Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thanks to You

Just did the math for the first half of the year -- and the number of unique visitors to this blog is up a whopping 78.7 percent from 2009!

We are humbled. We thank you for your interest, for spreading the word about our poker blog -- and especially for those of you who have told you appreciate the ministry we try to do.

Caring Means Sharing

Some people (especially religious critics) say poker is a game of greed. Players try to take everyone else's chips, to win the game.

At most tournaments, the player who winds up with everything does indeed take the grand prize. The World Series of Poker (underway right now) works that way. But at smaller local tournaments, the outcome sometimes can be different.

We noted how Monday night's game at The Red Barn ended with a "first-place" prize being split three ways -- including a little for us. And we found out a recent "top 50" tourney which we missed ended with an even wider split. The $1,000 prize was divided nine ways -- as players at the final table agreed everyone there would take home $100, with the champ claiming $200.

The lesson in this? Not all poker players are as "cut-throat" and greedy as the critics say. Some very well can be -- but perhaps without knowing it, the others practice a principle mentioned in Hebrews 13:16. "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

Proverbs 22:9 adds: "A generous man will himself be blessed...." If poker players are willing to share some of their blessings with each other, what are you doing with the blessings God gives you?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June Senior Championship: Summer Evaporation

"Lots of seniors play here," someone commented tonight during the National League of Poker monthly senior championship. In fact, 930 players competed -- but only one could win the $100 top prize. Was it us? Let's find out....

:02 IN: We have A-8, in the second hand of the night. A big loser in the first hand goes all-in with 10-10. We call, and three 8's develop. We win $750.

:03 IN: We have K-4 of clubs. An uninspiring flop of A-9-9 comes, but everyone checks. The turn and river are 4-4, and our bet with a full house makes everyone fold. We win $320.

:05 IN: We have Q-10 of hearts. The flop is J-Q-5, and our minimum bet chases the table away.

:10 IN: We have A-Q offsuit. The flop is 9-7-9, and players check. The turn is a 3, and we make a misleading minimum bet of 60. It works, as everyone folds. We win $270 -- and eventually reach the first break at $1,605, in 129th place.

:30 IN: We have 6-3 in the Big Blind. The flop is Q-K-3, but we don't bet with bottom pair. The table checks, then the turn is K. We probably should have bet there, but we checked again. The river is a Q, putting two high pair on the board and counterfeiting our pair of 3's. A minimum bet by another player forces us to fold.

:31 IN: Next hand is much better -- A-K in the small blind. A player goes all in for $395, and we're happy to call. Everyone else folds. Our opponent has A-Q.

ON THE FLOP: Q-5-5

"Ouch," we say to that.

ON THE TURN: K

"Wait," we now declare with a better pair.

ON THE RIVER: 3

"(Whew)" is our response to a come-from-behind $1,090 win!

At the second break, we're at $1,975. But no real good hands come our way in the third period, and rising blinds drop us to $1,350.

:57 IN: We fold 4-2 of clubs -- and miss our big moment to make a comeback. The flop is 4-2-9, and a 4 on the river would have given us a full house.

1:09 IN: With only 525 left and the blinds at 200/400/50, we go all-in with As-8c. But the board doesn't pair for us, while giving someone else a pair of Kings. We stuck around awhile, but only gained 123rd place.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Poker Night 171: Three-Way Dance

To last deep into a poker tournament, we're convinced you need a good amount of patience and a little bit of good timing. Both of them finally came together for us at The Red Barn tonight -- and the result was a third-place finish, our best result since an Atlanta game in February.

The Red Barn normally only pays the winner. But with three players remaining and a second tournament to follow, the Tournament Director (one of the three) made a nice proposal: split the $25 prize money three ways. He took $10; another man who said he was playing poker for only the fourth time took $10 -- and because our stack was the smallest, we'd wind up with $5.

So how did we survive for third place? After a big early win with pocket Aces and a couple of missed chases, we endured to the final table for this....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit

Six players remain. The blinds will go up next hand. And we're second in order to bet. We figure this could be our last good hand, so we don't wait: we push all-in with 4,500 chips left. Three other players don't seem scared, and call.

ON THE FLOP: 7-4-3

Not an overpowering Ace, but top pair is a good start. The remaining players bet.

ON THE TURN: 7

"Sevens are wild," someone watching the table says. Indeed -- wildly popular for us! Betting between two players continues, and a woman to our right goes all-in as well.

