Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Trash Is As Trash Does

So was Joan Rivers right the other night? Are poker players "beyond white trash?"

You might be tempted to respond that "it takes one to know one." But we wouldn't stoop to that approach.

Poker is a game which can be played by all kinds of people -- and indeed it is. Grandparents play it. Teenagers play it. Hollywood celebrities play it. (Dare we bring Brad Garrett up again?) And supposedly notorious badlands outlaws played it, more than 100 years ago.

We think "trash" isn't always based on the game you play, but how you play it. And we don't mean effectiveness in playing hands and winning pots.

Ephesians 4:2 suggests believers "be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." We've met poker players who actually try to live this way. Not all of them do, but enough for us to know you don't pull out the "whitewash brush" to describe them -- or in this case the white-trash brush.

If you don't play and live the way Ephesians 4:2 suggests, give it a try. Prove Joan Rivers wrong. You might actually gain respect and friends at the poker table if you do.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Diamonds are a....

At the poker table, they're not simply for girls. This hand unfolded at Yahoo poker Tuesday night:

BLINDS: $1/$2 ($20 limit cash game, pretend money)

IN THE POCKET: Ad-10d

Worth a go. Bidding stops at $4, with several calling.

ON THE FLOP: Kd-Qd-??. (We forget now, but it wasn't a diamond.)

One card from a dream hand. With straight and flush chances, of course we bet; a few players call.

ON THE TURN: Jd.

Yes, dreams come true -- it's a ROYAL FLUSH with diamonds!

With no reason to hold back, we bet every time our turn comes around. Two players at the table stay in, seemingly oblivious to the trouble they're in.

ON THE RIVER: 4d.

We keep betting and raising, of course. One opponent folds. The other finally smells trouble when we raise to $16, and stops short of raising to the $20 limit. That player made a flush on the river -- but obviously not the best one. We take a juicy $110 pot.

"Showoff" one early folder comments. In jest, we think. But we respond by admitting we wish we kept a camera by the computer for moments like that.

Read 'em and Weep

We asked how some players at the Heads-Up Poker Championship seem to know other players' hands so well. They seem to have a gift we're admittedly still learning in live tournaments -- the skill to read an opponent.

Some new players are like that old character on The Electric Company: "Easy Reader." Their words or actions can give away what sort of hand they have. But veterans can be masters of disguise, hiding their strategy behind everything from sunglasses to hooded sweatshirts.

There's a Biblical term that can apply to the art of reading someone: discernment. Take Proverbs 28:11 for an example. "A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him." In poker, we might say you see through the big-stacked players who try to bully their way to pots with big bets.

I Corinthians 2:14 says the things of God are "spiritually discerned." People without the Holy Spirit probably don't grasp them, and certainly do not accept them. People with the Holy Spirit do.

So what about you? Are you a good reader of poker players? When all is said and done, that won't matter. Reading the mind and heart of God does matter. If you're struggling with that, ask God for help.

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." - James 1:5.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Quote of the Year (so far)

"You're a poker player! That is beyond white trash!"

-- Joan Rivers telling off Annie Duke on Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night.

First Brad Garrett, now this. Why is Annie Duke getting all this heat?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Heads-Up Week 3: Psychic Friends?

First the good news: Brad Garrett was sent packing today, in the round of 32. :-->

Now our question: How do these players know each other's hands so well?

Take the Huck Seed-Gus Hansen match. One knew the other had pocket 5's. The other knew one had Q-2 -- without even looking.

Are these guys psychic? Really sharp? Or what? And how can you tell the hand of your opponent, without looking?

(Our perspective is coming up.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Maybe This Is Working

Just went to the Yahoo Poker home page, and was greeted by this side banner ad:

"What would Jesus do? Help a child. WorldVision."

No endorsement implied here -- just a surprising observation. And interesting "product placement."

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $12,080 -- up $27.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Responding to "Rad Brad"

We asked how you would respond to someone acting wildly across the poker table -- as Brad Garrett did a few times in his first Heads-up Poker Championship match.

The easiest answer is the most simple one: Shut up and beat him. And there's a bit of Biblical wisdom behind that approach.

