Thursday, May 31, 2012

Poker Night 319: Have a Nice Trip?

"I hate big slick," a man across the table from us said at Lil Kim's Cove tonight.  It's considered one of the best starting hands in poker, but it sometimes has to be handled with care.  We know, because we looked right at it....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: Ace-King of hearts

We prefer to call this "big red," because "slick" implies spades or something as black as an oil spill.  But after winning a couple of modest early pots, we're ready to roll with this.  We raise to 400, and about half the table calls.

ON THE FLOP: K-Q-7 (no hearts)

Top pair + top kicker = nice continuation bet.  The play checks to us, and we toss out 700.  Most of the players fold, but a man to our right seems unconvinced.  He raises 700 more.  We call -- and wonder.

ON THE TURN: 3

That card probably makes little difference, and that's perfectly fine with us.  Our opponent checks.  So do we -- which in retrospect probably is a mistake.  We let him see a free card, and he gets....

ON THE RIVER: Q

Ooh boy.  What if he's been sticking around with a Queen in his hand?  Our opponent gives the impression of three of a kind, by betting 2,000.  We ponder it a moment -- but eventually decided we're "pot-committed."

"You've probably got me beat," we say, "but I have to see it."  We call the 2,000, two-thirds expecting a third Queen -- but NO, he has K-6!  He matched our King, but the Ace kicker rewards us with a gain of more than 3,000 chips.

"I guessed he had a Queen, too," a player out of the hand admits.  But in this case, standing up to the dare paid off.

A few failed chases followed, but we still had 10,500 chips after the one-hour break.  Then in the second hour, we pushed all-in "under the gun" with 6,000 left and (ahem) two nice-looking cards.  It scared the table away, and we gained blind money.  Then we had an Ace, saw an Ace on the flop and pushed again.  That brought a quick concession, too.

With the blinds rising, we finally saw Q-10 in the Big Blind.  When a 10 hit the river, we pushed again for our last 3,000 chips.  A man called -- only to show A-10.  That Ace kicker turned around to kick us out of the tournament; we finished in 17th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man was moved to our table in the second hour, and sat down between us and the dealer.  This caused a moment of confusion, which we were able to explain.

"He can be in this hand," we said of the new player.  "And if the Director asks the player behind the dealer to move -- well, he can be like a 'stranger and a pilgrim on the earth.'  As I read in a book once."

The man in question smiled at our explanation, and we'd like to think he understood the "book" we were describing.  Do you know the origin of that phrase?
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. - Hebrews 11:13 (KJV)
Who are "these all"?  The preceding verses in Hebrews present an all-star cast of Old Testament names - Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham.  They spent their earthly lives looking for something more....
Instead, they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. - Hebrews 11:16 (NIV)
This is a city "whose architect and builder is God" (verse 10).  Are those famous Biblical characters there now?  Actually, we don't think so.  Revelation 20 speaks of a resurrection of saints yet to come -- and then:
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. - Revelation 21:2
If you're faithful to the end of life as Abel and Abraham were, this "long strange trip" of life will lead to an eternal home that's better than any "full house" on this planet.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 112 final tables in 319 nights (35.1%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 228 point wins in 966 games (23.6%), 73 final tables, 7 cashes plus 1 other win.  No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 31 games (16.1%), 4 final tables, 1 win.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $78,860, down $286.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May Studs Championship: Fatal Heart Attack

National League of Poker screens show ads around the table.  That's one way "free poker" sites raise money for championship jackpots.  Yet tonight we saw an ad for "women like you" at the May "Poker Studs Championship" - as in men only.  No, we did not take offense to that.  We simply tried to win....

:00 IN: We open the evening with J-7 of clubs.  The flop is 8-2-9, with the 9 a club.  The table checks.  The turn is Kc, and we call a bet of 30 with a flush draw.  The river is a disappointing 4s, and we fold to a bet of 50.

:10 IN: We have Q-K in the Small Blind.  The flop is 3-J-3.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 6.  Someone bets the minimum 40, and we call with "overcards."  The river is a rewarding Q.  We bet 100, get a caller -- and top his 10-6 to win $480.

:20 IN: We have 10-J of diamonds "under the gun."  The flop is A-9-8 (no diamonds), giving us a two-way straight draw.  But someone bets 715, and we fold.  Too bad for us; the river is 7 and would have won.

:25 IN: We have 6-A of spades with the dealer button.  The flop is 2-A-9, so we bet 200 with top pair.  Someone calls.  The turn is K, and for some reason we fear trouble.  We bet only 100, and get called.  The river is 7.  Everyone checks -- but our opponent only has J-2.  We win $950.

:28 IN: We have 10-10, and call when a player behind us doubles the blind to 200.  The flop is 8-8-7.  We bet 100, and call when that same player doubles.  The turn is 5.  We bet 100, and that man seems to get the message; he simply calls.  The river is K.  We check, as does the table.  But to our right, a third player has been calling all along -- and he has J-J!  Laying low wins him a big pot.

That put us at the half-hour break with $920.  We're tied for 273rd place, with 384 players left.

:38 IN: We have 3-4 of diamonds.  The flop is 10-J-9, with the Jack a diamond.  The table checks.  The turn is 5s.  We're ready to fold, but the table checks.  The river is 3s -- and now that we have a pair, we bet the minimum 150 in hope.  Two players call.  But one of them has 10-K, to beat our pair.

:54 IN: We've dropped to 370 chips after a miss or two, with the blinds at 150/300 -- so seeing K-Q, we go all-in. Two players call.  The flop is a hopeful 2-Q-5 -- except they're all hearts.  So is the turn: 4h.  One player bets enough to chase everyone else away -- and sure enough, he shows Kh for a flush.  The river is 8h, but his King makes a better flush.

