Monday, August 29, 2016

Poker Day 484: High On the Scale

Some hands of poker are memorable for the cards you get and the hands you make. We recall others because of the personalities we face. One man left us with plenty of memories, when we entered the Friday tournament at Kansas Star Casino:

BLINDS: 75/150

IN THE POCKET: A-10 offsuit

We won one early pot, but have been paddling upstream most of the day. We start this hand with 2,175 chips and the dealer's button. No one raises ahead of us, and we see a chance to gain ground with the last hand before break time.

"I'll call - 350," we say. We set out 350 - but we're quickly corrected.

"You said call," the real dealer at the table points out. Oops. Indeed we did - so the bet is only 150. We admit having "two minds" about what to do. The blinds simply call in response. About half the table is playing.

ON THE FLOP: K-6-10

 We have second pair, a superior kicker - and possibly concerned opponents around the table. They all check to us. So let's get it right this time.

"OK, I will bet...." we say carefully, "350." Call it a sorta-kinda continuation bet.

But a man to our left apparently was waiting for that. He raises to 700. Everyone else folds, so it's our turn again. "700?!" we ponder aloud.

The man to our left has been in a talkative mood. "I like my cards."

"Really like them?" we ask. "Scale of 0 to 10 - how much do you like them?" Maybe he'll see a bit too much.

"Seven," our opponent decides.

Hmmm. We'd rate our hand about the same way - and decide if he had a King, he'd rate himself higher. "I can call a seven,." we conclude. So we do.

ON THE TURN: 3

Our opponent is first in line to bet, and now he brings out 1,500. Trouble is, we have only 1,325. "That's a bit more than I have," we explain to the man. He seems unconcerned about that. Nevertheless, we are - and we don't risk it. We fold. He never shows his cards.

The color-up at break time improved our lowly stack to 1,400. But then one of those "second-hour miracles" happened. It started with pocket Aces, and we doubled up on that talkative man (a topic for another post). Then we won with A-Q. We even won a race with J-10. The gains kept coming - and by the second break, we stood at 20,200 chips!

A challenging, bluffing opponent threw us off at top in the third period - but we held on to reach the final table! A gain or two came there as well, and we survived to the final five. But patient and high blinds combined to wear out our chip stack. We went all-in for 7,000 in the Big Blind, and lost a race when our opponent paired.

We still were thankful for a great rally - and finishing fifth out of 67 players earned us $117. It turns out our finish actually was one spot worse than the time before. Yet we've now made money at Kansas Star for two tournaments in a row - not an easy thing to do!

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Why did you bring the battery?" a woman next to us asked at the semifinal table.

"That's my card protector," we explained. "But it has another purpose. I bring it to remind me that I receive the power of God from the Holy Spirit."

That comment shut the woman up - but not everyone at the table. "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?" we asked.

"Amen," an older man two seats to our left responded.

"Hoping everyone here believes in the Spirit," we continued.

"If they did, Jesus would already be here," the older man answered - and come to think of it, he's right.

Jesus Christ didn't come to a perfect world. In fact, He came because the world of that time was imperfect.
But go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. - Matthew 9:13


The "righteous" people during Jesus's time on Earth (or so they thought) were the Pharisees. Yet they didn't endorse what Jesus did; in fact, most of them couldn't stand Him and wanted Him dead. Jesus knew this, of course....
Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them.  So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. - Luke 11:47-48


Jesus spoke here to "experts in the law" (verse 46) - which we think He said in a tongue-in-cheek way. The Lord outsmarted them on interpretations of God's law over and over. And eventually, they killed Jesus just as their ancestors had. Yet without that death, a key part of God's salvation plan could not have happened:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.... - John 14:16-17


God has lovingly given that Holy Spirit to believers who do what the Bible recommends. Have you repented of your sins yet, and submitted to baptism (Acts 2:38) - so you can receive God's marvelous gift?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 180 final tables in 484 games (37.2%) - 35 cashes. This makes three final tables in a row at casinos, while we've missed the last three final tables in the "free games" at Yvie's. Discuss.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The R-Word

We asked a man next to us at the poker table recently what he thought of the things of God. His answer: "I've never been terribly religious...."

Does that describe you.... really?  What does it mean to be religious, anyway?

Some people seem to have a "religious" devotion to poker. They'll play in tournaments or cash games every day, if they have the chance. To them, a poker room is the equivalent of a church or a synagogue for other groups of people.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageOur home dictionary from the 1970s defines "religious" as, "Adhering to or manifesting religion; pious; godly.... Extremely faithful; scrupulous; conscientious." If you separate those points, it's easy to conclude some people match all of them - but others match only a few. For instance, how many poker players would you call "pious" and "godly?"