"Seven's on my side," we say turning over our cards (and with apologies to a San Francisco television station). The woman who pushed only has A-6.

ON THE RIVER: K

Two pair is the best anyone else can do. We more than triple our stack, to more than 15,000 -- and we're thankful for the nice run to go on.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Several presented themselves to us tonight, including one exchange among several people.

"The poker gods are not with me," said the Tournament Director (well before he finished second).

"I wish the air conditioning god was with you," a woman responded. "It's hot in here."

"I believe there's only one God," we declare -- adding he's Lord over everything. "But maybe I'm just weird."

"I don't think you're weird," answered a Christian friend to our immediate left. He agrees with us about one God -- and the woman who brought up the air conditioning seemed to agree, although she didn't say much.

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord," agrees Deuteronomy 6:4. Yet John 1:1 adds a critical extra detail: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse 14 indicates that Word became known to us as Jesus Christ. Is He your Lord, too?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 70 final tables in 171 nights (40.9%) - 12 cashes.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday Rewind: Hand (and Soul) History

A prior post included a poker player's unusual explanation of souls. He claimed his soul was own, passed down to him from his parents.

If we were talking about DNA and genetics, that might make sense -- but souls? Can you simply pass one on from parent to child, the way some people "pass the deal" to another player moments after sitting down at the table?

Perhaps we should start by defining what a soul is. Using the Bible as our defining point, it can mean a living being. Or it can mean the consciousness which gives a being life.

Who was first to have a soul? Adam? No - the Creator of Adam. Isaiah 1:10-14 indicate God has a soul. While His is immortal, ours is not.

"The soul who sins is the one who will die," says Ezekiel 18:4. Uh-oh -- Romans 3:23 indicates we've all sinned. So are all souls doomed? Not at all. Revelation 20:4 shows the souls of Jesus's followers will come back to life, and reign with the Lord 1,000 years!

This might be a new subject to some of you -- and it's certainly a complex one. We wrote a Bible study article about souls several months ago. We pray it will help you make sense of where souls start, and where they can potentially finish.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Poker Night 170: AK Attacked

There are nights in poker when the cards are your friends, and winning hands come often. But enough about last night -- let's check what happened at Lil Kim's Cove tonight:

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A of clubs - K of diamonds

We tried to play the first hand of the night with A-4 and had two pair at the turn, but big bets by other players forced us to flee. (It wasn't good enough, anyway.) Hardly any good opportunities have come since then, and our chip stack is a precarious 3,150. So we decide this is the hand for making a move. We raise to 1,000 pre-flop, and several players call.

ON THE FLOP: Jd-10d-4h

Not quite what we're after, but there's hope here -- three diamonds and a "gutshot" straight draw. A woman to our immediate right bets 600. With two "over-cards" and a previous raise, we feel compelled to call. Several other players join in.

ON THE TURN: 6h

Ugh. That didn't do it, either. The woman to our right now bets 1,000. If we call, our chip count would drop to the 1,500-range. This doesn't pass our comfort test, so we fold our big cards.

ON THE RIVER: 5c

It's probably just as well -- we would have had merely Ace high. The woman who was betting made everyone else fold at that point, by betting 2,000. (We think she had two pair.)

An all-in try after the one-hour break with A-2 didn't work, either. No Ace came, and away we went tied for 30th place (from a double take-out).

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our little plastic sword had several people asking questions at the table tonight. We pointed out the word of God is "sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12) -- as in the Scriptures.

"Do you read the Bible?" we asked a few people. We heard one young woman quietly say she did. Then she said other things, which we couldn't quite hear.

Look around the Bible, and you'll find other references to swords. When Jesus comes back to Earth, one prophecy projects "Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations" (Revelation 19:15).

This section of Revelation looks forward to a frightening moment for a lot of people: "....kings, generals, and mighty men.... all people, free and slave, small and great.... killed with the sword that came out of the rider on the horse" (verses 18, 21).

Yes, the Bible indicates Jesus is coming to kill people -- apparently large numbers of people. But read on to Revelation 21, and you'll find a new heaven and new earth with eternal life will be offered to "he who overcomes.... those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (21:7, 27).

How do you escape Jesus's deadly sword? By getting in His "good book," if we might use that term. Revelation 22:14 in the King James Version suggests how it's done: "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." Will you seek that blessing God offers?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 69 final tables in 170 nights (40.6%) - 11 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - 4-9-4-2-2. Full tournaments - 53 point wins in 291 games (18.2%), 23 final tables, 1 cash.