Our night ends for the worse, at 208th place out of 1,065 players.  That's actually up about 160 places from our last "Stud of the Month" night in February -- but it's nowhere near the money.



Put Up or Shut Up?

We're reassessing our Monday night trips to The Red Barn, after what happened away from the poker tables this week.  We mentioned an argument developed, which ended with the Tournament Director reportedly leaving a customer with a bloody nose.

We've noted in the past this Tournament Director claims to be a Christian -- all the way down to putting a Christian message on his body, in the form of a tattoo.  Yet it seems to us his actions Monday night didn't match his words.  Nor did they match the words of Jesus:
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39
This is what the Bible calls a "hard saying" for a lot of people -- including Christian believers.  We've been in church groups where even ministers tried to explain away this seemingly simple, straightforward statement.  Yet it's not only what Jesus said -- it's how He lived, and even died.
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 2:23
We face insults from time to time while playing poker, especially online.  If we respond to them at all, we try to answer in a polite way.  We think it's always better to let your cards and chip stacks do the "talking," when it comes to which player is better.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay." - Romans 12:18-19
There's much more we could write about this.  And we realize you might have many questions about this approach - especially if you were brought up in a "get-even" environment.  We found an online booklet offering an in-depth Bible-based examination of the broader issues involved in fighting.  There's only one battle the New Testament seems to recommend....
Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.... - I Timothy 6:12

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

May Senior Championship: Times of Testing

We've attended church groups which like to suggest 40 is a "test" number -- such as Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness before Satan tested Him (Matthew 4).  Big tests came our way tonight at the National League of Poker Monthly Senior Championship.  But when we see 4-10 (which multiplies to 40), we tend to fold that....

:01 IN: We have Ax-4c.  The flop is 2c-K-8c.  Everyone checks.  The turn is Qc, giving us a flush.  A player bets 70 -- and even though our flush card is weak, we call.  The river is Qs.  The table checks -- and our A-4 flush is topped by a player with Ax-5c.  "Winner by a nose," we write.

:05 IN: After the first three hands of the night are won with club flushes, we have 8c-Kc.  The flop is 6-8-6, with one 6 a club.  We bet 60 with two pair, and the table folds.  We gain $210, and admit: "I had clubs."

:10 IN: We have K-5 in the Big Blind.  The flop is 6-J-K.  We bet 80, the table folds, and we gain $200.

:11 IN: The next hand brings us Q-Q in the Small Blind.  The flop is 9-6-Q (the first two clubs again).  We bet 150, and the table folds again.  We win $710, finishing a good round of blinds.

:20 IN: We have 6-A, and choose to fold to a raise.  We kick ourselves when the flop is 6-6-K.  But the turn and river are 9-9, and a player with a 9 wins with a full house which would have topped ours.

Then come a failed chase of a straight, along with K-10 which brought a pair of Kings on the flop only to lose to three 5's.  We reach the half-hour break tied for 254th place with 1,050 chips; 385 players remain.

:34 IN: We return from the break with K-Q.  The flop is J-10-Q.  With top pair and a big straight draw, we call a bet of 200.  The turn is 7h, putting three hearts on the table.  Our opponent bets 380, and we dare to call.  The river is 4 (not a heart).  The opponent bets 220, to put us all-in.  We fear we'll see A-K or two pair -- but it's Q-6!  Our kicker saves the day, and we jump to $2,500.

:46 IN: After seeing weak cards in the blinds, we have 8-8 on the button.  The flop is 10x-6s-5s.  We bet 200 after the table checks, and get callers.  The turn is a lovely 8s, and we bet 520 to put an opponent all-in.  That player calls with K-J, and Jc on the river isn't good enough.  We make a $2,000 win.

:50 IN: We have As-Js, and try to limp for 200. But a player to our left raises to 1,140.  We're quite wary of this, but after a moment thought choose to call.

ON THE FLOP: A-4-6

We check to the raiser, who follows up with a bet of 560.  But we have top pair and a nice kicker, so we're a bit more comfortable calling.

ON THE TURN: 2

We check again -- and now our opponent bets to put us all-in with about 1,120 left.  Something is telling us he has pocket Aces.  But after a moment, we decide that's unlikely.  We've rolled the dice before with success tonight, so we call -- and lo and behold, he has A-A.

The river card doesn't matter, because we're officially sunk.  We finish in 239th place, out of 1,106 players -- down 13 spots from last month's Senior Championship.

We don't play dice games in casinos, but this night reminded us you can roll them one time too many.  Or as Jesus said after those 40 days in the wilderness....
Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" - Matthew 4:7

Monday, May 28, 2012

Poker Night 318: One-Two Punch

On a Memorial Day when the President asked people to pray for "permanent peace," things became a bit ugly at The Red Barn.  We chose to focus on the poker table instead of the building argument to our left -- but we're told it ended with the Tournament Director bashing a belligerent biker in the nose, and that man spewing blood as he was ejected.  As for our night, it had some pretty moments....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: King of clubs - 7 of clubs

We're "under the gun" - first to act, early in the action.  These cards are suited.  They're studly.  We'll play 'em. No one raises pre-flop.  Compared to what happened later, this is a nice friendly pot.

ON THE FLOP: 7-4-2 (no clubs)

We have top pair, out of three cards few professional poker players would want to play.  But the Big Blind to our right seems interested, betting 250.  That was our thinking, only she beat us to it.  We call; about four players remain.

