Sunday, January 21, 2018

Naming Names

People around our poker tables are speaking well of the new poker-themed movie Molly's Game. It's based on a true story - the sort of story federal prosecutors in Kansas still are writing.

An FBI investigation we first mentioned 11 months ago now has led to indictments in our area. A former state trooper is accused of lying about his involvement in an illegal "home game". Two former police officers are charged with obstructing law enforcement. One man already has pleaded guilty to "operating an illegal gambling business."

The scene of the alleged crimes is described as a place with video surveillance equipment (to spot cheaters, or thieves?), hired poker dealers and a server who provided massages.

While all the suspects are innocent until proven guilty, you'd think the three law officers would have known better. Simply playing such a game was "cheating the system." And the Bible warns against such things....

"Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations." - Malachi 1:14

OK, animal sacrifices have nothing to do with our story. But take that part out, and these words remain:

"Cursed is the cheat... For I am a great king," says the Lord Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations."

If you break the laws of man, you risk being broken by them. If you break God's law, you should be fearful - because you risk His judgment as well.
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?.... - I Corinthians 6:8-9

A lengthy, potentially controversial list of "wicked" traits follows - including "thieves" and "the greedy" (verse 10). We get the feeling from the indictment that this home game was for much more than pennies or M&M's.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: if you're going to play poker, do it legally. There are many ways to do it - online or in freeroll events, if you want to avoid casinos.
Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:21-22 (KJV)

You might not win as much money, but it still will be every bit as fun and exciting (see our most recent post for an example of that). Hopefully you'll leave not only with a clean conscience, but a clean record before God.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Poker Day 527: The Perfect Storm

The old cliché says lightning never strikes twice in the same place. But is that really true? Before we answer, take a look at an amazing hand today in the tournament at Kansas Star Casino.... and yes, there will be a connection:

BLINDS: 300/600

IN THE POCKET: K-Q offsuit

We won two nice pots in the first hour, including one with pocket Aces. Then A-J paid off to eliminate a player, and move us to 7,700. But a couple of hands before this one, an amazing thing happened. We pushed with K-K, ran into a man with A-A - yet we caught a King on the river to stay alive!

So we start this hand with more than 14,000 chips. The man we beat moments earlier is sitting two seats to our right, and going all in for 2,500.

"I'll help him out," we say as we call - realizing he could be pushing with anything. But two other men at the table call. This could be huge.


We're quietly thrilled by this - top two pair! We're first in line and bet 2,000, expecting the other men in the hand to concede. Trouble is, they both call. Do they have pocket Kings or Queens?

"This could buy you right back in," a man out of the hand says to the player who went all-in.


Seemingly harmless - but now we want to make sure, and we have the chip stack to back it up.

"Four-thousand," we say - emphasis on the four. A young man at the end of the table ponders it for a moment. Then he goes all in! And if that's not enough, the other man in the hunt pushes behind him! Have our worst fears become reality?

"I'll do it," we say - becoming the fourth player to go all in. After all, we've committed a lot of money to the pot and our hand is strong.

The dealer sorts out all the chips, and it turns out we have fewer than the man at the far end. So there are two sidepots. But who has what? It's time to show....

Man at far end: A-K
Man across the table: A-K
Man who pushed for 2,500 to start all this: A-Q

"I have two pair, though," we point out. No one else does, so we have a big lead!

CORRECTED: Let's take a moment to analyze this. All four Kings are showing. If a Queen comes on the river, we make a full house to beat the first pusher's three of a kind. No straight or flush is in play. The only thing that can hurt us is the lone remaining Ace. We can knock out two players out, win a massive (estimated) 40,000 chips and probably cruise to the final table - if we dodge one card.


"Yes!" understandably says the man at the far end. Based on what's showing, the odds of that Ace coming are 39 to one!

The two men with A-K split all the chips. The two players knocked out include us - as we finish tied for 22nd place, out of 56 entries.

So yes, in poker lightning can strike twice at the same table. And in real life, it can happen as well. The Empire State Building gets it several times a year.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man sitting next to us mentioned the time he walked past a slot machine modeled after TV horror movie host Elvira. "Suddenly it said, 'Come here and play with me.'" That shook the man up a bit.

"Try the voices," we advised him, "to see what sort of voices they are."

