Thursday, November 16, 2017

Poker Day 513: From a Jack to a King?

Our title borrows from an old country music song. But it relates to a key hand we faced Wednesday at Kansas Star Casino - a decision that could have led to an early exit:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-J of spades

We won an early pot with J-9. Now our Jack has a powerful partner, and we're first to play at a full table. We follow our usual approach and limp early, waiting for raisers. None come. As best we recall, four players get in.

ON THE FLOP: A-7-2

The spades are not an issue here. But we have top pair and a pretty good kicker - yet someone else bets 150 before our turn comes. That's OK; we'll call.

ON THE TURN: 8

Every extra card increases the chances of someone hitting a second pair. So when the player ahead of us bets 150 again, we try to close the deal with a raise to 300. A man across the table calls; the others fold.

ON THE RIVER: 2

We now have two pair and a pretty good kicker. We think another bet will clinch it, so we bet 300 again. But now, our opponent raises to 1,000.

This forces us to pause for a moment. We can't imagine the other man stuck around with a pair of 2's to make three of a kind on the river. On the other hand, our Jack isn't strong enough to top A-K or A-Q.

Finally we decide to take the big risk. We call.... and the opponent shows A-10! Our Jack indeed was better, and we take a big pot of more than 3,000 chips.

The first hour had a couple of setbacks, and we reached the first break with 2,675 from a starting 3,500 chips. But hour two brought some big gains. An all-in bet with Q-10 led to a winning Queen, and a jump to 4,200. Then A-J brought a jump to 8,000. Another A-J increased our stack to 9,500. Thanks to a couple more good wins, we wound up at the second break with 8,500.

But as the final table approached, our streak ran out. We went all-in with A-9, but lost to a King when a King came on the flop. On a day with 64 players, sixth place would have earned money - but this time, we slipped to 12th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: When the second hour started, we were in the Big Blind for 200. Mr. Small Blind arrived a little late, so the dealer asked us to put out his 100. When Mr. Small Blind saw, he pretended to cause a fuss.

"I just did what the dealer told me to do," we confessed.

"You're not trying to start a fight...." a man to our left joked.

"I come in peace," we replied. "'Blessed are the peacemakers.' I read that in a book once."

We're not sure if that man knew which book we meant. But if you're a regular reader, you probably do....

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. - Matthew 5:9


Jesus put peacemaking on His famous list of Biblical "beatitudes" - a list of nine traits which are blessed by God. It isn't always easy to make peace; the news headlines are filled with people and groups in conflict (if not outright war) with each other. But here's one way to do it....

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath.... - Romans 12:17-19


In the poker room, "revenge" can happen naturally with the turn of cards. You might get a straight this hand, while we hit a full house in the next hand. But peacemaking can be done in other areas, both large and small. We think the primary way is with the mouth - not "raising" when someone taunts or teases you. Even better....

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. - Romans 12:14


But we need to learn to respond that way not simply because we have to do it - but because we want to do it:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. - Romans 12:9


As we said, this isn't easy. It starts with repenting before God of moments when you've chosen the side of conflict, instead of peace. Then ask for His Holy Spirit to help clean up your life - starting with the heart and mouth, then far beyond.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 187 final tables in 513 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $160.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Poker Night 512: Brave Hearts

Some poker hands are considered better than others before the flop. But any two cards have a chance of succeeding, once the flop comes. If only some hands ended there. You'll see what we mean, in this review of tonight's freeroll tournament at Five Star Billiards.

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-3 of hearts

It's the very first hand of the night, at a table of six players. We're in the Small Blind, and no one has raised. Of course we'll play suited cards. About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 2h-Jh-8h

A perfect flop for us! But then the humility moment strikes. Our hearts to make the flush are small. Someone might be sitting on bigger ones. So in lead position, we bet 500 to take the temperature of the table. Several players fold, but the dealer does not. He calls.

ON THE TURN: Kh

A fourth heart makes our cards suddenly look a whole lot smaller. Is this what the dealer was waiting for? We check to see.

"I'll bet 1,000," he says. Yup, that's what we feared.

"I liked these cards for awhile," we respond - but we fold, expecting the worst. Sure enough, the dealer shows us the Ace of hearts. He had a draw for the "nut flush," and received it.

That loss was relatively small, but we won a few pots which were modestly big. From a starting 10,000, we reached 11,200 at the first break. We won a few more in the second hour, helped at one point by pocket Aces. Despite a  big loss with A-J at the end, we reached the final table at the two-hour break with 12,000.