ON THE TURN: K

We've improved to top two pair.  Yet the Big Blind turns up the pressure, anyway.  Now she bets 1,500.  But we feel confident, and double the bet to 3,000.  A man to our left calls.  Another folds; the Big Blind calls.  It never crosses our mind that she might have three of a kind (maybe K-K).

ON THE RIVER: 10

We don't recall a flush threat showing here.  Perhaps the Big Blind missed one, because she now checks.  We check with care as well, as does the third player -- and our K-7 turns out to be a winner!  The Big Blind also had two pair, but a lower two.  We took a risk, and it paid off well.

A couple of other hands in the first hour were even better.  We dealt ourselves A-A, which turned into a winning pair which gained us thousands of chips.  A-Q became another nice winner, when a Queen came on the flop.  Add to that a man who put a "heavy date" elsewhere above his big stack of chips, so he left early and shared his haul with the rest of the table.

Put it all together, and we had 34,500 chips at the one-hour break.  But winning cards stopped coming after that.  Our stack slowly drained in the second hour, until we faced "The Rodney" (K-9) with 7-7-9 showing on the flop.  We decided to go all-in for our last 8,500 chips.  A woman called with K-8 -- but then the turn and river were J-10.  Not only did she make a straight, it was a diamond flush to boot.  We came close to the final table, but missed in 11th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man to our left at the semifinal table was impressed by our card protector depicting the Lord's Supper.

"Do you believe in Jesus?" we asked.

"Oh yes," he said.  In fact, he reached into his wallet moments later -- and pulled out an identification card showing he's a chaplain!


The man admitted he had to stop doing chaplain work for a time, due to illness.  But he apparently still serves as he's able, in places such as nursing homes.  By doing that, he follows one of Jesus's parables:
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.... I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." - Matthew 25:34-36
Some people are in nursing homes due to sickness.  But we've heard stories of a few people who felt imprisoned by such conditions.  They need that "permanent peace" every bit as much as the two men who nearly had a barroom brawl tonight -- expect they need peace of mind about the future.

We believe that "permanent peace" will come only when the "prince of peace" returns to Earth -- as in Jesus:
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning books.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.  Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid.... - Micah 4:3-4
Believers in Christ will have the inner peace (for lack of a better phrase) of knowing they have eternal life.  Read Revelation 20:1-6 for details about that.  Is this the peace you desire?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 112 final tables in 318 nights (35.2%) - 17 cashes.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Poker Night 317: Fool Me Twice

"This is going to be an interesting table," one of the players to our right said at Lil Kim's Cove tonight.  He was right about that, for reasons he probably never expected.  The beginning of the evening especially interested us....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Q-Q

This is the second night of the night.  On the first one, a man to our immediate left raised to 250 pre-flop.  We were the only player to call, to "humor him".  We had K-6 of spades, missed the flop and folded when he bet after that.

Now we have more promising cards, but we limp in early position again.  The man to our left raises to 250 once more.  This time several people call.  "I'll humor him again," we say as we join in.

ON THE FLOP: 10-J-3

This flop gives us an "overpair," and we decide to exploit it right away.  We bet 400.  The raiser next to us is unfazed, and calls.  As best we recall, one or two other players stay in.

ON THE TURN: Q

Nice -- now we have three of a kind.  So turning up the heat some more, we bet 800.

"Raise," the man to our left says.  He doubles to 1,600.  Uh-oh -- did he raise with A-K to make a straight there?  Or is he bluffing to "play tough" and push us away?  The other players bail out, but we feel compelled to call.

ON THE RIVER: A

That's just about the last card we wanted to see.  A straight now is a strong possibility, but we don't want to appear weak.  So we reduce the bet to 500.  Our opponent doubles to 1,000.  We fear the worst, but we call.... and the man turns over K-J!  We had the lead on him, until he finally caught the straight on the river.

That big loss cost us a lot of chips, but we regained about 2,000 later in the first hour when we went all-in with.... uh, er.... the other players concluded we made a club flush.  (We never revealed what we had.)  But then we went on a big "chase" with a potential nut flush late in the first hour, but missed for another major drop.

A strange disqualification (a topic for another post) allowed us to improve during the one-hour break from a meager 2,000 chips to 6,000.  When 9-9 came our way in the second hour, we went for it and pushed again -- but a Queen on the flop gave another man a better winning pair.  We walked home fifth at our table of eight.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We've always been good with mathematics - so when we figured out the difference between 5,000 and an all-in bet of 2,325 in mere seconds in our head, a man joked: "You should be an accountant.... I plan to win Mega Millions tomorrow night, and then I'll hire you as my accountant."

"If you do," we answered, "you'll have to call me Monday.  I'll be busy all weekend.  It's Pentecost."

"Pentecostal?  I used to be Pentecostal," the man said.

"I'm not Pentecostal," we clarified.  "The feast of Pentecost is Sunday."

When we explained what the day involves, the man remembered some of the Biblical story about Pentecost.  In fact, he recited a few details from the book of Acts....
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. - Acts 2:1, 4-6
The disciples of Jesus became filled with something their Lord had promised in the preceding days and weeks:
For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. - Acts 1:5
The man at our table said he believes in the Holy Spirit.  But we should emphasize if the Holy Spirit enters you today, there's no guarantee you'll start speaking in tongues as the disciples did long ago.  Some Pentecostals might disagree with that -- but consider what the apostle Paul wrote:
Are all apostles?  Are all prophets? Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?  But eagerly desire the greater gifts. - I Corinthians 12:29-31
The implied answer to all of Paul's questions is no.  Not everyone in the church is an apostle or prophet.  So not everyone is able to speak in tongues (or languages).  Read through all of chapter 12 to see what gifts Paul considered most important.  And if Pentecost is a new concept to you, this article explains the deeper New Testament meaning behind all the festivals introduced by God to Moses.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 112 final tables in 317 nights (35.3%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 227 point wins in 957 games (23.7%), 73 final tables, 7 cashes plus one other win.  No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 28 games (17.9%), 4 final tables, 1 cash win.

