Tuesday, June 28, 2016

That Time I Learned That Jesus Didn’t Love Me

I think any of us who work long enough “in poker” -- as players, staff or tournament organizers, agents, promoters, reporters and “media,” or in other capacities -- end up collecting quite a few stories that we can’t really share, for a variety of reasons.

Some of the stories can’t be told because they involve “sensitive” information never intended to be publicized. Others have to remain hidden because they might endanger a person’s current employment. Still more are kept quiet because they reflect badly on either the one telling the story or others who for whatever reason are judged not to deserve such treatment.

I know over the ten-plus years of this blog I’ve “self-censored” a number of times, although to be honest I wouldn’t suggest any the stories I’ve suppressed were all that scandalous. One of the stories I consciously chose not to tell before I’m gonna share today, as it seems both a little timely and at this far remove fairly innocuous.

My first time covering the World Series of Poker was for PokerNews back in 2008, and as I’ve written about here many times before during those first couple of summers everything seemed especially interesting and exciting thanks largely to the novelty of it all. The interest remained even by the fifth or sixth summer I was there, even if the excitement had waned a bit by then.

Chris Ferguson -- a.k.a. “Jesus” (a nickname I tend not to employ anymore) -- was of course one of the more recognizable “poker celebs” back then. One of the early events I helped cover in 2009 was a $2,500 buy-in pot-limit hold’em/pot-limit Omaha event, and Ferguson played. While at the table he had out his phone and was playing Chinese poker, and I remember writing a live update in which I mentioned this fact.

It was kind of a novel thing back then to see someone on a device playing a different poker game while at the table -- not nearly as ubiquitous as it would soon become -- making for a bit of color worth mentioning amid an otherwise not-so-exciting Day 1. Kind of thing wouldn’t deserve being pointed out even a year later, I’d say, but at that time it was curious enough to include. I seem to recall making a joke in the update about two games not being enough, since the tourney featured PLH and PLO and Ferguson was playing a third game on his phone.

Anyhow, in my next “travel report” post here on the blog, I retold that story and a few others from the day. When referencing Ferguson, I said something about peeking over his shoulder to see him playing Chinese poker, taking a bit of poetic license in the way I described the scene (as though I had captured a little “inside dope”). Truthfully, there was no reason to look all that closely to see what he was playing. In fact, he was talking about the game with Andy Bloch who asked him about it.

In that post I also mentioned an “Approved Electronic Device Rule” the WSOP had in place that year which was not being enforced at all. I explicitly said I didn’t care one way or the other about players being on phones or other devices while playing, but I did note it seemed inconsistent to have a rule that no one heeded and that no one seemed interested in requiring anyone to heed.

There was a short sequel to the story -- this is the part I haven’t told before.

The next day I was back at the Rio where I first heard from a fellow reporter, then from the head of the team something about Ferguson not being happy with my posting about his Chinese poker playing. It was never 100% clear to me whether the objection concerned the live update or my HBP post (it seems like it was the latter, actually), but apparently “Jesus” was concerned enough to have spoken to then-WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack about it.

This is all very vague in my memory, I’m afraid, but I have a fleeting recollection of Ferguson having said something about how the WSOP shouldn’t allow the reporters to nose around in private business, with there even being some suggestion about credentials being revoked. However severe his objection really was, Ferguson was eventually told whatever he needed to be told, and the matter went no further. Meanwhile I was assured I’d done nothing wrong -- either in the live updates or on my blog -- and not to worry about it.

I also remember being told how Ferguson and I would probably get along quite well -- that we have similar personalities and interests, and seemed like we’d hit it off. Needless to say, I never sought out meeting him to find out if that were true.

I didn’t tell the story at the time partly because I was a little embarrassed by it, even if I shouldn’t have been. As a reporter, I didn’t like being noticed at all, never mind in a negative way. And if given the choice, I would have much rather reported that Ferguson liked me than that he had been made upset by anything I’d done.

I thought about the story again after Ferguson made his inglorious return to the WSOP earlier this month. When asked by PokerNews if he had anything to say regarding his absence since 2010 and/or his feelings regarding what had happened with Full Tilt Poker, he repeatedly responded “I’m just here to play poker.” It was a little like back in ’09, when he didn’t like anyone reporting on his doing anything other than playing in an event.

Ferguson has cashed seven times already this summer, including finishing fourth in an event over the weekend. His appearance at that final table created a bit of a stir, as PokerListings described in detail. He was asked again about whether or not he planned to apologize to the poker community, he responded “What are you talking about? No comment” before walking away.

Howard Lederer has also returned to the WSOP, the prospect of which I wrote about here back in May following his apology (which seemed at the time an unsubtle prelude to his returning). I mentioned in that post how his playing in any events would be a bit like men playing in the ladies event, necessarily producing a lot of unpleasantness and ill will, especially should he be successful. The same obviously goes for Ferguson, and it sounds a lot like that final table scene over the weekend confirmed that prediction.

Of course, while Lederer’s apology caused us to wonder about his sincerity, Ferguson seems unequivocally sincere in his non-avowal of responsibility for what happened at Full Tilt Poker.

No, people aren’t really loving Ferguson very much these days, and his success in WSOP events only seems to be adding still more negativity to a poker community he and others damaged so greatly already. Can’t say I’m that bothered, though, given how I found out long ago “Jesus” didn’t love me.

Image: “Jesus eyes the next table,” Matt Waldron. CC BY 2.0.

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