We were reminded on Christian radio this evening of a young man in the Bible who faced somewhat the same situation.

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, "Here I am!" And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me".... - I Samuel 3:3-5

But Eli explained he didn't call Samuel, and sent him back to bed. Then the call by God happened a second time, with a similar response....

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord.... Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. - I Samuel 3:7-8

Eli was one of God's priests (I Samuel 1:3), so he was clearly sensitive to such things. He sent Samuel back to bed with different instructions (3:9).

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." - I Samuel 3:10

That marked the official start of a long and beautiful relationship between God and Samuel. In perhaps the same way, we would ask: Is God calling you - perhaps not through dreams, but through other people or events in your life?

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call. - Acts 2:39

If God "makes the call" on your life, "call" as in poker. Go heads-up with Him, but in a humble way. After all, He holds all the cards - but we think going all-in for God is the best decision you'll ever make.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 191 final tables in 527 games (36.2%) - 39 cashes. Experiment update: Down $75.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Poker Night 526: When Stars Stop Shining

"You've brave and courageous having poker tonight," we told the Tournament Director after stepping inside Five-Star Billiards. "Considering Wichita isn't having school tomorrow."

Only a thin layer of ice/snow covered the parking lot, so we were being humorous (even though school indeed is canceled). But minutes later, the Director had some sad news. Tonight was the final night of business for the billiard hall. Not many people apparently stopped by to play pool. So the drinks were half-price, but the poker blinds were the same as usual....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 9-K of hearts

It's the very first hand of the night - and the table is small. We're one of five players; cold weather may have combined with the closing news and the national holiday to kept people away. We're in the Big Blind, and the man with the deal raises to 400. Since these cards are suited, we'll take him on. The Small Blind calls as well.

ON THE FLOP: Qc-Jc-10d

Not our suit, but still quite handsome! We have both ends of a straight, but we politely check to the raiser. Sure enough, the Dealer bets 400. The Small Blind calls, but that's not enough for us.

"Raise - 1,000," we announce. Our two opponents call. Are they chasing what we have?


The board pairs - but if someone has a Queen, we're still in front. The Small Blind checks, and we bet 1,000 again. Both men call again, and we feel good.


Now things aren't so good. Three clubs are showing, which opens the door for a flush. The Small Blind checks. We cautiously check. But the Dealer checks as well, giving us hope.

"I have a straight," we reveal.

"I have a boat."

What?!?!? The Small Blind turns over Q-5! Yes, he had three Queens - but the river brought him a full house. (The Dealer had A-J, and missed a higher straight.)

We lost the second hand we entered as well, and it looked like our night would be brief. But then we won a couple of pots, and tripled our stack to 19,900 when A-J led to three Aces. We reached the first break at 17,900.

We won another small pot in the second term, then lost two hands in a row to a man who first fooled us by bluffing a big hand, then actually made one. Yet we reached the final table with 6,000 chips.

At that point, we went all-in with K-J of spades. A woman called with A-5, but received an Ace on the flop. She took us out in eighth place - but at least we can say we reached the last two final tables at Five-Star.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The holiday marked today was Martin Luther King Day, and we referred to it a few times. "How about equality, with an extra 1,000 chips for all?" we joked - referring to the bonus WPT League VIP members receive at every tournament.

"Be known not by the color of your chips...." a man to our right offered.

"But the content of your character," we said when he couldn't remember the end of the sentence. "Character matters," we added.

It's been intriguing in recent days to hear U.S. right-wing conservatives turn that line from the "I Have a Dream" speech against Democrats. But we're not here to play politics. Instead, we wish more people emphasized what Dr. King mentioned. How is your character?

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. - Romans 5:3-4

Our hardbound dictionary has more than 15 definitions of "character." They include, "The combined moral or ethical structure of a person or group" and "Moral or ethical strength; integrity; fortitude." We think that's what these Bible verses have in mind.

God wants to build strong moral character in you. If you think you don't need God's help, we think you could be sadly mistaken....