A couple of wins and splits there lifted us to a high of 25,000 - but at that point, the blinds had reached 5,000/10,000. A desperation push with A-9 led to a 9 on the board, but a man to our left had Q-Q to eliminate us. We wound up matching Friday's tournament in Tulsa, with a sixth-place finish out of about 25 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I'm a generic Christian," a man across the table told us before the night began. No, we didn't bring up religion; a talkative older man next to him did.

But what did he mean by generic? "I go by what Jesus did, not by what some religion says." That may sound strange, but it actually follows the Bible's advice....

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. - I Corinthians 11:1


The apostle Paul wrote this to a church group that was showing signs of division:

What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ". - I Corinthians 1:12


The Christian movement has had a lot of splits over the years. Protestants marked a major one a couple of weeks ago, with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's action sparking the Reformation. Yet what did the apostle say long ago about this?

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? - I Corinthians 1:13


His point in this letter and others was that every believer ultimately should follow Jesus Christ.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. - Ephesians 5:23


So the man across the table was perceptive. But we had a question for him. "Didn't Jesus say He came to build a church?" Indeed He did....

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. - Matthew 16:18


The man admitted he'd only attended a church service a few times in recent months. Yet as divided as Christianity is, we're expected to attend one as we're able. We'll go deeper into that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 187 final tables in 512 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. Since crossing the 500-game mark, we've made four final tables in 12 tries.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Poker Day 511: The Best Defense....

When a poker player takes a seat at the table, he or she can take on a wide range of personalities. When someone from outside the area takes a seat, the options can leave even more people guessing. That's what happened when we traveled to Tulsa Friday for a morning game at River Spirit Casino, as we started a special church weekend....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-K of hearts

The morning game costs $50, plus $10 "dealer appreciation" to double our chip stack from 4,000 to 8,000. That stack has eroded a little since the start, so it would be nice to win a hand. Holding the button with no one raising, we decide to go on the offensive. We raise to 350.

"I just won these chips," a man across the table who won the last hand says. "Be gentle with these."

"Get them nice and shiny," we answer - borrowing a line we've heard contending pro wrestlers say about title belts. As best we recall, three players out of ten are in.

ON THE FLOP: Q-7-8

No hearts come, but we remember two spades being here. The other players check, so we decide the heat must be turned up. Our continuation bet is 400. The man who joked about his chips calls, and we're now heads-up.

ON THE TURN: 3 (not a spade)

We wanted something higher than that, because any stray card could increase our opponent's chances of hitting a pair. He checks again, and we kick it up a notch to 500.

"That card didn't help me," he admits. "I'm one card away." (Hmmm - 6-9?! Something suited?!)

Then he folds. Exactly what we wanted. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Lord. We make a nice gain, without showing why we were being so aggressive.

A first hour of ups and downs left us 9,250 chips. We slowly gained in the second hour, reaching 10,100. Then a couple of all-in bets paid off in a big way, allowing us to reach the final table with 25,000. At one point, we knocked out an opponent with Q-10 after a Queen came on the flop.

We stood at 17,000 after three hours of play, with four players making money on a 39-player day. But weak cards and rising blinds did us in. We finally dared to roll the dice in the Small Blind with 4-3 of clubs for our last 4,000. But a Big Blind with higher cards won the race.

We played for a long time, but missed the money. Yet we finished sixth out of 39, for our second final table in three tournaments at River Spirit.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "If it wasn't for veterans, we probably wouldn't be here playing poker," a man at our table said. It was the Friday leading to Veterans Day - and you may have heard a form of that phrase over the weekend as well.

But after thinking about it a moment, we offered a response which might have surprised him. "I think a lot of those veterans had some help. They looked to God to guide them to success."

At least one person at the table seemed to agree with that statement. We hope you do as well - because while military veterans have fought a lot of battles over the years, the victory ultimately is not theirs.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with them. - II Chronicles 32:7


These are the words of King Hezekiah of Judah (29:1), when his territory was under siege (32:1). That "greater power" was not the United States or any allies....

"With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. - II Chronicles 32:8


But as they say at times in the poker room, talk is cheap. The king didn't stop simply with a motivational speech:

King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and the officers in the camp of the Assyrian king.... - II Chronicles 32:20-21


They humbly sought God's help - and God delivered. We can only guess how many U.S. and Allied veterans did the same thing during modern combat. But if God gave the victory, we think God should get at least some of the credit:

Who is this king of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. - Psalm 24:8


It's noteworthy to us that Veterans Day in the U.S. falls within about two weeks of Thanksgiving Day. We recommend taking time to thank God for the battles he's helped you win, or at least endure - whether at a poker table or a real battlefield.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 186 final tables in 511 games (36.4%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $110 (we failed to mention last time that Five Star Billiards is a freeroll).

