Sunday, February 19, 2017

Poker Day 497: A Boat for Fishing

He was not the "elephant in the room" during Friday's poker tournament at Kansas Star Casino. In fact, we were a bit surprised that Brandon Steven's name did not come up at all. We thought about mentioning him - but instead tried to stick to the game and win some money:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Q-J offsuit

We were third on the waiting list to enter this six-table tournament. We split one pot with an A-2 straight after sitting down, and now have these cards sitting one off the button. We call, and no one raises. About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Js-8s-8c

Two pair and a strong kicker look good to us. The play checks to us, and we bet 200 to take the pulse of the table. Only a man at the opposite end of the table calls. We doubt he has a third 8 - maybe a Jack of his own.

ON THE TURN: Jc

Ahhhhh - now this looks very good! We have a superior full house. But how much can we gain from it? Our opponent checks, and we smooth-check in response (if there is such as thing).

ON THE RIVER: As

Now three spades are showing. No big deal for us - but maybe for him. Our opponent makes a modest bet of 100. Nope, not enough. (In fact, the tournament rules say we have to raise with best hand at this point.) So we bump it up to 400.

"I have to call," the man says - and flips over K-Q of spades. Sure enough, he went fishing and caught the nut flush. Trouble is....

"I have a full house," we declare. That wins us a nice pot, and a "nice hand" compliment from the man we beat. Of course, that leaves open the question: could we have bet more and kept him in?

We had ups and downs in the first period, reaching a high of 4,050 but reaching the break at only 2,325. Then a comeback came for us in period two - as pocket Kings came twice, and we won healthy pots with both of them. Our stack hit a high of 5,400.

But moderate risk-taking with rising blinds proved costly for us. We finally had to go all-in with A-J and 1,100 left. Another player paired the board with a Queen, and sent us out the door in 36th place out of 83 players - up 11 places from last time, but still far from the final table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Who wants my ticket in the $5,000 drawing?" we asked during the break to a few people at our table. Our casino card gave us a free entry in that Friday night drawing. But it was a drawing we knew we could not win.

"Just put it in the barrel," a man suggested. But we noted the fine print - that the casino didn't  even roll out the barrel for tossing in your entry until 6:00 p.m. At this moment, it was about 1:25 p.m.

"Besides," we added, "you have to 'be present to win.' And I don't plan to be here at 9:00 p.m."

"Can't you come back at 9:00?" a man asked.  Yes, physically, we could. But...

"I plan to be at home keeping the Sabbath."

"The what?" the dealer asked. We had to spell the word for him: S-A-B-B-A-T-H. He'd never heard of it. But another player had.

"Are you a Seventh-Day Adventist?"

"No."

"Jewish?"

"No."

"The Sabbath starts on Friday night at sunset, right?"

"Yes."

"And it ends on Saturday? At sunset?"

That's correct. The Sabbath goes back a long way....

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the Sabbath day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God... - Exodus 20:8, 9


The concept of keeping a Sabbath actually has its origin in creation, when God rested from His work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). We consider it a time for rest, Bible study and worship - not standing in a casino, hoping for a slip of paper to be drawn so we can win money.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as your please on my holy day.... and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land...." - Isaiah 58:13-14


If that sounds like a nice change of pace, we attend a small Sabbath-keeping church denomination. In fact, there's a location in the town where the dealer lives. We invite you to find a location near you, and give Sabbath worship a try.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 497 games (36.6%) - 36 cashes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Even Steven

We'd planned to address a different topic in this post. But we're a journalist by trade, so breaking news always takes top priority. Especially when it's about arguably the most famous poker player in our city.

No, it's not us.

He's Brandon Steven, a Wichita businessman who's had some success in major poker events. Steven disclosed Tuesday he's the target of an FBI investigation - and he thinks his high-stakes poker games are part of the reason.

A lot of rumors are swirling about this case, but we're going to stick to what's on public record. Steven has cashed 13 times at the World Series of Poker, earning close to $2 million. He almost made the November Nine at the Main Event in 2010. And as for high-stakes: he's had two top-ten finishes in the WSOP "One-Drop" - the game with a buy-in of more than $100,000.

But is Steven playing high-stakes game in our area? In a newspaper interview Tuesday, an attorney had these telling words:

Around Wichita, Joseph said, “It’s not a big secret” that large poker games have been going on.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132777274.html#storylink=cpy

And that could be the problem. We documented here the Wichita police crackdown on poker rooms last winter. They're all out of business now. And those tournaments were small; we could play on a Thursday night for less than $20. If large games are happening these days outside a casino, they're against the law.

This is why in our state, we only play in tournaments that are above-board - either at casinos, or freeroll tournaments either in person or online. We're reminded....

Everyone must submit themselves to the governing authorities.... it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. - Romans 13:1, 5


We must emphasize here that we don't know if Brandon Steven broke any laws. That will be up to a prosecutor and a jury to determine. But no one is above the law - not even Steven. And that's true in more than a local legal sense:

...For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.... - Romans 13:1-2


A song from the last decade encouraged people to "fight the powers that be." But God made those powers "be" by putting them in place. It's far better to stay under them, whether you like them or not:

Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid.... - Romans 13:3-4


An old movie had the title Do the Right Thing. (A friend of ours who saw it told us it was mostly about doing the wrong thing.) Doing what is right not only pleases God, but usually keeps you away from investigations.

