Howard Lederer Finds Acceptance Harder to Come by than Chris Ferguson

Valeria Stephens : June 12th, 2016
Howard Lederer Before Black Friday

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Another Full Tilt  Alumnus has made an appearance at the WSOP. Howard Lederer has followed in the wake of Chris Ferguson’s comeback, as we reported last week, popping up for the $10K Deuce-to-Seven Single Draw Championship.

This is not a complete surprise. There was already speculation if Lederer’s apology letter back in May was a sign he would be making the leap to the WSOP this year, and it looks like that was a solid bet to take. He’s back, but just as the reception of his apology, he’s not finding his welcome chilly, and less favorable  than Ferguson’s.

Why? While comparisons between Ferguson and Lederer are inevitable, there’s definitely a distinct difference on how the two men have handled their role and reputation after Black Friday, and the reception on their return has mirrored this.

Major Factors in Lederer’s Failure vs. Chris Ferguson’s (Relative) Success

Firstly, the main damage to Lederer’s return was in how he handled things post scandal. While Ferguson has been basically radio silent and gone from public tables since 2011, neither confirming nor denying his role in things, Lederer’s apology was not the only appearance he has made since he became enmeshed in scandal.  He’s been seen in public games since 2012, and much more concerned with explaining his side of things than Ferguson ever was. This means Lederer has attracted more overall heat and attention, most significantly by a lengthy interview given in the aftermath of Black Friday, where he attempted to absolve himself of responsibility for the mismanagement of his company. Given the Department of Justice backed accusations of conspiracy, not just incompetence, not to mention the millions of dollars of player money locked out of their reach for half a decade (some of which has still not been paid back), this backfired badly.

Lederer’s apology in May seemed to be a reversal of his position in 2012, but even so, this was widely seen as too little and far, far too late.  No one whose life was impacted by Black Friday has expressed much satisfaction with the apology. While Ferguson, a former fan favourite, can find people who’ll be prepared to forgive him and talk about his contribution to the sport, Lederer enjoys no such grace in the eyes of players, fans and the media and is definitely still a pariah in the poker community. Reminding everyone of his mistakes the month before returning to public is lousy timing, and also puts the sincerity of his apology in doubt, making it look more like a planned, strategic ploy than a genuine realization.

This is not to say that an unapologetic Ferguson has been particularly well-received. As much as some people are willing to give him a little leeway, just as many have critical things to say. In particular, Daniel Negreanu, who broke Lederer’s apology, asked for one from Ferguson to match. On the more extreme side, there have been suggestions from such luminaries as 2012 champion Greg Merson, that other players should attack Ferguson at the table, although based on his performance thus far at the series, it doesn’t seem he’s been much impacted in this regard.

Would an apology help Ferguson’s reputation?

Possibly, but at this point it just might put him in the same boat as Lederer, seen as spouting empty words while doing nothing to help with the actual disaster. It’s true that a closed mouth gathers no feet, and Ferguson has not dug himself as deep a hole as Lederer did in 2012. And at this point, given Ferguson’s strategic silence, this means any kind of mea culpa will likely never happen.

Indeed, silence appears to have been his golden strategy for avoiding  criticism. Through his WSOP re-debut, Ferguson has kept up his strongly no-affect communication style, maintaining the pre-Black Friday persona that served him well as a five-time bracelet winner. You can see him reacting minimally to the attempts of other players to confront him in the video by Shawn Daniels, a player with strong feelings on Ferguson and who filmed and shared the an attempted confrontation. Despite the views  expressed in the video, even Daniels himself noted that “The overall attitude towards Chris was really nice [with] lots of people saying hi and taking pictures, like nothing had even happened.”

Ferguson’s celebrity, it seems, overshadows the consequences of his silence, something Lederer can’t count on. While we don’t yet have a video of anyone confronting Lederer directly, there are certainly plenty of people trying to snap his picture, something Lederer seems less than entirely comfortable with given the notoriety which dogs him. Faced with the same questions as Ferguson, he’s declined further comment, but referred people back to his apology in May of this year. It appears regardless of the public’s response, Lederer’s response is enough for him.

So was this the best timing both men could hope for, if they hoped to return?

For Ferguson, you can look to PokerStars as his canary. As most remember, after Full Tilt proved unable  to pay back its players, PokerStars acquired the one-time rival with the agreement that they’d make up the shortfall, although the process has been a long one. Last month, PokerStars announced their plan to close down Full Tilt as an independent site. This makes sense from a PR perspective- where keeping the other company’s presence going until the money was paid out shows commitment to their agreement, but once that’s gone there’s plenty of motive to put their former rival to bed for good, from its tainted reputation, to is presence as competition to Poker Star’s other offerings.

This follows the predictions of the late Diamond_Flush, with both Ferguson and Lederer following the same public relations logic as PokerStars. And it’s not a bad strategy, in terms of guessing at the healing of emotional wounds.

That said, it still seems to have been a bad move for Lederer. Leaving aside (but without neglecting) the moral side of things, Lederer’s non-apology in 2012 still left in a deeper hole than Ferguson. The latter will take his lumps with his proverbial poker face, but the former’s strategy of bringing his own feelings into the issue will mean he should probably have waited a little bit longer.

Even if PokerStars has rolled the remnants of Full Tilt out of existence, and the permissive attitudes of the WSOP allow him to register, there’s no sign that the poker community is prepared offer Lederer any reprieve. Players may have been ready to accept Ferguson, but Lederer’s not a meal many seem prepared to swallow, at least not without quite a bit more chewing.

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

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