Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Poker Night 124: On Tilt - Me?

The person who first declared, "Lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place," apparently never played poker. It happened to a man at our table tonight at Soho Bar & Grill tonight. He bet big against pocket Aces, and wound up bankrupt in a hurry. We had the second A-A to take him out.

But our lesson tonight really was about overconfidence. A top deal doesn't always guarantee success in the end....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-J offsuit

We're in the Big Blind - and last time we had this position, we made those pocket Aces. We think about raising pre-flop, but then a man to our right goes all-in with 2,150. We have more than 9,000, so we decide to call and be potentially generous.

"I'm all in," a man to our immediate left then says. He raises the stakes 4,050 more. We ponder this and stare at him, seeking some kind of sign.

"Be careful. Be very careful," he tells us. But this man tends to talk bigger than his hand, so we dare to call. Immediately he shows A-A -- much as we feared.


We're looking for Jacks, and this does not look good.


Still not looking good.


"STRAIGHT!" a man across the table and out of the hand declares. All we can do is laugh -- because it's our straight, and we didn't notice it at first! We cracked the big bettor's Aces, and we also eliminate the first player who pushed with 3-3.

This put us in the 20,000 chip range -- but then without realizing it, we became overconfident ourselves. In the last hand before the one-hour break, we again were in the Big Blind with 5-9. Standard calling allowed us to check and see a flop, and a 9 came.

Then a man across from us who was talking loud and acting tipsy started betting big -- 2,000 on the flop, then 4,000 on the turn. We admitted we might regret calling, but we did. Then another 9 landed on the river, to give us three of a kind.

"5,000," the aggressive opponent bet.

"All-in raise," we declared with 5,050 more. We felt good. But he called.

"You got a boat?" he asked. No -- three 9's.

"I'm got a straight." From 6-10, and he's drained us away. A promising night crash-lands in about 30th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our little battery continues to spark discussion at poker tables. Two people asked tonight why we brought it.

"It's a reminder to me," we explained, "that I'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon me." (Acts 1:8)

"That's cool!" a young woman said in response. And she recognized on sight that it was AAA, because she once worked at Radio Shack. But when we told her the phrase was from the Bible, she seemed ready to change the subject.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 124 nights (38.7%) - 10 cashes. With only one final table in the last 13 nights, this is the most serious slump we've had since starting in 2007.

(P.S. Lil Kim's Cove will NOT have poker Thursday night, because of a New Year's Eve party. Maybe the rest will do us good.)

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,944 - unchanged (no play there in a month).

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 3-7-3-1-0. Full tournaments - 7 final tables in 78 games (9.0%), no cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - one top-three finish in eight games. Full tournament - 0/2.

Now that it's over....

Our current schedule allows us to play online poker tournaments almost every day. We even played last week on December 24 and 25 -- with the usual levels or turnout for afternoon games at National League of Poker. That led to this brief chat....

Me: I don't celebrate Xmas, so it's no big deal to me.
Dealer: rustypac wins Main Pot ($1560) with Full house, nines full of queens
Me: Very good
drglover: u jewish
Me: No, Christian.
Me: But there's more Biblical evidence Jesus kept Hanukkah than Xmas.
Me: (He was a Jew, after all.)
Dealer: upanddown wins Side Pot 1 ($670) with Two pair, aces and queens

Dr. Glover was eliminated at this point, so we couldn't continue the discussion. But that's enough for us to ask: did you realize there's no Biblical evidence of Jesus keeping Christmas?

In fact, you won't even find the word "Christmas" or the phrase "Merry Christmas" in the Bible. (Despite what some of the "Christmas under attack" people might tell you.) So where's the evidence that Jesus kept Hanukkah?

I find it in John 10:22-23. "Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade."

The margin of my NIV Bible indicates the "Feast of Dedication" was Hanukkah. (Eugene Peterson's The Message goes ahead and calls it Hanukkah.) Considering Jesus's lineage goes through the tribe of Judah (Matt. 1:2, 16), this really shouldn't be surprising.

Don't miss the main point of the next few verses. Jesus does not correct Jews for keeping this festival. Instead, He says believing in Christ and listening to His voice leads to eternal life -- and "no one can snatch them out of my hand" (verses 25-29).

So as you plan ahead to 2010, remember: you don't have to keep Christmas, since Jesus never ordered anyone to do it. But you do need to listen to Christ's instructions, as they speak to you in Scripture. Don't get so addicted to poker hands that you ignore the One who wants to carry you in His hands -- well beyond the river, and all the way into eternity.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NLOP Senior Championship II: Swimming with a Shark

We came head to head tonight with an online example of "power poker." We were joined at the November Senior Championship by a player named "SharkAttck." He lived up to the name -- frequently doubling the blind bet before the flop, then making bets after the flop to scare lingerers away.

With a player like that around, you have to pick your spots. Let's see how we did....

:05 IN: We're dealt K-8. Nothing pairs on the flop, but our King is high card to win $285. (We think this is before SharkAttck showed up.)

:22 IN: We play 9-10. The flop is J-7-8, giving us a straight! We bet big when a King comes on the turn, and an opponent folds. We gain $1,385.

:36 IN: We have 10-10. A player bets all-in, which could potentially put us out. We fold, and other hands appear which would have eliminated us.

:40 IN: We have K-K -- and it's time for a power move of our own. We double the blind to 400, and go all-in with 635 chips left after SharkAttck re-raises. The Shark is bluffing with Q-2! The board only brings a second pair of 3's, boosting us in 1,670.