We'll keep tracking the Steven case. But in the meantime, as those "gambling help" brochures say, play responsibly - not to mention legally.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Poker Day 496: J-Hawks

"My last two times here, I had a sixth and a ninth," the man next to us said Friday before the tournament began at Kansas Star Casino.

"I consider myself warned," we said in response. For either of us to make the final table, we'd have to work through dozens of opponents - and face challenging hands like this one:

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We've lost a pot or two, and start this hand with about 3,100 chips from a starting 3,500. We're also in the Big Blind - so when a player doubles to 200 ahead of us, we can call and try to hide. About four players get in.

ON THE FLOP: 2-4-6

Pickup sticks?! This is a second-grade flop in more ways than one. Sitting early in the betting order, we check to the raiser. So he makes a continuation bet of 400. A man across from us calls. We're not sure what they have, but we think they're fishing. We call with our overpair. Three players remain.

ON THE TURN: 8

The even-number trend continues. We check again. Now the raiser at the far end of the table does as well. But the man across from us senses an opportunity. He bets 700 - and now we're wondering. Did he get in with something weird like 5-7 suited, and hit a straight?

After thinking for a moment, something tells us to be daring. We call. And to our surprise, the man at the far end folds.

ON THE RIVER: 8

The board pairs, but we still don't feel too comfortable about this. We check. If our opponent bets 700 again, we probably bail out. But maybe he's unsure as well; thankfully, he checks.

"A pair of Jacks?!?" we say with uncertainty as we show our cards. We're delighted to see that's good enough! Our opponent had 4-5! A superior two pair wins us a huge pot.

Our stack reached a high of 5,400 in the first hour, but then started fading. We had 3,150 at the first break. But then in the second period after changing tables, we went all-in with A-Q and the board showing A-J-10-10. Trouble was, three of those cards were spades - and another player had two more to make a flush. No final table on this day, as we wound up 47th out of 81 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: This was one of our best days in a long time for talking about maters of faith. It started when the successful player to our left saw our card protector - a small electric plug.

"I brought this to remind me that I receive power from Gods Holy Spirit," we explained. Then we asked the man what he thought of the Spirit.

"Real good," he said. "Part of the trinity."

"What's the Holy Spirit done for you lately?" we probed.

"I don't know," he admitted.

We think there are ways to know what the Holy Spirit is doing in your life. For instance....

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23


These traits should be evidence of God's Spirit at work. Verses 19-21 list signs of the exact opposite - "the sinful nature" at work. Also....

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.... - Isaiah 11:2


It's a good idea to pray each day for God to renew His Spirit in you. We specifically ask for His wisdom to guide our decisions, whether they come at the poker table or the workplace. ("Wisdom" to us means applying knowledge at the right time and place.)

Can you think of other signs of the Holy Spirit? Offer comments with your suggestions; we'll get back to this table and the Spirit in our next scheduled post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 496 games (36.7%) - 36 cashes.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Biggest Blind

Newcomers to the game of poker learn right away what a blind is.

It's a bet put on the table before any cards are dealt, to start a pot. A typical tournament has a "small blind" immediately to the left of the dealer or button, and a "big blind" to the left of that. Many cash games require new players to post a big blind on their first hand, no matter where they sit.

But are you sitting "in the blind" right now, as you read this - whether you're playing poker on a second screen or not? If you don't believe in God and Jesus the Son, you very likely are....

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - II Corinthians 4:4


This is a spiritual "big blind." And the "god of this age" (or "world," as the King James Version puts it) is not God in heaven....

The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.... - Revelation 12:9


Satan wants to steer you away from God, and into spiritual darkness. But....

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him is no darkness at all. - I John 1:5


This leaves you a choice. Would you rather be in the "big blind" of darkness, or in God's light?

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. - John 3:19 (KJV)


If you're playing high-stakes poker illegally - sorry, you're not getting any sympathy from us. Most cases of law-breaking are evil, even if you consider them fun and games. It's time to come out of that darkness - and most importantly, come out of spiritual blindness and "the condemnation." Instead, walk in the warm light of God's love.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Clear Heads, Heads-Up

Thursday night was an amazing night for us in online poker. We survived at least eight all-in moments in a National League of Poker tournament - and out of 1,238 players, we finished 17th! Only the top five received prize money under NLOP's rules. But at a casino, we might have won six times our buy-in.

One player in the third hour suddenly decided to push a lot - but had an explanation. As best we recall the chat:

Friends are coming over.
Gonna have some beers.
Haven't seen them in a long time.

To which we responded: "The beers?! :-)"

We cut our teeth on live poker playing weekly bar and club circuits. But since moving to Kansas, we've noticed very few players in tournaments bring bottles of beer to the table. We think that's because serious players know what alcohol can do to their mind and judgment - and it's not good. That's really old news, of course....

