The UCLA Department of Mathematics and the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science presented “Betting on Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson: Math, Computer Science and Poker,” on Monday, May 24. The event featured internationally renowned poker player and UCLA alumnus Chris Ferguson in conversation with a panel of key players from his life, including his father, his graduate advisers, a poker colleague and others.

The event was streamed live and is available for those who missed it at: http://tinyurl.com/uclagametheory.


Ferguson earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science (1986) and a doctorate in computer science (1999) from UCLA. Since he began playing in the World Series of Poker, he has won more bracelets, made more final tables and had more money finishes than any other player. Ferguson’s playing style is highly mathematical — he uses a strong knowledge of game theory and develops computer simulations to improve his understanding of the game.

Ferguson has won five World Series of Poker events, including the 2000 World Series of Poker Main Event, the unofficial world championship of poker. In 2008, he won the NBC TV network’s National Heads-Up Poker Championship, a tournament held in the U.S. that featured many of the world’s best players. His professional record over the last decade is unmatched by any other player.

During the recent event, Ferguson discussed poker, game theory, computer science and life lessons with a panel that included:

  • Richard Korf (moderator)
    A UCLA professor of computer science and author of “Learning to Solve Problems by Searching for Macro-Operators,” Korf specializes in the areas of problem-solving, planning and heuristic search in artificial intelligence. He was one of Ferguson’s graduate advisers.
  • Thomas Ferguson
    A UCLA professor emeritus of mathematics, Chris Ferguson’s father taught game theory, probability and statistics as a full-time professor. He is the author of two books on statistical theory.
  • Leonard Kleinrock
    A UCLA distinguished professor of computer science often referred to as a “father of the Internet,” Kleinrock developed the mathematical theory of packet switching, the technology underpinning the Internet. He was also one of Ferguson’s graduate advisers and a mentor.
  • Don Ylvisaker
    A UCLA professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics, Ylvisaker, a mathematical statistician, specializes in design theory and applied statistics. He has known Ferguson since childhood and was one of his first employers.
  • William (Bill) Chen
    Chen, a professional poker player and friend of Ferguson, has been instrumental in applying mathematical and game-theoretic techniques to poker. In 2006, he co-authored “The Mathematics of Poker,” which applied quantitative analysis and game theory to poker. Later that same year, he won two World Series of Poker events, underscoring the fact that theory has practical applications in real poker.