"Do not speak to a fool," says Proverbs 23:9, "for he will scorn the wisdom of your words."

But later in Proverbs, there seems to be contradictory advice. "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself," warns 26:4. But verse 5 then says, "answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."

We think that means there are times when responding works, and times when it doesn't. Engaging in slapstick maneuvers which match Brad Garrett probably would throw you off, play right into his hand -- and only make him consider it a personal compliment.

But if someone is a fool without realizing it, the right answer could persuade him to change his ways. Galatians 6:1 describes it as "restoring gently" someone who is caught in a sin.

Most of the people we meet at poker tables actually have a quiet demeanor about them. They're focused -- if not on the game, on something else. That's what made Brad Garrett's antics seem so unusual. To borrow from Rudyard Kipling: If you can keep your head when your opponents are losing theirs, you'll at least look like the man.

For more: Quieting the Loudmouth

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heads-Up Week 2: Rad Brad

Yes, we know -- Brad Garrett is a comedian. But in the first ten minutes of his appearance on NBC Heads-Up Poker today, he annoyed us so much that we were rooting for Annie Duke to shut him up and send him home.

Garrett makes Humberto Brenes look like a library chess player. But we wonder -- have you ever faced someone so distracting (to put it mildly) at a poker table? And if so, how did you deal with it? (Our answer is coming up.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Big and Little

First the big news: we finally BROKE our personal record at Yahoo Poker this morning! We reached a high of $12,292 -- $60 above the high we set on January 20.

Now the little: Sometimes you can only say a little, when it comes to sharing your faith. The other day at Yahoo Poker, someone named "Godatoon" played with us. We don't know if that person is a believer or not -- but another player at the table turned that name into a curious discussion.

"No god, no, no," that player wrote.

"Yes yes yes," we replied.

Others at the table apparently took the first line to mean the player didn't want Godatoon to keep pursuing the pot. We turned it into something else -- by writing Psalm 14:1 from KJV: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."

"This is a game, not religion class," another person at the table wrote. Some clearly wanted us to stick to poker, not ministry.

The person who started the discussion indicated he wasn't against God -- but sparring with Godatoon around the table. We accepted that, and said nothing more about the Bible. But perhaps a little seed was planted, which God can grow into something big.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poker Night #66: Kicker-Boxing

"It's good to be king," the song says. But there are times when it's better for the King to have a friend in high places. We learned this the hard way tonight, as our stack at Lil Kim's Cove drained fairly quickly and we were eliminated in 22nd place out of about 30.

We never won a pot all evening, but at times felt really confident about our chances. The biggest one was this....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: K-10.

Betting is small and standard, so several people at the full table join in.

ON THE FLOP: 7-4-K

Top pair is nice. But someone bets about 300 ahead of us, so we simply call when our turn comes. Does that player have two pair?

ON THE TURN: 7.

If others do, now we do too. A player ahead of us bets 500, and we join a four-way fight for the pot.

ON THE RIVER: 6.

The player who keeps leading out bets 1,000. Two other players ahead of us call. Did someone hit a full house, by having a pocket pair? We've come this far by faith, so we call.

"I have Kings and 7's," we say turning over the cards. Trouble is, the two players immediately ahead of us also have Kings. One has K-8; not good enough. But a woman has K-J, and the higher kicker takes the pot. Ouch, that hurts.

(The lead bettor probably hurt even more. He staked a lot of chips on pocket 2's.)

The end for us came in an old-fashioned race, where we had Jh-9h and hit top pair on the flop. A man across the table bet 2,500 to force us all in. With 2,050, we decided to go -- and he had A-J. While 7-8 came on the board, the critical 10 for a straight did not.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "What'cha been doing?" a long-time poker buddy sitting next to us asked tonight. We hadn't seen him in some time.

"I wasn't here last week due to religious commitments -- the Spring Holy Days," we say quietly. He laughed, but didn't ask further about which days. Check "The King comes first" to find out which ones.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 26 final tables in 66 nights (39.4%) - 7 cashes.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $12,053 -- down $110. We can't quite get over the hump, to break our record high of January.