"Yarrrrr" we say to SharkAttck, who had written in pirate talk minutes before. He declares our word "a bit wimpy."

:46 IN: Holding A-10 of hearts, the flop is 10-K-4. A player goes all-in. We suspect weakness and call -- but the opponent has K-J. He wins big, and we're down to 330. Things don't look good.

:49 IN: We feel forced by rising blinds to go all-in with A-4 of hearts. But the flop is 2-5-3! The 5 is a heart, and running hearts follow to give us a nut flush -- jumping back from 330 to 1,800!

1:01 IN: After missing a flop with A-10 and losing 600 chips to SharkAttck's aggressive betting, we go all-in with A-7 of clubs. The hopeful flop is 6c-Kc-7s. A 3s-10h follow -- but amazingly, our 7's top everyone else! We're back to 2,250.

1:21 IN: With 2,025 chips in our stack, A-A comes! We push all-in, and only get one caller (even SharkAttck bails out). Nothing harmful hits the board, and we jump to 5,100 -- finally feeling some breathing room.

But A-4 and A-3 didn't turn out well after that, and rising blinds and antes reduced that big stack back to the 2,000 level. Then with less than 100 players left out of a starting 959, we were moved away from the "Shark Tank." Would things get better?

1:34 IN: Holding Q-K of hearts and needing 800 to play, we push all-in with 1,950 chips left. The flop is a promising 10-K-9 (the 10 a heart). Then a Jack comes on the turn, giving us a straight!

Other players fold at this point to a man who has the only thing which could kill us -- A-Q. His higher straight knocks us out. But we finish in 84th place -- a "top 10 percent" finish which would have earned money at most live tournaments.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Million-Dollar Mike and a $20K Dream

In case you missed it: A New York firefighter named Mike hit the jackpot today on the Fox "Million Dollar Challenge." An 8 on the river gave him a gutshot straight, to defeat Daniel Negreanu in the heads-up "Million Dollar Match."

(Come to think of it, has Negreanu ever reached the finals of NBC Heads-Up? We don't think so.)

Connected with that was another freeroll tournament for $20,000 tonight at PokerStars.Net. The play went incredibly quickly -- and it had to be that way, with 36,664 players registered. Here's how we did:

:00 IN: We start with 10-7 of diamonds. A 10 comes on the flop, and we bet with it. But another player has pocket Queens, and beats us.

We played the first three hands, in fact. K-J didn't pair, and lost. 8-8 was met with an Ace on the flop, and a player with an Ace beat us. We were deflated, until....

:05 IN: K-10 brings K-8-3 on the flop. Our top pair earns $550.

:09 IN: We have Q-7 of clubs. Two clubs come on the flop, and a third lands on the river. We hit a flush! Trouble is, another player hits a full house. We're deflated again.

:12 IN: A-Q brings an Ace on the river. We bet, players fold, and we gain $375.

:20 IN: Q-Q is met with A-A on the flop. Our two pair are good enough, for a pot of more than $1,100.

:31 IN: Q-Q comes again. This time Q-9-3 lands on the flop. After a modest bet is called, a 7 on the turn leads us to go all-in. A caller errs, and suddenly our stack jumps to $4,580.

:37 IN: A-10 is met with an Ace on the flop. That pair leads to $1,700.

:40 IN: We have A-10 of clubs, with $3,155. But a player ahead of us goes all-in. Blinds are 200/400 with antes of 50. What would you do?

We dare to call -- and see our opponent has A-K. The flop is K-J-7. That's followed by a 9 and a 5, and our dream is sunk.

Final score: we take seven pots in 40 minutes. But several other plays with promising hands blow up in our face. We finish number 17,961 -- which out of 36,664 at least gets us in the top half.

Sunday Rewind: Set 'em Straight

We mentioned the story of someone walking by a poker table, and spotting a straight no one else did -- a straight which could have kept someone in a poker tournament.

Our live tournaments usually are at locations where the players take turns dealing, and there's no impartial "referee" over hands. When there's a question, the players around the table haggle it out based on their knowledge of the rules. A designated tournament director is called in, should all else fail.

Sometimes those other players can see things you can't. That worked in our favor a couple of weeks ago, when we hit a straight flush. In everyday life, good friends can do the same thing -- and sometimes even outright enemies.

Several examples of this can be found in the Biblical story of the early Church. A conference was called in Acts 15, to settle a dispute about whether Old Testament regulations still applied. Another more personal dispute also developed, between two big-name apostles.

"When Peter came to Antioch," Paul writes in Galatians 2:11, "I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong." Paul didn't even take Peter aside for a private consultation. "I said to Peter in front of them all.... 'How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'" (verse 14)

We hope Peter got the message from that correction. And we hope you're not afraid to speak up when you see something wrong. It could be as simple as spotting a hidden winning poker hand -- or as complex as telling fellow church members they're sinning or in error.

Yes, sometimes the most important "testimony" you can give is to someone personally close to you. "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault," Jesus said in Matthew 18:15. Do it in humility, not self-righteous pride -- and if someone truly is converted, he or she should thank you for turning their life back on track.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Poker Night 122/123: Double-Down

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: In a cost-cutting experiment, today's post is a "blog simulcast" - appearing on both The Blog of Columbus, Georgia and On the Flop.)

'Twas the night before Christmas. At least for most people. Not for me - because I'm a Christian who doesn't keep Christmas. It would have been a challenging Thursday night, looking for something to do besides watching the local 24-hour weather channel to see where the mass of rain is going.

