Friday, March 30, 2012

Past Its Prime?

We went on a road trip this week - and of course, we hoped to play poker to help cover our expenses.

But our timing was bad, because we were in the southern Illinois area on a Tuesday night.  Harrah's Metropolis only opens its poker room there four nights a week - Thursdays through Sundays.

Does this say something about poker as a whole?  Is it declining in popularity?  Or are there good and bad nights for business, even at casinos?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Poker Night 303: Chasing Rainbows

Many people across the U.S. are dreaming tonight of winning a world-record $540 million lottery jackpot.  But many poker players dream of striking it rich several times a night -- hitting big cards to grab huge pots.  And with odds far better than the 1:176,000,000 of Mega Millions, you can understand why.  Here's an example from Lil Kim's Cove tonight....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: Ace of diamonds - 4 of hearts

We're dealing the cards, and the woman in the small blind openly admits she's displeased with what we dealt her.  We don't bother mentioning ours are only fair-to-middlin'.  Starting the hand with about 7,900 chips, we're pleased when no one at the nearly-full table raises.  Most players call, and we join in.

ON THE FLOP: 9h-2d-Jd

This may not look like much -- but with two diamonds showing, we're thinking about a possible flush.  A player bets 500.  Thinking big and hopeful, we call.  About four players remain in the hand.


We're halfway (or is that 80-percent?!) there.  But now the heat rises.  The "small blind" woman to our left bets 1,000.  A man on the opposite side raises to 2,000.  We know from doing the math at home we have  a 19-percent chance of catching a diamond on the river, to make the flush.  Adding a bit of "daring" to our big and hopeful, we call.  The woman to our left calls as well.


Ouch -- we swung and missed!  The table checks in front of us, so we still have hope.  But we decide not to bet on that hope, and check as well.

"I hit a flush," the small blind says.  She proves it by turning over 6d-5d.  The small suited connectors she didn't like turned into a big winner.  (No, she didn't "tip the dealer" to thank us.)

Our chasing stopped for the most part, after that substantial loss.  We eased our way to the one-hour break with 3,900 chips.  But then another second-hour rally started for us.  A real flush came for us on the river from Ac-Jc, helping us recover to 10,000.  Another pot came minutes came when a 10 turned into a winning two pair, and we stood at 18,000.

But after a loss of two, we faced a moment of truth with 9,500 chips left and rising blinds.  A man across from us went all-in pre-flop with a massive stack.  We had J-J, and dared to call -- only to see our opponent throw down A-A with authority.  He was rewarded with A-A on the turn and river!  If we had to lose, we might as well lose to something huge -- as quads kicked us out in 18th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "What's with the nail, man?" a man asked as he dealt the cards tonight.  We reprised the card protector from Monday night.

"It's to remind me of something big," we explained; "the crucifixion of Christ."  We noted many people will remember that momentous event next week.  Then we asked, "Do you believe the crucifixion happened?"

The dealer didn't answer.  So we ask you, the reader: do you believe it happened?  It's an event so noteworthy that it was prophesied in the Old Testament:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. - Isaiah 53:5
Jesus the Son of God endured a painful death -- not only being crucified, but facing insults and spit in His face (Matthew 27:29-30).  In 2012, some people would call this police brutality.  And it was done to a "suspect" who committed no sin at all (II Corinthians 5:21).  Why would God in heaven allow such a thing?  The prophecy of Isaiah even answers that question....
Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and thought the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. - Isaiah 53:10
Translation: Jesus paid the "guilt offering" of death for our sins (Romans 6:23) -- and the Son of God eventually was resurrected, to see other "sons of God" be developed who would accept Jesus's sacrifice.  That's how Jesus Christ is our Savior, if you're willing to accept Him in that title.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 303 nights (35.6%) - 17 cashes.  Uh-oh, we've missed six final tables in a row.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 203 point wins in 864 games (23.5%), 68 final tables, 7 cashes.  We qualified for the monthly NLOP Senior Championship again, but had to miss Tuesday night's tournament because of a work-related road trip.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $71,332, up $600.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where Seldom Is Heard....

"It's nice to be popular," we said jokingly as we shifted from one poker table to another the other night.

A man at our new table specifically asked for "the player behind the dealer," even though someone else offered to go.  We were that "player behind" -- and that man may have seen us as an easy target.

"He'll be out of the game in a minute," the man told the Tournament Director after we sat down.  We simply smiled at that, prompting him to laugh a little.

"Thank you for those words of encouragement," we finally said quietly -- and admittedly a bit sarcastically.

You do hear such words from time to time at poker tables.  It's especially true when someone makes a huge hand, or newcomers take their first large pot.  But to be fair, some people are better with encouraging words than others.  That's true with believers in Christ as well....
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.... if it is encouraging, let him encourage.... - Romans 12:6, 8
We've faced our own personal trials away from the poker table over the last few years.  So we use this post in part to thank the fellow believers who have offered us encouraging words, when problems have arisen and things looked tough.  And if you don't have the gift of saying those words, set a living example instead:
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. - Hebrews 3:12-13
Our title for this post comes from a line in the state song of our home state: "Home on the range.... where seldom is heard a discouraging word...."  May your words and life encourage others - especially to bring them nearer to God.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Poker Night 302: The Royal Rumble

We don't pay much attention to professional wrestling these days.  But WWE's Raw Super Show is shown live inside The Red Barn on Monday nights -- and tonight we were reminded a man named Sheamus won the annual "Royal Rumble" battle royal earlier this year.  Poker games can have plenty of royalty on display, of course.  That can be both a good and bad thing....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Q-3 of clubs

We're sitting one behind the dealer, at a table of six.  It's early.  We started with 7,000 chips and haven't lost very many.  So it's inexpensive to try this.  We call, and no one raises.


