Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Senior Championship: Thanks, But No Thanks

In January, we almost made the final table at the monthly National League of Poker Senior Championship.  Tuesday night brought another opportunity -- and things looked great for awhile....

:06 IN: After pocket 10's were overshadowed by an Ace on the flop and a Jack on the turn, we have 7-10 of spades.  A player doubles the blind, and we accept.  The flop is 6-A-A, the first two cards spades.  Everyone checks.  The turn is Qs, and we bet 150 with a flush.  One player calls.  The river is 8c.  We check to "defer," but our opponent checks as well.  He has A-Q!  Our flush wins $525.

:15 IN: We have K-K, limp in, then see two players go all-in for more than 800.  We hold our breath and call -- to find we face A-3 and 9-6!  The flop is 10-9-J.  The turn is 7.  The river is 3!  We dodge the stray rocket, eliminate one player and grab a $3,990 jackpot.

:19 IN: We have A-10 in the big blind -- and since no one raises, we go up 200 and attract a couple of callers.  The flop is 2-A-Q.  We make a power bet of 700, the table folds, and we win $880.

We miss a few flops after that, doing a little chasing -- but reach the half-hour break at a comfortable $2,705.  We sit in 58th place, with 342 players still competing.

:45 IN: We have Q-10.  The flop is 2-4-J, and offer a bluffer's bet of 200.  A couple of players call.  The turn is 3, and another player makes a big bet.  We fold -- and when the river is J, a man to our left shows J-J for quads.

:48 IN: We have 5-8 of diamonds in the big blind.  The flop is 7x-6d-Ax, giving us a two-way straight draw.  Everyone checks.  The turn is K.  An opponent bets 200, and we dare to call.  But the river is 3, and we bail out with a loss. (The winner has A-9.)

:49 IN: We have 7s-7c in the small blind  The flop is 6-8-5 -- all hearts!  An opponent bets about 200, and we dare to call.  The turn is 7h, and our three of a kind never looked more grim.  A player bets 200, and we fold.  Good thing - because amazingly, the man who hit quads four minutes before shows 4h, to make a straight flush!  Do any math experts know the odds against that?

:58 IN: We have J-8 of diamonds in the big blind.  The flop is 5d-Qx-Jx. An opponent goes all-in for 755.  What would you do with middle pair?  We take a chance and call -- and we're rewarded when the big bettor shows a mere 4-7!  The turn is 3, the river is 4, and we capture $2,470.

1:00 IN: The next hand brings us 6-6 in the small blind, and accept a doubling of the blind to 600.  The flop is 8-3-3.  An opponent bets 900, and we fold -- only to see 6 on the turn.  Our "triple six" would have beaten is winning "triple three."

We have $1,735 at the second break -- and that's when the trouble starts.  Our computer is noisy enough for us to hear a McAfee update approaching.  We'd moved our weekly McAfee scan time to Tuesday morning, to avoid any interruptions in the evening.  We paused the scan at the start of the game -- but we can't interrupt McAfee at update time.

The McAfee entry suffocates our browser, even before announcing its presence.  Google Chrome freezes, and NLOP tells us our log-in has been lost after eight minutes of lost playing time.  But the computer doesn't let us log in again for five more minutes -- and under NLOP rules, ten minutes of inactivity gets us eliminated!

McAfee didn't even announce on the screen its update was ready until 25 minutes after entry.  (The update itself took 64 minutes to complete, in part because we restarted the weekly scan along side it.)  So with all that waiting time, we had plenty to think about -- and we admittedly spent plenty of time stewing.  We had prayed before the tournament for God's blessing upon our actions and comments.  So why here?  Why now??

But the more we thought about it, the more we concluded we were to blame.  That pre-game prayer was in the car, before going inside a restaurant for dinner.  It was relatively short -- and we determined that was the problem.  Why?

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.  He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. - Revelation 8:3

"Beat your prayers fine," we've heard ministers preach over the years.  They've claimed incense burns better when it's ground into tinier particles -- so therefore, God wants detailed prayers instead of broad generalizations.  Based on that reasoning: we did not specifically ask God to block McAfee interruptions; thus, God used that loophole to eliminate us from the tournament and teach us a lesson.

But here's the strange twist -- only as we wrote this post did we discover the claim about incense-burning may not be entirely accurate.  And we can think of a few short prayers in the Bible which wound up having a big impact.  Here's one; perhaps you can think of more....

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."  Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. - I Kings 18:36-37
Even at a slow pace, we read that prayer of Elijah aloud in 25 seconds.  Yet God heard it, answered it and gave the prophet victory in a dramatic showdown with Baal worshipers at Mount Carmel (people who pleaded conceivably for hours for Baal to show himself -- pleading in vain).

So did we beat ourselves up too much, for not "beating our prayers" enough?  We'll leave that open for your comments.  In the meantime, our finish at the poker tournament still wasn't that bad: 103rd out of 950 players.  But who knows what might have been?!?!


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


So what happened to the dealer who caused a commotion by putting a "burn card" at the bottom of the deck moments before the flop?

