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Poker News | People in Poker | Poker Superstars

Where Are They Now – Chris “Jesus” Ferguson

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Where are They Now is a series of an in depth look at all poker players - not just the pros - as they travel through one long game. Some of the players profiled are deceased but not forgotten.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson doesn’t really compare to any other player we’ve showcased during the “Where Are They Now” series.  Not surprisingly, that’s probably why he’s arguably the most successful player we’ve chronicled, at least in this series.  Since his first appearance at a World Series of Poker event in 1993, no other player has cashed as many times as him.  Also, his volume of live tournaments easily outmatches any other player in the world.  Between 2004 and 2005 alone it’s been reported that Ferguson participated in nearly 150 tournaments.  That doesn’t include his online play, where he can also be seen playing regularly.  It doesn’t always work out this way, but in Ferguson’s case, one of the most recognized players in the world is also one of the busiest as well, showing he has a true love for the game.

Ferguson’s story starts off almost entirely opposite from other biographies in this series for the simple fact that he was born to wealthy, successful parents.  Chris Ferguson was born on April 11th, 1963, to parents who both had doctorate degrees in mathematics.  His father’s expertise was in game theory and statistics, both of which are obviously highly important in poker.  Because Ferguson shares his father’s interest in statistics and game theory he was enthralled by the game of poker and how many different possibilities the game offered for studying.  Although Ferguson began taking up the game around the age of 10, it was more as a hobby or a passing interest than as an intense desire.  In his high school years he started playing poker a little more with his peers, but, much like his parents, Ferguson was much more interested in the academia world than in the poker world as a young man.

In the early 1982 he entered the University of California Los Angeles to pursue a degree in computer science.  After 17 years, five as an undergraduate and 12 as a graduate student, he finally received his PHD in Computer Science.  

During his long stay at college he began to pick up poker more and more.  Ferguson had an interesting theory regarding poker.  He figured he would be prone to learn a lot more quickly playing at the higher levels than he would playing at small buy-ins.  Because he had the benefit of growing up in a wealthy environment, this was a theory he was able to experiment with.  Instead of taking the “working your way up route,” Ferguson immediately started playing buy-ins of a couple hundred dollars and up.

Another thing that benefited Ferguson was his location.  Being in the Los Angeles area for school, he was right in the middle of some of the best poker clubs in the country.  The one he spent most of his time at was the Gardena Poker room.  It was here in the mid 1990’s that he first started having some success in a variety of games, including Pai Gow, Stud, and Limit Hold’em.  

While he was playing in mid-level buy-ins in person, he used the internet to practice some of his strategies.  In fact, he used one of the first versions of poker to ever appear on the internet under an IRC channel.  Here he only played for play money, but he would spend hours studying and analyzing the game while taking meticulous notes during the process.  During this time he also began creating computer simulations to contribute to his knowledge of the game, something he still does today.  This was before there was software to help you figure out these statistics and seconds, so while the work must have been excruciating, it has surely paid dividends in the end.

Matched with his knowledge of game theory, and a photographic memory, he realized that poker may be a game that could earn him lots of money.   After finally completing his doctorate in 1999, Ferguson began concentrating full time on poker, and it wouldn’t be long before success followed.

Ferguson had already found some success playing in the WSOP, making his first cash at his first event in 1995.  However, because of his studies he would only play a few events at a time until completing his time at UCLA.  In 1999 he began a vigorous schedule that continues today.  In that year he placed in three WSOP events and won a California State Championship in Pot Limit Hold’em as well.  However, the year 2000 would be known as the year of “Jesus.”

Ferguson started off the 2000 WSOP winning his first ever bracelet in the $2,500 Seven Card Stud event, pocketing $151,000 dollars in the process.  While that was easily his biggest cash in his career, it was just a fraction of what lay ahead for him just a few days later.

Ferguson’s run in the 2000 WSOP has been called one of the more brilliant ones in history.  It was said that while playing highly aggressive he was able to make great bluffs, while seemingly peering into the minds of his opponents to avoid being bluffed himself.  That’s why it’s deemed excusable when he was able to suckout on T.J. Cloutier heads-up to take home the 2000 WSOP Main Event title.

Cloutier went all in with a A-Q and was called by Ferguson and his A-9.  After four blanks which left Cloutier a huge favorite to double up and make the chip stacks about even, Ferguson was able to hit a nine on the river.  Interestingly enough, “Jesus” is an atheist, so it would be untrue to say that Ferguson prayed on the river for the nine, as the often clichéd quote goes.  What ever you want to call it, luck, prayer, or theory, Ferguson won the Main Event, and became the first player to win 1.5 million dollars in the event, with the previous high being “only” a million.  You know you’ve “made it” when you have a pair of pocket cards named after you, and that’s exactly what Ferguson did by winning with the “A-9.”

Ferguson’s run continued the next year, picking up his third WSOP bracelet in the $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo Split Eight or Better event.  He won two more WSOP bracelets in 2003, giving him a total of five bracelets, a number he continues to stand at now.  He has cashed a total of 56 times in the WSOP.  He was also won a title on the World Poker Tour and has cashed an additional seven times in those events.  As of today he was won just about 7.5 million dollars in tournament poker play.  

One of the more interesting things Ferguson did was run up 1 dollar to $20,000 and 0 to $10,000.  Ferguson says he first did the 1 dollar to $20,000 as a personal challenge over a course of six months.  He first mentioned this during a broadcast of a poker tournament, and after receiving doubts about his claim he said he would do something similar.  Over the last year, on Full-Tilt Poker, a website he actually helped design, he turned 0 into $10,000, an inspiration to any player who doesn’t want to have a lot of money locked up in a poker website.  Ferguson initially played freerolls, and after winning a couple of dollars started playing in penny ring games and very cheap buy-ins.  Despite winning the challenge, he has continued it, at one point doubling the $10,000 goal.

Ferguson also arguably lays claim to being the best heads-up poker player in the world.  Ferguson finished second place in 2005 and 2006 in the National Heads-Up Tournament, before finally breaking through in 2008 with a win.  His record of 16-3 is easily the best in the history of the tournament.

Another thing that has made Ferguson popular is his ability to throw a playing card near 50 miles per hour, and with stunning accuracy.  He has showcased his abilities, by cutting bananas and carrots in half from 10 and more feet away.  

Also, when he isn’t at a poker table, he can be found dancing.  That’s right, dancing.  While at UCLA he was the president of a swing dancing club.  He continues to be an active swing dancer, and considers this his favorite hobby.

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