After busting Flight A of the Crazy 8s WSOP event on Friday yesterday, I took another shot at Flight C yesterday. I ended up with a shallow cash and there were one or two moderately interesting hands, but I’ll cut to the chase: about halfway through the day, Chris Ferguson arrived at my table.
My Personal History with Full Tilt Poker
I had more than $60,000 on Full Tilt Poker on Black Friday, and although I eventually (after more than two years) got it all back, for a long time I had no idea what was going to happen to it. And I was one of the lucky ones: there were people with a lot more than that jammed up, and there were people with less who needed it more. Although I would have rather had that money earning interest somewhere, neither my life nor my bankroll were badly affected by not having access to it.
That’s absolutely not to say that it wasn’t a lot of money to me. It was and is a significant chunk of my net worth. As many of you know, though, I try to live well within my means (#nitcast), so it wasn’t money that I needed to pay my rent nor even to be adequately bankrolled for the games I wanted to play.
What upset me most was the gall of the whole thing, how they stonewalled and lied to us after Black Friday, even as it slowly became clear that Full Tilt did not have our money, and that the reason they did not have our money was that they had mismanaged it, making reckless loans and paying out huge disbursements to shareholders. As far as I’m concerned, getting my money back after two years didn’t make any of that go away, and it didn’t make us square. I’m holding my breath for any further compensation, but I’m not eager to welcome Ferguson and Lederer back into the good graces of the poker world, either.
I’ll admit that I don’t know Ferguson’s exact role in what went wrong before and after Black Friday. That’s not willful ignorance: there’s just not a lot of hard information available. According to Mike Sexton, whom I do consider to be a broadly reliable source, Ferguson actually did more than any of the other principals at FTP to help protect and restore player balances.
That’s to his credit, but it doesn’t change my opinion that he played a role in screwing me and took home millions of dollars in the process. As a member of the Board of Directors, he had an obligation to ensure the safety of player deposits, and he didn’t do it, and although he may have lost or given back some of it, I believe that there is to this day there’s money in his bank account that isn’t rightfully his.
I’d more or less put all of this behind me, until Lederer and Ferguson summoned up a new batch of gall and decided to start making noise in the poker world again. Lederer recently claimed “full responsibility” for Full Tilt’s failure, though that doesn’t seem to entail any monetary sacrifice on his part.
As far as I know, Ferguson has never made any kind of public statement about Full Tilt and certainly hasn’t offered a public apology. I knew that he would be been around the Rio, and I even passed him in the men’s room once, but it never occurred to me that he would land at my table. I assumed he only planned to play a few of the higher buy-in events. What he was doing in an $888 tournament is beyond me.
When he arrived at the table, it was a shock. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I had no idea what to do. No real good could come from confronting him: what did I think, that he was going to cut me a check on the spot? That he was going to break down in tears and confess to everything? I knew that it would only upset me and distract me from the game. Besides, was I just going to attack him out of nowhere? How do you start that conversation?
Still, it irked me that he was able to pony up to the table like it was no big deal, like bygones were bygones, like he was just another poker player. I’d been vocal on the internet about how Full Tilt players were never made whole – was I just going to sit there quietly when I finally had the chance to confront one of the owners directly?
My hands were shaking and my mind was spinning. I could hardly pay attention to what else was going on at the table. Thankfully, my stack was short enough that all of my decisions were binary and didn’t require much thought.
I remembered some wisdom I picked up from Tommy Angelo, though I’m sure it’s not unique to him: forgiveness isn’t something you do for the person you’ve forgiving, it’s something you do for yourself, because anger and bitterness are poison and you shouldn’t keep them inside of you.
What did I really know about Ferguson’s side of the story? I was rushing to a judgment that, though I had a high degree of confidence in it, was not 100%. Maybe he really was some hero operating behind the scenes. It wasn’t likely, but it was possible.
The nice way to put it would be that I decided to take the high road. Maybe I just chickened out. But I decided not to say anything to him and just focus on playing cards.
That peace lasted for a few minutes, until another player at our table was eliminated. After gathering his things, the young man reached out to shake Ferguson’s hand. “It’s an honor”, he said. “Glad to have you back.”
That was the final straw, but it was also the icebreaker I needed. “I don’t agree with that, for what it’s worth,” I declared to the table at large. “Anyone else here have money on Full Tilt Poker?”
No one responded. I didn’t know whether the answer was no, or whether I was just speaking so agitatedly that they couldn’t understand me. I locked eyes with the guy who looked most like a former online player. “Did you have money on Full Tilt?”
He removed his headphones. I asked him again. “No,” he told me. I could feel my face reddening. Ferguson still hadn’t said anything, but I certainly had his attention.
“I had $60,000 locked up for over two years,” I said.
“And did you get it back?” Ferguson asked me, as though that would make everything OK.
“That was $60,000 I couldn’t access for two years. No interest.”
“Sorry about that. But you got it back?”
Finally, someone else chimed in. “I had over $9000 in bonuses that I never received,” he said.
“But you got the balance back?” Chris asked.
“No,” I interrupted. “You asked whether we got paid back. The answer is, we got some of what we were owed.”
We just stared at each other for a few seconds after that. There was nothing more to say. I sat back down. My hands were still shaking, and my face was burning, but it was a relief to say something to him.
I’m relieved that I didn’t say anything nasty, and I truly don’t wish him harm or misfortune. But for him just to return to the poker world like nothing happened feels like a denial of all of the harm that Full Tilt did to so many individuals and to our community in general. When I saw him literally being welcomed back, I felt compelled to offer a counterweight to that sentiment.
Ferguson had late registered, so he was playing a short stack. The first time he shoved, it was for about 8BBs in middle position. I was holding A4s in the CO and briefly considered calling him, but I realized my emotions were getting the best of me and folded.
A few orbits later, he jammed 6BBs UTG, and I was in middle position with ATo. This, I decided, was a call. Not a spite call, just a good call. I called.
The Ace came right on the flop, and it was still good on the river. I’d busted Chris Ferguson. He tapped the table, looked me in the eye, and nodded at me. “Good luck.”
I nodded in acknowledgment and quietly stacked my chips.