Monday, November 6, 2017

Poker Night 510: Five-Star Service


Today was National Nachos Day - so, of course, we went looking for the chips.

Not simply in the family-size Walmart bag, but at a poker tournament. Our current situation gives us more time to play locally. So tonight we went to Five Star Billiards - a clean place with plenty of pool tables and $1.50 soda cups. It's replaced Yvie's on the WPT Poker League Monday night schedule, and sits only a few blocks away.

"Don't forget to tip your servers," the Tournament Director reminded four full tables. Then it was on with the show....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-10 offsuit

The WPT League circuit requires everyone to deal their own cards. We've dealt ourselves this ordinary hand. We haven't won a hand yet, and lost about 1,000 chips to a player with a pair of Jacks. So we'll fold this. About four players at the table of seven are in.

ON THE FLOP: 8-7-7

"Toll-free flop," we say. Either no one got the joke or it was really lousy. But those cards bring a bet of 600 from a woman sitting in the Small Blind to our immediate left. A man across the table calls.

ON THE TURN: 7

"Jackpot!" we declare with three 7's side by side. The Small Blind now bets 1,200, and the opponent calls her.

ON THE RIVER: K

Did this make anyone a better full house? The Small Blind now checks. So does her opponent.

"I've got quads," the woman says quietly. She flips over 7-10! That earns her a big pot, and a 5,000- chip bonus for the best hand of the night.

The woman explains she didn't bet on the river because she thought there was a house rule against that.

"You played 7-10?!" another player at the table asks.

"I like playing 7-10," she answers. And since this was the first round of blinds, she could afford to play them.

"You heard what he said about tipping," we say to the big winner to drop a hint. No, she didn't reward us for dealing so well. Nor did she do it when we dealt her two more winning hands.

We won one pot with a semi-bluff, but nothing more than that. (The woman even topped our A-5 straight with a 2-6 straight.) Finally we went all-in for 1,500 with K-J, but a man with 8-8 prevailed when the board didn't pair for us. We were one chair from glory, but wound up first out at our table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man to our right won a pot with Kings, then proceeded to declare himself the "King Master."

"At least he didn't call himself the King of Kings," we said in response. "There's only One with that title."

The man nodded and seemed to chuckle, as if he got our point. Do you get it?

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. - Revelation 19:16


Our New International Version Bible goes so far as to put those titles in all-caps. But who would have such impressive names?

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.... He is dressed in a robe dripped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. - Revelation 19:11, 13


Yet another impressive title! Who could these verses be describing?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:1, 14


If there's still any doubt about the identity of "the Word," this should settle it....

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. - John 1:17


Now walk those verses back. Jesus brought "grace and truth" because He was full of them. Thus He was "the Word," and Revelation 19 indicates that Word is coming down from heaven again as "King of Kings."

But you don't have for that return to give Him that glorious title. God wants you to honor Jesus now, as disciples did long ago:

Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." - John 1:49


Jesus wants to be not merely a "King Master" - but King and Master. Will you acknowledge Him?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 185 final tables in 510 games (36.3%) - 36 cashes.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Human Element

We've played a computer in heads-up Texas Hold 'em at a casino a few times. Sometimes we've won. Sometimes we've lost. But imagine having to take on three computers at once.

The Texas Hold 'em table at the family-friendly game site Pogo.com is set up that way. Unless you're a member, you sit down to play for free against "Computer 2", "Computer 3" and "Computer 4." If you fold, the computers take on each other like an old Japanese monster movie - and they're programmed to be aggressive at times, with pre-flop raises and bluffing pushes.

It took us four tries to figure out a winning formula against these guys.... uh, machines.... and Saturday night it worked. By ignoring the prodding voice who says, "Let's play some poker!" we were able to knock out #2 and #4 at the same time with an all-in bet - then eliminate #3 on the fifth round of blinds with a full house.

For doing all that, we won.... 60 tokens, which we could use if we had a paid membership. That's not exactly what we're looking for online these days.

For one thing, how can you talk about the things of Christ with a computer? Even God realized this long ago....
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil.... - Hebrews 2:14
Verse 11 makes clear this is talking about Jesus - the God-Being who created humanity:
He is the image of the invisible God.... For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. - Colossians 1:15-16
Jesus created human beings. Then He came to Earth to "share in their humanity." Why would a God-Being lower Himself and do such a thing?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16
Jesus the Son lived a perfect, sin-free life to defeat Satan the devil, and open the way for us to have eternal life with Him. You don't have to become a mechanized "bot" to do that, either. It starts with confessing how human you are, repenting of your sins and turning to God's way of living.

