Friday, December 9, 2016

Poker Night 490: Up the Creek

The church association we attend is having a big "regional family weekend" in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The events begin Friday evening - but we made the three-hour drive to Tulsa Thursday, to see if we could pay for the trip at the poker table.

To our surprise, Osage Casino where we played in the summer has closed its poker room. It's "temporary," one website says. (We'll get into that another time.) But that meant playing in a pricey Thursday night tournament. We chose the less expensive choice, "River Spirit Casino" operated by the Creek Nation - $75 buy-in plus $10 dealer appreciation.

The casino's poker room ranks among the nicest we've visited. Big-screen TV's abounded for watching Thursday night football, and a good variety of snacks and soda was available for free. But we didn't want that to distract us, because we came to play well....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

 IN THE POCKET: Q-J of diamonds

We started with 8,000 chips, plus a "bounty chip" worth $25 to whomever might eliminate us. We won some nice early pots to reach the one-hour break at 13,500. But now we have a challenge. A man at our table of six (or so) followed our early call with a raise to 3,500. That's a substantial investment, but after thinking it over we decide to call. No one else does.

ON THE FLOP: J-10-4 (third card may not be precise; it won't matter)

No diamonds came, but top pair did. We check to the raiser, and he goes all-in! He has 11,000. We have 10,500 left. What would you do at this moment?

We wonder if our opponent has pocket Aces or Kings. Something tells us he doesn't, and he's trying to steal the pot with a big scare. So we call - and he shows A-Q. Our hunch was right, but we have to dodge a lot of trouble.

"He needs a King," another player properly points out.

ON THE TURN: Q

"There's the King," that man says. Uhhhh - not from what we see. We now lead the race, two pair to one. We'd prefer the next card be low.

ON THE RIVER: 9

Just low enough! We stay alive and double-up, leaving our opponent at the brink of elimination.

More nice pots came after that in Hour 2, and we eliminated one player to win a $25 bounty chip. Yet due to some losses, at the second break we still were stuck at 13,600. But then came Hour 3, and some huge pot wins. We hit a high chip count of 89,500, and were able to coast to the final table. Once there, we scored a huge win with A-J when two Jacks showed up and a man pushed with J-Q. We earned a second bounty

But our efforts to eliminate a short-stacked player with seven to go started draining our chips. We still had 54,000 at the third break, but more misses left us in limbo at 15,000 chips and rising blinds. But then an even shorter stack pushed with 9,000, and lost to an unfortunate river card which gave someone else a full house.

The top five in this 43-player tournament made the money - and that means we did! After that, we pushed for our life with 9-9. But a man to our left made a straight on the river, to knock us out. Final score: fifth place for $138, plus $50 in bounties - although by agreement, all the players at the final table donated $20 to the "bubble" man who came in sixth.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took our "Lord's Supper" card protector on the trip, and the man who eventually knocked us out didn't grasp it at first.

"I don't think he looked like that," we said to him as he turned the protector over to see a depiction of Jesus Christ. "I don't think He had long hair."

The man agreed. "It says He had no special appearance," the man noted. The "it" in this case is the Bible....

My servant grew up in the Lord's presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. - Isaiah 53:2 (NLT)

This is an Old Testament prophecy about the coming of Jesus. Does it seem surprising? Ancient artistic depictions of Jesus constantly walking around with a halo or standout appearance really aren't accurate. Consider, for example....

Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way. - Luke 4:29-30 (NLT)

A crowd wanted Jesus dead, but they apparently couldn't pick Him out of the crowd when the climactic moment came. He was that.... well, ordinary-looking. Not "ordinary" in any other way, but in appearance. Yet someday soon....

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man.... His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire.... And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance. - Revelation 1:13-16 (NLT)

This "man" calls himself "the  First and the Last" (verse 17; Revelation 22:13) - leaving little doubt it's Jesus Christ. The Bible says every eye will see Him when He returns (verse 7). Are you prepared to face Jesus at His judgment seat, no matter how He looks?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 181 final tables in 490 games (36.9%) - 36 cashes. We've won money in five out of 30 tournaments we've entered this year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

One False Step

The Thursday night National League of Poker online tournament was our best in months. We were hitting big cards, making big hands and winning large pots. At the one-hour break, we had 24,560 chips -  good for tenth place out of 1,170 total entries!