The latest final table online came Monday - a sixth-place finish out of 127 players. And the cash actually came in the mail today -- a ten-dollar check for winning a tournament six weeks ago.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $10,733, down $300.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Poker Night 169: Four Times Better

It had been six weeks since we spent a Wednesday night playing poker at Soho Bar & Grill. But the way our schedule for the week turned out, we went there this week after skipping the Red Barn.

Soho is a much more competitive place to play -- with five or six tables going at once. A big early loss took away half our stack, making it look like we wouldn't survive table #1. But then a double-up came with A-K. A couple more big wins followed, including a full house from 2-2. And then....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: 9-9

Only three tables remain in action. We have about 35,000 chips. Other people might push with this rather high pocket pair, but we merely call when our turn comes. No one raises.

ON THE FLOP: 10-9-9

Are you kidding me?!?!?! Quads on the flop!!! But yes -- this looks familiar, and we were burned not long ago in this position.

Yet the Big Dog Poker rules haven't changed -- you can't claim 5,000 bonus chips for quads unless the hand reaches the river. So we turn on the deadpan poker face, check and hope. About three other players in the hand check as well.

ON THE TURN: A

As we recall, a possible straight flush became impossible at this point. So we have a winner for the moment. A big-talking guy to our right bets 4,000. We look at our pocket cards carefully, in nothing more than an acting job -- then politely call. Everyone else ponders and folds, as we sip a little soda.

ON THE RIVER: 4

The man to our right thinks for a moment, then decides: "8,000."

We could have gone all-in here, to really tempt our opponent into a disastrous mistake. But we want to leave no doubt about the quad bonus -- so we say quietly, "I'll call."

"He's GOT the f**king NINE!!!" the man exclaims before we can finish counting our eight 1,000-dollar chips. He walks away from the table and halfway across the room, a bit like Phil Hellmuth on a bad day.

"Come here," we say quietly to the opponent. "I want you to see this."

After a moment of venting, he returns to the table for show-and-tell time. "I didn't have just one nine...."

"Quaaaaaads!" the rest of the table shouts. We don't. We take the pot and the bonus with a smile. Our opponent didn't show his cards, but admitted later he had A-10. (Another man noted we were downright nice, in not eliminating him. Call that another lesson of Memorial Day.)

That big gain helped us reach the final table -- something we haven't been able to do at Soho since last November. But another early exit happened there, as we went all-in pre-flop with A-K. The board didn't pair, and a man beat us with a pair of 10's. Yet we left satisfied with ninth place -- and a reminder that quads do win most of the time.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The discussion at one table turned to noisy players, and one man across from us recalled a game the week before. "I wanted to be like Kurt Cobain," he said, "and blow my brains out. I know that's a bad comparison...."

"Kurt Cobain sold his soul to the devil," someone else said.

As the discussion continued and we took the deal, we said: "It's better to be soul-ed out for God -- to give your soul to him."

The man who brought up Cobain took issue with that idea. "My soul belongs to me. It's mine."

"Who gave it to you, then?" we asked.

"My parents did."

Hmmmm -- what do you think of that explanation? Our thoughts will appear in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 69 final tables in 169 nights (40.8%) -- 11 cashes.

One Life to Live?

We're not talking about the soap opera today -- but the idea that one chance at life is all you have.

Play poker long enough, and you'll see some amazing comebacks. We've had a few -- and a recent one led to this exchange online:

SupraFrank: flop u got 9 lives
Me: Well, at least 2.
Dealer: rodhar83 wins Main Pot ($1580) with Two pair, kings and queens
Me: There's this life - and the one to come. :-)


The discussion didn't get beyond that -- but do you understand what we mean? The apostle Paul did.

"If only for this life we have hope in Christ," he wrote in I Corinthians 15:19, "we are to be pitied more than all men." In other words: we're born, we die, that's it.

But no -- "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.... as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him" (vs. 22-23).

Jesus was resurrected from the grave -- and someday, believers will be too! And the good news doesn't stop there.

"We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.... For the perishable just clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality" (vs. 51-53). Believers will have immortal bodies, and eternal life!

If you're in a poker slump and wondering where your life is going, we encourage you to read all of I Corinthians 15. It's a chapter offering hope of the greatest comeback possible.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bluffing Beyond Bounds

The river card was a heart. It put four hearts on the board. Two players remained in the hand, and they checked.