You may be surprised to learn that the Bible, considered the book of Christian "religions," doesn't mention religion very often. Perhaps the most shocking section is this:
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. - James 1:26


James goes on to write some people praise God with their tongues, then turn around and curse other people (James 3:9-10). This may be why some believers in Jesus Christ say God doesn't really want our religion. But keep reading....
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. - James 1:27


To God, pure religion is about caring for people in need - as well as avoiding sin. Compared with verse 26, it's about our actions and decisions as opposed to our words. Here's an example....
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. - I Timothy 5:4


Caring for family members is a religious trait that matters to God. If you're going to poker nights to get away from that, perhaps it's time to stop and think. Are you putting yourself ahead of God? Ahead of your family? Especially people in need? To borrow from a classic rock song, is it time for "Losing My Religion" - for one God really accepts?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Do You Love Me?

At its base, some would say poker is a selfish game. The object in a tournament is to gain everyone else's chips. As long as we remember it's only a game, we think there can be some balance there.

But how self-serving should we be? We asked in a recent post if it's wrong to love yourself. The greatest example of love we know had something to say about that - perhaps in a context you hadn't considered before:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. - Matthew 7:12


Jesus is reciting what some call the "golden rule." We normally think about the outgoing aspect of that, and we absolutely should. But how would you "have" others "do" things "to you?"

A masochist might want to be insulted and shamed at a poker table. We've heard that way of thinking called a "martyrdom complex" - and at one point Jesus seems to encourage that approach:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:10


But Jesus also said He overcame the world (John 16:33) - and He wants us to have the hope of overcoming as well.
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. - Psalm 42:5


One frequently-quoted Bible promise is that God will complete the work He's begun in you (Philippians 1:6). If you love God for what He's doing in you, that can be the proper kind of "self-love" - and one you can share with other people.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Show That Never Ends

Our background involves working in television. So we're not sure how we missed this - but we learned only the other day that there's now a non-stop poker TV network.

Poker CentralPoker Central actually has been around for more than a year. It fulfills our old joke about turning on cable TV and finding a poker game somewhere, because it shows nothing but poker at every hour of the day and night. It has poker tutorials on weekends, but that's the only time the format changes. There's not even a late-night infomercial about how to spend your poker winnings on cheap real estate.

If other TV channels can show non-stop baseball, shopping or cooking, we suppose there's room for a channel like this. But with all due respect, we hope no one is watching Poker Central 24 hours a day. That might be a sad sign of poker addiction. Besides, there might even be better ways to spend your time....
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1


Unless you've been staring at playing cards too much, you probably know there are other "activities" beyond the poker table. The real question is: which activities are the best use of your time?
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.... Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. - Psalm 90:1, 12


These words were prayed by Moses. He spent many days in contact and communication with God, especially in the last 40 years of his 120-year life. As a result, God gave Moses some of the most detailed wisdom ever received. You can find it scattered through the Biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Time in the Word of God can be time well-spent - especially if you apply what the Bible says you should do. And beyond that....
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. - Psalm 84:10


A good way to understand being in God's "courts" is to worship in "the house of... God." It certainly beats playing poker in a smoke-filled basement, where the game could be illegal. And we think it also beats watching endless hours of poker on TV - because too much sitting can ruin your health.

A little poker on television? We see no problem, if everything is clean about it. But watch in moderation, much as we suggest you play in moderation. Spending time with the original "King of Kings" can be even better in the long run.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Poker Night 483: Big Blind Extra-Special

The Olympic Games may have lost their luster for the Monday night poker crowd at Yvie's. Tonight the top choice for the big screen in the poker room was a Major League Baseball game, rooting for a team barely in the playoff running. We could relate to that sort of "hanging on for dear life" in our tournament....

BLINDS: 3,000/6,000

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

The blinds are high and the number of players is small. After a sizable loss with these very same cards in the first hand of the night, we've clawed uphill to get a bit above the starting 10,000-chip mark. But we start this hand with 9,000 - and with ten players remaining (two tables of five), we're desperate for a big gain.

"All of it," we say as the 9,000 goes out. The Big Blind decides to risk 3,000 more to take us on. But she doesn't have much - a mere 5-7. Good for us, right?

ON THE FLOP: 5-A-5

Well, no. She has three of a kind, to top our two pair. An Ace could save us....

ON THE TURN: 5

But no - that other card comes! We have a full house - but we also have a bad beat. The woman scores the best hand of the tournament night, with quad 5's. The last card doesn't matter, and we fall short of the final table with a ninth-place finish. (A player at the other table bowed out seconds before we did.)

MINISTRY MOMENT: We dealt one hand where a woman was all in, but in big trouble. She had a 6, to make a straight on the turn - but another woman had 6-9 for a higher straight. The first woman's only hope was to make a flush on the river.