Then came the second hour, and this critical moment....

BLINDS: 400/800/100

IN THE POCKET: 2-6 of clubs

The NLOP format for this tournament has a maximum six players per table. Trouble is, we've been placed to the right of the chip leader. His stack is huge compared to ours - well above 40,000. But we start this hand with about 25,000 chips. With about 30 big blinds, we can be a bit "creative" with these cards. We call, and about three players are in with no one raising.

ON THE FLOP: 10-5-4 (order may not be precise)

An ordinary flop with a hopeful straight draw. We check. As best we recall, the table checks.

ON THE TURN: 7

Our chances of hitting a straight now have doubled, but we sense a chance to win the pot right here. We bet 800. Mr. Big Stack calls, to our disappointment. The third player folds.

ON THE RIVER: 8

Yes! The straight comes through again! With no flush threat, we bid again for the pot. This time we bet 2,800. But our chip-leading opponent isn't scared. He goes all-in!

We have 22,800. Only a couple of combinations could beat ours - but this opponent has shown during the night he can bluff with very little. After several seconds of agonizing thought, we take the dare. We call. "If he has 9-6," we say to ourselves....

Then comes the computerized showdown.... and he has 9-6! He wasn't bluffing, and hit a higher straight on the river!

"Wow. Very good," is all we have time to write as he takes our big stack away. He writes "LOL" and some kind of scoffing insult in response. After a big 90-minute run, we finish in a lowly 165th place.

We offer this as proof that few hands in a poker tournament are "safe" hands. Other players can put you at risk at any moment, so you have to be careful at all times. Out lives work the same way....

They moved the ark of God from Abinadab's house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. - I Chronicles 13:7


What does "a la cart" transport in the Bible have to do with this? Keep reading....

When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord's anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God. - I Chronicles 13:9-10


At first reading, this may seem awfully unfair. Touch an ark, and God strikes you dead on the spot?! Well, yes - because there were rules for such things:

After Aaron and his son have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die.... - Numbers 4:15


The ark was considered holy to God. Uzzah touched it. He died. Right then and there.

"But I thought God was love," you might say. "What about grace and mercy?" God indeed has those traits - but he's also a God with rules. In the same way, we made a bad decision Thursday night on the river - and under the rules, our tournament dream died. (The re-buy deadline had passed.)

Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. - Ephesians  5:15-16


One wrong action can be costly in a poker room. And in driving to and from it. Ask God for wisdom to help you make the right moves at all times.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Slots of Luck?

One of our recent posts mentioned a surprising development in the city where our poker-playing (and this "poker blog") began. The City Council in Columbus, Georgia is now on record supporting a public vote on legalizing casino gambling.

It's far too early to say if Georgia voters will approve a casino, or whether that casino will have any kind of poker room. But supporters say it will create hundreds of jobs. To which we would respond: what else will it create?

It's a rare state that has poker rooms with nothing else supporting them. Most of the rooms we've visited in Florida also have greyhound racing. In Kansas, the rooms are part of casinos - with lots and lots of slots. We tend to walk past those machines. But we realize many people don't - and the odds are that those people will lose money.

Casinos make money to some extent from restaurants, bars and an occasional concert. But most of the time, they "win" from gamblers losing - primarily from slot machines. It's enough for us to raise a question found in the Bible:
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?.... - Isaiah 55:2


We brought this verse up a few weeks ago, in the wake of the WSOP Main Event. But if you have money to burn, we think there are better "investments" than throwing quarters into a slot machine. For instance....
Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. - II Corinthians 9:7


We're posting this a bit late for "Giving Tuesday." But money you might toss down a slot could be used for good causes by non-profit groups and charities. Faith-based groups can use the money to help needy people, whether they're down the street or halfway around the world. Those people might even hear life-changing news about salvation through Jesus Christ.

But, you might say, you have no chance of getting back any money at all? Keep reading....
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. - II Corinthians 9:10-11


No, we are not asking for your donations to keep this blog going. But we're suggesting you consider giving some of your "gambling money" to faith-based groups - since the Bible promises you'll "be made rich" in return. It's worked for us, despite some hard times. Yes, a church or fellowship can be a better long-term investment than any casino..

