I remember going on the Party Poker Million cruise in 2005. Believe it or not, every cabin on the ship would run a documentary video about Mike. It told the story of his time as a gymnast at Ohio State University and in the Army as a paratrooper. Any time, day or night, you could see Mike on the rings or giving a tour of his beautiful home. It was my first glimpse into what his actual life was like, only previously seeing him on some World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour broadcasts.
The first time I ever had any interaction with him was at a Professional Poker Tour stop. The PPT was the short-lived series produced by the WPT that you were required to qualify for. I was one of the youngest people in the field, and most of those who qualified had been around the game for a long time. I was a little out of place, despite what I had already accomplished in poker.
I was shuffling around the room while we were getting ready for the tournament to start, and I stumbled into a conversation. Huck Seed was negotiating terms with Erik Seidel for a heads-up match, with Mike happily mediating in the middle. Annie Duke walked up and asked what was happening.
Huck said, “I’m trying to set up a match with Erik where if I win, he owes me $50,000, and if I lose, I have to cut off a foot.” Annie quickly said she wanted in on the action and without hesitating a beat, Huck replied, “Okay, I’ll lay you 2:1.” We all started laughing and Mike launched into some good prop bet stories from his time, keeping us all entertained until the cards were in the air.
I had a rough start to my WPT career. I didn’t cash in my first 17 events, only finally running deep at The Bike in 2007. I ended up busting in 20th place, but before the day began, Mike made it a point to come up to me and say that he had been looking forward to seeing me run deep in one of these events and he hoped to see me at the final table. I’m sure that is something he said all the time to people, but Mike had a sincerity about him that made you feel like he meant what he was saying and hadn’t also just said it to the other 15 guys that were still in the event.
Just a few months after that Legends of Poker event, I ran great at the Borgata Winter Open and ended up winning it for $1.4 million. After the event was over, they told me I had to stick around to do the winner’s interview and pictures. Gladly! One of the pictures they wanted to take was with Mike and Vince Van Patten. I had been sick for the last couple days of the tournament, but I had plenty of energy and was all smiles for those photos.
Vince was a professional actor and TV host, so he could conjure up a smile for days. Mike was a poker player and was used to hiding his emotions. Also, Mike is such a genuine guy that it was probably hard for him to bring a fake smile to his face and make it look good. So as the cameras are clicking, I hear from behind me this little chuckle.
I didn’t know what it was at first, but I eventually realized it was Mike chuckling out loud to himself so that he could bring out a genuine smile for the couple minutes that all these cameras were popping in front of our faces. He was a thoughtful guy and he didn’t want any of the winners to feel cheated of their time in the spotlight.
To this day, whenever my wife and I are taking a picture where we have to stay focused on the camera for a little bit, I do a little chuckle like Mike’s to bring a genuine smile to both of our faces.
Even though I didn’t know Mike that well, I had three or four stories ready to go about him. That, above all, should tell you why Mike means so much to so many in the poker world. He could make you feel like you were his friend in the course of the minutes, hours, or days that you got to play poker with him.