Next week will be a big NLOP week for us; we've qualified for two monthly championships, and might enter a third.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $79,146, up $2,300.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Give and Take II

Let's head back to the "color-up" moment, where a man took one of our small poker chips to create a big 500-chip gain for himself.

We told the woman sitting next to us about a case where Jesus could have used His gift of miraculous healing en masse, but He didn't.  It happened during a trip to a pool in Bethesda....
One who was there had been an invalid for 38 years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" - John 5:5-6
At first, this may seem like a foolish question.  Who wouldn't want to get well, after years of infirmity?  But Jesus asked before He healed (verses 8-9) -- not wanting to presume anything about this invalid.

The man who reached for our "25 chip" was presumptuous.  (In fact, some might call it outright stealing.)  That approach can get you in trouble, as an army of Israel learned the hard way....
And the Lord said unto me, Say unto them, Go not up, neither fight; for I am not among you; lest ye be smitten before your enemies.  So I spake unto you; and you would not hear, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill. - Deuteronomy 1:42-43 (KJV)
God told Moses to warn Israel not to go to battle.  Moses did.  But some soldiers went -- and wound up chased and destroyed by their foe (verse 44).

In the case of that poker night, the far better approach was to wait for someone to display a giving spirit.  It's actually the way which should leave everyone happy -- including God.
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 9:7
Admittedly, we didn't think of splitting our small stack of 50 chips with that other man.  Shame on us for that.  But reaching over and taking from our stack wasn't the right answer, either.  That put us under a gift "guilt cloud."

We've faced this with men in church congregation we've attended.  We've had to remind them the Bible says, "Ask and you shall receive" (John 16:24) - it does not say, "Take and maybe they won't notice."

Ministers who criticize poker have a point, when they say the game emphasizes taking as opposed to giving. The player who takes everyone else's chips ultimately wins.  But taking short cuts during that process is presumptuous, selfish and arguably unethical.
....Remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Acts 20:35b

Monday, May 21, 2012

Poker Night 316: Jacks or Better?

One poker book recommends new Texas Hold 'em players only play 15 hands: pocket pairs, A-K and A-Q.  But veteran players will tell you not all pocket pairs are created equal.  In fact, there are some they'd rather avoid.  We faced a moment along those lines Monday night at The Red Barn....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We've been waiting patiently for this sort of hand to come along.  Early efforts with lesser cards have reduced our starting stack of 7,000 chips down to the 5,500 range.  A player ahead of us doubles the bet to 200, and we're willing to sneak behind that lead by calling.  Most of the table of six gets in.

ON THE FLOP: 6-6-8

We have an "overpair," and doubt anyone jumped into a raised pot with a 6.  The man who doubled ahead of us offers a meager-looking minimal bet of 100, which emboldens us.  "Raise to 400," we say.

"Re-raise," a man two seats to our left then says.  "Five thousand."

Huh?!?!?  This seems at first to us like a "go away" bet to run us off.  At this table, people have been sticking around pots with unlikely hands.  But then two other players call the 5,000 bet, before our turn comes around again.  This leaves us with a moment of decision, as calling the re-raise wouldn't leave us with many chips.

"I tend to get in trouble when I play this," we say after a moment, "so I'll fold."  But the hand continues with three remaining players....

ON THE TURN: 9

That seems to change nothing; everyone checks.

ON THE RIVER: K

This card could have topped our overpair.  But the three players check again.

"I've got a boat," the re-raiser announces.  He shows 6-8!  No wonder he bet big -- he made a full house on the flop.  No one else comes close, and our decision to fold a high pocket pair turns out to be wise.

We won a pot minutes later, to restore our stack a bit.  But with 4,000 chips left after the one-hour break, we needed a big comeback -- and thankfully, it came several times.  First A-K turned into a double-up flush .  We went all-in minutes later with King-Jack of diamonds, and made two pair to top a man's Q-Q.  After that came a push with A-Q, which prevailed when an Ace hit the board!

We took 10,000 chips (barely enough for a rising small blind) to the final table.  Forced to push in the Big Blind, we saw A-K -- and a pair of Aces kept us alive for about one more lap around the table, while other players pushed and fell short.  With six players left, we pushed again with Q-J of diamonds.  A player called with a trailing 10-9 -- but he caught a 10 while we didn't pair.  We drove home pleased with a sixth-place finish, and our third final table in the last five nights.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I wake up thankful every morning," a player to our right told us during the one-hour break.

"How has God's Spirit been working in your life lately?" we asked him.

The man's answer was stunning.  "God gave me plenty of misery last year."

"What happened, if I might ask?"

"I lost my wife."

This left us speechless for a moment -- but thankfully, the man also was carrying on a conversation about poker with someone else.  Finally we were ready to respond.

"I didn't know your wife died, so I'm sorry about that.  But it's good to see you're still thankful, through it all."