But thankfully, this year offered something unusual. While most Columbus bars and clubs shut down for the holiday, Lil Kim's Cove on Fourth Street was open as usual, holding its weekly Thursday night poker doubleheader. Someone might sing "We Three Kings" there for a very different reason - holding three of a kind, to win a pot.

Since Lil Kim's Cove is walking distance from home, Thursday night has become poker night for me over the last couple of years. I play fairly well and have won money on several occasions, but that's not the only reason for going. I conduct "poker ministry" when the time is right - trying to show there's more to God than cursing when you lose a hand.

So while much of Columbus shut down Thursday night for Christmas, it was business as usual for me. I took the short walk, and for a change played in both poker tournaments instead of the first one. A mix of rain and the holiday reduced the odds of late-night trouble significantly. Next Thursday night may be different, due to amateurs shooting fireworks.

As we suspected, the turnout for poker night was down this week. Only about 20 people showed up -- which increased our chances of making the final table and winning money for the top two finishers. These were the hard-core poker players. I hesitate to call them addicts - but hardly any of them bothered to pay attention to Southern Methodist winning the Hawaii Bowl on TV screens.

I sat for the first tournament at a seven-player table. Five players were African-American, one was Asian-American - and then there was I. A minority in terms of race, and perhaps in morality as well.

The Asian-American man sat next to me, and plopped a basket of fries on the table. He apparently bought them merely for the bonus poker chips you get for a purchase, as he allowed me to eat most of them. Those were the only "chips" other players were willing to share all night.

"Since we're all here playing poker," I said to the table at one point, "I suppose you're like me - not keeping Christmas." No one really responded to that. Perhaps it would have been an admission many of the people didn't really have a life.

It didn't take long for the action to get interesting in Game 1....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

It's a strong hand and it's early, so we raise to 250. Several players around the table call.

ON THE FLOP: 10-8-10

We missed, but we have "overcards." Not wanting to look weak, we bet 300. A few players call to stay in.


Ah, that's better - two pair with the top kicker. We bet 300 again, and one other man calls.


That looks harmless and inconsequential. But now we check, hoping to get a read on what our opponent has -- and he answers by betting 1,050. Uh-oh. Is he hiding a third 10? We call to see if he's bluffing - but he's not. He has 10-5, and had us topped all along. His full house leaves us emptier.

While that loss hurt, I recovered by winning a few modest pots. One hand was downright strange, when I played A-4. Nothing paired on the board, and it turned out three other players held Aces with small secondary cards. The pot wound up as a four-way split -- something General Motors hasn't even been able to accomplish this year.

Late in the first hour of play, a shouting match erupted at the table next to ours. "You had a FLUSH!" one man standing at the table yelled. A lot of haggling ensued - in a possible preview of what department stores will face Saturday.

(I was told later the argument developed because the dealer put out all five face-up cards at once - not waiting for players to bet "on the flop" when the first three came out. Some players simply are too used to high-speed broadband online games.)

But then came the strangest sight of the evening, as a little girl walked into Lil Kim's Cove. She held a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and gave some kind of prepared speech which I couldn't really hear. Is this what school clubs have to do in December, to compete with the Salvation Army?

The girl had no mother or father standing by her - and after a moment, one of the female poker players suggested she leave. Lil Kim's Cove is essentially a bar, after all. The only product made with yeast that most people want is a bottle of beer.

Back at the game, our chip stack increased to 9,500 by the one-hour break. But the cards didn't come our way after that, and we finished the first tournament in tenth place. The remaining nine combined for the final table - so at least we had the courtesy of making room for them.

Usually we leave after the first game at Lil Kim's Cove, and walk home to blog about it. But this week we stayed for the second game - since late-night local newscasts were canceled, and the Christmas Eve church services downtown weren't giving away door prizes.

There's a jukebox inside Lil Kim's Cove, and its screen offered "Christmas hits" for the playing. But no one at the club selected any Thursday night. Well, I heard "The Midnight Special" at one point -- but I don't think that really counts as a carol.

When an Elvis Presley song came on the jukebox, I started modestly doing the twist in my seat. "You can't dance here," a man to our right declared. "This is a no-dancing table." Talk about a killjoy - but then again, Lil Kim's Cove does NOT have a pole in one corner.

The second half of the poker doubleheader began shortly before 10:00 p.m. ET, after the first tournament was settled with a three-way division of the prize money. While the play settled down, the "trash talk" by players escalated - leading me to say: "If a poker player tells you Santa Claus is real, don't believe him."

A moment of courage and decision came our way in Game 2, and it had nothing to do with trash talk....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit

Our chip stack is only average, compared to the players around us. We call the blind, prepared to push if necessary - but the table doesn't.


A pair of Aces always looks nice to us. But a man to our immediate right is playing first, and betting.1,000. Holding top pair, this is a no-brainer - and we call.

ON THE TURN: 8 (as best we recall)

The man to our right checks. So do we, actually feeling a bit relieved by this.


The man to our right examines our chips, then bets 3,000. That's enough to force us all-in, as we have 2,950 left. Uh-oh - is he holding a third 6?

"Ooh boy," a woman across the table says in sympathy with our situation. Then she asks about our work situation - a perfect stress release.

We explain what's happened to us in recent weeks. "But in this case...." we add, as we contemplate some more. Finally we decide to risk it all.

"Show me your 6," we say in semi-defeat as our stack of chips hits the table. "I have two pair with a King."