No clubs came out, but we have top pair.  A woman first in the betting order offers 500.  Fine by us; we call, as do two others.


Now the table tightens, as everyone ahead of us checks.  Not with three of a kind, they don't.  We bet 700.  The early bettor folds, and only a man across from us calls.


Well, well!  The man across from us checks -- and we want to gain as much as we think he'll tolerate.  We bet 1,500, saying nothing more.

"I'll call," our opponent says with a shrug.  And now we finally can complete a quote we started to make at The Red Barn on Memorial Day 2010 -- a moment which marked our worst-ever bad beat in live play.

"Q is for quads!"  There's no straight flush possible to top it.  Our chip stack jumps to more than 15,000, helped by a 5,000-chip bonus for quads.

We took another nice pot after that, and were cruising along in the 15,000-chip range.  But then a moment of truth occurred at the one-hour break, as we held K-K.  A man kept making big raises ahead of us -- 8,000 on the flop when we had an "over-pair."  An Ace on the turn led him to bet 40,000.  After thinking over an all-in call for several seconds, we decided to fold.  Another Ace was revealed for the river, and the bettor indicated later he had a pocket pair of his own.  "If you had an Ace, you beat me," he said.  We didn't, but we probably would have.

We still had 10,000 chips at the break, but few good cards came after that.  We felt forced to push with 3-3 and 4,500 chips left, but the board didn't pair for us and a woman with A-K won with a pair of Kings.  A promising night ended with a stinging conclusion: only 17th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Is that your lucky nail?" a woman across the table asked when she saw tonight's card protector.

"Not really," we said.  The long narrow nail was a message of the season.  "I brought it to remind me of the crucifixion of Christ."

"I believe he was crucified," the woman said when we asked.  "But I think it was with a bigger nail than that."

We have to agree.  It would have to be much larger, to do what Peter described several weeks later....
This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. - Acts 2:23
Some experts believe the nails used at the crucifixion were seven to nine inches long.  (But despite what you may have heard, that's apparently not how the rock band Nine Inch Nails gained its name.)  Jesus didn't have to go through any of that punishment.  But He did, for a most wonderful reason.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him? - Romans 5:8-9
Have you accepted this wonderful gift of love, which God offered long ago?  You can be saved from "the wrath to come," which the Bible indicates will top anything in that upcoming movie The Wrath of Titans.  If you'd like to know more about that way of salvation, leave a comment; we'll be happy to explain it.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 302 nights (35.8%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Before the Turn

The raise from a man to our left was to 1,000.  Two women already committed to the hand threw in 1,000-chip pieces to call.  But there was a small problem.  The dealer sat between the man and the women -- and he was annoyed.

"Your thousands are committed!" the dealer announced as he emphatically stacked them into the pot.  "But I might want to re-raise here!"  He was in the hand as well -- and sure enough, he re-raised to 5,000.

This touched off a loud, short debate.  One of the women admitted she threw her chip in because she saw the other woman do it.  The other woman took exception to the decision to "commit" her 1,000 to the pot.  "It's not proper etiquette!" the dealer declared -- adding he was only doing what a casino dealer might do.

Our hand was folded well before the first raise, so we quietly lowered our head and let the other players quarrel.  The dealer had a point, even if it was made with a measure of anger.  Most organized poker games have a rule we all should have learned in kindergarten -- wait your turn.  We've mentioned before that it's even considered proper poker etiquette to avoid looking at your cards until it's your turn, before the flop.

"That's easy for you to say, Mr. Christian," some scoffers might respond.  "Your bunch probably is polite all the time!"  Well.... actually, no.  The Bible reveals at least one group of believers had trouble learning this lesson.
When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.  One remains hungry, another gets drunk. - I Corinthians 11:20-21
Many Christian groups will mark the Lord's Supper (also called the New Testament Passover) with a special service next week.  Imagine walking in and seeing everyone in the room rush to the front to grab the bread and wine!  You'd probably wonder what sort of group this really is.  Yet the group at Corinth apparently acted that way -- and not only when it comes to food and drink.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the other should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. - I Corinthians 14:29-31
What was the point of all this correction?  The Corinthian church members apparently had a problem with being considerate of each other -- perhaps due to factions feuding with each other (see 1:11-13).  But Paul indicated God wanted to see something else....
For God is not a God of disorder, but of peace.... everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way. - I Corinthians 14:33, 40
Back at our table, the dealer's re-raise to 5,000 eventually was called by a couple of players.  And as we've seen happen before, the dealer went all-in on the next card to reinforce his annoyance.  He won the pot, but left a bruise or two in the process.

A patient poker player doesn't go all-in with any two random cards, unless it's absolutely necessary.  In the same way, patient play also means waiting for people ahead of you to act first.  Even high-speed online tables require that.  So why not try it around other people?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Poker Night 301: The Great Diamond Heist

You may know the famous last words of a poker player: "They were suited."  But sometimes two suited cards can be a perfect fit.  Let's see if they were for us tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: 7-10 of diamonds

After a small early loss or two, we have about 6,200 chips.  Pre-flop raises have been common at this table, but this time no one piles on.  We're willing to call and see what happens, joining about two-thirds of the table.


