Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Different “Chris Ferguson Challenge”

When I started this blog in 2006, blogs were much more of a “thing.” Heck, so was poker, especially online poker.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was still a few months away from slithering into our lives in the dead of night as a surreptitious supplement to another, unrelated bill. And it would still be nearly five years before Black Friday came along to raze the online game down to the felt (here in the United States, that is).

I’d been playing online for some time before I started the blog. I was also eagerly consuming other blogs, books, magazines, podcasts, forums, and everything else related to the game. Like some (or most) of you, I’d guess.

For a number of years I probably played at least some poker practically every single day. I also spent nearly every spare moment reading about poker -- studying strategy, learning about the game’s long and colorful history, and reading news about players and tournaments.

I was as fascinated as anyone by all of those “poker celebrities” of that “boom” era, too, and early on got a kick out of the idea I was playing the same game they were. Full Tilt Poker’s long-running “Learn, Chat and Play with the Pros” campaign was a good one, encouraging many to get involved and even believe they, too, could improve their games and move up to bigger and better things -- not unlike the pros with whom they learned, chatted, and played.

One of the many, many promotions Full Tilt Poker ran way back around 2009 or so was called “The Chris Ferguson Challenge.” If you played the micros back then you surely recall it. It involved Ferguson, one of the site’s founders (and one of the core “red pros” representing FTP), embarking on a nifty “challenge” in which he tried to build a bankroll of $10,000 from nothing at all.

He started out with freerolls and won entries into small buy-in events, then by following strict bankroll management guidelines (and continuing to win, of course) he did after busting a time or two manage to built that $10K roll which he then donated to charity.

In 2011, the whole idea of “The Chris Ferguson Challenge” took on a different connotation following Black Friday, and especially after the later amendment to the civil complaint that added Ferguson (among others) to the list of those accused of wrongdoing.

Allegations against Ferguson were ultimately dismissed several months after PokerStars bought out the site, paid the DOJ an enormous settlement, and also managed to get funds back to FTP players after years of uncertainty regarding whether or not the money in those accounts might be lost forever.

The dismissal swept away the issue of legal culpability for Ferguson and others, but the ironic juxtaposition remained. “The Chris Ferguson Challenge” provided a lesson in how to turn a little (nothing, in fact) into a lot. Full Tilt Poker meanwhile provided a lesson in how to turn a lot into a little (into a lot less than nothing, in fact).

After the last of the FTP-related settlements were finally completed in 2016, both Ferguson and Lederer turned back up at the World Series of Poker after a six-year absence. Most with any memory of the Full Tilt debacle were less than delighted.

The pair then came back again this summer, even boldly playing a tag-team event together. While Lederer has yet to cash once since returning to the tables, Ferguson has thrived, cashing 10 times at the 2016 WSOP, then a record 17 times at the 2017 WSOP. (John Racener also cashed 17 times in Las Vegas at this year’s WSOP.)

That success inspired Ferguson to continue a quest for WSOP Player of the Year in the recently completed WSOP Europe series in Rozvadov. There he managed to collect six more cashes including a bracelet win to clinch the award.

Back in 2016, Ferguson responded to questions about his return with a curt non-response: “I’m just here to play poker.” After winning his bracelet last week and clinching Player of the Year, he noted how the prospect of winning POY presented a kind of challenge he wished to attempt: “I was just trying to sneak in... just advance a little bit; trying to get a couple more [POY] points. And it’s just kind of happened. It’s the best way,” he said.

Ferguson’s new challenge -- and his meeting it with success -- managed to be the central story of the WSOPE, stealing attention and headlines away from others like Niall Farrell and Dominik Nitsche (who each won high rollers) and Main Event champion Marti Roca.

Again, many were less than enthused by such a turn of events. Indeed, while the original “Chris Ferguson Challenge” was genuinely inspiring, this new one kind of has the opposite effect.

Photo (adapted): PokerNews

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