"You got it," the opponent says - as he held a King. Our two pair were higher, and we're thankful for an A-grade.

I reached the one-hour break in Game 2 with 9,000 chips. Then the second hour brought my strangest personal moment of the night. I put in a 1,000-chip piece for the big blind as the jukebox began playing Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind." So I stood up, and removed my hat. "It's the state song," I explained. If GPB had played it at sign-off, I might still have done it.

Trouble is, it was NOT my turn to post the big blind. Someone else wound up dealing the hand, and by the time play reached me it was too late to remove it. I made a substantial donation to someone else's chip stack - and didn't even get a doughnut for my trouble.

Forced to go all-in with the big blind with only 1,500 chips left, my Q-8 was outgunned by players with A-Q and A-10. An Ace on the river paired them, but not me. I wound up in 12th place, going none-for-two in reaching the final table -- even though earlier in the day I finished fifth in an online tournament with 250 players. Of course, they can't see your eyes or sweat online....

No one said "Merry Christmas" as I left Lil Kim's Cove. The remaining players simply kept up their games, as I stepped outside in pouring rain to quickly walk home. The only major holiday reference of the evening came when a player sitting next to a Christmas tree complained of having "pine needles up my...."

MINISTRY MOMENT: For the second night in a row, I took a AAA battery for a "card protector" at the tournaments (and of course much more).

"Why do you have the battery?" a man across the table asked during Game 2.

"It reminds me that I receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon me. I read that in a book once. Do you know what book that is?"

The man surprisingly made a good guess. "That's the Good Book, isn't it?"

I'm not sure how that phrase became attached to the Bible. It isn't found in Scripture -- and by the way for you zealots, neither is "Merry Christmas."

But I'm convinced reading and studying the Bible can do much good. It contains "good news," which is what the word "gospel" means. Paul summarizes that gospel in I Corinthians 15 -- and interestingly, he does NOT mention Jesus's birth. Paul focuses on the Savior's death, burial and resurrection. So if a minister Thursday night tried to keep Him in a manger, that was a mistake.

Paul then offers the hope of a resurrection to all who believe -- but verse 33 reminds us: "Bad company corrupts good character." Perhaps that's why I haven't probed too deeply into the lives of the poker players around me. Many of them smoke, some don't mind getting drunk - but at least none of them have tried to play strip poker at our games.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 123 nights (39.0%) - 10 cashes. We're counting Thursday's doubleheader as two nights. But with only one final table in the last 12, this is a serious slump for us.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,816 (no play)

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 3-6-3-1-0. Full tournaments - 7 final tables in 68 games (10.2%), no cashes. There's no slump here right now, as we've had top-five finishes three times in the last eight days.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - one top-three finish in seven games.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eyewitness Testimony

"I've got one for your blog," a man across the table from us said Wednesday night. An unusual poker story, that is.

He was in a tournament this week where one player went all-in with pocket sevens. "I had pocket eights. The board had nothing." So he took the other player out of the game, right?

Well, hold on. "A bystander walks by and says, 'I see a straight.' A bystander. The other guy had walked out." So it was too late to make amends, and bring the supposed loser back to the table.

What do you think of this? We'll offer our thoughts in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Poker Night 121: Sick, Then Better

A man across the table from us at Soho Bar and Grill tonight said he'd been sick. It was his first time outside his home in three days. So how would he do at the poker table? We learned that answer the hard way....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 10-7 of diamonds

It's only the second hand of the evening -- so this is worth a try. We call, as do most players.

ON THE FLOP: 10-8-5 (8 is a diamond)

It's top pair, and the action checks to us. We bet 200, hoping to scare "chasers" away. But a couple of players stay in, including the recovering sick man.

ON THE TURN: Ace of hearts

The flush dream is gone, and our "top pair" is topped. But we've seen cases where players continue to be aggressive in situations like this, and wind up with the pot. We bet 200 again.

"Raise," says the sick man. He adds 1,000, and we're in a quandary. He lost a lot of chips on the first hand. Is this a bluff to steal the pot? Is he prepared to throw in the towel, go home and recover? We sense a bluff, and call. Everyone else has folded by now.


Now we have two pair. But it's time for us to play some cat-and-mouse. We check, and our opponent throws in 550.

"I don't mind helping a sickly man," we say -- and call.

"I've got two pair," he announces. Trouble is, he has A-5. He takes the pot, costing us more than one-third of our chips.

That ailing man did it to us again in the next hand, winning a big pot to lower us to 950 chips. "Sick," we said to the players around us -- as in the modern lingo for very good.

Yet all was not lost tonight. We went all-in with 850 chips holding K-J, and a pair of Kings was enough to bounce us back to 4,350. Then we were dealt pocket Aces, went all-in again and improved to about 11,000. But things drained away after that huge comeback, and we finished 14th -- barely missing the semifinal table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I see you have a battery as a card protector," a man walking to our table said to us. (For the record, it was AAA.)

We're glad he brought that up. "You know what that reminds me?" we answered. "That I receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon me."

This analogy seemed to go right over the man's head. But we were quoting some of Jesus's final words of advice to His disciples, in Acts 1:8. We were in a mood for something a bit more provocative tonight -- but do you think it was too obscure?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 121 nights (39.7%) - 10 cashes.