Jesus shared Himself and went "all in" for you. Are you willing to respond to that love, and do the same thing toward Him?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Poker Day 509: Jack for the Pot

Today marked the start of a poker experiment for us. We'll explain what we mean in a moment - but first, let's get to the action on our first-ever Wednesday midday tournament at Kansas Star Casino:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: J-9 of spades

The midweek tournament moves a little faster than the others, with 15-minute blinds. Not many good cards came our way in the first hour - but we won a couple of pots, including a desperation all-in chop at the first break with A-Q. That put us at a high for the day of 4,300 chips.

Now we're in our second hand at a new table, in the Small Blind with 3,300. No one has raised. It seems safe to speculate here, with relatively high suited cards. We call. The Big Blind checks, and about five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: K-Q-J

Ughhh.... this smells like trouble. We have a pair, but it's bottom pair. We have a straight draw, but it's a very risky straight draw. We're first to go, and we check. Much to our surprise, the entire table checks.

ON THE TURN: J

A third Jack for us looks like a jackpot card! It's a potential big winner - but we decide now is the time to strike.

"I'm all in," we say for 3,100. Trouble is, the woman in the Big Blind calls. Everyone else bails out, and we wonder - did she have a straight all along?

She flips over.... A-J! She has three Jacks as well, and her kicker has us topped. Our only real hope is for the river card to be a King or Queen, to chop another pot.

ON THE RIVER: 10

The very risky straight happens instead. Ours is K-9; hers is A-10. Hers is the pot; ours is the door. On a day with 63 players, we wind up 39th - but we don't think we would change our tactics, if we had a second chance at it.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "How are you today?" a man asked as we sat down next to him.

"Recovering," we said. Then, of course, he asked for an explanation.

"I was let go from my job Monday," we admitted. That's why this tournament was the start of an experiment. Can we make money playing poker, while we're between jobs?

A former co-worker happened to be in the poker room, at a cash game table. Based on his chip stack, he seemed to be doing well. But he's a self-described "grinder," ready to spend hours at tables. That's not what we've historically done.

Yet whether we strike it rich at poker or take a more regular job, we're trying to be optimistic. The Bible offers these words....

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. - Psalm 37:25


Yes, we know - some don't consider playing poker in casinos something "righteous" people would do. But the tournament format allows us to win a good bit of money for a relatively small entry fee. Midweek games will permit us to avoid the pricier Sunday tournaments for a while. And we always tithe on our winnings.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He provides food for those who fear him.... - Psalm 111:4-5


Longtime blog readers will recall we were in a similar job predicament several years ago, in an area with no casinos at all. We could only play free tournaments at bars and online - yet we won money 12 times during a year-long layoff. We thanked God for each small win (and each prize was indeed small).

So we'll see what happens this time - although we admittedly tried to win back some of our entry fee at a blackjack table, and wound up losing a little more. We plan to follow this guideline:

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


We're not "betting the farm." Maybe a few bushels at a time. We'll see if God allows them to turn into a bumper crop.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 185 final tables in 509 games (36.3%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $50.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Worst of Times

"I had trip Kings," the man told us about a recent poker night. "He made an inside straight on the flop." And thus the man lost a hand he thought sure he'd win.

If you've played poker for any length of time, you probably have a story like that. Bad beats happen. And when they happen to us, they sting - perhaps for a long time. They might even be enough to drive you away from ever playing poker again.

Yet we heard a minister say on radio the other night that if you fail once, that does not mean you're an absolute failure. A lot depends on how you respond to that failed moment - and that moment of setback could be a springboard to future success. Take this historic moment....

So about three thousand men went up, but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about 36 of them.... At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. - Joshua 7:4-5


This defeat in battle brought the leader of Israel to his knees (verse 6). Then God bluntly told him what was the problem:

Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. - Joshua 7:11


God refused to support Israel anymore until the sin and sinner were removed (verses 12-13). Once that happened, God was back on Israel's side:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land." - Joshua 8:1


The rest of the chapter shows Israel gaining victory there. But can it really be that easy for us? Well, at least it's a good place to start....

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. - Psalm 139:23-24


As much as we don't want to admit it, sometimes we're the problem - in the poker room and in life. It takes some courage to ask God to show you where you're wrong. But if you ask Him to do so in a loving way, He can do that - and He can put you back on the road to success, if you'll do what He says.