Photo provided by FullTiltPoker
From the auditorium to the poker table
The Fergusons have always played cards and Chris has been playing poker since he was ten years old. In high school, he already played poker for “small change” with friends regularly, and during his time at university he began playing over the internet in chat rooms. Before online poker programs as we know them today existed, Chris was playing on an IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channel. Chris attended UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and spent eighteen long years of his life studying computer science. After five years as an undergraduate student, he spent another thirteen as a grad student until he finally earned his PhD.
While he was at university, Chris often spent weekends in Las Vegas, usually returning home with a nice amount of money. In 1994 he began to play poker more intensively. Armed with his mathematical talent combined with a photographic memory and the knowledge of game theory his father passed on to him (which would prove to be virtually unbeatable), he entered the poker scene. In 1995, Chris participated in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) for the first time and made it all the way to the limit Razz final table. During the next five years, he took part in only few tournaments but still sat at seven WSOP final tables and even managed to place fifth at the 1998 L.A. Poker Classic in pot-limit Hold’em. When Chris happened to have a little time off playing poker or studying, he would go swing dancing – he even worked as a dance instructor at the UCLA swing dance club before he joined the poker circuit.
In 1999, UCLA finally told him it was time to take his degree and move on. So, a little reluctantly, Chris left his care-free life as a student, worked hard to attain his PhD and then concentrated fully on poker.
Chris takes the WSOP by storm
In the year 2000, Chris’ career as a poker player really started to take off when he won two Gold Bracelets at the WSOP in limit Seven-Card Stud and in no-limit Hold’em. At the prestigious no-limit Hold’em main event, Chris found himself heads-up against the legendary T.J. Cloutier.
Chris held A♠ 9♣ to Cloutier’s A♦ Q♣. Cloutier was sure that he had the better hand and went all in pre flop. Ferguson called and the flop came 2♥ K♣ 4♥. At this point it still looked like Cloutier was going to come out on top. The turn brought K♥ and now Cloutier was almost positive he was going to win. Yet the turning point came when the river brought 9♥ and, with a pair of nines, Ferguson had the title as 2000 world champion in the bag.
Ferguson’s win was a touching moment for both players and spectators.
“Are we still friends?” the then 37-year-old, spindly Ferguson asked the burly, 62-year-old T. J. Cloutier. “Of course. Don’t feel bad, you played great,” answered Cloutier. With tears in his eyes Ferguson hugged Cloutier and then accepted the coveted Gold Bracelet.
No final table without Chris Ferguson
That same year, Chris took part in numerous other famous tournaments and finished in the top ten at every single one of them. The following years, Chris continued on the road to success and soon became a fixture at the final table. In 2001 he won his third Gold Bracelet at the WSOP in limit Omaha Hi Lo. He also won the California State Championship in pot-limit Hold’em and participated in the first “World Poker Challenge”, the “L.A. Poker Classic”, the “Tournament of Champions”, as well as the “Legends of Poker”.
In 2003, Chris won two more WSOP Bracelets playing limit Omaha Hi Lo and limit Hold’em & Seven-Card Stud.
In 2004, Chris won the “Winnin’O’the Green” no-limit Hold’em tournament and placed second at the WSOP in no-limit Deuce to Seven Lowball. In total, in 2004, Chris took part in approximately 70 tournaments and even more than that in 2005.
In 2005, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson once more proved what he was capable of and won the “Harrahs Rincon Poker Tournament”, the WSOP circuit main event. Many of the great and experienced poker legends met at the final table and it turned out to be one of the longest and toughest tournaments in the history of the WSOP. The last three standing were Chad Brown, Prahlad Friedman and Chris Ferguson. The final game lasted 13 hours and most fans and supporters had either fallen asleep or gone home when Chris was finally able to beat his opponent Prahlad Friedman with a pair of Jacks. Ferguson was extremely pleased to have won. The previous year he had not won a WSOP tournament, so now he was especially proud to win against such strong opponents. A couple of months later Chris won another WSOP circuit trophy, another golden ring.
In 2006, Chris eliminated prominent poker professionals such as Daniel Negreanu, Sam Farha, Barry Greenstein and Huck Seed at the “National Heads-Up Poker” no-limit Hold’em tournament, but came in second after Ted Forrest.
In 2007, Chris won another WSOP circuit tournament, the “Harvey’s Casino Poker Tournament”, playing no-limit Hold’em.
The secret of his success
Few faces are more recognizable in the world of poker than Chris Ferguson. He is known by the nickname “Jesus” because of his trademark the long brown hair and beard. This combined with his wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, paints quite a picture.
Chris loves the intellectual and mathematical component of poker. Intelligence and the ability to reason are the most important qualities a poker player should possess, he explains in an interview. Chris spends a lot of time thinking about poker and analyzing the strategy of other players. “Jesus” possesses the extraordinary gift of being able to read his opponents and interpreting their subconscious actions to adjust to their game and play accordingly. He says,
“There are two types of information that opponents give you. One is tells, which are conscious or subconscious actions that a person makes that give an indication of the strength of his hand. The other is the way they play hands, and their way of thinking about hands.”