People in our home city of Columbus, GA will want to know Lil Kim's Cove will have poker as usual Thursday night. And we're told (but have not confirmed) the Shanty Shack will have poker Friday night. Yes -- poker tournaments on what many consider Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. What do you think of that?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If it was real: 120-game report

It's been three months since we checked our live tournament performance against what might really happen at a casino. Of course, one recent tournament was real -- a $35 buy-in nightly game in northwest Florida which earned us fourth place and close to $200.

We use a pretend payout matrix based on money for the top five players. (At Ebro Greyhound Park, it actually was four -- but Harrah's in the Kansas City area told us they reward five.) In the last 20 tournaments, we made the final table seven times. But we finished in the top five at SIX of them: third twice, fourth three times (two of them ties) and fifth once.

Here's how the scoreboard breaks down:

BUY-INS: 120 nights x $50 = $6,000

First -- 4 ($2,000)
TIE for first: 1 ($450)

Second - 4 ($1,600)

Third -- 6 ($1,800)

Fourth - 6 ($1,200)
TIES for fourth:
three two-way ($450)
one three-way ($67)

Fifth -- 8 ($800)
TIE for fifth: 2 ($100)

TOTAL -- 35 for $8,467

We're in the top five almost 30 percent of the time -- and our return on buy-ins is still good, at 41.1 percent. That's admittedly down from about 45 percent in our last check. But we still fondly remember the night in October when the real return was 465 percent.

Two big events

We played in our second big Sunday championship in as many weeks tonight -- and at least this one went better than the first one.

For the first time, we qualified for the National League of Poker weekly championship with $1,000 in prizes. It's similar to NBC Sports, only with twice the players -- as the top 2,000 in weekly points made the field. But NLOP has so many more members that qualifying is tougher. Two top-five finishes in daily tournaments almost was not enough!

But we made the game, thanks to modest Saturday night sit-n-go success. And here's how it went....

:02 IN: King-Queen of hearts turn into two pair on the turn. Another player bets along with us, and we take a $640 pot.

:20 IN: We're dealt 10-9. We make top pair on the flop with 5-6-9 -- but then another player pushes all-in. Fearing that player has a higher pair, we fold. And of course, a third 9 shows up on the turn. He takes the pot with 9's and 7's, while we dream of a missed opportunity.

:33 IN: We're dealt A-10 with about 500 chips left. We think its time to take a stand -- but the flop is K-8-10, all diamonds. We don't have a diamond, and decline an all-in challenge. (We don't know what the pusher had.)

:37 IN: Holding K-J with rising blinds, we decide enough is enough. We push all-in with 320 left. A player calls with J-10. But a 10 falls on the flop, and a King never shows.

Final score: 674th out of 1,396 who entered. We're in the top half -- but as a speaker at church said earlier in the weekend, that's simply an "empty platitude."

Now back to last Sunday. We signed up for PokerStars.Net, to take advantage of the "$20,000 Freeroll" advertised on Fox's "Million Dollar Challenge" telecast. That site has a lot more players, a lot more tournaments -- and we're still trying to make sense of it all, to see which areas might offer cash prizes.

As for the tournament: more than 35,500 people entered. In fact, the number kept rising as we were playing. Trouble is, we didn't play long -- as we lost a classic "two pair vs. three of a kind" showdown with a big bet. Poker Stars reported we finished #34,964. Not dead last -- but close enough.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Poker Night 120: Is This a Trap?

Some poker players have a knack of figuring out their opponents' cards, simply by how the opponents bet. We admit we do not have that knack yet. So when we faced a moment of truth at Lil Kim's Cove tonight, we feared the worst....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: Q-A offsuit

We haven't won a hand yet, and we're down to about 3,200 chips. This is our moment to strike, so we raise to 500. Several players call.


Good! We have top pair and top kicker. But a woman ahead of us may have something better, because she bets 1,000. That's a substantial amount for us, but we choose to call. No one else does.


Ouch -- the woman going first bets 1,000 again. We're down to 1,725. Does she have two pair? After several seconds of pondering, we decide to take a stand.

"I'm all-in," we announce with the extra 725 pushed in. Perhaps not surprisingly, the woman calls.

"I have Queens with an Ace," we admit reluctantly.

"You've got me beat, with the Ace," the woman admits. She has a Queen, but with a smaller kicker.


Three clubs are on the board -- but there's no second pair and no flush. We made the right decision, and jump to 9,550 chips!

We climbed as high as 20,000 in the second hour of play. But then we admittedly started making big bets in "chases" of straights that never came. We dropped to 3,000, then went all-in again with K-Q. But nothing paired for us, while it did for a man with a 3. We finished 12th overall, reaching the semifinal table for the second night in a row.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Earlier in the day, we had our best finish yet at the National League of Poker -- third place out of 225 players. (But only first place took the cash prize of $10.) Along the way, we took on a player named "PornKing." After a polite conversation about online poker sites, we won a nice pot over him.

"PTL, Mr. Porn King," we wrote on the chat line. He didn't respond. But hopefully he looked up what that abbreviation means -- to "Praise the Lord."

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 120 nights (40%) - 10 cashes.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,944 - unchanged (no games played)

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 3-3-2-1-0. Full tournaments - 5 final tables in 58 games (8.6%), no cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Hey wait -- we haven't told you about that, have we? We're there now; details are coming up.

Wait Your Turn

We learned a lesson Wednesday night in how a poker dealer is supposed to operate. But someone else received all the blame for the problems that resulted.