"Have you got a pair?" one player asked. "If you've got a pair, you win."

"I do," the opponent answered, and slowly showed his cards.

Then the first player flipped over an Ace of hearts. No, he won the pot -- holding the nut flush.

"That's not fair," the losing player said firmly but not loudly. "It's not sportsmanlike."

This actually happened recently at a live poker table we watched. The loser didn't directly say it, but the man with the flush lied at the showdown -- claiming the man with a pair could win the hand, when he really couldn't. Perhaps the winner wanted to avoid showing a piece of his strategy, by deflating his opponent into mucking his cards.

Bluffing is part of the game in poker. Even misleading comments happen during hands. But this man with a flush took it farther than we've ever seen, with a flat-out lie after the betting was finished.

"Kings take pleasure in honest lips," says Proverbs 16:13; "they value a man who speaks the truth."

Compare that with the last part of Revelation 21:8. "All liars -- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

There's a time and a place in poker for bluffing. But we personally never make a lying statement. We know from the Bible what the potential punishment could be, and we take that seriously.

The man with the nut flush apologized to the man he beat, and even threw him a chip worth 1,000 to make up for it. Did he learn a lesson in sportsmanship? Only time will tell with him. Hopefully you have now.

Mr. Big

Poker tables can be filled with interesting characters -- and not merely in Las Vegas or on televised tours. Our city has one player who, well, has a big persona.

He usually goes by the name Buddha -- but when he wins a major pot, he declares himself "Big Daddy." He says he makes some money from poker. But now he's in training to do something very different.

Read Buddha's story in today's entry at our other blog, The Blog of Columbus. And for a glimpse of what he thinks about matters of faith, click on the "Buddhism" tag below.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Poker Night 168: The Power of Ten

He looks more like a "Babyface" than a tough guy. But the man sitting to our left at Lil Kim's Cove tonight acted like a poker bully from the start. Before he even sat down for his first hand, he raised 1,000 pre-flop. He did it again and again -- raising with anything. Yet he won several big pots, so he built a huge stack. What's a cautious-minded player to do?

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We sit two chairs ahead of the "bully," and have tried and failed twice already. In one case, A-8 in the pocket didn't pair on the flop -- and his post-flop bet of 2,000 forced us to fold. Realizing what he might do now, we call the blind.

Then, of course, he raises -- and for the second hand in a row, he goes up 2,000. A man across from him goes all-in with 6,150. "I can't call an all-in," the bully says -- only we remember he's spouted lies before during the evening.

A man to our immediate right thinks it over for awhile, then folds. "I'll try it," we announce -- but all we have left after calling the 2,000 is 2,350. The bully actually means what he says, and folds. We're left to go heads-up against a bigger pusher. We turn over the Jacks. He waits.

ON THE FLOP: 8-K-2

We miss. Our opponent shows a King. Uh-oh.

ON THE TURN: 10

The dealing comes non-stop....

ON THE RIVER: 7

"I've got two pair," our opponent says. K-10, in fact. He takes us out -- about the fourth player to be eliminated from the table.

"Good time to fold big slick," the man to our immediate right says. He pondered A-K, but folded.

"And what did you have?" we ask the bully.

"I had 2-4." Assuming he's telling the truth, he probably would have bet on the flop with bottom pair. But his approach to the game succeeded in throwing others off theirs -- including us.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "You have your lucky charm?!" a man asked us at the bar after we were eliminated.

"I don't even eat Lucky Charms," we told him -- as in cereal.

But the man knew we bring unusual card protectors. Tonight, it was a small "Thank you" card distributed by a bank years ago. "It's a reminder to me to be thankful," we explained. "What are you thankful for today?"

"Getting up in the morning."

"You should thank God for that every day," we said to encourage him. And we encourage you the same way. Thanksgiving shouldn't simply be a November thing -- be thankful to God for every blessing he gives. And oh yes: thank you for visiting this blog.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 68 final tables in 168 nights (40.5%) - 11 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes: 4-9-4-2-1. Full tournaments - 51 point wins in 282 games (18.1%), 22 final tables, 1 cash.

We gained points three afternoons in a row this week, including a fifth-place finish Monday out of 160 players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games -- $11,033, down $380.

Poker terms in Scripture

Let's have some fun for a change. How many words commonly used at the poker table can you find in the Bible?

For instance: Isaiah 24:16 says, "the treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously." (KJV) Hopefully they were reported to the casino management! :-)

Your turn....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bent or Bowed?