"You need a diamond?!" we said to confirm. Two diamonds were on the board. And then we dealt....

ON THE RIVER: Kd

Woman #1 was thrilled. Others at the table were amazed. "Is that all you have to do?" one player wondered. "Simply ask for a card?"

"Ask and ye shall receive," we smiled in response. "I read that in a book once."

Then we added a bit more to a man at our left, hoping to drive home the point. "I think the Person who said that has more power than I do."

You may recognize the quote, but do you understand what we meant by it?
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. - John 16:24


Jesus said these words on the night before He was crucified. He made other statements which seem to make clear His point involved prayer:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives.... - Matthew 7:7-8


Talk about a promise! Asking God for things in prayer is good. But Jesus explained asking in His name is the New Testament way to do it.
...I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. - John  16:23b


But we fear some Christians (including some preachers) have taken this promise to an extreme - suggesting that with the right amount of faith, God will give you anything in any amount at any time. Yet think about this logically. If eight God-fearing poker players asked for God's help in winning at a final table, wouldn't someone still have to lose?
Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." - James 4:15


That's a major key to a successful life in Jesus Christ - accepting God's will for your life, whether he honors your asking for success or allows you to endure failure. That's why the model prayer of Jesus for us to follow includes the phrase, "Your will be done...." (Matthew 6:10)

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 179 final tables in 483 games (37.1%)  - 34 cashes. Our final table record at Yvie's this year is a rather skimpy two-for-eight.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Poker Day 482: Osage, Can You See

"The main reason I'm here is for a birthday burger," we explained to the man who prepared our registration card. He asked why we took a trip of nearly three hours today to the edge of Tulsa, Oklahoma And it was true: a restaurant chain which offers free burgers on your birthday isn't located in our city.  But we decided if we going to make a day trip, we might as well try to win our money back.

So before the burger, we played poker for the first time at Osage Casino. It's a nice, relatively small tribal complex with a poker room that's a nice distance away from the main floor of noisy slot machines. And its daily afternoon tournaments are downright cheap, at a $30 buy-in. Would a Thursday with a small turnout work to our advantage?

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 7-6 of clubs

Everyone starts with 3,000 chips, and this is the first round of blinds. An early trial balloon failed for us, so we start with about 2,800. A player raises to 150, and we join about three other players in calling.

ON THE FLOP: 5-8-9

If we were a slot machine, a lot of noise would happen right now. We hit the straight jackpot - but we notice two of these three cards are hearts (we forget exactly which ones). So when a player bets 150, we pounce with a raise to 550.

"I'm probably gonna regret this," says a man on the opposite end of the table. He calls; no one else does.

ON THE TURN: 7s

OK, that's not a heart - but that's not necessarily the best card for us. Our chances of a unique straight have gone down. But we sense our opponent is on a flush draw - so when he checks, we bet 550 again.

"I've got to stay for one more," he says as he calls.

ON THE RIVER: 10c

 No flush there - yet four numbered cards in a row actually are more trouble for us. Perhaps our opponent senses that, because now he bets 1,500. That practically would put us all in.

"After all of that...." we say aloud in a bit of frustration. We invested a lot in this hand, but all he needs is a Jack for a superior straight.

"I can't go there," we finally conclude as we fold. We take a big loss, and the winner doesn't show his cards. But there are post-mortems.

"Did you have pocket Jacks?" another player asks the winner.

"Something like that," he vaguely answers.

"Should have gone all-in," we overhear someone else saying - apparently toward us. We don't respond, but we thought we'd bet enough to run the opponent off. As it turned out, we were at a rather loose table where pushing might have been in order - but all the players were new to us.

That loss put us in a tough position for most of the day - but the looseness of the table worked in our favor. Players pushed and failed, while we waited for good moments. Then those moments came: a double-up with A-5, followed minutes later by another double-up with A-10. A measly 1,250 chips were enough to get us to the final table on a two-table 19-player day.

Once we got there, another push with A-5 paid off when an Ace came on the turn. But rising blinds and a couple of small losses kept us short-stacked. Finally with seven players left, we pushed again with 10-10 - but a young man across from us slow-bet pocket Aces and called. The board didn't save us, and we finished tied for sixth due to a double take-out. We left satisfied, knowing things could have turned out much worse.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Is that a dollar?" the man to our right asked when he saw our card protector. It was actually the one with the Lord's Supper on one side and a depiction of Jesus on the other.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked the man. "Is He your Savior?"

"Most certainly, yes," he answered. "I'm number two; He's number one."

That's a good answer - and we hope he means it. But is it true with you? Who comes first in your life?

