Murphy James - "Jesus" is a Poker Player
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"Jesus" is a Poker Player (and a Swing Dancer, too)

Murphy James
Chris "Jesus" Ferguson

He sorta looks like Jesus if you can picture the Good Man with long, flowing hair, a nicely trimmed beard, wearing sunglasses and a black Stetson, and holding a full house, Aces over Kings. Meet Chris “Jesus” Ferguson -- like Johnny Cash, a man in black -- winner of the Championship event of the World Series of Poker in 2000.

Chris’ Mom and Dad each hold Ph. D.’s, and he has one hanging on his wall as well, from UCLA, in computer science. He and his Dad write scholarly papers on game theory.

But his forte is poker. Well, that and cutting carrots in half by throwing a playing card at 80 miles per hour. “It’s all in the wrist,” he says. He can also drop hundreds of cards in a hat at ten feet without a miss.

“Miracles occur in the strangest of places,” sings Willie Nelson.

Chris loved UCLA, spending half of his first 36 years there. When not hitting the books, he relaxed as president of the university’s Swing Dancing Club. He would still be on the Westwood campus, he says, if they didn’t insist he get his doctorate and beat it. So he ambled a bit north, and a bit east, and found Las Vegas to his liking.

In addition to poker, he has channeled his competitive drive into Swing Dancing competitions. He says he prefers Jack and Jill competitions where you don’t know who your partner will be until the last minute. Then you improvise.

“Lots of fun,” says Chris.

Chris started playing cards in fourth grade. He remembers his early poker years: low stakes games in Vegas and online games long before the online poker trend hit the rest of the country. He also played blackjack. After a big win in a blackjack tournament, he invested his money in poker playing and hasn’t looked back since.

The World Series of Poker takes place in Vegas over about a month and consists of many different versions of poker, culminating in the Championship event -- No Limit Texas Hold ‘em -- with a top prize in the millions. For each win, a player receives a coveted gold bracelet. The poker pros measure success by the number of these trinkets in their trophy case.

In 2000, Chris was awarded $151,000 for a win at 7-Card Stud. Then he won the Championship event and picked up another $1.5 million dollars. He won another bracelet in 2001 for Omaha Hi/Lo Split poker, followed by two more wins in 2003. He finished at the top of the heap in a couple of World Series of Poker “circuit” (road show) events as well. He has banked a total of $4 million dollars in tournament events.

And, oh, how he wishes he won the Big One in 2005 when the poker madness was at full gallop: Aussie Joe Hachem pocketed $7.5 million for his Championship win.

So, if you saunter off to Vegas and find yourself at a poker table, sitting across from a man in black who looks a bit like you-know-who, say a little prayer . . . and hang onto your chips.

© 2005 Murphy James