Our last post mentioned the appearance at an online tournament by a player with the handle "Hellbent." We told that player we'd rather bow toward heaven.

The "H word" (not heaven) doesn't seem to be a shocking expletive today, compared to when we were growing up. We've actually heard a minister or two bring up that player's name during sermons, saying some people are "hell-bent" to do all sorts of bad things.

While that word isn't in the Bible, Hosea 11:7 in the King James Version says this: "My people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him."

"Backsliding" in the NIV is translated, "to turn from me." Turning away from God to your own way of doing things (such as drunken sprees playing poker at bars or casinos) simply asks for trouble -- because Isaiah 55:9 says God's ways are higher than ours.

When the trouble comes (note we didn't say if), it's time to turn back to God -- confessing your sins and mistakes before Him. Isaiah wrote about that, too. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon" (Isa. 55:7).

This process is known by the Christian term repentance -- accepting God's rule over your life. Isaiah writes again, in behalf of God: "Before me every knee shall bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, 'In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength'" (Isa. 45:23-24).

Don't be "hellbent" -- seek Heaven and repent. Such turning to God is time well spent.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poker Night 167: Show Me the Love

"This is an anniversary for me," we told several people at The Red Barn tonight. "Three years ago tonight, I played my first live poker tournament." On that night in 2007, we were pleased simply to avoid being eliminated first at our table. On this night, there were several reasons to smile -- beginning right off the bat:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-4 of hearts

It's the first hand of the night. Why not? We get in. Lots of players do. No raising happens.

ON THE FLOP: 3h-6h-9h

It's tempting to raise now, though -- as a "nut flush" falls right in front of us! The play checks to us. And hoping to maximize our profits, we slow-play and bet 100. Two players call.

ON THE TURN: 9d

A pair is on the board, which might open the door for some concern about a full house. But we bet before, and we raise the stakes now to 400. One player folds; the other calls.

ON THE RIVER: 2c

To be honest, a possible full house isn't even on our minds now. We bet 2,000.

"I'm down," our remaining opponent says -- and we take the early lead.

Several hands later, we made a second flush with hearts. Then at a key moment with about ten players left, our A-Q of diamonds turned into a third flush -- which admittedly annoyed a couple of opponents!

It all helped us reach the final table. But then we tried a couple of risky chases which didn't work, and we wound up fittingly being eliminated by another player with a flush. We finished eighth -- much better than three years ago, but still a bit disappointing in our new drive for top-five scores. (We actually dropped one spot from last Monday night.)

MINISTRY MOMENT: We cracked the top five earlier in the day, at an online tournament -- #5 out of 160 players. One of our opponents had a most unusual name, as this chat sample from the final tables will show:

Dealer: Hell-Bent wins Main Pot ($2090) with Two pair, queens and tens
Me: Tulsa topped by, uh, that other place
Me: (personally, I'd rather bend my ear toward heaven)...

Dealer: Hell-Bent wins Main Pot ($13302) with Three of a kind, sixes
Me: 666 for Hell - figures
Dealer: Djole25 wins Main Pot ($11740)
JAKNIFE92: clever
Dealer: Hell-Bent wins Main Pot ($42304) with One pair, kings
Me: Kinda Biblical

The player with the "H word" in his name never commented on what we wrote -- but you can. What do you say about our chat comments? Our explanation of them will come in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 68 final tables in 167 nights (40.7%) - 11 cashes.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Right Read

A player named Luke had just eliminated a player named Dan at an online poker tournament. That inspired us to this exchange....

Dealer: sluke009 wins Main Pot ($1305) with One pair, aces
Me: Luke over Daniel.
sluke009: lol
Dealer: johnsonrj49 wins Main Pot ($780)
Me: (Biblical reference)
Mykall: Amen
Me: Hopefully everyone here reads the Bible. :-)

No one responded to that last comment. And to be honest, we weren't really surprised -- not after the comment we mentioned Thursday night, from the young man who doesn't read the Bible because "I'm Catholic."

It would be tempting to pile on the Roman Catholic Church -- but let's face facts here. A lot of poker players of all backgrounds don't read the Bible. One statistic we found indicates more than half of all U.S. residents don't even read it once a week.

You may have noticed we quote from the Bible often here. If you don't read it, we think you're missing something important and valuable. We find advice in God's Word which actually could help you in playing poker. But we also find the most important news of all -- the "good news" of salvation through Jesus Christ.