It's more than bottom pair -- it's also a flush draw.  A woman to the dealer's left tosses out 200.  That's not large enough to run us off, so we call; so do one or two other players.


Uh-oh.  We now have two pair -- but if the woman across from us has a Queen, we have serious problems.  She raises the bet to 500.  We came prepared to take some calculated risks, so we call again.  We're now heads-up.


It appears our patience was rewarded!  And when the woman checks, we're pretty sure of that.  We bet 1,500 with our flush.  The woman shakes her head, as if she fears the worst -- but she calls.  We show our flush.  She doesn't show what she had, so we jump well above 8,000 chips.

"You let him steal it," a woman out of the hand says to the early bettor.

We politely beg to differ.  "She bet twice," we point out.  Other players at Lil Kim's Cove might have bet a lot more, though.  And besides, a Christian never likes to be accused of stealing; check Exodus 20:15 to find out why.

We apparently bet too much after that, because that was our last win of the evening.  Failed chances left us with 3,200 at the one-hour break, then a forced go-for-broke push in the second hour with A-Q.  Neither card paired, and a man with Kings and 7's took us out.  We came close to the final table, but had to settle for 11th place for the second week in a row.

MINISTRY MOMENT: It's spring pollen season in our corner of the world, with yellow dust covering every car in town.  Yet it was thundering as we walked to the poker room, and we were glad we carried an umbrella as rain began to fall.  Within about 20 minutes, it was a downpour.

"On behalf of my car," we said at the table, "I'd like to thank God for the rain."

Too much rain, of course, can be a problem.  Our sympathies are with people elsewhere in the U.S. who have dealt with flooding from several days of rain.  But the Bible shows that moisture is a godly blessing:
....Your Father in heaven.... causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Matthew 5:45
The NIV Study Bible comments concerning this verse: "God shows his love to people without distinction."  The difference lies in whether you acknowledge the love God provides.  If you do, we'd think you're more likely to walk in a righteous way -- a way that shows gratitude toward God.
[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. - I Peter 2:24
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 301 nights (35.9%) - 17 cashes.  The last time our final table number dropped below 36 percent, it was 2008 -- in our first months of live tournaments.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 200 point wins in 858 games (23.3%), 68 final tables, 7 cashes.

It turns out the midday NLOP "turbo tourney" hasn't disappeared after all.  It's still held several days a week, and you now have to register for it well in advance.  We had a good NLOP week all in all -- 6 point wins in 11 games, and two final tables on Sunday (a ninth and a fifth, the latter missing the money by two spots).

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $70,732, down $2,225.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If It Was Real: 300-Game Report

It's one thing to start strongly in a project.  It's another thing to sustain that momentum.  After 300 live poker tournaments, we're humble enough to admit we've lost a large amount of it.

We'll do a long-term review in a moment, but first let's review our last 20 live tournaments.  It's almost like we were trading stocks, trying to end the fiscal year with positive returns.  We've made six final tables in 20  -- but only two finishes were in the top five, both occurring in December.

We add a second-place and a fifth-place finish to our running total, based on hypothetical entries and payouts at casino tournaments -- and here's where we stand:

BUY-INS: 300 nights x $50 = $15,000

First -- 5 ($2,500)
TIE for first: 1 ($450)

Second - 9 ($3,600)

Third -- 9 ($2,700)
TIE for third: 1 ($250)

Fourth - 12 ($2,400)
TIES for fourth:
4 two-way ($600)
1 three-way ($67)

Fifth -- 15 ($1,500)
TIES for fifth:
4 two-way ($200)
1 three-way ($17)

TOTAL -- 62 for $14,284

Winning $500 out of $1,000 in buy-ins admittedly is not a strong record.  But a check of the overall record shows how much our strength has sapped lately:

FIRST 100 GAMES: 41 final tables; 29 top five finishes; 9 cashes - 45.3% return on pretend investment

SECOND 100 GAMES: 42 final tables; 22 top five finishes; 6 cashes - 24.7% on total 200-game investment

THIRD 100 GAMES: 25 final tables; 11 top five finishes; 2 cashes - down 4.8% on total 300-game investment

Is it simply a case of "the law of averages" catching up with us?  Do too many local players know our habits, and exploit them?  We're open to your comments and ideas -- and we might even try some of them at future tournaments.  But of course, we'll only give you credit after the fact.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Poker Night 300: Semi-Showoff

We'll mark five years of live poker-playing in June.  But tonight's trip to The Red Barn marked our 300th live tournament -- and we went with dreams of a "perfect game," a la bowling.  In Texas Hold 'em, of course, the odds of that happening are incredibly unlikely.  So we waited for the right moments....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-2 offsuit

We're dealing, and swimming in quiet waters.  After winning a small early pot, we have about 8,000 chips.  No one raises ahead of us, so we decide to see how far an Ace can go.  We call, and most of the table is in.


High card?  Not exactly thrilling.  But the table is playing on the tight side, which could help.  Everyone checks.


Top pair now looks better -- but our "kicker" card is one many players probably would punt.  A man across from us bets 500.  Could he be stabbing with something like a pair of 3's?  Two players call before our turn comes, and we call with them to see how strong we are.


Wow -- "runner-runner" gives us two pair!  But one of the flop cards was a spade (we forget which), and now three spades are on the board.