Get Your Kicks....

at Poker Night #66. At least, that's our plan for tonight.

Unless something intervenes (and it always could), we hope to join in the Thursday night poker action at Lil Kim's Cove near the Columbus Civic Center. It's a doubleheader night; we normally play only the first tournament at 7:00 p.m. ET.

P.S. Work commitments could make this our last Thursday night at the table for awhile.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More on Moses

Q: Is there Biblical evidence that Moses might have played poker?

A: Yes. He led the Israelites out of Egypt -- "and the children of Israel went out with an high hand." (Ex. 14:8, KJV)

OK, that's admittedly a joke. But it came to us today, as we marked the end of "Passover season" -- the seven days of unleavened bread mentioned in Leviticus 23 and other places.

You can meditate on this further. Since the Israelites left their 400-year home, that "high hand" couldn't have been a full house -- since it was left empty.

(Besides, they walked THROUGH the Red Sea -- without a "boat.")

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Heads-Up Week 1: When Moses Met Jesus

"He's known as Jesus. I'm Moses." So comedian Gabe Kaplan declared Sunday, on the opening week of NBC National Heads-Up Poker action.

And in what some might call an upset, Moses prevailed -- eliminating defending champion Chris "Jesus" Ferguson. And of all the days for NBC to show this: the middle of "Passover season" for Jews, and resurrection Sunday for many Christians.

Both names are Biblical figures, of course. But did you realize Moses isn't listed in the genealogy of Jesus?

Moses came from the tribe of Levi, according to Exodus 2. But Jesus came from a different tribe of Israel -- the tribe of Judah (Mt. 1:2-16).

Some religious groups have debated for centuries which line is better. But if Moses was alive today, we think he'd tell you Jesus is superior.

I Corinthians 10:2 says the Israelites "were all baptized into Moses" as they came out of Egypt. But they had a "spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (verse 4).

Moses won at the table today, but ultimately he can't save you. Jesus can. Which one is YOUR rock?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why we didn't try

The National Heads-Up Poker Championship begins its spring run on NBC this weekend. We plan to post our thoughts about each episode. (But we already know who won. If you want to know, do a Google News search for "NBC Heads-up".)

One spot in the 64-player field usually is reserved for the winner of an online tournament. We've thought about joining the crowd and competing -- but we do not.

Why? Because the face-to-face tournament in Las Vegas is held on a weekend in March -- and would require playing games on Saturdays.

We worship a God who wrote Ten Commandments -- one of them instructing us to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex. 20:8). For us, the Sabbath is the way God set it up originally: Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, etc.).

Yes, we know there are Jews who play big-time poker and do it well. We don't speak for them. We're simply not persuaded that poker is something a Christian should do on "God's time."

So thank you anyway, NBC -- at least for showing all your Heads-Up Poker programs on Sunday afternoons.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $12,163 -- up $315.

You call this gambling?

A South Dakota tax preparation specialist was on National Public Radio a few minutes ago, sharing a strange story of last-minute filers.

A man walked into his office on April 15 and said he had $25,000 in poker winnings to declare. But he couldn't afford to pay the taxes on them.

Why? He invested the winnings, in a company which went bankrupt.

How bizarre, how bizarre. Moral of the story: Money can come and money can go -- whether you have a flush on the flop or stock certificates.

Don't hold on tightly to poker winnings. Hold onto Someone you can't really grasp physically -- a God who can guide you to even better treasures someday.

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." -- Matthew 6:21

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The man with the bracelet

This isn't an WSOP bracelet. It's the man we met at poker night two weeks ago, with the W.W.J.D. bracelet on his wrist. We promised to tell you the rest of his story.

He told us he grew up a Christian, but drifted away from the faith. He didn't tell us what happened, but last October something led him back to a relationship with the Lord.

Now he's back to regular Bible reading, he told us -- and he's playing poker locally as well. Like others, he sees no verse in Scripture which specifically condemns gambling.