"It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.... Salvation is fund in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved," says Acts 4:10-12.

But you probably wouldn't know that for sure unless you read the Bible for yourself. Just as a top poker pro studies tendencies and traits of opponents, you should "study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15, KJV).

Other translations substitute "do your best" or "be diligent" for "study." But our point is that the word of God is worth a close look. Don't assume you know what the Bible says -- because you might find unexpected surprises inside. But accept God's surprises, and be willing to apply them in your life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poker Night 166: Step Right Up

Are you one of those poker players who insist on making top pair on the flop -- and nothing less will do? Sometimes it's OK to start on the second step, and climb up. A hand at Lil Kim's Cove tonight showed us that....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-6 of clubs

It's early in the game, but this is the second time we've been dealt this hand. The first time didn't work, as we missed the flop and a player made a run-us-off bet. This time we call again. Several players join in.

ON THE FLOP: 6s-2s-Jh

We have middle pair -- so what should we do with it? We're early in line to bet, but we check. Then a player ahead of us bets 200. We call, largely because we have an Ace.

ON THE TURN: Ah

Nice and timely! But we notice there are two hearts and two spades showing. We decide to bet big, in hopes of running off anyone pursuing a flush. The bet is 1,100, and one player calls.

ON THE RIVER: 5c

The flush threat is gone, and we doubt our opponent was pursuing a straight. So we bet 1,100 again -- and he folds.

A few other nice pots came our way, especially after the one-hour break. We reached a high of 34,000 chips, but then had a couple of big losses. In the first hand after the two-hour break, we went all in with A-J of diamonds. A man called with J-5 -- but made a 5 on the flop to knock us out. We came close to the final table, but finished in 11th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: If you've ever ordered a steak or a martini at a restaurant, you may have received one of these -- a little plastic sword. Ours admittedly has a broken handle, but it was enough to raise questions at the table tonight.

"I brought that to remind me," we explained, "that the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword." That's a quote from Hebrews 4:12 -- and it led us to ask the players around us if they read the "word of God," as in the Bible.

The comment of a young man to our left was surprising. "I'm a Catholic. I don't read the Bible."

"Catholics don't read the Bible?!" we answered -- adding we didn't think Roman Catholic ministers would mind if members did. What do you think of the young man's statement? We'll comment on it in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 67 final tables in 166 nights (40.4%) - 11 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Five-player sit-n-goes - 4-9-3-2-0. Full tournaments - 48 point wins in 272 games (17.6%), 21 final tables, 1 cash. Heads-up: 1-1 (total 10-8).

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - 2-1-1-1-2-4. Pretend cash games: Up $30; total $11,413.

When In Doubt, Shove 'em Out

Sometime online poker seems like a theatre of the absurd. Consider what happened to us at a National League of Poker tournament this afternoon:

BLINDS: 15/30

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

We've drawn the Big Blind for the first hand of the tournament. The table is full. Everyone has 1,000 chips. Yet three seats ahead of us, a player goes all-in before the flop. This seems to happen all the time at NLOP, save for the big-money championships.

Then a second player calls, going all-in. Our hand simply isn't foldable, so we dare to join them. When we see the cards, we feel good about our chances. The first player to push has 10-4 of spades -- clearly someone making a ridiculous bluff, hoping to steal blinds (we guess). The second player has A-Q; his call was quite understandable.

ON THE FLOP: 10-7-9

Aw, c'mon! The donkey is in the lead.

ON THE TURN: 10

Sigh. The river card doesn't matter. One man's donkey is another person's stinkin' genius. We finish next to last; the A-Q loser is the only player below us.

But NLOP is "no-limit" hold 'em, after all. Anyone can push at any time, with anything. Some call it poker. It strikes us more as sumo wrestling.

Practicing What We Preach

Our last post mentioned how we try to keep the talk polite at live poker tournaments. Then Wednesday night, an online player with an apparently long memory took us to task for something we'd written there in a prior game.

While we want to win money at online tournaments, we try to keep the mood light and have fun in our chat comments. But one person's humor can be another person's slap in the face -- especially when players can't see each other's facial expressions or grasp their moods.

"I lost all respect for you as a player," the critic wrote. We don't even remember what we wrote to cause this, but it apparently was a one-liner after the player was eliminated from the game -- a comment that player saw, but apparently couldn't answer at the time.

"For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned," Jesus warned in Matthew 12:37. We don't want Jesus to condemn us in the day of judgment, for words which might turn people away from a proper example of God and a closer relationship with Him.