Oops, make that four spades: the man who bet before now turns over 5s.  But he keeps his other card face-down, to play a mind game with the rest of the table.  He holds chips out for betting, but then checks.  He fools a woman on the other end of the table for a moment -- but then she goes ahead and bets 500.  We don't hesitate to call.  But surprisingly, the man who showed that spade then folds.

"I hit it on the river," we say as we show both our cards.  And the two pair is good enough!  The woman who bet has A-7, so we claim a nice pot.

"I wish I'd had one card," the psy-ops player says -- revealing his other card was 8h, and he never had a chance of hitting a flush.

We squared off with that man at the end of the first hour, holding A-10.  The Ace was a diamond, and running cards came again for a "nut flush."  We pushed with it, and jumped to 10,500 chips at the break.  But attempts to play promising cards fell short after that -- and a final push with K-10 and A-A-10 showing ran into a player with a third Ace.  He wasn't bluffing, and we were eliminated in 16th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Seven," that bluffing player called during one hand as the river card was dealt -- and he was correct: a seven!

"Three," he said minutes later -- and we was right again: a three on the river!

"Why don't you go ahead and prophesy when the world's going to end?" we said in response.

We meant that as a joke.  But sadly, some ministers actually have done that -- and embarrassed themselves in the process.  Harold Camping became a worldwide laughingstock last year, and his radio network has paid a financial price for it.  While he's not getting as much publicity, another minister claims Jesus will come back on Pentecost Sunday in late May.  These "prophets" try to explain away the Lord's clear warning:
But of that day and that hour knows no man; no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.  Take ye heed, watch and pray: for you know not when the time is. - Mark 13:32-33 (KJV)
Predictions about who will win a big poker tournament seldom turn out to be accurate.  Predictions about when Jesus will return haven't been right yet -- but the Bible indicates one of these days, it will happen.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also. - John 14:3
Put your hope in these words of Jesus -- because without them, you have no hope of surviving beyond this life at all.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 300 nights (36.0%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Unmentionables?

There are two topics you should never bring up in public, a woman said at our poker table the other night: "Politics and religion."

Yes, those subjects can be divisive.  Yes, they can be controversial.  But whether people like it or not, both subjects are a part of many people's lives.

There's a lot of talk across the U.S. right now about this year's Presidential election.  So why should we be afraid to talk about that other subject -- matters of religion and faith?  The early disciples were given marching orders from Jesus to talk about them....

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. - Acts 1:8 (NASB)

Some people didn't want religious topics brought up 2,000 years ago, either -- such as a ruling council:

And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." - Acts  4:18-20 (NASB)

The first apostles felt compelled by God to talk about the things of Jesus.  Why should we be any different?  Especially when the things of Jesus should have an impact on every aspect of your life?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Poker Night 299: A Perfect Fit

We've heard other poker players declare the best cards to have before the flop are not high ones, but mid-range connected ones.  We're told you can make more hands with them.  Let's see if that worked for us tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 8-9 offsuit

We've been biding our time since the evening began - getting in small during several pots, but not connecting with anything yet.  Holding about 7,000 chips, that "mid-range connector" theory is worth a try here.  We call; no one at the table raises.

ON THE FLOP: 6-7-10

A split in bowling, but a solid strike for us!  We have a straight, and there's no flush threat showing.  A man across from us who admittedly hasn't played in several weeks tosses out a feeler of 300.  Keeping in mind what happened to us with A-A last week, we raise to 1,000 to take charge.  Three players call, including the bettor.


This puts two spades on the board, and increases our sense of urgency a bit.  The man who bet before us a moment ago now tries 1,000.  A man to our immediate right calls.  Nice try, but we're raising -- up to 3,000.

"That would put you all in," we say to the original bettor after a couple of players fold.  He doesn't count his stack (it looks like around 600), but he calls anyway.  The player between us calls as well.  What is he chasing?


Uh-oh -- maybe that.  Three spades now are showing.  The man to our right checks.  We cautiously check as well.

"I hit it on the flop," we say as we show.  The other men didn't hit anything close.  Our stack more than doubles to the 15,000 range, eliminating a player.

We thought we had another big winner minutes later, when K-Q brought top two pair on the flop.  A woman across from us saw our big betting (1,100 on the flop and turn) and actually guessed what we had.  But a Jack on the river gave another player with 9-10 a winning straight.  In poker, what goes around truly can come back around.

We didn't have any great chances after that, and had to go all-in for our last 2,000 in the second hour with K-J of diamonds in the small blind.  But a player with 10-10 received a third on the river and kicked us out. We were close to the final table again, but finished 11th.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Where did you get that - the world monetary fund?" the man across from us said earlier.  He'd seen our card protector -- the cased depiction of the Biblical "last supper."

"Do you think that happened?" we asked the man minutes later.  "Is Jesus your Savior?"

"There's too much historical evidence to say He didn't exist." he answered, going on to call Jesus an extraordinary individual.  "But we don't know if things exactly happened that way."  He referred to the rendering on the card protector, but he went on to suggest humans have made adjustments to the Bible over time.

We agreed with him that changes in interpretation can happen.  While we didn't bring it up, there's one timely example in the book of Acts:

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. - Acts 12:4, KJV

The King James Version says "Easter" - but we challenge you to find any other Bible translation which uses that word.  The original Greek refers to Passover, which makes sense considering verse 3 refers to "the days of unleavened bread." (Even the New King James corrects verse 4 to say "Passover.")

