Friday, March 18, 2011

No Mike at the Mic: Sexton Makes WPT Bay 101 Final Table

Mike Sexton of the World Poker TourTonight’s six-handed final table at the World Poker Tour Bay 101 Shooting Star Main Event will feature a few familiar faces, some perhaps more so than others.

Steven Kelly will be the chip leader when play resumes. Kelly, who doesn’t turn 22 until next month, may not be known to many, but I remember him well from his WSOP bracelet win last summer. I happened to help cover that one for PokerNews -- Event No. 39, the $1,500 no-limit hold’em shootout -- an event in which another 21-year-old, Annette Obrestad, finished 11th.

Others at tonight’s final table include Casey McCarrel (in fifth), who has a few WSOP cashes to his credit, and Alan Sternberg (in second), another relative newcomer. Both players will be enjoying their largest cashes ever tonight, no matter how they finish.

However, most who end up watching the WPT show later on will more readily recognize the other three final tablists. Vivek Rajkumar (fourth) already has one WPT title under his belt, the 2008 Borgata Poker Open (for $1,424,500). And just a couple of weeks ago Rajkumar finished runner-up at the 2011 L.A. Poker Classic (earning $908,730).

Coming into the final table third in chips and with a healthy stack is Mike “the Mouth” Matusow, unsurprisingly proclaiming “It’s my time, boys and girls!” Matusow has made four WPT final tables before, his best finish being a runner-up at the 2007 Bellagio Cup. Matusow, of course, is one of the few dozen poker TV celebrities created since the WPT debuted in the spring of 2003 and that year’s WSOP (won by Chris Moneymaker) aired on ESPN helped ignite the “poker boom.”

However, it will surely be the table’s shortest stack who will get most of the attention tonight, as long as he manages to survive, anyway. In his ninth year co-hosting the World Poker Tour show, Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton has made it to a WPT final table. Here’s how the stacks will look when play resumes at 4 p.m. Pacific time:

1. Steven Kelly -- 4,169,000
2. Alan Sternberg -- 3,701,000
3. Mike Matusow -- 2,173,000
4. Vivek Rajkumar -- 1,616,000
5. Casey McCarrel -- 430,000
6. Mike Sexton -- 363,000

With the blinds at 10,000/20,000 (with a 3,000 ante), Sexton will likely be in shove-or-fold mode right away with his less than 20 BB stack.

After several years of not playing in the WPT events, Sexton was finally allowed to join the fun in December 2007 at the Doyle Brunson Five Diamond World Poker Classic. Kimberly Lansing had recently joined the WPT team to do online interviews -- she has since become the “anchor” for the TV show in its ninth season -- and she interviewed Sexton at the time. “If you make it to the final table, who is going to stand in for you?” she asked. Sexton’s answer then was that Doyle Brunson -- the tourney’s namesake -- had agreed to join Vince Van Patten in the booth should it happen that he made it that far.

Sexton didn’t make that final table, and in fact it wasn’t until last fall at the 2010 Borgata Poker Open that he finally scored his first cash in a WPT event, finishing in 20th place (on his 63rd birthday, as it happened).

That finish added further to the $3.8 million-plus Sexton has earned in tournaments over a long, storied career that reaches back into the 1980s and includes a WSOP bracelet (in 1989) and a Tournament of Champions victory (2006) among the more than 250 in-the-money finishes listed in his Hendon Mob entry.

Sexton has certainly been around a good while, having been a prominent figure in poker well before the “boom” ignited. I was just rereading Jesse May’s 1998 novel Shut Up and Deal, mostly set in Atlantic City in the mid-1990s, a book which I am assigning in my “Poker in American Film and Culture” class. May has his narrator, Mickey, allude to a few pros in the book, Sexton among them.

WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage interviewed Sexton at the end of play yesterday, and you can tell that despite entering the final table with a short stack, Sexton is clearly excited to have survived to make the final six from the starting field of 415. Even if he goes out first tonight, he’ll still realize a six-figure ($148,000) payday. Meanwhile, the winner is due $1,013,500 plus free entry into the $25K WPT Championship at the Bellagio next month.

“Pays better than the booth, I’ll tell you that!” cracks Sexton to Savage. Take a look:

You have to like Sexton’s response to the question of how the show will handle his absence from the booth. “I’m down there playing for a million,” he points out. “Let the WPT worry about it... I’m off tomorrow!”

I had a chance to chat with Sexton a little last summer during the WSOP at that event at which the new season of the WPT was announced. Found him very engaging and got a kick out of talking to him about his many years living in North Carolina (my home state) where he played underground games for 15 years or so before heading out west.

Would also get a kick out of seeing the “Ambassador of Poker” score a needed double-up or two and stick around long enough to remain part of the story as the night goes along. Besides producing the television show, the WPT does an excellent job providing live updates of all its events on its website, so I’ll certainly be checking in over there to see how things turn out this evening.

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