The 31st edition of the World Series of Poker was held in the year 2000 at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas.
While well over 6,000 players hit up the Main Event these days, at the time “just” 512 players forked over the $10,000 to participate in the de facto World Championship of Poker.
When all was said and done that year a name most people didn't recognize at the time - Chris “Jesus” Ferguson - won his second bracelet of the 2000 WSOP and the first-place prize of $1,500,000.
In second was a veteran, Thomas James (TJ) Cloutier, who already had 4 WSOP bracelets, a second place in the Main Event in 1998 and a fifth in 1988.
Sixteen years have passed since then and, well, plenty has changed. Ferguson was forced to abandon the live poker scene after Black Friday in 2011 but returned to the WSOP in 2016 to much consternation among his peers.
Cloutier, now 76 years old, isn't as active as he once was in big tournaments but still has plenty of game left in him - in fact, he even has a Top 5 stack in the WSOP Monster Stack with just 26 players today.
At the 2000 World Series of Poker the experienced Cloutier made his fourth WSOP Main Event final table. This time he found himself heads-up against a surging Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson, fresh from winning his first bracelet.
At the time, a comparative unknown.
It was a heads-up that seemed to have only one possible ending. Ferguson, in fact, started the final battle with a stack 10 times that of his opponent.
Cloutier needed more than his experience to get back in the game; he needed a miracle.
Still, Cloutier didn't give up and with a set of 10s immediately found a double-up. Then, with A-K, Cloutier not only could have doubled but even taken a slight lead against Ferguson’s A-7, who got lucky when the board (2-5-2-J-J) gave him a chop.
Cloutier did take the lead though when, with a set of kings, he induced Ferguson to call with two pair. ‘Jesus’ then saved himself once again with another split pot, this time with A-2 against Cloutier's A-7 on a Q-T-3-K-T board.
Cloutier dropped back to just a bit less than his opponent’s stack and found himself all-in pre-flop with A-Q against Ferguson’s A-9.The pot that would have almost certainly pushed him towards winning the Main Event ended up being fatal.
His AQ withstood the flop, was untouched by the turn, but was destroyed on the river when one of the three 9s in the deck came down. Watch the final hand play out below:
Chris Ferguson after the WSOP 2000 ME
The $1,500,000 won at the 2000 WSOP Main Event marked the turning point in the career of 37-year-old Chris Ferguson.
The following year ‘Jesus’ attained his third bracelet (he won his first in 2000 in a 7 Card Stud tournament) along with five more cashes.
In 2002 he almost got another bracelet, finishing second in a Pot-Limit Hold'em tournament. He got back on track the following year with a double win at the 2003 WSOP in an Omaha Hi-Lo Split tournamentand the Limit Hold'em/Seven Card Stud.
His single largest win after 2000 came in 2005 when he won a $10k tournament on the WSOP Circuit for over $655,000, he added another $362,000 a few months later.
In 2006 he placed second at the NBC National Heads-Up Championship, losing in the final against Ted Forrest. He won the same event in 2008 over Andy Bloch and earned half a million dollars.
T.J. Cloutier after the WSOP 2000 ME
In 2001, Cloutier made it heads-up again in a No Limit Hold’em tournament at the World Series but bowed out for another second place.
Still got game.
At the 2002 WSOP he finished third and in two minor Hold’em tournaments he finished sixth. But the following year he won the LA Poker Classic and the Bellagio Five Diamond Poker Classic.
In 2003 he got to the final table at the WPT Challenge (6th place) and placed third at a Seven-Card Stud WSOP event. Also in 2003 he got another third place at the WPT Championship, which at the time was called the Five-Star World Poker Classic.
At the 2004 WSOP he won a bracelet in Razz and picked up another bracelet at the 2005 WSOP 2005 in a No Limit Hold’em tournament.
That was the last big result in his career, at least till now -- but he has picked up a ton more cashes in minor tournaments.
Ferguson Returns at 2016 WSOP
Five years have passed since Black Friday and Ferguson was forced to drop off the poker map. The shut down of Full Tilt Poker left tens of thousands of players unable to access their accounts and that responsibility rightfully fell – among others – on Ferguson.
Reaction to his return mixed.
Unlike fellow FTP pariah Howard Lederer, Ferguson chose to make no statements or apologies over the ensuing years and surprised everyone when he turned up to play at the 2016 WSOP.
His return has been polarizing in the poker world, to say the least, although some players, like Layne Flack, six-time bracelet winner at the WSOP, have gone to bat for him:
"Chris Ferguson has done a lot of great things for poker. He's a standup guy, and all the decisions made by Full Tilt Poker don't fall on him”
Long-time pro and host of the WPT, Mike Sexton, also felt the full story of Ferguson's involvement had plenty left out and deserved to be heard.
Not sharing the same opinion was Daniel Negreanu, who felt Ferguson at least owed an apology:
“Chris Ferguson returns to WSOP issuing no apologies, no remorse, as if nothing happened. Feels like a giant slap in the face to players”
“I'd like to know if Ferguson has any remorse, but it seems that his actions are speaking louder than his words. He doesn't seem to care”
The only comment left by Ferguson about his return at the World Series so far?
“I'm just busy playing here.”
Check in with the WSOP live updates for full reports on Cloutier's progress in today's Monster Stack event.
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