negreanu, he watched Drinan snatched the bet at the last possible second. Talk about your bad beats.