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves.... - II Timothy 3:1-2


This is an issue we've admittedly battled internally for many years: is it wrong to love yourself? Whitney Houston sold a lot of records declaring, "Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all." But Jesus indicated there was a love much greater than that - so great it was commanded:
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this.... 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." - Mark 12:29-31


God indeed should be our #1 love. But notice Jesus did not say we personally are #2. Our neighbors should be. That can include your family, to borrow from a famous sports memoir. But how about including fellow poker players - especially if you play with some people on a regular basis, and come to know them well?

We can love our neighbors in many ways. It can start with polite words at the table, and extend as far as praying for players with serious problems. But let's go back to that internal question, and ask for your comments. Is it wrong to love yourself? We'll dig deeper into that issue in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 179 final tables in 482 games (37.1%) - 34 cashes. Only the top two players won money today. Oh, by the way: the "free birthday burger" was pretty good - even if cheese on top cost us 50 cents.



Monday, August 8, 2016

Poker Night 481: Unsynchronized Betting

"I'm going on only three hours' sleep," we said to the man at our left tonight. "So if I fall asleep during a hand, give me a nudge."

The man could relate - telling of sleeping four hours or so, then driving for eight. Truly for some of us, it was survival of the fittest at Yvie's Bar and Grill. A one-time change in the work schedule had us working a lot for two days, then having a Monday night off for the first time in weeks. Would that mean success - or tiredness?

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 9-10 of spades

Not many good cards have come so far, and our stack has dipped as a result. Feeler bets have failed, and we have about 7,000 of a starting 10,000. But by and large, our table of seven is playing tight. So with suited connections, we feel our way out again - and are happy when no one calls. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 10h-10c-Qc (suit of first 10 not precise)

Three (of a kind) to get ready! But we're not quite set to go for the jackpot yet. We're late in the betting order - so when the play checks to us, we check along. We'd like someone else to stab at the pot first.

ON THE TURN: 2c

Uh-oh. The appearance of a third club means the waiting game is over, since a couple of flushes already have been made. A man across from us offers 600. Then we do something that puzzles some people at the table.

"Raise - 1,600," we say.

"That's unusual," an older woman two seats to our left responds. In a way, that's good. You might call this a separation raise - separating the chasers from the real contenders. (That woman already had folded.) Other players fold, but the original bettor calls. Part of us wonders if he already has it.

ON THE RIVER: 2d

If he did, it's worthless now! Two pair on the board means we have a full house. The man who bet before now checks, and it's time to go for it. We're down to a single yellow chip, worth 5,000.

"Two-thousand," we say as we plunk it down. A nice-sized bet - but too much for our opponent. He folds, and we win a big pot to return to about our starting level.

"You had an Ace, didn't you?" that older woman asks us a moment later.

"Well..... I had something," we answer playing dodgeball.

"I'll bet you had an Ace," she says. Always keep 'em guessing....

Our stack went up and down much of the evening - winning at one point with a well-timed bluff bet that chased away the table, losing at another point when our top two pair fell to the same "triple deuce" hand we saw last time out in North Kansas City.

At the first break, we had 7,000 chips with 12 players left from a starting 18. But with 11 to go, rising blinds forced us to push with K-J. The board brought three Queens. But a man to our left had an Ace, while the man we took on earlier had a 4 which happened to make a full house. We bowed out in 11th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "He was off by about half-an-inch," one man at our table said as he watched the poker room TV. No, card games were not on tonight. People were watching Olympic synchronized diving from Brazil.

Our seat was turned away from the screen, so we settled for the analysis of other players. But as the diving unfolded, we said to a man at our left, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?"

It's a famous quote fitting for the TV competition. In fact, it might sound Biblical to you - and for a change, this one actually is:
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? - Amos 3:3 (KJV)


Those eight simple words can pack a lot of punch. We offended a co-worker at a job years ago when we said them as a question. That woman was going through a divorce. Even though we never mentioned the source of the quote, she apparently knew the source - and she declared us judgmental.

But a TV viewer at our table tonight noted how some synchronized divers actually walked alike, along the edge of the diving pool. To win an Olympic medal, they must act (and probably think) exactly the same way. So how often do you do that?
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you.... - John 17:20-21  (KJV)


Jesus Christ succeeded in living a perfect sinless life because he was "one" with the Father. In fact, the Father was in Jesus and vice versa - something we think the Holy Spirit made possible. And the God-Family wants that in us as well....
I in them, and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. - John 17:23


Christian groups might disagree on all sorts of things - from what foods to eat to what Bible translation to read. But they should be united in their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In all our years of poker, we can't recall anyone saying the word ":synchronicity" before tonight (not even the old rock song with that title). But a man said it while watching Olympic diving. So we ask it of you. Are you in synchronicity with God and Jesus? If not, maybe it's time to get in line:
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. - Galatians 5:25


UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 178 final tables in 481 games (37.0%) - 34 cashes.