But while translators can make human errors, and even reflect personal biases, the Bible claims the original writers did not:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - II Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV

Is that how you look at the Bible?  Do you read it with all four of those "profitable points" in mind?  If you don't, we invite you to look at God's Word from those perspectives.  It's OK if you take what you read a bit personally.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 299 nights (36.1%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 194 point wins in 847 games (22.9%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.  "No river hold 'em" - 4 point wins in 18 games (22.2%), 3 final tables, 1 cash win.

NLOP's midday "turbo tournament" with a $100 prize pool quietly disappeared Wednesday.  Instead, the former "UFC Knockout" game is back with a new name -- the version with three cards pre-flop, then a three-card flop followed by only a turn card.  We made a final table there Wednesday afternoon, finishing eighth.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $72,957, down $2,640.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Love Is a Choice

Let's head back to that discussion at The Red Barn from earlier this week.  One woman tried to change her language, because she realized we don't use profanity.  Other players at the table (including one who said he's a Christian) pointed out cursing is commonplace at bars.

So who set the best Christian example in all of this?  If you weren't watching the table, it wouldn't be fair to jump to conclusions.  But let's use a standard written into the Bible by the apostle Paul:
Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. - Romans 13:10
We've heard ministers define love as an "outgoing concern" for others, away from self.  The woman who changed her language showed that way of thinking, even though she never called herself a Christian during the conversation.

On the other hand, the two players at the table who called themselves "Christians" used language during the evening which would have been censored from broadcast TV and radio years ago.  This brings to mind some more words of Paul....
Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. - I Corinthians 13:4-5
The language we use at the poker table (and in the rest of our daily lives) is primarily a matter of habit.  Certain words become so commonplace that you might have to make a special conscious effort to avoid saying them.  Yet that's what another New Testament book recommends:
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be. - James 3:9-10
We admit we've been guilty over the years of saying things which offended or upset people.  (In one workplace, all we did was quote one verse from the book of Amos -- not even saying its source.)  While attempting to avoid offense may seem like "political correctness" to some people, it's also a way to show you care about others and their feelings.

Perfectly Suited?

A Facebook friend posted this explanation of what the four suits in playing cards mean for women:

A Heart to love him,
A Diamond to marry him,
A Club to smash his head in, and
A Spade to bury the jerk.

We assume this was meant as a joke.  But we prefer a much more Biblical approach.  For instance....

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." - Galatians 4:6

So the Bible speaks of hearts -- dozens of times, in fact.  What can you find about the other suits?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Poker Night 298: Approaching Royalty

Poker tournaments can be a bit like the children's game "King of the Mountain."  And at The Red Barn tonight, we played at a table which seemed that way -- with the felt board placed atop three uneven tables.  It was appropriate for our evening as well, because we had plenty of ups and downs.

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: Ace of spades - King of clubs

We won a couple of early pots, but lost a few as well.  After reaching the one-hour break at 5,100 chips, a failure with a pocket pair has dropped us to 2,500.  Now we're dealing at a table of six, and see no other option.  We go all in.  Three players call to take us on.  That's not exactly comforting for us.


But that's a bit better -- top pair with top kicker.  Two players check, but a woman to our right bets 5,000.  That runs the other two away, and that 5,000 is hers to keep.

Then she shows K-7 -- not even a pair.  Then we realize we have not only the lead, but huge potential.  If the 10 of clubs comes, we'll hit a royal flush!


"Good enough," we say.  That's a nut flush, and we clinch the pot.  But a 5,000-chip bonus still is at stake....


"I'll take it," we say.  But another player asks us to prowl through the deck for the jackpot card, just for fun. The 10 of clubs is near the bottom.  But that's OK; we're back in the action at about 11,500 chips.

We won another big pot minutes later when A-Q turned into a full house, and jumped to 27,000.  Then came a setback, including a big loss with A-2.  Then came another all-in win, which moved us to the semifinal table.  Then we had A-9, saw a flop of A-9-7 and went all-in for 11,000.  But an opponent holding A-10 caught a 10 on the turn, and that finally did us in.  He took out another player along with us, so we finished tied for 11th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A woman to our right said an expletive during the first hour, then quickly corrected herself.  Other players wondered why she did that -- and her explanation sparked an interesting discussion.

"He doesn't curse," the woman said while gesturing toward us.  "He's a Christian, so...."

"I'm a Christian," answered the man two seats to our left.

"I'm a Christian," echoed the woman to our left.

"But if you come to a bar, you can expect to hear swearing," the man added.

"That's true," we admitted.  "But you don't have to join in it."

The man agreed, but repeated his earlier point.  "If you walk into a bar, you should expect to hear swearing."

"It's like joining the Navy," another man said.  "You might be the only person who chooses not to curse, but you're going to hear cursing."

There's a lot wrapped into this discussion of about 90 seconds.  We'll start by pointing out the woman to our  right was correct: we don't use profanity at the poker table (or anywhere else, for that matter).  We follow the instructions of Jesus in this regard....

But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. - Matthew 5:34-37

The Hebrew word for "swear" here is more along the lines of taking an oath, perhaps to assume a political office or testify in court.  But swearing and cursing were combined in a dramatic moment of the New Testament:

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away."  Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"  Immediately a rooster crowed. - Matthew 26:73-74

Jesus's loyal disciple Peter denied the One he earlier called "the Christ, the Son of the living God" (16:16) -- and he did it by invoking curses on himself.  We're not told exactly what Peter said, but the rest of chapter 26 indicates he felt utter humiliation moments later.