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.... - Isaiah 64:6

That's especially true compared to God. So what can we do? Isaiah goes on to hint at an answer:

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. - Isaiah 64:8

It starts with believing in God, and allowing Him to do His work in you. God can provide His Holy Spirit to help.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those that live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.... the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. - Romans 8:5-6

We've mentioned before that receiving God's Spirit to develop His character begins with repenting of your sins (Acts 2:38). That "turn" is bigger than any poker card you'll ever see - and it can bring great victory, in this life and the next.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 191 final tables in 526 games (36.3%) - 39 cashes. Final score at Five-Star: three final tables in eight tournaments.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Poker Day 525: Not Too Komfortable

Pocket Aces? "Easy Aces," to borrow from an old radio show. But those other pocket pairs can be a problem to play. Consider what happened to us Friday at Kansas Star Casino....

BLINDS: 25/25


It's early, but we've been losing. We begin this hand with about 3,000 chips from a starting 3,500. These cards give us hope, and we limp in. A man two seats to our left makes us look smart, by raising to 225. We call; everyone else at the full table folds.


It's not in the pocket, but another pair shows up. Yet it's the Jack in the middle that concerns us. Did our opponent raise with his own pocket pair.... maybe Jacks? Or Aces? We check in caution. He bets 500. That's not enough to run us off; we call.


We check again. This time, he does as well. This actually makes us feel better. A "third barrel" might have run us off.


With no flush threat, we think it's time to turn the tables and see if we've been bullied. Now we bet 500 with our hidden two pair. Our opponent thinks about it - then simply calls.

"I've got the donuts," we say. "Krispy Kremes."

"You sure do," he says.... and folds without showing. That gain of more than 1,200 chips get us officially into the game.

"I had one of your cowboys," the man adds. So he apparently had K-something. In this case, one King would not have been enough.

We won the next hand as well (with a straight, as we remember it), for another big gain. Our stack reached 7,700 during the first period, but we fell to 5,750 at the first break.

Then in the second term, trouble happened. We attempted to eliminate that same man with A-K, but his push with pocket Queens worked. We never recovered from that, holding on to the semifinal table. There we had the bad break of sitting down in the Big Blind right away. A push with our last 600 with A-Q fell to a man with pocket 2's, who caught a third one on the turn. A day with 73 players ended with us in 20th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We brought our "Lord's Supper" card protector (the one with a traditional caricature of Jesus Christ on the other side) and showed it to a few men at the table.

"We may never know what He looked like," a man to our immediate left said.

"I think we're going to know someday," we responded.

That man indicated he might not be around to see that. "I'm not really sure where I'm going."

"We can do something about that...."

"Oh, I know. My wife is a choir director and a church organist."

Let's break down this exchange. How can we say that "someday" we'll know how Jesus looked?

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. - Revelation 1:7

This is a reference to Jesus (verse 5). In a past generation, ministers suggested "every eye" would see Jesus's second coming because CNN would televise it live. But we wonder if this will be an intervention so huge that it spreads across the entire earth:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. - Revelation 19:11(NASB)

As sports fans might be surprised to see the roof opened or shut at a domed stadium, God apparently will open what we think are the limits of the sky. But will some people really miss the moment of encountering Jesus?

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne.... The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. - Revelation 20:11-12

Not even death will protect you from this "all in moment." In fact, your life will lead up to this moment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - II Corinthians 5:10

That includes us.... and you. What are you doing now, that will receive a payout then?

As for where that man is going, and the duties of his wife.... let's hold those for a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 190 final tables in 525 games (36.2%), 39 cashes. Experiment update: Down $25.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Flop Friday Funny

It happened as our Monday night poker tournament began....

Tournament Director: "We're three short of a full house."

Us: "That sounds like most of my poker hands."

OK, your turn. Have you heard any good poker jokes lately? (Keep 'em clean, please.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Proper Answer

Is there a "right way" and a "wrong way" to play poker?

Lots of people have different approaches. But we ask this in the wake of Monday night's tournament, when a man suggested we don't know how to play. We'd bet on the flop, after a man went all-in pre-flop and a sidepot developed for three other players.

We'll let you comment on whether our approach was correct. But as that man grumbled, we chose to say nothing in response. And we think that "answer" was the proper one....

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39

These are famous words of Jesus Christ - but it's very hard advice to follow. Some poker players love to engage in trash talk, perhaps to throw others off their game. It's only natural to join the, uh,  discussion. And to be honest, Jesus sometimes did:

..."We are not illegitimate children," they protested. "The only Father we have is God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me.... You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire"... - John 8:41-44

Calling someone a child of the devil doesn't seem very nice, does it? Yet Jesus did it to "Jews who had believed him" (verse 31) - and by the time the conversation ended, that group wanted to stone Him (verse 59).

