Chris Ferguson, a.k.a. Jesus, has won $7 million playing poker. He also helped start FullTiltPoker.com, the second-biggest online poker site.
Online poker is a $4 billion business. Unlike other online gambling companies, FullTiltPoker didn’t panic when the U.S. enacted its absurd ban on online gambling, and it still allows Americans to play. (The companies’ servers are located on an Indian reservation in Canada).
Here’s an abstract of a recent New Yorker profile about Ferguson. Registration required to read the whole thing.
Nearly 50 years [after Game Theory was conceived], it occurred to an amiable U.C.L.A. graduate student named Chris Ferguson to apply game theory concepts to grand-master poker. Relying on them, in 2000, he became known as the first person to win a prize of more than a million dollars in a poker tournament.
Ferguson was born in L.A. in 1963. His father, Tom, taught game theory at U.C.L.A., and he brought home specialised board games and card games and taught them to Chris and his older brother, Marc. At seventeen, Chris began making occasional trips to Las Vegas.
From a 50-two-card deck, 2,598,960 five-card hands are possible. The basis for most poker strategy is a ruthless notion: what can I discern about my opponent’s habits that I can attack? Such an approach is called “maximally exploitive.” It is the way nearly all professionals proceed. While he was still a student, Ferguson decided also to employ a method called “optimal strategy.” It means, when up against an expert opponent, “How do I lose the least?”
Since 2000, Ferguson has won more than seven million dollars playing poker, and that’s less, apparently, than what he’s earned as “something like the chairman of the board” of Tiltware, which developed and licensed the software for FullTiltPoker.com, where people play online poker, sometimes against Ferguson and other professionals, for money.
According to HR Gambling Capital, the online poker business made about $3.8 billion last year. It’s not clear that any law governs online poker. By remaining open after the Safe Port Act of 2006 was passed, Full Tilt and Ferguson “made the best bet in the history of poker,” according to Steven Lipscomb [by continuing to allow Americans to play. Thus far, the Feds haven’t gone after them.]
Ferguson believes that game theory protects him from making intuitive judgements that might fail or from being distracted by information that’s not necessarily germane. In the 2008 World Series of Poker, Ferguson played poker 10 hours a day for 30-five days in a row.