How can someone be thankful through such a loss?  We're reminded of a king who lost his baby boy -- taken by God because of the king's sin:
Then David got up from the ground.  After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.  Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. - II Samuel 12:20
King David did this after a week of fasting, while his son had a deadly illness (verses 15-17).  The king's servants feared he might "do something desperate" (verse 18) - but instead, David worshiped God.
He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.  I thought, 'Who knows?  The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.'  But now that he is dead, why should I fast?  Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me." - II Samuel 12:22-23
Was the king referring to a reunion in heaven?  We don't think so, based on Peter's statement in Acts 2:34 -- along with some of David's other words:
Is not my house right with God?  Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part?  Will he not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire? - II Samuel 23:5
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. - Psalm 23:6 (KJV)
God's throne indeed is in heaven now -- but in the future, that location will change.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." - Revelation 21:2-3
We're led to conclude King David and his young son will reunite in a resurrection, eventually dwelling in what verse 1 calls "a new earth."  The poker player who lost his wife can have that opportunity as well.  May he remain thankful to God, and show that thankfulness in a godly daily walk.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 112 final tables in 316 nights (35.4%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Little Give and Take

It was "color-up" time at the poker tables.  After one hour of play, the blinds were going up and chips with small denominations were no longer needed.  The players put them in stacks of 500 for exchanging.  In our case, a stack of "leftovers" had only 50 - two chips worth 25 each.

"You're not going to need that," a man across from us said.  He reached for one of our two chips, and added it to his collection.  This gave him a new "small stack" of 25, which would be "colored up" to 500 by the Tournament Director.

"I'd give one to you," the man explained.  And at this location, it probably would happen; we've seen it done for others before -- even to our benefit at times.  But this man had his own huge stack of chips, and he was nowhere close to going bankrupt.  So his reaching for our 25 left us stupefied for a moment.

Finally we figured out a way to respond.  "I guess the Christian in me will have to say yes."

A woman sitting to our left laughed at our comment.  But this allowed us to explain to her the thoughts rushing through our mind.

Giving and generosity should be major characteristics of a Christian.  Jesus said so:
Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. - Luke 6:38
But the man across the table did something different.  He took that 25 chip, under the presumption that we wouldn't mind.  He had the expectation of a gift.  Jesus had something to say about that attitude as well....
Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.  When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"  Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." - John 6:24-26
This occurred a day or two after Jesus miraculously fed thousands of people (verses 5-13).  The Lord could see right through people's motives -- and He scolded members of the crowd who were "groupies" more than disciples, hoping to ride a "gravy train" of free food.

Let's be blunt here: to expect someone to give something to you is a rather selfish way of thinking.  From our own experience, we can compare it to beggars or panhandlers dreaming of a financial windfall by waiting outside a large Christian event.  We actually saw several people do that years ago outside a Billy Graham crusade.  We bought food for one -- but then we stopped.

(We have much more to say on this topic; look for that in a future post.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Poker Night 315: Show and Tell

Wednesday began for us with a strong morning jog, and ended with a strong finish in live poker.  Thursday began with an even strong morning jog, topping two miles non-stop.  Could the day end with an even stronger showing tonight at Lil Kim's Cove?  Some timely cards certainly couldn't hurt....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We won an early pot when 4-2 of diamonds turned into a flush.  Now we're "under the gun" -- first to act with a high pocket pair and about 8,900 chips.  But we know how other people at the table love to raise pre-flop, so we limp in.  We're a little disappointed when everyone else in the hand does the same thing, with no one raising.

ON THE FLOP: 2-2-K

That face clearly is a concern -- so when the play checks to us, we offer a "feeler" bet of 250.  Most of the table doesn't like that, and folds.  But the Big Blind immediately to our right calls.  We're heads-up.

ON THE TURN: 2

Three x 2 = full house for us.  The Big Blind checks again, and we hope to run him off by betting 600.  But that's where it gets weird.

"Why are we messing with this?" our opponent asks -- and he turns over one of his cards.  It's a King!  He calls -- and without realizing it, he does us a big favor.  We're topped, but we say (and show) nothing.

ON THE RIVER: 6

The man with a King checks.

"You win," we say as we check and show our losing pocket pair.  "You saved me some money.  Thank you!"

Let's face it -- that sort of early card-flip would never ever happen in a major-league tournament.  That low river card probably would have brought a third bet from us.  So his "tell" (done because he thought we also had a King) saved us from walking into a big loss.

If we won any more hands after that, they weren't memorable ones.  We had 6,550 chips at the one-hour break.  But then we bet heavily early in Hour 2 with a Jack in our hand and top pair on the flop -- losing to a  player with two pair.  Then forced a push with A-5, which brought no pair and a loss to two pair.  Our "big move" wound up toward the rail, as we finished in 16th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our little battery brought another curious question, even before the tournament began.  We explained it reminded us of the power of the Holy Spirit.  "Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?" we asked the man.

"Oh yes," he answered.  "Very powerful force."

"What has the Holy Spirit done in your life lately?"

The man thought for a moment, then began listing his blessings.  "A roof over my head, good health, food on the table, money to buy cigarettes...."

Wait - what?!  "I'm not so sure those cigarettes will keep you in good health," we told the man.

He indicated he somehow "needed" those smokes.  But unlike the marijuana discussions we've had elsewhere, we're unaware of any medicinal benefits from smoking cigarettes.  Instead, the Bible reminds us....
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from  God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore honor God with your body. - I Corinthians 6:19-20
The context of these verses actually involves "sexual immorality" (verse 18), but we think the principle still applies to smoking.  Medical studies by the truckload have shown the harm tobacco can do, at least to your lungs.  And we can smell enough odor on our shirts after an evening at the poker room to know we're getting some "secondhand smoke."