But at the end of His earthly life, Jesus practiced the advice of Matthew 5 - and in the process, fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy:

...He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. - Acts 8:32

Perhaps better put, to borrow from an old hymn, "He never said a mumblin' word."

Jesus set an amazing example of humility in His death, as he submitted to the torture of His accusers. May we all try to follow that example - in a poker room, and in all walks of life.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Poker Night 524: One Last Chance

We began our poker career in Columbus, Georgia - a city so much along the Georgia-Alabama state line that we could jog from our front door to Alabama in less than 15 minutes. The college football national championship game dominated that area's attention tonight. But we don't live there anymore, so we focused on the return of Monday night poker at Five-Star Billiards - warts and all.

BLINDS: 500/1,000


We won the first hand of the night with pocket 9's. Our chip stack has gone up and down from there. Now as we sit in late position, we decide to change our usual strategy. We call with these big cards, instead of raising.

A man to our immediate left who likes to wear a bowler hat at the table goes all in for 700. Two other players get in, so other players sort out the chips. Mr. Bowler Hat can win 2,800 chips. Another 1,200 is in a sidepot.


We like the looks of this - top pair with almost top kicker. The other men check, so we bet 1,500.

"You don't know how to play, do you?" a man across the table grumbles.

"I don't?!" we ask. The man folds, indicating we should have left well enough alone.

"It's not a dry pot," says a man out of the hand. In poker lingo, that means a sidepot exists for three players to win. We bet more than the sidepot's value, which may explain why the disgruntled player thought it was outlandish. But as they say in late-season sports events, we want it more. And we get the sidepot, when the other player folds.

Now we show our cards, as a little grumbling continues. Mr. Bowler Hat turns over K-J. Middle pair is not enough.


"And I didn't get it," Mr. Bowler Hat concedes. But he's overlooking something.

"There's still one more card," we point out to him. In fact, we both have draws for a clinching straight....


...and he makes it! Mr. Bowler Hat stays in the game, winning the main pot of 2,800.

We reached the first break slightly above the starting point, at 10,600 chips. Then the grumbling man seemed intent on getting us out of the tournament - answering our pre-flop raises by going all-in twice with two weak clubs. We "doubled up" on him twice, with A-8 and A-K. (We'll talk more about that tension in a future post.)

That man bowed out early, as did Mr. Bowler Hat. Pocket 10's which led to a third 10 on the turn helped us reach the final table with 17,000 chips - and we advanced to 28,000 by the second short break.

Minutes later, a woman went all-in for 45,000. We looked at Q-Q and declared, "The book tells us to play this." We also pushed, with only 25,000 left - but then discovered that woman had pocket Aces. The board brought no rescue for us. We finished in seventh place, and perhaps in need of another book.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Because of holidays, WPT League night at Five-Star Billiards had moved to Tuesdays for the last couple of weeks.

"I take part in a Bible discussion on Tuesday nights," we explained to Mr. Bowler Hat.

"What do you talk about?" he asked.

"All kinds of topics," we said. "How to live a godly life; how to be united as a body of Christ."

For some players, poker nights are their idea of a "small group" meeting. Friends and acquaintances  get together to discuss their common interest and lives. While that can have its place, we focus more on a different form of small group....

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25

Weekend worship services in churches are nice. But some church groups are so big that it's hard to make friends and truly fellowship with other believers. That's why many pastors (especially those with megachurches and radio ministries) recommend "small group" meetings during the week. Gatherings at homes or restaurants can allow personal sharing and encouragement.

But encourage one another daily, while it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. - Hebrews 3:13

The writer of this Biblical book clearly wanted the church to stay together, so it could grow together. The internet era has made it easier than ever for people in isolated areas to find togetherness; we heard on radio today about a converted Muslim who can only join in online Bible studies because he faces family persecution.

If you're looking for a Bible-centered "small group" to call home, we invite you to join us on Tuesday evenings. It's a conference call format, that actually has events throughout the week. Click here to learn how to participate.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 190 final tables in 524 games (36.3%) - 39 cashes. Tonight marked our first final table at Five-Star since mid-November.