PLAYER PROFILE – Chris “Jesus” Ferguson
Poker’s competitive scene has been vital to the history and continued growth of the game. Over the decades, it’s produced some incredible stories and unforgettable moments due to the high-stakes gameplay. Throughout the game’s history, many pros have stood out because of their unique strategies, impressive accomplishments, and flamboyant personalities. These legendary players have pushed poker to new heights, inspiring future generations as they strive for excellence in this ever-evolving game. Today, we’ll look at one poker pro with his fair share of both accolades and controversy: Chris “Jesus” Ferguson.
Chris Ferguson was one of the most prominent personalities during the advent of poker television. Regularly appearing on ESPN’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) broadcast in the early 2000s, he was instantly recognizable for many reasons.
Nicknamed “Jesus” for his trademark long hair and beard, he always played in a cowboy outfit with boots, a hat, and sunglasses. Ferguson also had a distinct playstyle at the table. He propounded the classic tight, game theory optimal (GTO) playstyle, using math and odds to play the ideal hands. That playstyle may result from his background, being born to mathematicians and holding a Ph.D. in computer science. At the table, he was also exasperatingly quiet and still, the lack of action helping mask his strategies.
Ferguson also has the results to cement him as an exciting pro to follow. He has six WSOP bracelets, including a win at the 2000 Main Event. Ferguson also won the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. All in all, he has over $9.5 million in total tournament winnings.
Christopher Philip Ferguson was born in Los Angeles, California on April 11, 1963. Both his parents had degrees in math, and his father was a professor of game theory and theoretical probability at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His upbringing explains why valued education from an early age, frequently studying and reading on his own.
Ferguson discovered poker when he was young and his father helped him refine his strategies with the knowledge of game theory. While attending UCLA and working towards a degree in computer science, Chris’ passion for poker grew. He played online poker through IRC chat rooms, eventually booking frequent trips to Vegas with his friends. It was there where he honed his skills and developed his iconic look. Ferguson used to wear his shades to look older but now keeps them for good luck.
He earned a Ph.D. in computer science in 1989 and began his poker career shortly after.
Ferguson’s first tournament was in 1993, where he finished fourth for $1,600 playing Pai Gow. He honed his skills, regularly joining small tournaments like the LA Poker Open and Masters of Poker Championships. He made his first appearance at the WSOP in 1995, making the final table of the $1,500 Seven-Card Razz event, cashing for $10,350. It was this performance that led him to make poker his full-time career.
With his intellectual poker style, Ferguson is able to beat his opponents mathematically and psychologically. He tailors his plays to push the other players out of their comfort zones, making them more prone to mistakes. Ferguson said, “I try to play the style that gives my opponents the hardest time.” He also fully uses his computer science background, frequently analyzing hands or developing his simulations to come out on top.
This playstyle yielded him fantastic results in the 2000 WSOP, with Ferguson defeating T.J. Cloutier heads-up for the main event title and $1,500,000. He also earned another WSOP bracelet at the $2,500 Seven Card Stud event in the same year. From there, Ferguson began racking up more and more victories, with a win in a 2001 Omaha Hi-Lo event plus two more in 2003 at the Omaha Hi-Lo and mixed Holdem/Seven Card Stud events.
Aside from the WSOP, Ferguson won the annual California State Poker Championship and the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Championship, which earned him $500,000. He was also a regular contender and winner on poker TV shows like Poker After Dark and The Poker Lounge. In 2009, he took down his entire table on Poker After Dark, beating Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Phil Hellmuth Jr.
Full Tilt Poker
Ferguson was a co-founder of Full Tilt Poker, developing software for the site. Established in 2004, it quickly became one of the most popular online poker sites, thanks in part to Ferguson’s $10,000 challenge.
He made $10,000 from scratch, starting with freeroll tournaments. He had a rough start and only earned $6 after several months of free tournaments. He didn’t give up and eventually built up his bankroll to $100 after nine months of hard work and strict budgeting. Nine months later, he achieved his goal of $10,000.
April 15, 2011 would later be known as Black Friday, an infamous day in online poker history. It was when the US government shut down several notable poker sites, including Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, for operating in violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It left players scrambling to withdraw the money in their accounts, only to discover they couldn’t. With the online poker community in chaos, the US Department of Justice filed a motion to amend a civil complaint accusing Ferguson and the website’s other directors of operating a Ponzi scheme. The allegation was that they paid out $444 million of customer money to themselves and the firm’s owners.
Ferguson denied the charges and the case was resolved two years later.
Ferguson returned to the poker scene several years later in 2016, when he appeared at the WSOP, much to the apprehension of many in the poker community. He has since played in numerous major tournaments with his latest cashes in 2020. By necessity, he transitioned from playing in live events, to online tournaments on the WSOP.com and GGPoker sites.