With all that said, we must add something else.  While we introduce matters of God and Jesus Christ in poker rooms, we do not make a point of bragging about how we don't use "blue language."  We don't think that sets a good Christian example, either.  So we simply say other words -- but we've noticed over the years if you don't curse or swear, some people pick up on it without you  making it an issue.

So what do you think of this discussion?  Which of the people at this table (excluding us) do you think acted most like a Christian?  We'll explore this much more in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 298 nights (36.2%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Long Haul

We went all in.  We won the pot.  Yet the player who called in an attempt to take us out was not impressed.

"You won't be long here," he said.  "You don't have enough."

Yet when the first hour of play concluded the other night, we were still in the poker tournament -- and the scoffer who admittedly had a much larger stack was out.  He bet big on a couple of hands, but in vain.

The lesson?  It's easy to scoff at another person's moment of small success -- but that person might wind up with the last laugh and a better finish.

Some people scoff at the idea of believing in God, too:

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'" - II Peter 3:3-4

Some people even scoffed at the miracles Jesus performed while He walked the earth.  It would be interesting to know how many of them eventually saw the resurrected Christ.  Of course, believers in 2012 face an even longer time of waiting.  Yet Peter's words of encouragement long ago still help us today.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.... But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. - II Peter 3:9

If your hope beyond this life doesn't rest in God.... well, what does it rest in?  Do you have any hope at all?  You can have some, if you have faith that lasts far longer than a stack of chips at a poker table.

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many will wax cold.  But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. - Matthew 24:12-13 (KJV)

Don't be tempted to "go for broke" in the game of life.  And don't be tempted to dismiss people who are clinging to a small amount of faith in God, even when all hope seems lost.  Be like the underdog sports team that keeps "hanging around" against a stronger opponent.  Your endurance well could be rewarded -- in poker and in God's ultimate payoff.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poker Night 297: A Step Too Slow

The problem with being sneaky in poker is that the best-laid plans sometimes seem to blow up in your face.  That's when you have to make an unexpectedly huge decision.  Check what happened tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 25/50


Wow -- pocket rockets early in the game!  We have about 5,900 chips, and sit third in the betting order.  But we decide to follow a familiar tactic for us: limp early, bet late.  We simply call with this big hand, waiting to see if anyone raises.  No one does, and almost the entire table is in.


Plenty of meat to make a "straight sandwich" -- and potential trouble for us.  The big blind apparently notices that, and tosses out a bet of 4,000!  On top of that, the man next to her calls!  Feelings of optimism quickly turn to queasiness, as we face that huge decision.  Did these players make two pair?  Do they only have one pair, and are trying to run the "chasers" away?

"I'll call," we finally say with admitted uneasiness.  At this point, we'd rather see a King than another Ace.


"I'm all in," the big blind declares -- and she sits with more than 20,000 chips.

"I'm all in," the man to her left repeats -- and we have to think about this a moment.  If one player pushes, it might well be a bluff.  But if two players push, that leads us to conclude one of them has something big -- and our "rockets" might as well be cigarettes.

"I'm gonna fold," we finally say with a stunned expression.  So does the rest of the table.  It's a potentially huge moment -- but both big bettors turn over 9-8!  They hit the same straight on the flop....

ON THE RIVER: 6 (as best we recall)

So they wind up splitting the pot.  And we indeed were wise to fold.  But it meant a big loss of chips, down to 1,875.

"That's what happens when you slow-play Aces," one of the pot winners tells us.  He suggests he would have folded if we had raised.  The woman who bet first never responds to that comment, so the loss still might have happened.  But we tried to lure in opponents for a big gain -- only to pay dearly for it.

We rallied a few minutes later by going all-in on the flop with A-J, and tripling our stack.  Then at the start of the second hour, A-K brought another big gain to 10,000.  But with the blinds rising rapidly, we tried going all in again with K-Q of clubs -- only to lose to two pair.  Our two-night streak of final table appearances ended, with a 16th-place finish.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Pay attention, dealer!" a man at the other end of the table said to us when we didn't notice a player had called in one hand.  We quickly responded by proceeding with the hand.

Then several minutes later, that man was dealing -- and he cleared away and mixed in folded cards, not realizing a river card still had to be dealt because two players remained in the hand.  We responded to that.... by saying nothing.

Sometimes keeping your mouth shut can be as much of a Christian witness as giving a long sermon.  Consider:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.... When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. - I Peter 2:21, 23
As an old spiritual song puts it: "They nailed Him to the tree, and He never said a mumblin' word."  Jesus did say several things during His crucifixion -- but the people who expected Him to call down Elijah or ask for the Father's intervention were left disappointed.

Jesus went through all of it to pay the penalty of sin for all humans.  And in the process, the Savior practiced what He preached....
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right check, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39
That's admittedly hard for anyone to do -- whether you're running for political office or hearing "trash talk" in sports.  But at a poker table, it actually might be a little easier.  Players aren't likely to say much, anyway -- because they might tip off other players to something.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 297 nights (36.4%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 192 point wins in 838 games (22.9%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.  Our plans to reduce online play in March had a sudden change this week.  We lost a full-time job, so now we have a lot more time to play between work searches.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $75,597, up $1,210.

Lips, Inked

We told you earlier this week about the Tournament Director who plans to get a new tattoo with the Latin words for "praise to God."  That's obviously something a poker ministry would support.... right?