We dealt a flop, then a turn card. A man to our immediate left (next in order to deal) then started collecting the face-down cards which had been folded and burned. But in the process, he raked in the cards of a man still in the hand! He'd leaned back for a moment and taken his hands off them, with no card protector (like our "Jesus as your Savior" coin).

The man who took charge of the cards said such raking is common by the dealer at real poker rooms. But others said he was out of line to collect cards while a hand was in progress -- and besides, he had already folded.

In an effort to make peace, we apologized. We didn't realize part of our duty was to clean the table of dead cards, so it was our fault. No one else wanted to accept that explanation.

The point of the moment? Patience should be exercised not only when you're playing a poker hand -- but even when you're out of it. The man who collected the cards has a habit of playing very quickly and urging others to do so, as if he has a classic "Type A" personality.

"Be completely humble and gentle," Paul advises in Ephesians 4:2; "be patient, bearing with one another in love." One player at our table noted if a cash-game was underway, the man who collected cards quickly would NOT have been treated lovingly. He might be shown the door - at least.

Poker has an order to it, in terms of taking turns. May you be a courteous example by not jumping the gun, and risking offense to those around you.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Poker Night 119: Let It Snow

In poker lingo, pocket pairs can have all sorts of slang names. Tonight at Soho Bar and Grill, we saw snowmen. Indoors.

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: 8 of spades - 8 of clubs

A man sitting to our left already has noticed we've barely played any hands. We explained we were waiting for the right moment. This looks like one -- but we merely call, as several other players do.


A third snowman decorates the green felt. We bet 600 -- which may seem modest, but it's the "bottom trip." Most players fold, but one man with a studded $ sign on his hat calls.


A lower card means a higher bet. We toss out 1,200, but the man across from us still calls.


We're not sure what our opponent has. Might he be sitting on pocket Jacks? We slow down and bet 600 again. He calls -- and shows J-8 for two pair.

"I'm toll free," we say. As in 8-8-8. As in a handsome pot. This is a classic case of two pair feeling deceptively strong, when an opponent has a hidden three of a kind.

But then came a couple of big losses, which left us with only 1,500 chips at the one-hour break. A desperate all-in push with J-6 of clubs was good enough heads-up for a recovery to 9,000. But higher blinds made that fade away, and we wound up 11th -- missing the final table, but still gaining our best result at Soho since early November.

MINISTRY MOMENT: On a night which had several, we'll long remember that man with the $ sign on his hat. He wound up next to us at the semifinal table, and brought up the name of God a lot with nearby friends. Trouble was, profanity followed that name.

"That's the difference between you and me," we finally told him. "If I had your success [and his chip stack was much bigger], I'd be praising God." (See for example Psalm 113:1-3.)

"Instead of what?"

"Instead of saying what you said."

"What did I say?" (No, we did not repeat it for him.) He admitted after a moment, "I don't know what I'm saying."

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by that. When a bar offers big poker chips as bonuses for buying beer and other beverages, some players can lose their senses -- yet somehow they still have enough sense to keep playing poker and doing well.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 119 nights (40.3%) - 10 cashes.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Rewind: Angels Unawares

The final table topic turned to angels the other night. (No, not the Los Angeles baseball team.) As far as we can tell, the Bible names only two.

Gabriel was sent to Earth to tell a young woman about her firstborn -- Jesus, "the Son of the Most High.... his kingdom will never end." (Luke 1:26-33)

Michael is an archangel, who must have had an interesting conversation years ago "when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses...." (Jude 9) Some religious groups claim to know what that dispute was about, but that's not our issue here.

We found no Scripture to verify the sort of musical instruments these angels play. But we think they have more important duties than that.

Michael is also a "great prince who protects your people," according to Daniel 12:1. That angel protected heaven in some kind of dramatic war against Satan and demons -- a battle the "righteous angels" won (Rev. 12:7-9).

Hebrews 1:14 says angels are "ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation." Are they serving you? Have you assured yourself a place in the salvation inheritance list? That comes not through angels, but through Jesus as your Savior.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Poker Night 118: Do You See What I See?

Do you dream of hitting a big hand at a poker tournament -- just one big hand? Then you won't believe what happened to us tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 10-8 of clubs

We played well getting to the one-hour break, and hold about 15,000 chips. With a smaller stack and blinds this high, this hand would be marginal. We call, sitting "on the button" (dealer). Several players join in.

ON THE FLOP: 9c-10-3 (don't really recall the last card)

The table checks to us. People have been betting big at this table all night, so we see top pair and bet 2,500. A player across from us calls; the rest fold.

ON THE TURN: 6 of clubs.

The man across from us checks. So do we -- and that puzzles one player who folded.

"You bet before, and now you're not going to bet again?!?!"

We see a straight draw, but we're not going to say that. As we hold the river card aloft, we answer: "Maybe I'm waiting. Waiting to see [dramatic pause] ....THIS!"

ON THE RIVER: 7 of clubs

The man across from us must sense weakness on our part. He bets 5,000 -- and of course we call.

"I've got a straight," we say turning the cards over. Oh wait. "And a flush."

"A straight flush," a man to our right points out. WOW -- we never even noticed that until he mentioned it! We not only win a big pot, but a 5,000-chip bonus for that huge hand.

Impressed by that? Believe it or not, another big hand came our way once the final table gathered -- as holding a 10, we hit QUADS on the river! No one bet into us that time, but the "tenor quartet" earned us another 5,000-chip bonus.

And yet, alas, we did NOT win the tournament tonight. We wound up in third place (one off the money -- losing a decisive race when our A-9 paired a 9 on the board, but another player paired a Jack to top us.