The dealer eventually had enough of the other man's objections, grabbed his multiple stacks of chips -- and slammed them on the table, going all in!  No one called him.  (Our hand simply was too weak.)

The man was gone from the tournament before the deal came around to him again.  He wasn't exactly "on tilt," as they say in poker, because he folded a hand after making that big statement/move.  But we admittedly handled him that way.

When someone becomes emotional or loses their senses in a poker tournament, anything can happen.  The "on tilt" attitude might be described elsewhere as "devil-may-care" - a very apt phrase, really....

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. - Proverbs 29:11

We think smart players respond to players on tilt by acting with extra care.  That's a biblical and wise idea:

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. - Proverbs 22:24-25

Does this mean all anger is wrong?  No -- because we've concluded from our own Bible study God gets angry.  A lot.  But God has an approach humans all too often forget....

Be you angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.... - Ephesians 4:26, KJV

That takes a lot of spiritual balance.  And we confess there are times when we've lacked it.  An online tournament tonight was a case in point -- but that's a topic for another day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Last Page?

Two weeks ago we quoted a tournament director as saying new "league" rules would mean the end of poker nights at The Sports Page.  Tonight we returned there, to see if he was right.

This time we used our half-price coupon more smartly -- eating a filling ribeye steak dinner.  But this time, there indeed wasn't much in the way of poker.  Only about 15 players were on hand -- apparently moved to a side room because the main bar featured the Daytona 500 stock car race.

But remember the explanation two weeks ago that players still could play for free, without being eligible for prize money?  That was different tonight as well.  We couldn't even join a table without playing five dollars.  Or as one man put it: "Nobody's playing for fun."

That's too bad.  We brought spare money to tip our server, but we didn't come prepared to "pay to play."  In a casino or poker room, buy-ins obviously are expected.  But at a sports bar on a local circuit known for "free poker," it stung a bit.

So our plan to play poker while watching our alma mater play basketball didn't quite turn out as we planned tonight.  The "poker ministry" wound up being an explanation to our server about how we are not good -- only God the Father is.  Are you familiar with that part of the Bible?  Try to find it, and we'll have an explanation in a future post.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Doing a Slow Burn

The pre-flop bets were made.  The dealer held the deck up, almost to eye-level.  Then he took the top card, and moved it to the bottom for dealing the flop.
"Hold it," a man to his left said.  "You can't do that."
"Sure, I can do that," the dealer answered.  "In all my years playing poker, I've never cheated."
"You don't burn cards like that," the man insisted.
"I can deal the cards any **** way I want to!" the dealer said with anger growing in his voice.
Welllll -- no, he really can't.  We pointed out under the rules, he HAD to deal off the top of the deck.
"I did that," the dealer said.  And yes, he had.  The issue was the "burn card," and how he handled it.
Burn cards are removed from the top of the deck before the flop, turn and river.  From watching poker on TV and seeing dealers in poker rooms, we're used to them being put face-down on the table -- off to one side, or under chips already in the pot.  That's how we handle them when we're dealing.
This dealer apparently has a habit of doing things differently.  But when someone objects to such things, some guidance from the apostle Paul comes to mind:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)
You may be perfectly right and within the rules.  But if it makes someone else uncomfortable, we should consider that other person's feelings.  Paul put it this way elsewhere:
Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all man in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. - I Corinthians 10:32-33 (KJV)
We must note if another person asks you to do something unethical or sinful, that's a very different case.  Doing things the right way before God always comes first.
So how did the hand with that burn card turn out?  Stay tuned; the answer will be in a future post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Blinds Have Gone.... Down?!?

We had three dollar bills ready to give the server for our can of diet cola Thursday night at Lil Kim's Cove.  Then came a surprise.

"It's only two," the server told us.

Two?!  After last week costing $2.50?

We didn't mention it then -- and we didn't mention that price hike Thursday night, either.  Instead, we're quietly thankful for one place where inflation has been rolled back.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Poker Night 294: Life's Great at Super 8

The Little Havana section of Miami will hold its annual Calle Ocho Festival next weekend.  Without our planning it, we had an early celebration of our own tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: J-8 of hearts

We've won a couple of early pots, helped by pocket Aces coming in the small blind.  But a couple of chases fell short after that, so now we're in the big blind with about 7,400 chips.  No one at the full table raises ahead of us, so we're happy to check and see a flop.

ON THE FLOP: 8-9-8

And we're quite happy to see this flop!  But we don't wait to bet too much and run players away, so we offer a $400 "tempter."  A woman across from us calls, and then a man to her left raises 1,500.  We think this was a raise borrowing from Foghorn Leghorn in the cartoons -- "Go away, son, you bother me."  We shake our head  in a semi-acting response and call.  The woman calls as well.


"Check to the raiser," we say playing first.  We probably moved a bit too cautiously doing that -- because the opponent we thought had nothing might have hit "bigger trips" with that card.  But the two other players in the hand check.  That makes us feel better....