We invite online players to visit this blog. So if you're visiting from one of those games, we apologize for attempts at humor which may have interpreted the wrong way. Perhaps the lesson for us is to use emoticons more, and puns less?! :-)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

When You Say Nothing at All

"Thank you, sir," we said to a man after winning a big pot at a live tournament.

"Don't worry. I'll get you the next hand," the man responded.

All right, it's your turn. What's the next line in this conversation? What would you say to a man who promises to get even with you? Here's what we said....

"Oh. OK."

Instead of engaging in "trash talk" at the table, we quietly let him say those words and moved on. Any tough or pride-filled words might have escalated things -- and that's not the example we personally want to set at a poker table.

We prefer to follow the example Jesus taught and lived: "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also" (Luke 6:27-29).

Words of insult or put-down can sting every bit as much as a slap on the cheek. One man admitted at a tournament last week he took exception to an opposing player calling him a liar.

But at moments like those, we need to remember these additional words of the Lord in verse 35: "But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great...." Maybe not at the end of the poker tournament, but in the ultimate reward Jesus will bring for believers at His second coming (Ephesians 6:8).

That's the Biblical way of explaining our approach. There's also the old-fashioned poker-centered explanation. Let your cards do the talking -- or "read 'em and weep."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poker Night 165: Bumper Boats

We're not sure how a full house in poker came to be called a "boat." But we've played enough poker to know some full houses are rowboats, while others are steamships. A classic example of that occurred tonight at The Red Barn....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-K

We've seen some promising hands early, but none have come to fruition. So we sit with 4,650 chips, and feel limping is appropriate. Several players call.

ON THE FLOP: J-10-10

Two pair? Beware -- there could be another 10 hiding somewhere. But sitting in lead position, we bet a probing 300. Two other players call, everyone else is scared off.

ON THE TURN: J

Two pair now are on the table. But we have a full house, and it's time to act on it. We bet 700. A woman across from us raises to 2,000. A man sitting between us ponders it, then calls.

"I'll go all-in." That means 2,250 above the raise. We're surprised when both of the other players call, and think we're in line to at worst split the pot.

ON THE RIVER: 7

If a bigger card had come, we might be sweating seriously. But now the two remaining players in the hand check.

"I have a boat," the woman says. So does the man -- but they both show 10's. We're the only player with a J! So the bigger boat gives us a big gain to more than 13,000 chips.

A couple more big hands came our way from there -- including a three-way split of matching full houses. It was enough to get us to the final table. But a big bettor there scared us off a winning pair, which cost us a lot. Then our A-8 was topped, and we wound up in seventh place -- only hours after finishing third in an online tournament with 142 players. (Alas, no money for either one.)

MINISTRY MOMENT: It never happened at the table tonight. But we were a few minutes late getting to the tournament because a woman flagged down our car, needing change for something to eat. The stop turned into much more than that, but we'll save that story for an upcoming post in our other blog.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 67 final tables in 165 nights (40.6%) - 11 cashes.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thanks Be to Thee

"TGIF to all!" we wrote at the start of a recent Friday afternoon online poker tournament.

"What is TGIF" someone wrote in response. That seemed surprising. We figured that's an acronym everybody knows. But National League of Poker tournaments can have players from around the world, so maybe not.

"Thank God it's Friday," we explained. But then we added: "(Personally, I thank Him for every day.)"

"LOL ME2" the other person replied.

Have you thanked God for this day? For any recent day? It's a good thing to do, even though Thanksgiving Day is four months off in Canada and five in the U.S.

But hold on, you might say -- I just lost big bucks in a cash game on a bad beat, or what looked like a misdeal. At those moments, it's admittedly hard to be thankful. But at least you left the table with something -- with life, health and the potential to try again next time. Those still are good reasons for thanking God at the end of the night, and the start of the next day.

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," Paul recommends in I Thessalonians 5:18. A thankful attitude can help in the process described several verses later -- as God sanctifies us to "be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 23).

Don't resist the cleansing power of God. Be thankful for it, and engage in thanks-living every day.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Poker Night 164: The Hole Thing

On Monday night we had pocket Queens, which turned into crushed quads. (Yeah, that still stings.) Tonight at Lil Kim's Cove, there was an opportunity for things to balance out....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: K-K

We're in the small blind. The one-hour break is near, and we've won a couple of small pots. But a man across the table loves to bet big with almost anything. He goes all-in before the flop for perhaps the fourth time in the game, for a total of 6,450. A woman to our right dares to call him. Then we look at our cards, and actually ponder this a moment. Could one of these two be hiding pocket Aces?