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber-Poker-Monday

For some shoppers, this day has become known as "Cyber Monday." So we might as well join in, by updating the online poker sites we visit.

PokerStars has raised the stakes in recent months. It's still for "play money" in the U.S., to stay legal. But the days of 1/2 tables are over. Now they start at 50/100, but the site hands out free chips every so often to keep you interested. Look at what happened to us there recently, in a "cash game" format:

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: 4-2 offsuit

We have small cards in the Big Blind, at a table with 4-5 players. No one raises, so we get in cheap.

ON THE FLOP: 4-4-4

Are you kidding me?!?! The computer hands us the ultimate jackpot of quads! But of course, we want to maximize our winnings, so we check. A player to our left offers a modest bet of about 200. We smooth-call (as best you can do that online); other players bail out.

ON THE TURN: 2

Whoa - now we have a full house! But wait; quads beat a full house!! Things are still ridiculously perfect for us, so we check again. Now our opponent bets around 500. Of course, we call.

ON THE RIVER: 9 (may not be precise)

A card which doesn't matter to us at all. If our opponent had 9-9, he still only has a full house. We rub it in by checking again - and this time, he goes all-in for about 1,300. Of course, we call. Then we stay silent during the showdown, while he has 10-10. We make a big gain, of about 2,000 chips.

In November alone, our total from playing cash games at PokerStars has jumped by more than 22,000 chips - and the website awarded 25,000 bonus chips on top of that.

National League of Poker has become our place for Thursday night play. There are several free weekly tournaments, with a $250 prize pool on Thursday nights. We have yet to crack the top 100 this year in any of them - but now NLOP has a ring game option, and we doubled our "token" count one night playing No-Limit Omaha.

If you want good clean poker fun without the worry of losing money or getting noticed inside a casino, online sites like these are perfect for you. But be advised: not everyone's chat language is good and clean. They're still "worldly" places - but we're reminded:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. - John 17:15


If you try hard enough, you really can come "out of the world". In 2016, that would mean turning off the TV, radio, internet and mobile devices. So much for online poker.

But Jesus did NOT ask God the Father to "rapture" His disciples out at this point. Instead, He prayed for the Father to provide them protection from the devil. He continues:

They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. - John 17:16


Jesus was "out of this world" in part because He didn't indulge in the sinful ways of this world. For the rest of us, that's a daily battle - but it's one we need to fight:

Then I heard another voice from heaven say: "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will receive not of her plagues.... She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her." - Revelation 18:4, 8


This world is in for destruction. But those who come out of it and follow the example of Jesus can have protection from that final judgment. We hope you'll make the right decision.

If you've read to the end of this, we thank you - and invite your comments: What's your favorite place to play poker online? And why?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Finding Your Table

If you have the right connections, you can play poker these days almost anywhere. You can play in bed, on a laptop computer. You can play hands while walking down the street or in a subway car, thanks to smartphone apps. You can even play a game in the middle of an important meeting. (Remember John McCain?)

But when it comes to playing poker in person, things are old-fashioned and traditional. You take a seat at a table - and hope you'll eventually reach the final table.

This crossed our mind because today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. Our question is simple: what table will be your focus today?

Will it be a poker table? Some casinos apparently don't expect that, because they're calling off regular Thursday tournaments for the holiday.

Will it be a restaurant table? Some casinos are offering Thanksgiving Day buffet specials - probably at a marked-up price, and with no children allowed.

Will it be a family table? Now that's more along the lines of a traditional Thanksgiving, and it's usually good to share a holiday with close relatives.

But have you thought about spending some quality time today at a very different table - the "table of the Lord?" We think there's no better table to visit, and here's why....
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. - I Corinthians 10:21


The Bible often puts things in cold hard terms. While a poker table could have ten players with different agendas, the spiritual life has only two sides - the Lord's side and the devil's side. God's preference for you should be obvious:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.... - Psalm 23:5


This classic psalm ends as a prayer to God. He can give you spiritual nourishment and comfort during challenging moments - whether in poker or some other place.

Perhaps your holiday schedule includes all the tables we've mentioned. Whatever you're doing, we hope you'll take some time at the "Lord's table" thinking about God on this Thanksgiving Day - and even thank God, because that's what the day really is all about.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. - Psalm 100:4


 In terms of poker, we're thankful for four tournament cash wins this year - especially two at Kansas Star Casino, where the competition is be stiff. So please comment and tell us: what are you thankful for this year? In poker or otherwise?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

From Am- to Pro?