....and now we feel very, very good.  We know we have the winner, so we try to lure our opponents into calling by betting 1,000.  It doesn't work.  They fold, and the raiser quickly turns over the cards before we can say:

"I have quads."  Turning over our 8, no one denies us our quad bonus of 5,000 chips -- not to mention a pot in the 6,000-chip range.  A "big blind special" doesn't come much better than that!

We won a couple more pots after that, including a daring all-in bet in the second hour with A-6 when an Ace came on the flop.  Our pair was best, and knocked a woman out.

Then with the final table in sight after the two-hour break, we went all-in again with pocket Queens.  But a flop of K-J-9 gave a man with K-9 two pair.  No Queen or 10 came for a straight, and that man knocked two players out including us.  We missed the final table by one hand, finishing tied for tenth place (11th in points).

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed a man a card protector depicting the Biblical "last supper" tonight and asked, "What do you think of Jesus?  Is Jesus your Savior?"

The man clearly didn't expect that sort of question, and didn't want to answer it.  "C'mon, man, we're playing poker.  Church is on Sunday; poker is on Thursday."

We were ready to let it go at that, based on a Bible discussion we joined earlier in the week.  A minister leading the study said believers should NOT go around preaching to people all day and all night.  But we couldn't really let this man off the hook that easily.

"But if this was the weekend, and not Thursday....?"

"If frogs had wings, they wouldn't...."  We didn't catch all of the man's response -- but we know it included one expletive, and didn't really answer the main question.

In other words, this man didn't want to bring up matters of faith at the poker table.  But a time is coming when, to borrow from another game, God will demand a final answer.

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.... The Lord will road from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the sky will tremble.  But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel. - Joel 3:14, 16
Where will you find a "valley of decision"?  Another Old Testament prophecy indicates it will be a literal place, created by a returning Jesus Christ:

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as he fights in the day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. - Zechariah 14:3-4

The decision many will have to make at that time is whether or not to accept the returning Jesus as King of Kings.  But why wait for that dramatic moment?  You can decide to accept Jesus as your Lord now, and have that ultimate refuge and stronghold Joel mentions.  If you'd like to know more about that, leave a comment; we'll be happy to help you in the process.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 106 final tables in 294 nights (36.1%) - 17 cashes.  We've finished 11th or better in three of our last five nights.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 191 point wins in 828 games (23.1%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.  Next week will be a big week for us at NLOP, with two monthly championships at stake.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $72,893, down $1.305.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ham Fighters

So what did you find, when it comes to food in the Bible?  We went carefully through the book of Amos, as the man across the table from us suggested last week.  But in all nine chapters, we found NO mention of pork products.  Here's the closest possible reference we see:

Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more.  Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years.  Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings -- boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do, declares the Sovereign Lord.  "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and lack of bread in every town, yet have you not returned to me," declares the Lord. - Amos 4:4-5

There's nothing here about eating animals, but the passage mentions a couple of things ancient Israel was instructed to do while it was in the wilderness: give tithes and present offerings.  But those are topics for another post.  During the time of wandering, God also gave these instructions....

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Say to the Israelites: 'Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat.... the pig, tough it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you.'" - Leviticus 11:1-2, 7

Animal rights groups might not like it, but God said people could eat animals.  Yet the poker player who didn't want ham in his grilled cheese sandwich was correct in noting the Bible warns against it. (In fact, the warning is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:8.)

On the other hand, some Christians might raise objections to this command -- especially in a city like ours, which loves Southern-style barbecued pork.  They're more likely to turn to a New Testament book, instead of Amos....

One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.  The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. - Romans 14:2-3

We've seen this section of the Bible turned and twisted in several directions.  We think Paul's point is that the foods we eat should not become things which divide believers in God.  And note these additional words....

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything which causes someone else to stumble. - Romans 14:20

We personally stopped eating pork products many years ago.  We worship with friends who have made the same decision, so we still avoid those products.  But we think the final yardstick for Christians when Jesus comes back will not be their supermarket or restaurant receipts -- it will be whether they've repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as their Savior.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poker Night 293: Who's Got the Nuts?

The price of poker must be going up everywhere -- because as of tonight, a 12-ounce can of big-name soda cost $2.50 at Lil Kim's Cove instead of two dollars.  The server gave us less change for a 20-dollar bill without any explanation.  But she also gave us 4,000 poker chips as a reward, and this was a night when we needed them.

BLINDS: 50/100


Our table of six is playing like we're in Zimbabwe, not the U.S.  Hyperinflated raises in the thousands have abounded.  So when we see this sitting third in the betting order, we're ready to move -- but realize others want to move first.  So we limp in, and are a bit surprised when nobody raises pre-flop; most of the table is in.


The table checks ahead of us -- but with a nice overpair, we reach for chips.

"Your Jack is no good," a man to our immediate left warns.

"OK, then -- 700," we say (not bothering to mention we don't have a Jack).

"That's peanuts to the elephants." that man points out.  Yeah, we know.  But it's also a relatively modest bet for this night, and we'd like some callers.  About three players call.


Oops.  This is potential trouble.  But the table checks again -- and this time, so do we.


This complicates matters, by putting three clubs on the board.  But once more the players ahead of us check -- so we feel somewhat confident, and bet 700 again.