We pray that smoke isn't harming us -- and you know, our morning jogs are a good test of that.  We're thankful to God that we're doing well so far.
Christ gives me the strength to face anything. - Philippians 4:13 (CEV)
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 111 final tables in 315 nights (35.2%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments- 225 point wins in 947 games (23.8%), 73 final tables, 7 cashes plus 1 other win.  No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 25 games (20%), 4 final tables, 1 win.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $76,846, down $4,965.  Suffice to say: a bad week there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Poker Night 314: The Pressure Cooker

A change in our weekly routine meant an adjustment in this week's poker schedule.  We traveled to Soho Bar and Grill Wednesday night for the first time since "pressure busts pipes" night in April.  The table was filled with different players, but the pressure came early anyway....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: J-9 offsuit

We're in the Big Blind, at a table where two women have won the first four pots of the evening -- one of them a woman who apparently is playing for the first time.  Some players are taking so much time gabbing that it almost has the feel of a quilting bee.  A veteran player to our left is so rattled by this that he's asked the Tournament Director for a move.  But we've taken our time, not playing any hands yet.  And since no one checks ahead of us, we join most of the table in this hand.

ON THE FLOP: 9-7-7

The betting has been tame up to now -- but the Small Blind sitting to our right quickly changes that.  He bets 1,000.  We have two pair and admittedly suspect he has a 7, but we call in hopes of a full house.  A couple of other players call as well.

ON THE TURN: K

That high card didn't help our cause much.  The Small Blind tosses out another 1,000.  But something tells us to call again -- even though the "better judgment" usually would presume we're topped and fold.  The female newcomer calls as well.

ON THE RIVER: A

Ugh.  If the Small Blind fires a big "third barrel" now, we'd surrender.  But instead he waits a moment, then checks with a sound of resignation.  Hmmm -- maybe he thinks we hit one of the big cards.  But we play it safe and check, as does the woman to our left.

"I have a 9," we say showing our two pair.  The Small Blind flips over.... 6-10!  He had a "belly-buster" straight draw and missed.

The woman then turns over Q-10!  Her overcards missed as well, and we capture a big pot we didn't really expect to win.

A man out of the hand (who later called that woman a "patsy") can't understand what the Small Blind was thinking.  "You bet with 6-10?!?!" he says.

"I didn't know what he had," the Small Blind answers.  He put us to the test -- and we passed.

That started a huge three-hand roll for us.  Pocket Kings came in the Small Blind, and they turned into big winners which put that newcomer woman out of the game.  Then we dealt ourselves J-J, with a third Jack coming on the flop.  The rattled man went all in with only one pair, and we eliminated him as well.  In only a few minutes, we jumped from 5,000 starting chips to more than 32,000!

We won a couple of nice pots after that, reaching a high of 42,500 (as best we recall).  We cruised through the first hour, then played carefully in the second.  Holding 30,000 after the two-hour "color-up" allowed us to reach the final table.  Then A-A came under the gun with 15,000 left -- and we tripled our chips to 45,000.

But one lap around the table later, we went all-in again with A-10 -- risking a very short stack after a man pushed ahead of us with 105,000.  The board didn't pair for us, and that man threw down pocket Queens.  And we mean threw down those cards -- with such an overpowering rush of emotion that one Queen fell off the table twice!

We had to wait for him to finish dancing in his chair before shaking his head.  It was a funny finish to a wild evening -- yet we drove home satisfied.  Seventh at Soho was our best finish there since a tie for fifth, which came a year ago this week.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We had several during the evening, including one at the final table when a bystander asked about the little nine-volt battery we used as a card protector.

"I bring that to remind me," we said amid interruptions from other talkative players, "that I receive power from the Holy Spirit.  Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?"

We didn't catch the man's answer, as he stood on the other side of the table from us and the moment was noisy.  But another man standing behind us seemed to get our message.

"But," he pointed out, "that only provides a spark."  That's true of the battery.  What about the Holy Spirit?  Does it work the same way?  Offer a comment with your thoughts; we'll share ours in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 111 final tables in 314 nights (35.4%) - 17 cashes.

Question Periods

In one of our poker nights last week, a man said we asked another player a "mean question."  We asked him if he had a nut flush -- then flipped over the real nut flush, which we had.

Was that question "mean?"  Or was it along the lines of something Jesus would do?  Consider this example....
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."  He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."  "I have no husband," she replied.  Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband.  he fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true." - John 4:15-18
This passage almost reminds us of Chris Hansen catching predators on Dateline NBC, or an undercover police sting.  Jesus apparently knew all about this woman's past -- a past the woman never denied in the following verses, choosing instead to change the subject.  (Whether this proves Jesus was omniscient or the woman was simply "the talk of the town" is not our issue here.)

Yet Jesus made a suggestive leading comment, which cut at the core of the woman's life.  He used this approach at other times as well:
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?"  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. - John 6:5-6
Note the reason for the question -- to test him.  Jesus apparently wanted to see if the disciples would look to Him to feed the crowd, the way He had performed previous miracles.  Our question at the poker table the other night was along the same line.  We wanted to see how far this bluffer would go -- perhaps all the way to lying about the hand he really had.

There's one more question from Jesus we'd like to offer -- and it's actually the most important question of all.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"  They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."  "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" - Matthew 16:13-15
Your answer to this question matters -- a lot.  It could determine whether you'll be part of the "first resurrection" mentioned in Revelation 20, or a more general resurrection which comes 1,000 years later.  Who is Jesus to you?

We'll leave this open-ended for now.  If you'd like to know what Jesus considers the correct answer, open a Bible and read on in Matthew 16 through verse 20.  Is His answer your answer as well?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Can We Talk?

It's been more than a week since the National Day of Prayer -- and since we talked with a man who joked about praying for success as he plays poker.

We don't know if that's the only time he prays.  But if that's the only time you do, we think you're missing out on something.
Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. - I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (KJV)
The first and third instructions in those verses sound simple -- but in reality, they can be hard.  How can you rejoice when your all-in bet with an Ace-high flush becomes a bad beat?  How can you possibly give thanks to God for that?