We suggested a big Bible word applies to how you play poker, as well as how you deal in general with finances. We'll look at that word another time -- but right now we ask: are you like this man we met? Have YOU drifted away from God, and are playing poker merely to get rich quick or get away from your personal problems?

If you're a drifter, here's some good news: God wants you back. In fact, He sent His Son Jesus Christ in part as a "buy-in" -- to buy you back from sins which hold you captive.

Titus 2:13-14 says Jesus Christ "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."

"Redemption" is a term old-timers might apply to green stamps. Collect enough stamps, and you can redeem them for a prize. In God's case, it's the blood of Jesus which redeems us from sin.

We're writing this during a "Holy Week" for many people -- when Jesus gave His life to redeem us. If you'd like to enter that agreement and come back to God as our playing partner did, follow Peter's advice in Acts 2:38. "Repent and be baptized.... in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins...." (KJV) If we can help you with that in any way, please e-mail us.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The King comes first

At this time of year, "the King who died for me" is top priority for many people. And so He is with us.

We'll miss Thursday night's poker tournament because of activities for Passover season -- the Lord's Supper service Tuesday night, followed by the start of the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Don't know what we're talking about? Check the first part of Luke 22, connected with Leviticus 23.

May you celebrate Jesus, who went the ultimate "all-in" for all of us.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Want to win?

Maybe Vince Lombardi was wrong. Winning isn't everything -- or even the only thing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Poker Night #65: Mike Said No

"I'll see you at the final table," a man to our left said when we were moved for the second time at Lil Kim's Cove Thursday night. "It happened that way last week."

"I'm not so sure tonight," we replied -- because blinds were rising, and we only had about 2,100 chips. Yet that man turned out to be more accurate than we were. We almost reached the final table, being eliminated in 10th place.

(The man to our left was NOT named Mike. We'll get to him.)

We played a bit more aggressively than usual tonight, and took a couple of big chip losses early as a result. After the "color-up" break rounded our stack up to 2,500, the big blind was approaching and we needed a bailout....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-6 of diamonds.

We're the big blind, and that alone cost us 40 percent of our chips up-front. A player ahead of us raises 2,000. "It's time to go," we say going all-in with the last 1,500. A third man is in the action as well.

ON THE FLOP: 2-3-4.

None of them are diamonds, but that's OK. We have hope in a couple of ways.

ON THE TURN: A.

Top pair -- but big trouble. If someone has a 5, our goose is cooked. Unless, that is....

ON THE RIVER: 5.

"Straight to the 6!" we declare. It's over the top of the board, and no one else can top it. The other two players split a small sidepot, while we more than triple up.

We won the next pot, too -- and just like that, our weak 2,500 chip stack was above 11,000. But a few hands later with blinds higher, we took one dare too many. A man across from us went all-in, and we called him with 9-9. We suspected he had two high cards, but nothing more. We were wrong, because he had J-J -- and his higher pair held up.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Mike was sitting to our immediate right, before that man to our left made his prediction. He saw our "Jesus as your Savior" coin and said, "What happens when you call that phone number?"

Amazing -- Mike noticed the toll-free number on the edge of the coin, and not the important stuff in the middle. "I don't know. I've never called it," we responded. We did call after the tournament, and reached the office of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. (A member of the group gave us that coin last year.

"I may have asked you this before," we said to Mike, "but do you agree with the message in the middle?"

Mike thought for a moment. "No."

What would you have done at that moment? Let out an audible gasp? Immediately started preaching to Mike?

This was the first time someone flatly said no to the Jesus message on our coin. But we chose to "slow-play" it. We said nothing, and the table talk moved in other directions. Had we reached the final table side-by-side, I was ready to ask why his answer was no. But that didn't happen.

By having Mike merely read the message, some would say I've done my part. It's up to him to accept or reject the "witness," and he rejected it. Should we play together again, we'll probably advance that discussion further.

By the way, the man wearing the WWJD bracelet was missing from Thursday night's poker tournament. Our apologies for skipping over his story; that's coming soon.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 26 final tables in 65 nights (40%) - 7 cashes. Please note we will NOT play next week, due to religious commitments (more on that coming up).

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $11,853 -- down $72.