"Do you have a Jack?" the man to our left asks.  We stare back at him and say nothing -- so he decides to fold.  Only the player to our immediate right calls.

"Do you have an Ace?" we now ask.  "Because I have Kings."

"Naw -- all I had is a Jack."  Thank you very much!  Our stack jumps from the 5,000 range to more than 9,000.

We took another pot later to improve to 10,075.  But chases fell short after that, and we only took 2,150 to the one-hour break.  A former tournament director graciously gave us 3,000 bonus chips in the second hour (apparently because he had to leave) -- and we went for it all when we saw A-2 of diamonds, with a bigger stack all-in ahead of us.  He had 4-4, and he won the race when the board didn't pair.  We left in 18th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man at our table ordered a grilled cheese sandwich during the one-hour break  -- but was stunned to take a bite, and discover there was ham included with the cheese.

"They're trying to poison me!" the man said amid expletives.  "I don't eat pork!"

"I don't eat pork, either," we replied.  But then we wanted to probe a little further.  "Why don't you eat pork?  For religious reasons?"

"Both," the man curiously answered.  "Health reasons -- and I had a bad reaction to pork once."

We're in a part of the U.S. where pork products are all over the menu, from breakfast biscuits to barbecue restaurants.  So this situation sparked a discussion.

"I read in a book once you shouldn't eat pork," we said.

"What book is that?" a man across the table asked.

"The Bible."

"Yeah, it's in the Bible," agreed the man who ordered the sandwich.

"Yeah -- but you've got to read deeper into the Bible," explained the man across from us.  "You've got to read Amos."

Amos?!?!  That man didn't explain any further -- and we admittedly don't take a Bible to poker nights.

"Now I know what to study when I get home," we said to a man next to us.  And we invite you to study this topic with us.  Where in the Bible are we warned against eating pork?  And where in Amos will you find the other side of the issue?  We'll compare notes in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 106 final tables in 293 nights (36.2%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments -- 191 point wins in 824 games (23.2%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.

We were in the running for a final table earlier in the day, but our McAfee computer security system started a weekly scan which froze our browser for about 15 minutes -- and inactivity gets you disqualified at ten minutes.  Our frustration with McAfee continues.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $74,198, up $2,830.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Real Game-Changer

"As of today, the rules for playing poker at The Sports Page have changed," the tournament director announced before Monday night's game.  And it was NOT because we showed up for the first time in several months.

Up to now, the sports bar awarded cash prizes to the top two players -- and anyone who walked in and sat down had a chance to win the money.  But the tournament director received a big surprise from the management Monday.  The bar still will let anyone play for free -- but from now on....

  • You have to pay a ten-dollar buy-in to be eligible for the prize money.  (If a "freeroller" wins, he/she gets nothing.)
  • Only first place gets the money.
  • "The money" comes to only 25 percent of the total buy-in.  Your $10 bill gets you a five-dollar voucher for food and drink that evening; $2.50 more goes into that night's jackpot, while the other $2.50 goes into a prize pool for a "major tournament" every couple of months.

This sudden change spoiled the mood at The Sports Page Monday night.  It certainly changed our approach to the tournament; we didn't carry ten dollars with us, so we couldn't win a dime.  And several people grumbled this effectively will mean the end of poker nights at the sports bar.

We don't know if the "end is near" there -- but it reminded us that many people are more comfortable when the rules are consistent.  Texas Hold 'em works that way, after all; a flush beats a straight today every bit as much as it did 50 years ago.

The original "rule book" for mankind works the same way.  God gave us a set of foundational laws long ago....

Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water.  And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant -- the Ten Commandments. - Exodus 34:28

Some people think Jesus changed the rules of life's game when He came to Earth.  But He said otherwise:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. - Matthew 5:17

Read all of Matthew 5 and you'll find Jesus actually expanded the interpretation of one of the commandments (adultery), as well as other rules given to Moses.  And the Lord went on to say....

"If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."  "Which ones?" the man inquired.  Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" -- Matthew 19:17-18

Countries around the world still consider some of these commandments the settled law of the land today.  But sadly, some places have abolished or ignored several of them.

The place where you play poker might change the "house rules" tonight or next week.  But we can be thankful God's basic rules have not -- and obeying them is a way we can show love for our Creator (I John 5:3).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Poker Night 292: Two Too Many

Combine a 50-percent discount at a sports bar with a big college basketball rivalry on TV, and you have an entertaining evening.  Add a poker tournament to that, and it's a trifecta for us.  So we visited The Sports Page tonight for our first Monday night game in several months.

Except.... the discount didn't really happen, because there were conditions not shown on the discount form.  And the poker tournament?  Well....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: 5-4 of clubs

We're in the small blind, and have just been rewarded with 4,000 bonus chips for buying dinner before the game.  Since we haven't won a pot yet, we're ready to rumble a little -- but small suited connectors don't seem fit for raising.  Thankfully, we don't have to do it.  No one raises; about two-thirds of the full table is in.