The answer may lie in the middle instruction -- the one which seems ridiculously tough.  How do you "pray without ceasing"?  Does that mean we're supposed to say "Allah u-Akbar," as Muslim terrorists quietly do from a distance as they wait for a car bomb to explode?  Do you murmur "Praise the Lord" non-stop during a sermon?  Not according to Jesus....
And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them.... - Matthew 6:7-8
The Moffatt translation of the Bible puts Paul's advice this way: "Never give up prayer."  In other words, keep on praying to God even when all hope seems lost.  Consider what can happen if you do give up:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we disown him, he will also disown us.... - I Timothy 2:11-12
Keep the line of contact open -- not only by praying, but by reading God's Word to learn what He's trying to say to you.  The Bible is filled with words which can help you have a reason to rejoice and give thanks.  But be warned: they could scold and correct you as well -- a bit like a bad beat can.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Poker Night 313: Where You Lead....

We first heard this quote attributed to cable TV pioneer Ted Turner: "Either lead, follow or get out of the way."  There are times in poker when all three options could be wise.  We began tonight at Lil Kim's Cove by taking the middle course -- for a reason.

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Ace of spades - 9 of spades

It's the second or third hand of the night.  We're sitting in the small blind with about 5,600 chips.  We don't recall anyone raising pre-flop, so we're content to call and "lay low" with a potentially good hand.

ON THE FLOP: 7s-10s-Jc (not absolutely sure about the suit for the Jack)

The potential for our hand has increased quite a bit.  But it's not there yet, so we check.  A gray-haired gentleman two seats to our left bets 300.  OK by us; we join a couple of other players in calling.

ON THE TURN: 2s

Forget that "potential" stuff.  A winning flush has come -- but we've been "playing possum" all along, so we check again in lead position.  The man to our left doesn't slow down, betting 600.  Others fold.  We certainly do not -- following along by merely calling again.

ON THE RIVER: Kd

Our opponent has done the "dirty work" for us so far, so why should we get in his way now?  We check again -- and are a bit surprised when he tosses out 1,700.

"Seventeen hundred?!?!" we ask.  It's an acting job on our part more than anything, although we're not sure why he's betting so much.

"Double," we then say - a raise to 3,400.

"Re-raise," our opponent declares.  He goes all-in for 1,500 more.  Trap plays seldom are this easy.  We call, of course, even though it leaves us with less than 100 chips.

"Do you have the nut flush?" we ask.  Our opponent says nothing.  Give him credit for not "bluffing" with his tongue.

"I didn't think you did," we say as we show our nut flush.  The man quietly shows K-10.  He made two pair on the river -- but he was beaten on the turn, as if he never saw that coming.  He's eliminated; we jump to around 14,000 chips.

"That's a mean question," a player out of the hand says moments later.  Wellll -- we tried to have a modest, semi-puzzled tone of voice when we said it.

We won a couple of other pots in the first hour as well, but lost a few which cost us our early gains.  After the one-hour break, we bet big when a straight came on the river -- only to lose to a man who made a flush.

That led to two all-in moments for us.  The first was A-8 in the Big Blind, and an Ace on the flop was a winner for us to return to 6,000.  The second came with A-5, when we pushed with two pair showing on the board at the turn.  But a man had a matching Jack for a full house, and we were tossed out in 14th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A friend came to our table late and said to us, "I have faith I'll do well as long as you're here."

"Don't put your faith in me," we responded.  "If you're putting your faith in me, you're putting it in the wrong person."

The man seemed to understand what we meant -- and Who we meant.  Our Savior put it very simply:
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. - Mark 11:22
Famed Atlanta pastor Dr. Charles Stanley once said everyone has faith in something.  The issue is where you place that faith.

"Believe in yourself," we heard an insurance salesman say earlier in the day.  Well, no....
I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory.... - Psalm 44:8
As they say, nobody's perfect.  We know we certainly aren't (check our final table percentage if you doubt that).  Put your faith in friends or relatives, and they're bound to let you down sooner or later.  The only logical place left for our faith is in the hands of our Creator.
If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. - II Timothy 2:13
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 110 final tables in 313 nights (35.1%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 223 point wins in 936 games (23.8%), 73 final tables, 7 cashes plus 1 other win.  No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 22 games (22.7%), 4 final tables, 1 cash win.

The NLOP week was very good -- five "top 15" finishes out of 12 tournaments, three of those bringing us to final tables (one of those a ninth-place finish out of 554 players).

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $81,811, up $1,999.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hooked and Unhooked

We were admittedly skeptical Monday night when a couple of fellow poker players told us marijuana was not addictive.  Why?  Because time has shown too many ordinary, legal things in life are addictive.

You can become addicted to alcohol, smoking, sugar, salt, the Internet, love (putting it in the polite terms of an old Robert Palmer song) -- and even addicted to poker, or some other form of gambling.  But the Bible recommends something else:
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)
We should be moderate with the things in life which are legal.  Too much salt can lead to health risks such as hypertension.  Too much chasing after jackpots at a casino or poker room can leave you penniless and desperate.