Another piece of advice he likes to share with other poker players is to always carefully manage one’s bankroll (the money at one’s disposal to play poker). It doesn’t matter how well you play, sooner or later you will lose and if you are unable to manage your money well, you will soon be broke.
Chris once said in an interview that he could not remember a time when he did not play cards. He states that he had had a wonderful childhood and above all, he had always loved going to school. This is reflected in one of his favorite childhood memories:
“I guess maybe my favorite childhood memory was of my French teacher, who, oddly enough, was probably the funniest person I’ve ever met in my life. It would be very difficult to give you a flavor of how funny he was, but he put on a show for the students…That’s when I realized I loved school, because every time I left his classroom, I was just in a great mood and having a great time.”
His response to the question of whether or not poker has changed his life his answer is, “I don’t know if it’s changed my life; it IS my life.” As he went directly to the poker table from university, there is little doubt that poker has always been part of his life.
Chris describes his win at the 2000 and 2002 WSOP as the crowning point of his career so far. He enjoys his fame, and says he likes being recognized in public. Only when he is in a hurry it does bother him from time to time, because he really loves giving people the attention.
With his black cowboy hat and black clothes, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson looks like a character straight out of a Western movie. More than just one reporter has hoped to reveal a story of Chris’ life just as dark and exciting as those of the desperados in the movie classics. The only thing “crazy” about his life, though, are his occasional nightclub visits, which he also enjoys treating his friends to. With respect to his style of dressing – especially his hat – he says that it is just part of his poker image. With his “non-intellectual” outfit, he hopes to fool those who do not know him:
“Without it, I may look more like a university professor than a poker player…Players who don’t know me may think, ‘That guy wears a cowboy hat. He probably plays a lot of poker but he doesn’t understand the mathematics behind it.’ (I apologize to those cowboys who do understand the math). That perception of me is dead wrong.”
Away from the poker tables
Away from the poker tables, Chris Ferguson is also a successful businessman. In 2004 he gathered a team of computer specialists and poker professionals and developed a poker software called Tiltware, which eventually became the foundation for the online poker room Full Tilt Poker. Chris is one of the founding members of this poker room, where he started an interesting experiment, the so-called “Chris Ferguson Challenge”.
His goal was to start at zero and build up his bankroll by playing freerolls (tournaments without a buy in where one can still win money) in order to make big money. As not every poker player has a lot of money to play with in the beginning, the aim of Chris’ “challenge” was to show you can still get somewhere in poker even when you start out with no money at all. He did reach his goal, turning $ 0 into $ 10,000 within only a short space of time!
Chris realizes that poker is not his calling, and that he does not have a PhD in computer science for nothing. He has worked as a research assistant and has done some consulting work for companies (California State lottery, Bureau of Census), as well as for private clients. Along with other poker legends such as Howard Lederer, Mike Matusow and Ted Forrest, he also co-wrote a book called “The Full Tilt Poker Strategy Guide: Tournament Edition”.
As of July 2008 Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is unmarried and dating the Brazilian actress Fabolosa who is often seen congratulating him after winning tournaments. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California. Chris likes to spend his free time (whenever he is not working, writing books, or participating in live tournaments) dancing. From foxtrot to waltz, tango and mamba all the way to West Coast swing (his favorite dance right now) – he does it all. When asked where his favorite place to “hang out” was, he responds, “I go dancing. I don’t just hang out.”
But Chris Ferguson is not just known for his extraordinary poker playing skills, his intellect, or his dance moves – he has also gained fame with a fairly unique hobby of his. Chris’ talent for playing with cards apparently does not stop at the poker table; he also uses them to slice fruit and vegetables! He’ll slice a banana or cucumber in half just by throwing a regular playing card.
His favorite movie is “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and his favorite actor is Johnny Depp. He prefers R&B, jazz and classical music and his favorite “celebrities”, he says, are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. His favorite vacation spot is Watamu Beach in Kenya.
A living legend
The poker players Chris “Jesus” Ferguson respects the most include Erik Seidel, Dan Harington, Mike Sexton and Daniel Negreanu. If he could change anything in the world, he says he would,
“Teach people to be more tolerant & accepting, and less hypocritical.”
When asked what he would like to change in the world of poker, he responds,
“Casinos should get very tough on abusive players, so poker can have the respect it deserves.”
Poker is in Chris’ blood and there is nothing he would rather do,
“I love playing poker. I am fascinated by the sport. It doesn’t matter high limit or small limit. Whether its Honolulu or Wiesbaden, wherever poker is played, I feel at home a little.”
Without a doubt, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is amongst the world’s poker elite; five WSOP Bracelets, three gold WSOP Circuit Rings, and numerous other wins and final tables, as well as prize money amounting to more than 7 million dollars speak for themselves (as of July 2008). Despite his success, Chris still works arduously to improve his game. With the help of computer programs he analyzes hands or evaluates different scenarios in order to find the weak points of his strategy so he can repair them. Chris also works hard to progress on the professional and intellectual level. It is his aim to teach game theory at a renowned university and be a professor, just like his father.
This intellectual cowboy with the photographic memory, this “Jesus” who turned $ 0 into $ 10,000 and cuts vegetables with playing cards, is a true asset to any tournament table and definitely keeps things exciting – thanks, Chris!
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