We don't see any clubs -- but we see an opportunity to break out here with two pair.  We offer an enticement bet of 400.  Several players take the hint -- and fold.  Only one man across from us calls.


We have one opponent, and we're admittedly wary of him.  Is he hiding a third Jack?  We check, and he bets 1,000.  Holding out hope for a full house on the river, we dare to call.


The last thing we want to see is a second pair on the board.  We check again.  Our opponent bets 2,000, and we fold in a hurry -- because our "second pair" of 5's is now only third-best.  Too many cards beat us.

We admittedly played a bit on the loose side tonight, hoping to win a lot of chases.  But we didn't -- and holding As-10c minutes later, we went all-in for our last 2,000 when an all-spades flop came out including 7-8.  The turn was 9c, giving us a lot of outs for a flush and a straight draw.  The river was Ah, giving us top pair -- but an opponent playing live poker for the very first time had A-9, and his two pair beat us.  Our night ended in about 45 minutes, first out at the table.  But we went home with our alma mater well ahead at halftime.

MINISTRY MOMENT: No smoking is allowed in the main restaurant at The Sports Page.  That's good news for us -- and for another player at the table who doesn't smoke.  "I have one life to live," he said.

"But there's something after that!" we tried to tell him.  We don't think he heard us.  But here's what we meant....

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27 (NASB)

If Jesus doesn't come back before you die -- well, you're going to die.  But the Bible indicates that's not all there is:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - II Corinthians 5:10

We write this two days after the death of singing star Whitney Houston.  Some people are convinced she's in heaven now.  We're leaving that decision on "judgment" up to Jesus -- and to be honest, we don't think that decision has happened yet.  We'll explain why in our next post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 106 final tables in 292 nights (36.3%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Characters Wanted?

Huh?  We thought poker was a more popular game than ever.  But none other than Daniel Negreanu declared recently it's in "big trouble.... heading in the wrong direction."

Why?  Apparently not because of the U.S. Justice Department crackdown.  Negreanu told an interviewer the problem is that too many online poker stars are.... well, dull.  They're so focused on Internet play that they come across as wonky, lacking in personality.  (And if anyone should know about being a "poker personality," it's Negreanu.)

There are two ways to look at these comments.  For one thing, there's nothing wrong with working hard at what you do -- whether you're a poker pro or a laborer on the construction site:

Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. - Proverbs 10:4

Negreanu even admitted in the interview he may have lost a bit of his game by becoming a "media face" of poker, as opposed to the "poker non-stop" approach of Phil Ivey.

But then again, working non-stop can burn you out and run you down.  An occasional break is good for you, in ways far beyond your physical health.  That's part of the reason why the Bible recommends....

But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. - Exodus 20:10

In fact, it's not simply a recommendation -- it's one of God's Ten Commandments.  We also think gathering and fellowshipping with believers from other walks of life on the Sabbath can help build personality skills, while widening your perspective on things.

Live poker tournaments in our area can include plenty of interesting characters; we share their stories here from time to time.  Online players don't really expose such traits, outside of their avatars and chat comments.

So what do you think of Negreanu's comments?  Is poker (especially on TV) better with guys wearing "chicken suits"?  Or is it all about the game?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Poker Night 291: Grand Opening

For some big-time poker players, timing is everything -- not only inside a hand, but in a tournament overall.  Gus Hansen writes in one of his books that he tries to dominate the final hands of a day, because opponents are afraid of getting busted and not advancing 24 more hours.  We adjusted that way of thinking in a hand tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 9-4 of spades

It's the first hand of the night.  We're sitting "one behind the dealer."  And in fairly typical fashion, no one raises in front of us.  It's like a "warm-up hand," and we see no reason to upset that with small suited cards.  We call, and nearly everyone at the table of seven is in.


The players check ahead of us -- but we hit the flop, so why should we wait?  We bet 150, which is enough to attract several investors.  (But it's not enough to coax a raise from someone with a bigger hand.)


The pair of 4's looked weaker, but our chances for a flush now are stronger.  The table checks in front of us again -- and this time we make a "continuation bet" of 200.  A few players call, but this time a man to our immediate right raises 1,000.

We stop a moment to consider this.  We bought a soda to increase our starting chip stack to 7,000.  This raise is big, but not overwhelmingly big.  We decide to give it a shot, and call.  As we recall, two other players call.


"Flush!" a player to our left announces.  (So much for the element of surprise.)  The players in front of us check again -- and that's something we hoped to see.  Now we bet 2,000.  The first two players unhappily fold -- but the man who raised on the turn calls.

"Do you have a flush?" we ask him.  "Because I do."

We show our spades, and they're good enough!  The other man has 5-5, which explains why he raised on the turn.  But running spades to the river top him, and we more than double our chip stack.

A pair of 5's won us another pot in the first hour, and cautious play outside of that brought us to the one-hour break at 14,500.  But a big loss early in hour two led to us pushing all-in under the gun with K-J of diamonds.  Two players called -- but it turned out everyone missed the board, and King-high was good enough to keep us in!  We held on from there, reaching our first final table in six weeks.

