(Distributed May 23, 2006)
CHRIS FERGUSON: IT’S WHAT YOU DON’T SEE THAT COUNTS
After the other poker superstars left the autograph session, the most ominous-looking pro of all stayed behind, signing photos and chatting until everyone got what they wanted — a moment with Chris “Jesus” Ferguson.
Ferguson’s signature all-black outfit, cowboy hat, sunglasses, and his dark beard and long flowing hair disguised an affable tournament specialist who made time for every fan in January at the World Series of Poker circuit event in Tunica, Miss.
Despite the sinister-like appearance, Ferguson really is just a master of deception and a study in contrasts. He holds a doctorate in computer science from UCLA but also taught ballroom dancing. He enters the biggest tournaments but enjoys play-money games online. The look which yielded his unusual nickname never changes but he’s not superstitious. “I don’t really believe in that stuff at all,” he said.
With this 2000 World Series champion, it’s what you don’t see that counts.
Consider this: Although Ferguson has won millions playing tournament poker, he admits, “I don’t like taking money from players in a ring (cash) game. That’s just not my style. But once they put their money down for a tournament, it’s all over. That money’s gone. Now, I’m out to win.”
True to his style, he rarely plays in cash games. “‘There’s something to shoot for in a tournament more than money. It’s also a lot more fun.”
And the 43-year-old from Pacific Palisades, Calif., has been having plenty of fun lately.
Poker Pro magazine named Ferguson 2005’s player of the year based on six cashes (two final tables) at last year’s World Series, victories at two $10,000 buy-in WSOP circuit events, fourth-place at the World Poker Tour Invitational, and second-place in the inaugural National Head-Up Championship.
Amazingly, as poker fans saw on TV Sunday, Ferguson plowed through this year’s elite heads-up field of 64 to another runner-up finish. En route to the final match against Ted Forrest, Ferguson defeated Freddy Deeb, Chip Reese, Josh Arieh, Jim McManus and Huck Seed.
Did he lose sleep thinking about how to beat that daunting lineup of opponents? “Not really,” Ferguson said. “You don’t necessarily know who you’re going to play. I’m not thinking ahead to the next match, I’m only thinking about one match at a time.”
Ever gracious, Ferguson rolled out the adjectives to describe his opponents: Some consider Deeb “the best live action player,” Reese is “incredible,” Seed and Forrest are “amazing.” Only Ferguson, however, has made the heads-up finals both years!
What’s his heads-up secret? “As far back as 1989, I used to play online for play money all the time at IRC poker,” Ferguson said. “You can play a lot of heads-up poker online, which you can’t in a brick-and-mortar casino, so playing online 17 years ago really honed my heads-up game.”
Still, he recognizes the luck factor in poker and has applied his math prowess to the age-old question: Is winning at poker mostly luck or skill?
“What it really comes down to is how long of a period you play. On any one given hand, it might be 99 percent luck and 1 percent skill. Over the course of a tournament, it might be 30 percent skill and 70 percent luck. Over a month, maybe it’s 30 percent luck and 70 percent skill, and over the course of a year it might be 90 percent skill and 10 percent luck,” Ferguson said.
That explains why the skillful Ferguson, who started playing at age 11 and got serious about the game in 1993, recently was ranked fifth on the all-time tournament money list with $5.3 million in winnings. He trailed only the past two World Series champions, Joseph Hachem and Greg Raymer, plus superstars Daniel Negreanu and Scotty Nguyen.
Neither Negreanu nor Nguyen, however, has matched Ferguson’s five WSOP bracelets, all won in the past six years. Hachem and Raymer benefitted from huge main-event purses generated by 5,619 players in ‘05 ($7.5 million to Hachem) and 2,576 players in ‘04 ($5 million to Raymer).
“The main event field might go over 8,000 this year,” said Ferguson, looking ahead to the championship in late July. A field that large could mean a record-smashing first-place prize of $10 million. When Ferguson captured the title six years ago against tournament legend T.J. Cloutier, 512 players competed and first place paid $1.5 million.
Can he repeat? Although he probably could calculate his odds of winning in his head, he instead realistically answered: “It’s hard to do these days!”
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 RUSS SCOTT
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.