Book Review: Mike Sexton’s Life’s a Gamble
But the Mike we think we know, the wizened affable gambler who walked millions of viewers through poker hands when the game became a phenomenon, is only a small part of Mike Sexton. In his recently published autobiography from D&B Poker, Life’s a Gamble, he pulls back the curtain (a little bit anyway), and gives the world a window into the Mike Sexton WPT viewers don’t know, and gives the poker community a glimpse into the more colorful side of high stakes poker players.
Mike Sexton before poker
The book begins in childhood, where we discover Mike grew up down the street from one of the greatest poker players of all-time, Danny Robison, and we also learn that the older Robison basically taught Sexton gambling lessons the hard way.
In subsequent chapters we follow Mike on a typical path that includes high school and sports, college, joining the army, getting a job, and marriage and divorce.
Basically, if you didn’t know who Mike Sexton was you’d be hard pressed to differentiate his birth to age 25 story from your neighbor.
However, throughout the early chapters there are clues that foretell Sexton’s future as a poker player and gambler.
The other side of Mike Sexton
Mike’s been around poker a long time, and his personality and perpetual smile have gained him a lot of friends. His abstinence from drugs, and ability to avoid most of the typical pitfalls poker players fall victim to, have helped him survive in a cutthroat world for 40+ years.
But one of the first things you quickly realize when reading Life’s a Gamble is Sexton is closer to the lovable loser than some cutthroat card sharp – although he has quite a bit of that in him too. At several points you realize that Mike’s smile and friendliness (much like Daniel Negreanu’s) mask the hustler hiding just under the surface, who’s looking for the first opportunity to separate you from your money.
This isn’t to say Mike wasn’t a capable poker player, but by his own admission he was more of a middle limit grinder, who lost most of his winnings betting on sports. Often broke and “between bankrolls” as he likes to say in the book, it becomes quite evident that Mike was living paycheck-to-paycheck as a poker player, and had he not landed a job at partypoker, he might still be grinding mid-limit games in Las Vegas while often putting his entire bankroll in play on the golf course, or borrowing money or being staked to stay in action.
Despite his propensity for going broke, through a combination of luck, his connections, his engaging personality, and recognizing an opportunity and having the wherewithal to jump when needed, Mike Sexton became a very rich man.
But Mike’s story can also be a cautionary tale for poker players, extolling the benefits of the advantages of income away from the poker tables.
It’s sort of a taboo thing to do, but Mike routinely talks about what he was paid and how much money he got in the book, and I think the numbers he tosses around could be a wakeup call for poker players. Unless you’re one of the best players in the high stakes games, the real opportunity in poker is on the business side – if you’re willing to take chances, work hard, and most importantly, have a reputation and personality people will want to be associated with.
Basically, you’re not going to make Mike Sexton money playing poker.
Life’s a Gamble could have been better
As a book, Life’s a Gamble isn’t without its issues.
Sexton repeats several stories and quotes by various people at different points, and it bounces around quite a bit. This gives it more of essay anthology feeling rather than an autobiography – this isn’t a big deal as most of the stories and sections stand on their own. Basically, the book starts off as an A-Z biography, but quickly jumps around to different points in time and different topics.
Another somewhat frustrating aspect of the book was the lack of depth to some of the stories. The stories all end with an “everything was just for the best,” attitude, or chalking it up as a life lesson. Mike is able to recall numerous minor details about different golf bets and moments, but there is hardly ever any emotional connection to it. At times it feels like he is simply recounting a story he heard second-hand, or he’s become numb to the negative and pain.
Finally, Sexton paints everyone he encounters, no matter their flaws, as a good person – everyone has a heart of gold in the world of Mike Sexton. Because of this, the tone of the book doesn’t always line up with what is being discussed, and people outside of poker will likely roll their eyes at the way Mike portrays some of his friends, and at points, even himself, as they engage in what many would consider unethical or degenerate behavior.
The book is a fun, and a relatively quick read. It’s a must read for anyone interested in poker lore, as Sexton can best be described as the Forrest Gump of the poker world, meaning, whenever something important happened, he was inexplicably there, and involved in some way.
Because of its lack of depth, I wouldn’t call this an all-time poker book (I think it could have been had Sexton found a way to open up more) but it’s worth adding to your bookshelf.
One final point, calling Life’s a Gamble an autobiography is a bit of a misnomer. After a brief introduction and back-story on the protagonist, the book is more or less a journey through four decades of poker and gambling, with the story sometimes revolving around Sexton, while at other times he’s simply on the periphery.