"All I have is 5,250," we declare -- and we choose to go all in ourselves. We think the man is bluffing. The woman concerns us more.

"On the eve of National Donut Day, I have Krispy Kremes," we say showing our Kings. Our read turns out to be right: the man only has Jack high, while the woman for some reason called with 6-7. (She probably smelled a bluff as well.)

ON THE FLOP: 9-5-3 (suits don't matter)

We're focused on looking for pairs our opponents might have. What we don't see here is the woman gaining a "gutshot" straight draw.

ON THE TURN: Q

Good. No one even has an Ace. If we can avoid one more bullet....

ON THE RIVER: 8

Noooooooo! We may have had the donuts, but the woman filled the hole in her straight. She takes two players out of the game, and we wind up about 35th. We had the right read, but she had the perfect river.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "You're acting like a pit bull over there," a woman to our left said as the big-betting man built a huge stack of chips early. "You're going to be taken out by a chihuahua."

The dog talk continued minutes later, with the same woman saying she wouldn't mind to a "shepherd" taking the man out.

"I'll tell you what," we said as we prepared to deal. "The Lord is my Shepherd."

"All the time! All the time!" the woman to our left agreed. No one else commented.

Does our comment look familiar? It's from perhaps the most famous psalm in the Bible - Psalm 23:1. Jesus added later: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

Are you one of those sheep? Jesus wants you to be, because He gave His life to redeem you from the death penalty for sin. If you want to know more about it, e-mail us -- we'll be glad to help.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 66 final tables in 164 nights (40.2%) - 11 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: One-table sit-n-goes - 4-8-3-2-0. Full tournaments - 45 point wins in 260 games (17.3%), 20 final tables, 1 cash. Heads-Up - 9-7.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $11,438, down $125.

Almost Perfect

Wow - can we ever relate to Armando Galarraga right now. The Detroit Tigers pitcher could have.... no, SHOULD have had a perfect game Wednesday night. But with only one out to go, the first-base umpire ruled a Cleveland batter safe on a close play. TV replays show the umpire was wrong, the batter was out and Galarraga should have been perfect.

After what happened to us Monday night with cracked "quad Queens," we want to swap stories with Galarraga. And we'd want to commend him for how he handled the moment -- with a smile and forgiveness, as opposed to anger and frustration.

Has there ever been a "perfect game" in a poker tournament -- where someone wins every single hand, and rolls over the competition. If there was, please let us know. But we doubt it. The way cards are dealt, the odds of perfection are too astronomical to contemplate.

So perhaps some Christians are intimidated by these words of Jesus: "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Other people who are thinking about following Jesus might read those words, declare it impossible and walk away.

But in a way, perfection is possible. Not in the way we might humanly think of it, though. We posted a Bible study on the topic a couple of years ago, which might help you understand.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Stay Classy, You Loser

"Worst. Bad Beat. Ever." That's what we wrote in an online chat Tuesday, describing what happened in our last post -- our quad Queens getting cracked by a royal flush.

"Ohhhhh! Ohhhhh!" That's what the Tournament Director said in disbelief when he saw the hand, seated across the table from us.

So what did we do in response? And what would YOU do? Would you do what a man did last Thursday night, when we topped his all-in bet with pocket Kings -- throwing them across the table in disgust and uttering an expletive?

Instead, we simply dropped our jaw wide open. We may have said "Amazing" a couple of times (not really sure) -- and we knuckle-bumped the woman who topped us.

We kept our cool because we think that's what God would have us do. Remember the discussion with that woman about being a "light of the world" (Mt. 5:14)? Part of that involves reacting as Jesus would react.

"Do not give the devil a foothold," Paul advises in Ephesians 4:27. He goes on to explain: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.... Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (4:29, 31).

The woman with the royal flush didn't sin against us. She simply beat us in a poker hand -- and to her credit, she did not rub it in after that. (In fact, she didn't even go all-in on the river to take us out of the game!)

"We also rejoice in our sufferings," Paul wrote elsewhere, "because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:4).

We've heard ministers say a main goal for Christians in this life is to develop godly character. That's what we tried to display with that bad beat. We believe that comes from having God's Spirit at work inside us. Without it, things admittedly might have been very different -- especially if that happened at a cash game or big-money tournament.