Chris “Jesus” Ferguson is back at WSOP. The controversial poker star registered and participated in the $10,000 Seven-Card Stud Championship after a five year hiatus following his involvement in the disastrous events of 2011.
He’s still instantly recognizable in his signature look, although despite the preliminary pictures on various new sites announcing his return, his standard cowboy hat no longer bears the now tarnished Full Tilt logo he once proudly sported from his time as one of the directors. And, even after a half decade of self imposed exile, following Black Friday, player reactions on the scene make it clear that when it comes to forgive and forget, nobody is forgetting just yet.
But have they forgiven? Opinions were mixed, leaning heavily on the side of caustic, when fellow Full Tilt alumni, Howard Lederer, made an apology in May of this year, taking more responsibility for the mismanagement that left tens of thousands of people unable to access their funds. Part Time Poker predicted it might mean a foray back to the table at WSOP. In the end there’s no sign of Lederer, but a thrum of attention around the return of Ferguson.
This has even outshadowed other potential attention-grabbers, such as the slightly reduced rather than greatly increased participation in Colossus II, despite planning and predictions on the contrariwise by WSOP, or the success of other attention getting characters. Part of the glamour of poker tournaments is in the personality of the players and what they bring to the room, and there’s few heavier call backs to be reminded of at a poker tournament than Black Friday.
But, as far as scandal versus simply celebrity, for Ferguson, the full public opinion is hard to call at this point. As one of the four people the US Justice department specifically accused of running a Ponzi scheme, at least in an amended civil complaint, he’s got one of the heavier reputations to overcome. Although his lawyer denies any malice, claiming only mismanagement, even imprudence with other people’s money is enough to leave a lingering stain.
Nonetheless, though the general level of snark is present, there are certainly many people ready to speak forgiveness, or if not forgiveness, that this is hardly a big deal. Poker News go as far as to describe him as a “Maligned Champion“, reporting the facts but framing him as a tragic hero, undone by his boldness and emphasizing his WSOP championship in 2000, his contributions to the sport and even character references from fellow players.
And this is definitely a move that some have already predicted, for example the late Full Tilt investigator Diamond_Flush predicted that both Ferguson and Lederer would be back when the money was repaid, way back in March of 2014. That refund’s about 92% done, some relief for the people affected by the Full Tilt’s failure to have cash on hand at the time when a mass payout was needed, but not complete reparations for the people whose careers and hobby fund were also held from them for the time it took Poker Stars to manage the refund on behalf of Full Tilt.
But for the other people who were part of Full Tilt, his reception may go a long way towards deciding if the time is right for them to make the same attempt back into public participation in the world of poker, as well as the long term narrative of if the Full Tilt failure was anything ranging from gross mismanagement bordering on immoral, to simply bad luck in predicting how the US would enforce its laws on online gambling and when it would move.
Some, like John Juanda (and Phil Hellmuth of UltimateBet), less touched by the Black Friday debacle, continuing to be a part of the sport they know and love has been much easier, but Ferguson is definitely a canary for if Lederer or a similar level of pariah might be back, if not this year but in coming years. For example, given the volume of vitriol just around former Full Tilt CEO Ray Batir’s wedding when the photos of him looking happy healthy, there are some people in the Full Tilt scandal who just aren’t anywhere close to the public considering them for redemption. But for Ferguson, he’s suffered no major outrage reactions at the table, for all his presence has thus far been the big news for WSOP 2016.
As for what he’s doing back, Feguson’s pretty clear: “I’m just here to play poker.”
Rookie Poker Reporter V. Stephens is excited to get mixed up in the world of professional and part time poker. You can follow along with the journey at @vepols