Pro Poker Player Profiles - Chris Ferguson
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Chris Ferguson Fast Facts

Chris FergusonNickname: Jesus
Birthplace: Pacific Palisades, Calif. USA
Birth date: April 11, 1963
Education: Ph.D. Computer Science - UCLA
WSOP Bracelets: 5
WPT Titles: 0
Poker Room Affiliations: Full Tilt Poker

>> Chris Ferguson's Web Site

Known for his long hair and his ability to cut a banana from 10 feet away by throwing a playing card. One of the most recognizable faces in poker due to commercial ventures. Was one of the first Internet poker players, back when sites used play money and the only currency was tournament standings. Won the 2000 WSOP Main Event.

Full Bio:

Chris "Jesus" Ferguson is a busy man. Exclusively a tournament player, Ferguson travels around the world, buying-in to poker's biggest events.

Recently, while driving to participate at the final table of the World Series of Poker Circuit Main Event at Caesars Atlantic City, Ferguson gave me a call and shared some of his poker insight for our readers.

Ferguson was excited during the phone interview. He had a small stack going into the WSOP Circuit Event's final day and said this is what he lives for - having a chance to come from behind and win major tournaments.

He said before the event that although he always plays to win, final day tournament play is always exciting. Truth be told, Ferguson said he was happy just to have the final table opportunity and thankful for his abilities in the world's most exciting sport.

Ferguson finished sixth in Atlantic City, but for a time, he was the large stack and in command of the final table.

Ferguson on Becoming a Professional Poker Player

Ferguson hesitates to call himself a professional. He's not being coy. His reputation precedes him and he doesn't pretend poker hasn't made him what he is, but if pushed on what he'd like to list as an occupation, he prefers "student."

Education may be Ferguson's edge over the rest of the poker world. The son of two mathematicians, Ferguson laughs at the common misnomer that he majored in math. His degree from UCLA is actually in Computer Science with a focus on artificial intelligence.

Math is a big part of his game, no doubt the result of many discussions and homework sessions at the family dinner table. Most poker fans believe his background is Math, but his actual expertise lies in computers and anyone assuming his amazing math skills comes from university training is misinformed.

"I've played cards my whole life," Ferguson said. "I'm sure at some point my parents taught me about cards. My earliest poker memory comes from fourth grade…"

Playing a game of 5-Card Draw, Ferguson's set of queens lost to a flush. He lost his entire bankroll fourth grade bankroll of 35-cents and vowed never to go broke again.

Playing in regular home games in high school and college, Ferguson squeezed out enough money to make regular trips to Las Vegas and support his lifestyle. Playing against the world's best players in Vegas convinced Ferguson he could beat the game, encouraging him to continue to learn.

His love of computers led him to the Internet before many even knew poker existed on that medium. The games and tournaments at the IRC Poker Network were all for play money, but Ferguson said in those days (the late eighties – early nineties), players took the non-real-money games very seriously.

He quickly became the highest rated online tournament player at IRC. Supplementing his online play with cash games at the Southern California casinos, Ferguson eventually made the move to big money tournaments.

After graduating with his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1999, Ferguson made the trek to the Horseshoe in Vegas to play in poker's biggest tournament. Finally completing his degree after 18-years of study, Ferguson was ready to focus on poker full time. He won the WSOP Main Event in 2000, making him a World Champion and a millionaire.

"I became a pro very recently," Ferguson said. "Even when I won the World Series, I never planned to play professionally. It's something I just kind of fell into."

Ferguson on Tournament Play

Most professionals consider cash games to be their bankroll staple. Ferguson is not your typical professional. Although he's dabbled in cash games in the past, Ferguson made the conscious choice to play only tournaments.

He enjoys the strategy. While cash games require consistent techniques to win money, tournaments change constantly, forcing a player to shift tactics as limits increase and stack-to-big blind ratios come into play.

And rather than sitting for hours trying to reach a certain cash amount, tournaments have one goal – to win.

"A lot of people can sit down and play for 15 hours at a time," Ferguson said. "I can't, I get tired. In the tournaments, as I get tired, the limits and antes increase which forces me to pay attention. I could sit there for 40 hours in a tournament."

Ferguson does not have an aversion to money. The winner of more than $5 million in tournament prizes knows he needs to keep making money to call poker a career, but money isn't everything to a person who considers competition his greatest drive.

"There is a real goal in tournaments…winning," Ferguson said. "You play to win a tournament. In cash games you play to win money and honestly that's not as appealing to me."

His tournament record speaks for itself. His first major win came in 2000 when he captured the $1,500 7-Card Stud WSOP event bracelet. Later in that World Series, Ferguson cemented his standing in the poker world by defeating veteran T.J. Cloutier to take home the Main Event title.

Since then, Ferguson has collected three more bracelets, two in Omaha Hi-Lo Split in one more No Limit Texas Hold'Em. Dating back to 1995, no one has more bracelets (5), final table appearances (25), or money finishes (42) than "Jesus."