Well, not so fast.  It's one thing to praise God verbally....

My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long. - Psalm 71:8

It's also a good thing to lift your arms, in worshiping God....

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. - I Timothy 2:8

But putting words of praise on those arms?!  There's a warning about that hidden in an Old Testament book which doesn't usually get a lot of attention:

Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord. - Leviticus 19:28

"But that's Old Testament," some people might answer.  "We're not under that anymore!"  Yet this is the same chapter of Leviticus where the principle to "love your neighbor as yourself" is introduced (verse 18) -- not to mention showing respect for older people (verse 32) and using honest weights and measures (verses 35-36).  Would anyone dare say those decrees of God (which verse 37 indicates they are) are out of date, too?

It would be an easy cliche for us to say God made your skin in His image (see Genesis 1:26), so there's no need for you to add anything to it.  But that would open a potentially big debate about women wearing makeup, and we've been in church groups which have flip-flopped on that issue numerous times over the years.  And then there's a statement we found while writing this post:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. - Isaiah 49:15-16

God is speaking these words to the nation of Israel -- and the Hebrew word for "engraved" is different from the word for "tattoo". Yet it can still refer to painting.  So what about these marks on the palms of God?  We're open to ideas on this, but we're led to think there's a connection with Jesus Christ:

But he [Thomas] said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." - John 20:25b

Call him "Doubting Thomas" if you wish, but this disciple apparently was convinced Jesus was nailed to the cross.  Jesus showed Thomas those hands in verse 27 -- so could they be the "marks" God uses to remember Israel until Christ returns?  They aren't tattoo marks, but they're marks all believers long to see someday.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Who's Got the Goods?

We mentioned a moment last week at The Sports Page where we explained to a server we were not good.  As best we remember, she told us we were for some reason.  So she was startled when we denied it.

Why turn down that sort of compliment?  Well, we're simply following a Biblical example....

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered.  "No one is good -- except God alone." - Matthew 19:16-17
Admittedly, there are several ways to look at both the question and the answer.  The man who approached Jesus is known famously in the Bible as "the rich young ruler" (see Luke 18:18).  Some might say he was trying to "butter up" the Lord, to obtain some kind of blessing -- but we would note the man dropped to both knees, signifying an act of worship.

Yet why wouldn't Jesus accept the salutation, "good teacher"?  After all, Christ admitted later....

"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am." - John 13:13

Jesus seemed to hesitate over being called "good," even though he stood as God in the flesh.  And that may have been the very point.  Christ wanted to see if this young man would acknowledge Him as God.  The young man really didn't, either in word or action:

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go , sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me."  When the young man heard this he went away sad, because he had great wealth. - Matthew 19:21-22
This young man showed he was not ready to obey Jesus fully -- and in fact, his wealth may have become a false god in his life.

Don't get the wrong idea: there's nothing wrong with being good and doing good.  Goodness is listed as one of the "fruit of God's spirit" (Galatians 5:22).  But good deeds should have a focus on giving glory and honor to God, while also showing compassion on other people in need.  To borrow a poker phrase, we "pass the deal" to our Lord.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poker Night 296: Honor Among Thieves?

A change in plans (or better put, a change in employment status) allowed us to play Monday night poker tonight at The Red Barn.  It was our first trip there since 31 October 11 -- and more notably, our first trip since a late-night homicide across the street.  Sadly, the lighting in the parking lot has not improved since then.  But thankfully, all was quiet tonight both inside and outside.  The only "criminal misconduct" was at the poker table....

BLINDS: 200/400


We won a meaty early pot when A-J of clubs turned into the "nut flush."  So we have about 14,000 chips -- and when a player ahead of us raises to 2,000, we're not that scared.  We call with a pocket pair, and join four other players in the action.


Big cards which make our pair look rather small.  But the table checks.


If anyone bets, we're probably bailing out.  But the table checks again.


Two players in front of us check -- and in the words of Ali Nejad on the returning-from-the-dead Poker After Dark, we decide to take a stab at the pot.  We bet 800.  Three players fold, leaving only the man to our immediate right.

"Raise," he says quietly.  And holding a large stack of chips, the raise is 10,000 -- not enough to put us all-in, but enough to disable us for the balance of the night.

So how do we react?  We actually laugh out loud for a moment, and conclude he's been "playing possum" with big cards -- waiting for someone to grab for the pot.

"I tried to take third, and was caught trying to steal," we say as we fold without showing our cards.

Then the pot-winner does something surprising.  Without saying a word, he turns over his cards -- a lowly 2-7!

There was no sign of a flush.  But he clearly determined our "stab" was a weak one (even at twice the blind), so he made a huge raise to bully us away.  At least one other player at the table rightly declared it "robbery" -- but with only the fourth-best pair to the board, we didn't dare call.

The nut flush with clubs turned out to be the only hand we won all night.  But with plenty of wise folding and only about 20 players in the tournament, that was enough to take us to the final table with 5,000 chips.  We eventually had to go for broke, and we did with Q-J of clubs -- but another player made two pair to top us. Our evening ended with a rather satisfying seventh place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I'm getting a new tattoo," the Tournament Director told us at the final table.  He already has several on his arms.

"I thought your skin was OK the way it was in the first place," we said quietly -- so quiet that we're not sure he heard it.  Then the Director grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote out the two words of his tattoo: laus deo.