But the draw for dealer at the final table put us in the big blind immediately, forced to go all-in with only 3,500 chips left.  We had J-9 and found a Jack on the river -- but a woman with J-Q had a better kicker and kicked us out.  It was a ninth-place night, but one hand at a final table is still a "final table" for us.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The blinds were 2,000/4,000 on that last hand.  A woman to our left with a huge stack of chips noticed we were 500 chips short of the big blind, and threw in 500 more to make up the difference.  Trouble was, the dealer kept throwing the green 500 chip back at her.

"You can't do that," he said.  (We're honestly not sure if that's allowed in casinos or not; if you know, please leave a comment.)

"But she's trying to be giving," we said in the woman's behalf.  Then we turned to her and added, "Giving is a nice thing to do.  It's better to give than to take."

Then we realized the game we were playing.  "Unless you're in the middle of a pot; then you might change things."

That brought a smile to the woman's face.  Away from the table, we think giving is much more likely to bring a smile to God's face.

Freely you have received, freely give. -- Matthew 10:8

We're actually taking these words of Jesus out of context a bit -- because He said them while instructing His disciples to perform miraculous acts while preaching the gospel of the kingdom of heaven.  But other New Testament passages support the giving principle:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. - II Corinthians 9:6-7
As it happened, a man came to our poker table during the game with what apparently was a fundraising promotion.  Buy a raffle ticket for four dollars and you can get a chili dog dinner, while also paying for a similar dinner for a homeless person.  On top of that, one raffle ticket was rewarded with 5,000 chips.  We didn't carry enough cash to take part in that.  But it shows some poker players do have a giving spirit -- outside a tournament, at least.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 106 final tables in 291 nights (36.4%) - 17 cashes.  Next week's live poker schedule will be different for us; you'll see what we mean.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 191 point wins in 818 games (23.3%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.  We scored a top-40 finish earlier in the day, at a tournament with 645 players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL:  Pretend cash games - $71,368, up $5,030.  We topped the $70,000 mark with a big cash game week.  A Monday night "lightning round"  gave us an increase of $3,595.

NLOP Clarification

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote National League of Poker no longer has its big-money weekly championship tournament on Sunday nights -- that it had been moved to Sunday afternoons U.S. ET.

While there is a weekly championship at stake then, there's still a "Sunday night special" tournament with $100 in prize money.  And instead of qualifying, anyone can enter -- if they pay a buy-in of 50,000 points.  Since we're only playing at NLOP part-time these days, we're waiting for the right time to try that.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On the Side

When one player showed up at an online tournament the other day, we simply couldn't resist making a farewell comment about his name....

paragod83 eliminated from the tournament (he/she has lost all his/her chips)
Me: Better to worship God than a para-god.

We took the player's name to mean something along the lines of a half-god.  But a strict Webster's dictionary definition really is different.  "Para-" as a prefix can mean "beside, alongside...." as in para-professionals working with teachers in a school.  It also can mean "in a secondary or accessory capacity" in the world of medicine.

The more we've thought about it, the more ashamed we are about what we wrote.  After all, who could be better to have alongside you than God?  Consider....

If the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive.... the raging waters would have swept us away. - Psalm 124:2-5

As we mentioned in our last post, many believers have seen the intervening hand of God at difficult moments in their lives.

But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. - II Timothy 4:17
Based on the surrounding verses, we think Paul was using a figure of speech when he wrote about a lion's mouth.  But Jesus Christ indicated God really can be alongside you -- and even closer:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever -- the Spirit of truth.  The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. -- John 14:17
So we apologize to "Paragod83."  And we hope you'll ask God to come alongside you, and even dwell in you through the Holy Spirit -- even when it's poker night.

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Protect and To Serve

We asked the man if he considers Jesus his Savior, and he said yes.  So then we followed up: "What has Jesus done for you lately?"

The man's quiet voice two seats away was a bit hard for us to hear -- but it sounded like he said the Lord has protected him, along with several of his friends.

The word "protection" comes up in poker from time to time.  We take "card protectors" not only as conversation-starters, but to make sure our cards aren't considered thrown in and folded during hands.  The word also can refer to a player making a huge raise when someone is all-in, giving the at-risk player "protection" from having too many opponents.

But as the man suggested to us the other night, there's a "Protector" in heaven who offers to do much more:

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.  Selah. - Psalm 32:7

We can think of several times over the years when God seemed to protect us from harm or disaster.  But we also can hear the scoffers, wondering why God didn't protect other believers from harm and death.  At times such as those, our understanding of "protection" needs to change....

For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.  They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off. - Psalm 37:28

Forever?!?!  How?  Another Old Testament book offers this explanation....

The righteous perishes, and no man lays it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. - Isaiah 57:1 (KJV)

The Bible warns evils will increase and times will get worse -- until Jesus returns to bring the kingdom of God in fullness to earth.  I Thessalonians 4 indicates believers then will be resurrected to celebrate and rule with Jesus.  They're protected by the "sleep" of death, until they are raised to eternal life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Poker Night 290: Ladies' Choice?