Yet all in all, it was a nice night to remember. We told ourselves as we walked to Lil Kim's Cove we were due to have a big night -- and indeed we did.

MINISTRY MOMENT: On a cold night in Columbus, we wore a black hoodie -- imitating pro poker star Phil Laak, except without the sunglasses. A man sat down next to us for the final table, wearing a white Sean John hoodie.

"I'm being an angel," the man joked as we compared clothes.

"If you're an angel, what does that make me?" we answered.

A few minutes later, we went back to that. "So are you the angel Gabriel? Or Michael?"

Our friend wasn't sure how to answer that -- but he recalled there are two angels with that name. We pointed out they're both actually archangels.

"Gabriel plays the horn," a woman across the table said, "while Michael plays the harp. Is that right?"

We didn't recall that detail, but said we'd "have to look that up." We invite you to do the same, and we'll compare notes in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 48 final tables in 118 nights (40.7%) - 10 cashes. Good to be back, after six misses in a row.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,944 - unchanged (no play)

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 2-3-2-1-0. Full tournaments - 4 final tables in 49 games (8.2%), no cashes.

We had a third-place finish online this week as well -- in a 46-player Tuesday qualifying tournament for the monthly Senior Championship.

Them vs. Him Part 2

In Part 1 of this chat from an online poker game, we told a player he should trust in the true God, not the "card gods." The discussion continued to seeking Jesus in prayer, and the thoughts overlap a bit....

stingray74: now im gonna ask jesus for help
Me: Always a good idea.
stingray74: he loves to gamble
Me: Whether it works at a poker table.... open to debate.
Dealer: flopblogger wins Main Pot ($270)
Me: I think when He came to earth, it was a sure thing.

The part we meant as "open to debate" is seeking Jesus's help in a poker tournament. We're open to discussion on this, but we think there are bigger things to pray about than poker.

"You do not have, because you do not ask God," says James 4:2-3. But then James adds, "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."

There's one for some soul-searching and self-examining. How do you plan to use any poker winnings you get? To buy "buckets of beer" at the bar, to drink the night away? Or for something beyond yourself (the King James Version says "your lusts") -- maybe giving some to do the work of God?

Is God a gambler -- and was He, when He sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins? We did a Bible study on this several years ago, in relation to another casino game. Click this link to read and consider it.

The religious chat didn't end there....

stingray74: oh c**p now jesus wants 10 of my earnings
Me: It's only 10%. the feds take much more.
stingray74: lol so true
Me: And you may be able to deduct the 10% as a charitable donation.

The idea of tithing goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. After Abram won a major battle, he met "Melchizedek king of Salem" and gave him "a tenth of everything." (Gen. 14:18-20) Many Bible experts believe Melchizedek actually was a figure of Christ, encountering Abram long before entering the world as Jesus.

And as for that last line: donations to charities such as religious groups can be tax-deductible in the U.S., especially if you have a high income. Check Schedule A -- and don't forget to pay taxes on your poker winnings.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poker Night 117: Super Sloppy Double Dare

OK, we'll admit it right up front. We played lousy poker tonight at Soho Bar and Grill. Downright lousy. As in second player out at our table.

Maybe it was the woman who started at our table with 25,000 extra chips -- a bonus for bringing five new players. (Yes, some places treat poker like Amway.) Maybe it was because we tried a hand of old-fashioned solitaire before the tournament -- and while the woman near us played every card, we were left holding 38 of them.

To be fair, we DID won a pot. Holding Q-Q, we bet 500 when A-7-7 came on the flop and everyone folded. But too many hands were like this one....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-10 offsuit

It's a promising hand, and we haven't done much so far. We raise to 400, and several players call.

ON THE FLOP: 10-Q-9 (the queen is a club)

With middle pair and a nice kicker, we make a continuation bet of 200. A man to our immediate left calls; everyone else folds.

ON THE TURN: 6 of clubs

We're concerned our opponent might have a Queen to top us. We bet 100. He calls.

ON THE RIVER: 4 of clubs

This is even more trouble, as it puts three clubs on the board. We check.

"1,500," our opponent announces.

"Why did you have to do that?" we ask with a bit of fake disdain.

"I hit." That's all he says.

Fearing the worst, we fold. Then the pot-winner shows what he had -- 8-2. Of spades, not clubs. He was bluffing all along.

Our frustration grew from there -- and minutes later, we bet the minimum 200 with A-9 of hearts. A man across the table raised to 1,200. We were down to 2,125, and dared to go all-in. He called, and showed A-A. Two hearts hit the board (as did a 9), but we were left one card short.

MINISTRY MOMENT: When a flop came tonight, a man across the table mentioned God. Only he followed it with a common four-letter expletive.

"He might be blessing it," we said -- but we're not sure he heard that. No one pursued what we said.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 47 final tables in 117 nights (40.2%) - 10 cashes. We've missed the final table six times in a row.

Them vs. Him

Sometimes it's easy for us to bring up the things of God at a poker table. A moment of online frustration inspired one this week....

stingray74: the card gods are not with me today
Dealer: flopblogger [Me] wins Main Pot ($160)
Me: Don't trust them. Trust the one true God.
stingray74: maybe thats my prob

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." So says Deuteronomy 6:4. The idea of a group of "card gods" is a nice way of explaining a bad day. But the Bible says they don't exist. The chat continues, and things turn around....