Longtime readers know we learned to play poker in Columbus, Georgia. The city had a "free poker" circuit in bars (we always bought a soft drink as a courtesy), which was vibrant for a city its size.

But now, our old stomping ground may be ready for the "big time." In a surprise to us, the Columbus Council is asking the Georgia Legislature to approve a casino gambling bill. It would have to be approved by voters at the polls.

A few community leaders want to put a casino in a part of town which historically hasn't done well economically. Yet since we left, "Columbus South" (at least they used to try calling it that) has been improving. A Walmart SuperCenter opened at a busy intersection, and new motels have sprung up to support an Army post next door with an impressive museum.

The biggest surprise in the story we read about this proposal is that a Baptist pastor, who leads a local ministerial alliance, endorsed a casino vote. He explained people should have a right to vote on such things  "That's the only horse I have in this race," he said. (Your jokes about a horse racing analogy go here.)

We're sure other pastors would take issue with that view. They could reach for their Bibles to do it....

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." But the man who had gone up with him said, "We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are." - Numbers 13:30-31


Here was a "referendum" on Israel entering the promised land. Two views were offered by people who had scouted the land. What did the people decide?

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.... And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." - Numbers  14:1, 4


Their "vote" not only was no - it was for rejecting God's leadership of their wandering in the wilderness, and going back to a land where they were slaves to Pharaoh! The supporters of entering saw this reaction for what it really was:

If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord.... - Numbers 14:8-9


The Lord had set the agenda to this point - leading Israel to the brink of Canaan. God wanted to give it to the people (Numbers 13:1). But the people in effect voted no, rebelling against God. What was His reaction?

The Lord replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth.... , not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to these forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it." - Numbers 14:20-22


Our point is this: put God's will up for a public vote, and the people will vote against it more often than not. That was true with ancient Israel (we could cite other examples), and many ministers would say that's true today with opening casinos.

We'll say more about this casino debate in a future post. But for now, to borrow from our outgoing President: Don't vote - obey. That sounds awfully simplistic, but history probably will be on your side.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The First Trump - and the Last

As a new U.S. President prepares to take office, the speculation keeps swirling about what his policies might be - even when it comes to poker.

One website has been "fair and balanced" in recent days by offering two views of what Donald Trump might do to online poker. Optimists point out he wanted to invest in online gambling five years ago. Pessimists say Congressional leaders will block any effort to legalize it.

Overriding all that, however, is the outright fear many U.S. residents are expressing about a Trump administration. While they may not be loading moving trucks and buying Canadian road maps, they're concerned the next President will end a lot of what they consider "American values."

A few "religious" folks even think Trump will fulfill Bible prophecies (if he hasn't done it already). And maybe we're beating all the religious scholars with this discovery....

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.... - I Corinthians 15:51-52 (KJV)


Aha - a mention of "trump" in the Bible! But hold on. Let's be logical here, and keep reading to see who or what this "trump" is:

...for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. - I Corinthians 15:52b (KJV)


It's not a person, it's a noise-making instrument. (The Greek root word for "trump" and "trumpet" are the same.) And that "last trump" is going to bring something amazing.

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. - I Thessalonians 4:16 (KJV)


We seriously doubt Donald Trump has ever "raised" a dead person. (If we're wrong, he'll probably let us know on Twitter.) But "the trump of God" will bring a resurrection of all those who have died in Christ!

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to met the Lord in the air.... - I Thessalonians 4:17


The apostle Paul wrote these words to believers in a church (I Thessalonians 1:1). So church members will join the "dead in Christ" in the first resurrection, when Jesus Christ comes down from heaven. Talk about a "raise!"

But you may be wondering why there's a "last trump" at all. Does that mean there's more than one? Yes, there will be....

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." - Revelation 11:15


You can read about those "trumps" beginning in Revelation 8. Some frightening things are forecast to happen on this earth - but in the end, God's kingdom will prevail.

So to be honest, Donald Trump is not the "trump" we've personally been waiting for. There's another one - and no, not Ivanka or Tiffany. It's "the trump of God." Is it your hope these days?