One of our local poker players made the evening news a few weeks ago.  "D.J." was questioned in a report on male-female relationships.  We're not sure if he's as daring and loose on dates as he is playing cards, but he certainly wanted us to go "all the way" a couple of times tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: Q-J offsuit

We started with 10,000 chips, thanks to a generous server at the bar who doubled our starting stack simply because we bought a soda.  But we lost a couple of promising hands early, and enter this one with about 6,200.  We limp in, and D.J. simply calls -- which is unusual, because he loves to raise pre-flop early in the game.  As we recall, a couple of other players join in.

In the tradition of the dearly-departed Poker After Dark: Director's Cut, D.J. takes the mike to tell the story from there:

"Here's how it happened...."


"He bet five [500].... I called.  The next card to come out...."


"He checked.  I bet 5,000.  He called; he goes all-in [1,025 more] with absolutely nothing.  [Nothing?  Top pair is nothing??] I could have had two pair."

ON THE RIVER: 4 (as best we recall; D.J. didn't record it)

We'll take over again from here.  "I have queens," we say showing our hand.

"I have two pair," D.J. answers; "Queens and 3's."  He turns over a 3 -- then shows a King!  "Oops, that's not a Queen."  We get a nice double-up to more than 12,000 -- and humorously suggest D.J. see an eye doctor.

So why did we get so brash with top pair?  Because we knew our opponent -- and we know D.J. likes to play "I dare you" a lot, betting big with almost anything.  Our hunch was that he was bluffing by over-betting, and we were right.

A similar moment came later in the hour when we re-raised D.J. with A-Q.  The flop brought an Ace, he called a modest bet of 500 we made -- then after checking the turn, he bet 10,000 on the river to lure us all-in.  With only top pair again, we gave it a lot of thought.  But then we folded, because D.J. was due to have a big hand and we were due to guess wrong.

It was a night when we played a little looser than usual in a live tournament, and that meant ups and downs.  We reached the one-hour break with 3,750 chips -- but then doubled up again in the second hour with 10-10 when a 10 came on the turn.  Another pot win moved us up to 12,000.

But rising blinds and failed chances led us to an all-in bet under the gun with A-9.  We lost to a woman with pocket Queens when an Ace didn't hit the board.  It was an 11th-place finish -- close to the final table, but not quite.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "What sort of toy did you bring?" a man asked as we plunked down our card protector of the evening.  It really wasn't a toy.  It's a small battery-powered red reflector which can flash when turned on.  We've clipped it onto our clothing and worn it over the years for evening jogging.

"I brought this to remind me," we said, "that I should reflect the light of Jesus Christ."  It's something all believers should do....

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. -- Matthew 5:16

These instructions come from Jesus Christ.  But whose light really should be shining -- ours?  We think there's a better Light than that:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world.  Who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." -- John 8:12

A contemporary Christian song puts it very well: "Lord, let me shine; shine like the moon/ A reflection of you in all that I do."  Is that light shining from you these days?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 105 final tables in 290 nights (36.2%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 190 point wins in 815 games (23.3%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.

We probably should count Tuesday night's 13th-place finish in the Senior Championship as a point win.  But points aren't awarded in championships, so we're not going to presume any.  However, we've made final tables two days in a row to qualify for a couple of February championships.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL:  Pretend cash games - $66,338, up $539.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January Seniors Championship: Where the Air is Rare

On most Tuesday nights, we join a Bible discussion via teleconference from Alabama.  But the last Tuesday night of the month is when the National League of Poker has its Senior Championship -- and this week, we had our best finish there ever.  How well?  Follow the action....

:06 IN: We have Ace-Jack of clubs, and raise to 100.  A few players call.  The flop is 3-K-10 (only the K is a club).  We make a continuation bet of 60 and get called.  The turn is 5c, giving us plenty of draws.  Everyone checks.  The river is a disappointing Jd, and everyone checks -- but that gives us top pair, beating someone with 6-6!  We gain $450.

:15 IN: We have J-10 in the big blind, and a player in front of us goes all-in for 310.  We dare to call, and face 8-8.  The flop is A-K-2.  But the turn is J and the river is 10.  We gain $600.

:23 IN: We have A-A on the button.  A player ahead of us doubles the blind, and we happily follow along.  The flop is 9-8-J, and the raiser goes all-in for $1,665.  We dare to call again, as does someone else.  The turn is 6.  The table checks.  The river is 6.  We bet a hopeful 150, get called -- then get rewarded!  Our opponents have A-J and A-9. Two pair wins us more than $3,100.

:27 IN: We have A-6 of diamonds.  A player raises 460 to go all-in, another player adds 160 to do the same, and we have the spare chips to call them both.  Our opponents have 4-4 and 7-6.  But the flop is a gorgeous A-J-A -- and A on the river gives us quad aces!  After a meaningless 5 on the river, we win $2,850.

We reach the first break in great shape, at 4,190 chips - good for 20th place, with 364 players left.

:34 IN: We come back from break with K-5 of hearts.  The flop is J-3-K, and happily call an all-in bet of 520.  Our opponent has a mere 8-Q.  That apparent bluff failed, as 2-8 follow on the board to win us another $1,350.