Dealer: stingray74 wins Main Pot ($860) with Two pair, aces and threes
Me: there ya go
Me: very good
stingray74: thanx man
stingray74: now im gonna ask jesus for help
Me: Always a good idea.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." That's how the book of John begins -- and from there, John explains that Word "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

He did that in the person of Jesus Christ. Now the resurrected Jesus "speaks to the Father in our defense" when we sin (I John 2:1). In fact, verse two calls Christ "the atoning sacrifice for our sins...." when we appeal to God in prayer. Have you appealed to that heavenly attorney lately?

There's more to this discussion. We'll continue it in a future post.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Spirit of Giving

No, this post has nothing to do with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa -- or even Festivus. It's about an attitude which may seem strange to take to a poker tournament.

The object of the game in poker is to take everyone else's chips. Show up in a mood to give your chips away, and you may have plenty of fun at a free tournament (nothing wrong with that at all) -- but your success record won't be very high.

The other night a poker regular came up to us, short on real-life money. He asked us to buy a soda for him. We're assuming it's a one-time-only deal, so we did it -- and he let us keep the 1,000-chip bonus for buying a drink.

Giving shouldn't be merely a December thing. Big-time poker names and celebrities have joined for several years in the Ante Up for Africa charity tournament, helping needy people in the Darfur region of Sudan.

You might be able to find a worthy cause or group in your city which could benefit from a special poker fund-raiser. Or perhaps at least you can be on the lookout for a fellow player with needs, whether great or small.

"A gift opens the way for the giver, and ushers him into the presence of the great," says Proverbs 18:16. Who knows what your act of generosity might do?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Poker Night 116: Kiss Me K-8

"If you check, you lose. If you bet, you win." A young man to our right told us that tonight at Lil Kim's Cove. But poker hands don't always work that way. In fact, the young man should have realized that a few minutes earlier....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: K-8 of clubs

This is a hand we wouldn't play most of the time. But we're in the big blind, and no one raised. In fact, only a couple of players even bothered to toss in the minimum. So sure, we'll call.


Talk about hitting the jackpot! But we're first in line to bet. So we take our time, pause for a moment, then politely check.

"I'm all in," a man to our immediate left declares. He has 3,000 or so -- and to be honest, we didn't bother to count because there's nothing to think about. The other remaining players don't jump into the trap with him, and fold.

"I'll call -- because I hit it." The table is impressed by our full house. Our opponent has A-6.

"I think he's drawing dead," another player guesses. But we note he could hit running Aces.


He didn't. The last card (a 7, as best we recall) doesn't matter. We take him out, and our chip count jumps above 10,000.

After the young man left, one or two players said he learned how to play poker from someone named John -- a man who bet big against us with bad results during the summer. Moral of the story: sometimes aggressive betting can blow up in your face.

Our outcome tonight was a tie for 13th place, practically the same as last night. The end came when we pushed with A-Q, but the board failed to match and another player made two pair.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A player across the table from us asked what we were doing these days. We gave a similar answer from the night before -- explaining the fill-in, low-income job we've been doing. But we added at the end: "God provides."

"He said he would," the man across the table answered. Let's reinforce that point with the words of the apostle Peter. "Whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies...."

But is the end result to exalt ourselves? I Peter 4:11 (NASB) goes on to declare the answer is no: " that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 47 final tables in 116 nights (40.5%) - 10 cashes.

YAHOO POKER TOTAL: $13,944 - unchanged (no play)

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 2-2-1-0-0. Full tournaments - 3 final tables in 37 games (8.1%), no cashes.

We removed NBC Sports from our computer this week, since the merger with NLOP seems permanent. We're finding NLOP a much more challenging place to play, because the daily tournaments are larger (700 to 800 players at times) and the betting tends to be more daring (all-in early or else).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Poker Night 115: The Price is Right

We mentioned here recently how some people make big moves with their chips early in a tournament, hoping to grab the lead. To borrow from Ecclesiastes 3, we believe there's a time and a place to be "pushy." Tonight's game at Soho Bar and Grill was one of them....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-J offsuit

That's potentially a big hand, and we won an all-in bet a few hands before with K-K. We raised in the big blind before the flop then. We simply call now. Several players do the same.


We're first in line to bet, and put out 3,500. "Are you trying to buy the pot?" a man sitting next to us asks.

"Now would I do that?" we coyly ask in reply. After all, we could have said, we have top pair and top kicker. Is that an attempt to buy the pot, or simply make the most of what we have?

The man next to us folds -- and so does everybody else, giving us the pot. But the man who asked the question asks the dealer to play out the cards.



One player curses, bemoaning the fact that he had a 10. Our big bet scared him off a straight draw. Ahhhh -- the very idea.

We won several hands tonight, but only reached the semifinal table. An all-in push with 9,500 chips and K-Q didn't work, as the board didn't pair and an Ace appeared to give someone a pair.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "How come you haven't been to Lil Kim's Cove?" a player asked us during the one-hour break. We explained we went out of town for a job interview a couple of Thursdays ago, and then there was no game on Thanksgiving.

"They also play on Tuesday," the man said. We knew that, but explained Tuesday is the night when we take part in a telephone Bible discussion. (If you'd like to join in, leave a comment and we'll provide details.)

We told the man we're still looking for full-time work -- but "God provides." Many Bible verses indicate this, such as Psalm 111:5. "He provides food for those who fear him...." It turns out we were able to provide for someone else tonight; we'll share details in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 47 final tables in 115 nights (40.9%) - 10 cashes.