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. - Proverbs 20:1


On this Sunday when a lot of people will drink while watching U.S. football, these are words to remember. Too much alcohol can make you look silly, and even get you in trouble with the law. But does that mean all alcohol is wrong?


Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.... - John  2:7-9


As much as some religious folks try to explain these verses away, your Bible shows Jesus Christ turned water into wine - and it was considered "the best" (verse 10). If all wine is wrong, why would He do such a thing?

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." - Matthew 26:27-28


Jesus spoke here at a Passover observance (verse 19). It was His "last supper" before shedding His blood for our sins - and under Jewish tradition, the cup would have had wine inside.

We doubt Jesus drank much that night, because He faced a high-pressure situation greater than any poker tournament: sacrificing His life for us as the pure "lamb of God." And by extension, we shouldn't drink so much that we become mocked and brawling.

Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)


We think that's good advice for playing poker, as well as what you drink around the table.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Winner Takes It All

In a recent post, we presented a choice - a choice that can seem very difficult:

Does not wisdom call out?.... "Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold." - Proverbs 8:1, 10


These Bible verses might give the impression that you should never enter big-money poker tournaments. Simply open the Bible and put your nose in it all day - right?

Well, no. That's going to a religious extreme. But then again, maybe spending every waking hour playing online poker and touring the world for the next high-stakes cash game is an extreme as well. We think the key is in finding a balance....

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven....  - Ecclesiastes 3:1


We think wisdom is not really wisdom unless you apply it in daily situations. Otherwise it's simply knowledge.

...But wisdom is proved right by her actions. - Matthew 11:19b


You can know how to play pocket Aces. But doing it properly at the table takes wisdom - and you could be rewarded handsomely for that. That's why we said in the previous post that if you seek wisdom, you could get nice extras.

So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart.... Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for - both riches and honor - so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings." - I Kings  3:11-13


King Solomon asked God for wisdom and discernment (verse 9). God granted him so much that Solomon is credited with writing Ecclesiastes and much of Proverbs. And he had a lot of wealth to boot (I Kings 10:14-29).

So it seems to us the choice is clear. Seek God's wisdom first, as opposed to poker riches. Search for it in the Bible. Pray for God to provide it. And you might actually become wise enough to stump the table and get the riches, too.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Poker Day 495: Straight? No? Chaser?

Maybe the bank ATM downtown was trying to tell us something. We tried to withdraw money from our account to enter Friday's tournament at Kansas Star Casino - but the machine froze and wouldn't process our request. So we hurriedly drove to Mulvane, paid extra to use a casino ATM.... and then:

BLINDS: 25/25

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

A couple of early nibbles have missed flops, so we start this hand with about 3,400 chips. Sitting in leadoff position, we limp in. No one raises, and about five players go to battle.

ON THE FLOP: 5h-Ks-2s

Top pair + top kicker = action from us. After the blinds check, we bet 100.  As best we recall, a couple of players call.

ON THE TURN: 8h

Looks to us like all is still well. So we bet 150 - only to find a player to our left raising to 300. Did he stumble upon two pair? We still feel confident, so we call to go heads-up to the river.

ON THE RIVER: 5s

The board pairs, giving us two pair and top kicker. But three spades are showing (we don't have any). Yet our opponent raised on the turn with no possible flush, so we think he's simply testing us.

We try to show we mean business by beating 225, but he responds with a raise to 600. We remain skeptical, especially of the flush threat, and conclude he also has a King.

"As they say in Colorado," we tell the dealer next to us, "I'm pot-committed." Our new poker joke of the day gets a slight smile. But we mean what we say, and call. Then our opponent flips over.... 8-J of spades! We were right about our read on the turn, but he did hit the flush to give us a big loss.

Perhaps a bigger bet on the turn would have run everyone away. But early in a tournament with cheap blinds, some players will go on long chases. In this case, it worked and he won.

It was far from a winning day for us, as we never won a pot. We finally pushed with A-K again, and received a call from a man with A-J. But the flop brought a Jack and the turn an Ace, to eliminate us in 44th place on a 65-player day.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I'm patiently waiting to play a hand," a man sitting to our right said at one point. He was a replacement player, who perhaps took a re-buy after losing his chips.

"Patience is a virtue," we told the man quietly.

"Impatience is a...." we didn't quite pick up how he ended that reply. Did he say a "vice"? That's what some would call the opposite of a virtue.

Our old saying has a Biblical basis for it:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience... And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:12, 14


This list of virtues appears to be a rerun of something the apostle Paul wrote to another group - only with a different heading:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23


"Patience is a fruit," we added in our short discussion with the man. In Galatians, the source of that fruit is noted as the Holy Spirit of God.

Ironically, seconds later we saw Q-Q and went all-in for our last 1,125 chips - a push that failed. Perhaps that was our moment of impatience. But a man had raised ahead of us, and we were down to about five big blinds.

Poker experts on TV say it's good to push when you're at ten big blinds or less. We went by "the book," and it didn't work for us. But as we said elsewhere in the casino, a different book is more reliable - the "good book" known as the Bible, where the Holy Spirit and other things are revealed.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 495 games (36.8%) - 36 cashes. We will need to make three final tables in the next five outings to get the percentage up to 37 percent at 500 games.