:39 IN: After a sizable loss with an open-ended straight draw which failed, we have A-8 on the button.  The flop is 5-8-9, and we offer a lead-out bet of 250 which gets a caller.  The turn is Q.  Both of us check.  The river is 2.  After more checking, our pair of 8's holds up!  We beat A-4 for a welcome $950.

:53 IN: After winning a sidepot with a pair of 6's, we have A-A again.  We choose to limp.  The flop is 10-J-9, bringing checks.  The turn is 4.  The river is 3.  A player goes all-in, and wins the main pot with 3-3; we settle for a side pot of $960.

But then several promising hands fall short -- and we stagger to the second break with only 935 chips left.  We've fallen to 142nd place, out of 158 remaining.

1:08 IN: We make another move after the break, with K-K on the button.  We go all-in pre-flop, and get called by a player with 7-A.  The flop is J-5-8, followed by 3-4.  Out big comeback commences, by winning $2,520.

1:13 IN: We have Q-K, play it -- and see 2-8-Q on the flop.  We bet the minimum 400, and that's enough to run everyone else off.  We pick up $1,850 more.

1:27 IN: After winning more antes and blinds with a big blind walk, we have 5-A.  The flop is a very nice A-5-10!  But we check with caution.  Then come 3-J, and two pair win for us again - gaining $1,950.

1:32 IN: We have 5-5 in the big blind, and call an all-in bet ahead of us for 325 extra.  The flop is K-8-4.  The turn is 2.  The river is Q.  And amazingly, our pocket fives win - as two players show A-7 and A-5!  It's a big gain of $4,275.

The big third-period comeback puts us at $6,645 at break time.  Only 61 players remain, and we're 36th.

1:42 IN: Once again, we have promising cards right after the break with A-9.  The flop is 2-9-A, and a player goes all-in for 2,585.  We call with two pair, of course -- and the opponent has A-8!  The board brings 5-7.  And thanks to pre-flop callers and rising antes, our haul from this hand is $12,897.  We climb to 15th place, with 55 left.

2:03 IN: We go "card-dead" for quite awhile, with three promising hands missing the flop and forcing folds.  Now we see Q-A under the gun, and raise all-in for $6,356.  An opponent calls -- with only Q-K!  The flop is 9-3-8, but A on the turn clinches a big win for us.  Our push wins us $21,312, putting us in seventh place.

A round of blinds then goes badly -- but we're moved to a semifinal table during the fourth break with $12,312.  Only 19 players still can win.  But we're in 18th place.

2:21 IN: The big blind forces us all-in with 2,712 -- but we have a hopeful A-9.  We're heads-up against K-Q.  The board brings 7-3-2, then 4-4.  We'll take a "big blind special" worth $9,824.

2:28 IN: The blinds come faster now, and the next big blind is another forced push -- this time with a lowly 5-8.  We face opponents holding Q-9 and 10-A.  But the flop is 2-7-6.  And when the turn is 4, we're thrilled!  The river K doesn't matter, because we've escaped with a straight -- climbing back to $15,672.

2:34 IN: With 13 players left at two tables, we have 7-A under the gun.  The blinds are so high that we choose not to hesitate, going all-in again for $8,232.  We get called by a player with 9-9.  A flop of K-2-2 has us fearing the worst.  The turn is 6.  The river is 8 -- and we're right.  Two pair top us, and we're through for the night.

Yet our final result was a strong 13th place -- especially strong considering 1,045 players entered the tournament!  Using a World Series of Poker payoff matrix we found from 2009, we would have finished the night taking home seven to nine times our buy-in.  But alas, NLOP only pays money to the ten players at the final table.  So we miss the money by three -- but what a great night it was.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A player to our right took a huge loss in the second hour, dropping to a measly 10 chips (everyone starts with 1,000).  But then he fought back, and we noticed.  From the chat-box...

Badone won Main pot 20 with Two pair, aces and queens
Me: The comeback begins.
flopblogger won Side pot 1 760 with One pair, sixes
Badone won Main pot 60 with One pair, eights
Me: as I said....
Me: Badone x6
Badone: thanks for encouragem

The word he clearly meant to finish was "encouragement."  It's a trait you're not likely to see very often in big-time professional poker.  But it's something believers in Christ are, well, encouraged to have.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. - I Thessalonians 5:11

Times were not easy for believers when Paul wrote these words.  Newly-developing Christians faced persecution from Roman leaders, as well as outraged Jews (3:4).  But Paul wanted to encourage them -- in what?

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Thessalonians 5:9

Paul admitted encouragement is a trait not everyone has -- perhaps not even in church groups:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.... if it is encouraging, let him encourage.... - Romans 12:6-8

We've been on both sides of this line -- trying to aid others who are "down in the dumps," then feeling so down ourselves that we want to burst any encourager's bright yellow balloon that comes along.  If you have this gift, don't be afraid to use it -- even at a poker table, where hardened players might not appreciate it.  You might be giving them the best example of God they'll see all day.