"Deo is God," we said recalling our high school Latin class and college choir performances of requiems.  "Laus is.... praise and honor!?"

"It means 'praise to God,'" the Director said.

Would you be surprised to learn we have some reservations about this approach?  We do, and we'll explain why in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 108 final tables in 296 nights (36.5%) - 17 cashes.  We may be able to play live tournaments two nights a week for a while.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Poker Night 295: Look Before You Leap

Professional poker tables are built so ten players and a dealer can sit comfortably, yet have a good look at the action.  At local free tournaments, things can be very different.  That made a difference for us tonight, during one hand at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 2-3 of spades

We're in the big blind, enjoying a fairly big start.  We won an early hand with two pair, moving us well above 10,000 chips.  So when a player adds 100 ahead of us, we don't mind giving this "lowball" connection a try.  We call.

ON THE FLOP: J-8-3 (no spades)

We must note at this point we're seated at one end of two card tables, set up next to each other and covered with a green felt tablecloth.  The cards are being dealt at the other hand, so we have to strain a bit to see the cards.  We want to check, but the original raiser bets 200.  Hopeful with bottom pair, we call.


We have to stand up to see this card.  There's no improvement for us.  But the entire table checks.


Herein lies the problem.  We know we have two pairs - 3's and 2's.  But looking from the far end, we thought the face card on the flop was a King.  So when a man to our immediate right bets 250, we feel confident and double the bet to 500.  He calls; everyone else folds.

"Two pair," we say turning over our cards.

Our opponent turns over 8-7 -- and he's awarded the pot.  Only then do we realize what the flop really was!  The board showed a pair of Jacks, so his second pair beat ours.

Our vision was a lot better the rest of the night -- winning two big pots when we hit first a full house on the flop, then a club flush.  We reached the one-hour break at more than 24,000 chips.  But we took a sizable loss in the second hour with K-J of clubs, when we suspected a player was making an all-in bluff and called it.  He actually had K-K -- but wound up getting topped by a second player who pushes with K-Q and made a straight.

We held on from there to reach the final table.  But the draw for dealer put us in the big blind immediately with our last 10,000 chips.  We were dealt J-10 and had some hope, but another player made a full house to take another player out along with us.  It was a satisfying evening, all in all -- finishing tied for eighth, our best showing since late December.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took our "last supper" card protector tonight, and it reminded a man to our right of something he saw on The History Channel.  "They said Mary....."

"Mary Magdalene?" we suggested.  Yes, that was her.

"Mary Magdalene was at this," the man recalled hearing.  "There were women at that supper.... But I know you shouldn't believe everything you see on The History Channel."

We told the man we didn't recall seeing that detail from Scripture.  After the game, we went home and found this:

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. - Matthew 26:20

That same phrase "the Twelve" appears in Mark 14:17.  Luke's account makes clear who they are....

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. - Luke 22:14

Those apostles (called "disciples" elsewhere in the Gospels) included Judas Iscariot -- who left during the dinner and reported Jesus to authorities, leading to Christ's arrest and eventual crucifixion.  We don't think there were "holy seat-fillers" back then to take Judas's place, either male or female.  So based on the Bible evidence, we're led to conclude Mary Magdalene was not at this Lord's Supper -- but we must add the Bible does not specifically say where she was.

What should we make of this detail?  If this historic Passover meal was a "for men only" event, does it mean women are barred from taking the Lord's Supper today?  We know of no Christian group taking that approach -- as they all seem to follow the guidance of the apostle Paul.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.... There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:26, 28
So this "table of the Lord" is much like free poker tournaments -- open to all without regard for race, gender, economic status or nationality.  That's what real Christian unity should be all about.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 107 final tables in 295 nights (36.3%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 191 point wins in 832 games (23.0%), 66 final tables, 7 cashes.  Our online play is likely to diminish in March, due to other commitments including preparation for the Passover season.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $74,387, up $1,494.

February Poker Studs Championship: Mas Macho?

For the first time since last summer, we tried to qualify for the monthly "Poker Studs" Championship at National League of Poker.  We made it on the first try -- and on "Leap Day," we hoped to jump ahead early....

:00 IN: We begin in the small blind, holding Q-10.  No one raises pre-flop, which actually goes against the NLOP norm.

ON THE FLOP: Ah-2c-3h

We don't have a heart, and a straight is a longshot.  But everyone checks.  OK by us.


Now the straight chance is better.  Everyone checks again.


Woo-hoo!  The running men came, to give us a Broadway straight!  Yeah, three hearts are out there -- but leading off, we think a bet of 300 is good.

Trouble is, the man to our left calls.  He shows 2-9 of hearts!  "Ouch," we write - as his river dream came true, too.  His flush beats our straight.

:03 IN: We have 7-9 offsuit, and fold.  Too bad: the flop is 9-9-7.

:12 IN: We have A-7 in the big blind.  The flop is 10-8-J, giving us a straight draw.  We call a minimum bet of 40.  The turn is 3.  We call another bet of 40.  The river is 3 -- and since we missed, we check.  Our opponent checks as well, but he wins with 8-7 for a pair.

:29 IN: With our stack down to 290, we have 10-K of spades and decide to play it.  The flop is K-5-2.  There aren't any spades, but it's top pair -- so we go all-in for our last 190.  An opponent calls, and shows K-2 for two pair.  The board brings J-Q, and we're gone in 30 minutes.

Final total: 374th place out of 1,149 players.  But at least McAfee wasn't the one who did us in.