EX-CHAMPS SCARCE


Chris Ferguson's journey through the 38th World Series of Poker ended about an hour into play Thursday afternoon during the third day of the world championship event. But the former poker champion didn't leave quietly.

Dozens of poker fans wanted Ferguson's autograph as he left the tournament room inside the Rio, and he accommodated them. He also posed for photos. The only thing Ferguson didn't have time for was media interviews.

Since capturing the world poker championship in 2000, Ferguson, 44, has been one of the game's most successful and recognized players.

Ferguson's shoulder-length black hair and black beard earned him the nickname "Jesus." His face is usually shrouded by dark sunglasses and a black cowboy hat and he routinely dresses in all black.

It's a cleverly crafted image.

The outfit hides Ferguson's background -- 13 years as an undergraduate and graduate student at UCLA, where he earned a Ph.D in computer science. His knowledge of mathematics became a useful tool as he embarked on a poker career.

Since 1995, Ferguson has finished in the money in 51 World Series of Poker events, including five this year. In 2003, Ferguson collected money in eight events, a record for a single World Series that he holds with Humberto Brenes and Phil Hellmuth.

Ferguson has won five individual World Series titles, including the 2000 championship, which was worth $1.5 million. Ferguson has earned more than $3.2 million in World Series of Poker play and $1.1 million in winnings on the World Series' circuit events.

Outside of the World Series, Ferguson has earned a legion of fans through his relationship with the Full Tilt Poker Internet gambling site, which he helped design, and his presence on numerous made-for-television poker events. He was the runner-up in NBC's National Heads-Up Poker Championship in both 2005 and 2006.

Entering play on Thursday, Ferguson was one of just six former World Poker champions remaining in the running for the 2007 title, joining Berry Johnston (1986), Huck Seed (1996), Scotty Nguyen (1998), Carlos Mortensen (2001) and Robert Varkonyi (2002).

Last year's champion, Hollywood producer Jamie Gold, busted out on the first day.

Ferguson had the second smallest stack of tournament chips of any of the former champions, $160,900, and was finished by 1 p.m. William Childs, holding pocket queens, eliminated Ferguson, who went all-in with an ace-five when he was down to his last $60,000 in chips.

When play began Thursday, 797 players out of the original 6,358 who paid $10,000 each to enter the no-limit Texas hold 'em world championship had survived the four-day opening round and the two-day second round.

Play will continue through Sunday, when the final table of nine players is seated. Those nine will begin play on Tuesday, with the champion taking home $8.25 million.

This year's tournament was marked by the absence of players winning seats through Internet poker competitions. However, the appearance of Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes added to fans' interest.

Two celebrities entered the competition Thursday still in the running. Hollywood director Todd Phillips had $275,000 in tournament chips, while "Spiderman" star Tobey Maguire began the afternoon with $152,900.

Three celebrities, talkshow host Montel Williams, and actors Brad Garrett ("Everybody Loves Raymond") and Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld") survived into the second day before getting eliminated.

Former National Hockey League standout Rick Tocchet, who is facing sentencing in New Jersey on third-degree conspiracy and promoting gambling convictions, survived the first round of play in the tournament, but never showed up Wednesday to play in the second round.

Tocchet, who is on a leave of absence as an assistant coach for the Phoenix Coyotes, saw his $17,000 in tournament chips erased when it came time for his seat to post a blind ante.

 

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