More recently, Ferguson finished runner-up in consecutive years (2005-06) in the NBC National Heads Up Championship. In a world that loves tournament poker, Ferguson stands a cowboy hat above the rest.

"Tournaments are just more exciting," Ferguson said. "The play is always changing. You can't help but love the strategy necessary to win the big ones."

Ferguson on Internet Play

It can be argued that Ferguson is the leader of the Internet generation of poker players. Playing on the IRC Poker Network at a time when even the Internet was a new idea, Ferguson became someone to watch, holding the top Internet tournament ranking for most of the early 1990s.

"Back then it was play money only, but people took it very seriously," Ferguson said. "We had maybe 5-10 tables in the beginning and only a handful of regular players. It continued to grow and now online play is unbelievable."

The transition from major online to major live tournaments was a quick one. He played in his first WSOP event in 1995 and in his first 5-years, he played in seven final table, finishing fourth in one event.

His breakout year was 2000. His new school style of math and Internet knowledge contrasted greatly with old school player T.J. Cloutier. He believes his win opened the door for Internet players, moving them from someone to scorn to someone to fear.

Two of the last three WSOP Main Event Champions have come from online qualifiers, proving Ferguson's point that the Internet can be a powerful tool for aspiring poker professionals. Chris Moneymaker won the Main event in 2003 and Greg "Fossilman" Raymer followed up in 2004. Both qualified for the event online.

"When I started out, people scoffed at the idea of an Internet player," Ferguson said. "Established players said you couldn't learn the game without seeing your opponents. I think the success of Internet players in recent years has changed that way of thinking."

After his successes in 2000 and 2001, Ferguson put his computer skills to work, helping to create the software currently used by fulltiltpoker.com. He said his collaboration on that project is one of the highlights of his poker career and he backs up his words by playing exclusively on that site.

"I think it's good for players to start online," Ferguson said. "You can start in smaller tournaments like for $5. It's a great place to learn. You get to play in tons of hands and really learn how to play, especially betting size and blind structure."

Given his origins in Internet play and his success in live tournaments, Ferguson has trouble picking which one he prefers more.

Ferguson On Being A Celebrity

His skills make him well known in all poker circles, but it's his look that makes him a household name. Donning all black with a signature cowboy hat on top his head, Ferguson is known to most as "Jesus," especially when his long hair encompasses his intimidating face.

In 2006, the WSOP made him their cover boy by putting his likeness on the official WSOP video game. It's hard to find a serious player who doesn't know "Jesus," but with his entry into mainstream markets, it's not a stretch to call Ferguson a celebrity.

"I love people coming up to me and saying hello," Ferguson said. "I love the celebrity aspect. These opportunities didn't exist 2-3 years ago."

Television audiences everywhere got a good look at Ferguson when he starred in a series of Milwaukee's Best Light beer commercials. Crouched in a refrigerator ready to give poker advice to an average Joe in a poker game, Ferguson proved he has a sense of humor and willingness to stand in the spotlight.

He believes there will be plenty of opportunities in the future for poker players to grab a little side action in the endorsement arena.

"Corporate America hasn't full embraced poker yet, but I think it's coming," Ferguson said. "There is still a reluctance to involve poker players. Poker has been looked down upon in the past and I don't think the sport has fully shaken that image."

Ferguson on the World Poker Tour

Because of his contractual obligations with full tilt poker and other sponsors, Ferguson will not play in any WPT events. The WPT makes its players sign a waiver that allows the WPT to use a player's likeness, image, and footage in any of their side projects like video games and DVDS.

Ferguson joins a number of poker professionals that cannot play in the WPT's major tournaments because of the disagreement over the rights' waiver.

"The WPT does not let me play," Ferguson said. "Until their policy changes, I can't play in any of their events."

Ferguson on What's Coming Up

Ferguson plans to stay busy. Although his schedule is not set in stone, he plans to play in nearly every major tournament in 2006. When asked about the World Series Events, he says, "I plan to play every goddamn day."

Interestingly, Ferguson does not see another Main Event Championship on the horizon. "I never thought I'd win the World Series and I don't think I'll win it again."

Other Ferguson Facts

It is well known that Ferguson can throw a playing card so fast, he can slice through vegetables from 10-feet away. Some of Ferguson's confirmed kills include carrots, bananas, and pickles.

Ferguson is an avid ballroom dancer and is proficient in all the dances including: the foxtrot, waltz, tango, and the mambo. Currently, his favorite dance is the West Coast Swing, a throwback to his California roots.

Although Poker has brought him fame, Ferguson said he doesn't obsess about the game and doesn't really consider it his main activity. Ferguson said he'd rather be known as a game theorist and his dream job would be teaching game theory at a major university.

For more information visit Ferguson's website at www.fulltiltpoker.com/chrisferguson.php

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