Last week the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was rocked by a record-breaking performance, as Chris “Jesus” Ferguson set a new highwater mark with 14 cashes in a single summer.
That total has since been bested by John Racener, who has made the money an astounding 17 times thus far, but Ferguson hasn’t faded from the fight just yet.
With his recent runner-up finish in Event #72: $10,000 Seven-Card Stud World Championship, Ferguson upped his cash count to 16 heading into the WSOP Main Event.
As thousands of players competed in Day 1B of that Main Event, Ferguson found himself sitting at his second final table of the series, where he squared off against a loaded final table lineup.
Mike Wattel was a bracelet winner back in 1999, while John Monnette and Shaun Deeb have won WSOP gold thrice and twice, respectively. Veteran tournament pros Perry Friedman and Bryce Yockey were also in attendance, setting the stage for a thrilling final table to decide the world’s Seven-Card Stud champion.
And if the on-felt matchups weren’t interesting enough, Ferguson had the focus of the poker world fixed directly on him – with most fans, pros, and media members openly rooting for him to fall short. That animosity stemmed from Ferguson’s executive role with Full Tilt Poker, the failed online poker site that infamously absconded with player funds in the wake of “Black Friday.”
While the extent of Ferguson’s role in the Full Tilt Poker fraud has never been determined, his refusal to offer any semblance of an apology amidst his return to the WSOP last year made him a pariah in the poker world.
Even so, he managed to cash 10 times last summer, before putting on his record-breaking performance this year. With a win on Sunday evening, Ferguson would claim his sixth gold bracelet – and first since way back in the Full Tilt Poker boom days of 2003 – while vaulting his name to the top of the WSOP Player of the Year leaderboard.
Sufficed to say, the general public had a sweat on their hands when the Seven-Card Stud final table began, with the overwhelming majority hoping to see Ferguson flame out.
Instead, the man once revered by recreational players as “Jesus” displayed the poker acumen that made him a household name all those years ago.
According to the live update coverage posted by PokerNews, after Ferguson weaved his way to heads-up play against Wattel, he held 1,370,000 chips to the latter’s 3,030,000. Seven-Card Stud is a patient man’s game, however, and Ferguson dug in for the long haul, grinding out small pots and winning enough showdowns to eventually pull even.
Over the course of six hours, Wattel and Ferguson dueled deep into the night, each player holding wide leads at various points in the proceedings. With the clocks showing it to be early Monday morning, Ferguson found two diamonds in the hole with another diamond up, and the action went to seventh street. Despite showing a ragged board better suited for Badugi than Seven-Card Stud, Wattel was forced to commit calling chips – only to see Ferguson table his flush for the winner.
That put the chip counts at 3,925,000 for Ferguson against just 475,000 for Wattel – good for only two big bets given the current structure. It looked for all the world as if Ferguson had the sixth bracelet in his sights, but on the next hand of note it was Wattel who hit his gin card on seventh street.
With a chance to close out the match, Ferguson found split jacks and got Wattel’s remaining stack into the middle. He held split fives, and by seventh street Ferguson’s board showed Js-5h / Jc-8c-4d-Qs / 3h for one pair of jacks – still good over Wattel’s 2s-5s / 5d-10s-Kh-4c for a pair of fives.
The dealer slid out one final card and Wattel squeezed for the sweat, needing to find any pair or the case five to extend the match. When he peeled the 5c to make trips, Wattel staved off elimination while keeping the poker community’s hopes alive.
Ferguson maintained his composure even after Wattel moved back into the lead, and the two exchanged big stacks yet again until Wattel made his own diamond flush to claim most of the chips in play. A short time later he had them all, earning his second career bracelet – and first in 18 years of WSOP competition.
When the winner’s photos were snapped and media members assembled to hear Wattel speak, he made it clear that facing Ferguson added no incentive:
“I was trying to win for me. I didn’t care who the opponent was.”
Asked about the long wait in between bracelet scores, Wattel was similarly straightforward in his response:
“I was wondering if the second one was ever coming. Second one better than the first. I just feel relieved that I finally won one again.
It was an epic battle. He plays great and I had him, then he had me. I pulled it off at the end.”
Despite falling one spot short of the finish line, Ferguson improved his WSOP Player of the Year point total to 848.31 – good for third behind Racener (853.16) and Monnette (865.21).
All three still have the Main Event left to further solidify their standing.