When it comes to items which are illegal, as marijuana is in many states, the Bible's advice is breathtakingly simple and to the point:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)
We heard a sermon a few weeks ago about the perils of "harmful addictions."  If poker has become dangerously addictive for you, an organization called Gamblers Anonymous is ready to help.  And even more importantly, God is ready to help you as well.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. - Isaiah 55:7

Monday, May 7, 2012

Poker Night 312: K-9 Bites

Things even up eventually in poker -- don't they?  If your Aces get cracked in one hand, shouldn't they win the next time you have them?  Most players probably would tell you Texas Hold 'em doesn't always work that way.  But we hoped it would Monday night at The Red Barn....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: K-9

Remember "The Rodney" -- the hand which can win you a 5,000-chip bonus at the Barn?  The hand which dealt us a fatal blow last Monday night?  Here it is again, as we sit in the Big Blind.  A man to our immediate left raised 200 right off the bat.  Most of this table of six is calling, so we do the same.

ON THE FLOP: 5-9-J (Not absolutely sure about the first card)

Middle pair puts us halfway there.  We check -- but the man next in line makes a continuation bet of 1,000.  Most of the table folds.  We decide to be tenacious (or is that stubborn?) and call.

ON THE TURN: 8 (Not exactly sure about this, either)

That didn't help much.  We check again.  The man to our left bets 1,000 again.  What if he's had an overpair all along?  Still dreaming of that Rodney bonus, we call again.

ON THE RIVER: J

This gives us two pair -- but not quite the way we wanted.  We check once more, a bit resigned to our fate.  But our opponent gives us hope, by checking himself.

"Two pair, with The Rodney," we say as we show.

Our opponent shows.... 9-10 suited!  He had an open-ended straight draw which missed.  Our King is a better kicker -- and this time K-9 wins!  With the bonus, we jump to about 15,000 chips.

Surrounded by players who "bought" much larger stacks through food and alcohol, some costly chases failed after that.  But in a rematch with that man to the left, we dared to call his all-in challenge with A-7 of spades near the one-hour break -- and caught him bluffing with a weaker hand and no pair.  That lifted us back above 15,000 chips.  More timely cards came in the second hour, while several big spenders pushed each other all the way to the rail.

A patient approach helped us reach the final table.  Once we got there, Q-Q improved us to 55,000 chips.  But we folded Q-5 in the small blind in an "all-in" decision, which cost us a winning straight.  A final push with A-Q lost to a man who actually made a straight.  It wasn't a win, but it was a satisfying evening -- as finishing fifth as a "David" against chip Goliaths is a bit of an accomplishment.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Genesis 1:12," said a man across from us before the game began -- a man nicknamed "Buddha" who's struck us often as a skeptic of anything Biblical.  He went on to quote part of the verse, then declared: "D****t, I'm enjoying it!"

What was he talking about?  It's a passage from the creation account....
The land produced vegetation; plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.  And God saw that it was good. - Genesis 1:12
For the second time in recent weeks at The Red Barn, marijuana use had come up.  But Buddha's quoting of this verse wasn't quite accurate, as he transplanted some of God's later instructions to Adam and Eve:
Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food." - Genesis 1:29
Some Christian groups use this verse to explain why they practice vegetarianism.  But "food" refers to something you eat.  We've heard of people smoking marijuana, but not putting leaves atop their hamburger patties.

"Marijuana is not addictive," Buddha insisted.  We were skeptical about that.  Do a Bing search for "marijuana addictive" and you'll find web pages with multiple views on that issue.  We'd point out as we prepared this post, ABC News Nightline aired a report on something else psychologists haven't officially classified as an "addiction" -- even though some counselors say pornography among teenagers really is.  This is clearly a topic for a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 110 final tables in 312 nights (35.3%) - 17 cashes.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Easy On Me, Tough On You

"You're the small blind," we said the other night to a man at our left as we shuffled the cards to deal.

"I know I am," the man said with annoyance in his voice.  "I've had a bad day, and I don't like to be rushed."

We apologized to that man -- then moments later, he spoke up to a player sitting to our right.  "Are you going to play or what?!"

We sat in the middle, struck by the situation.  "What did you just say a moment ago?"

"Are you going to play or what?!"

"No, I mean before that."

"I don't like to be rushed."

Did you catch how curious that sounded?  The man who didn't like other people to rush him turned around and tried to rush somebody else!  It's a classic disconnect -- like the people who might say, "Do as I say, but not as I do."

There's a word for this kind of behavior in the Bible, and it's not a very nice one.  Jesus explained it this way:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye," when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite....- Matthew 7:3-5
Let's be honest -- all of us can have "plank-eye" moments.  We can become annoyed at the driver zipping by us on the freeway, while ignoring the fact that we're ten miles over the speed limit.  We can be stunned at the items in an overweight woman's grocery basket, while our own cart contains cookies and soda bottles.

One dictionary defines a hypocrite as "one who pretends to be better than he really is, or pious, virtuous, etc. without really being so."  Poker games can have moments like that, of course -- if players bet big with nothing more than Jack high, hoping to look superior and run everyone else off a pot.  While that's part of the game, Jesus does NOT want that approach to be part of our lives.  Let's let the Lord finish:
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. - Matthew 7:5
A gospel song puts it like this: "Sweep around your own front door, before you try to sweep around mine."  So we didn't act like Dr. Phil, and correct the man to our left for his contradictory conduct.  But we hope the testimony of his own words made him stop and think.  We all need to apply Jesus's "golden rule" instruction.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. - Matthew 7:12
Even though we're Christian, we don't go to the poker table ready to shout "Sin!" and point fingers of accusation.  But we also don't go in with defensive walls so thick that we can't be corrected ourselves.  As that song points out:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.... - Romans 3:23
Pray for God to show you the planks in your eyes.  Then repent of them, and seek God's help in removing them -- without tossing them so hard in the direction of other people that you cause more damage.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poker Night 311: Straight in the Middle

Our corner of the world is in drought conditions - so we didn't really mind having to turn around and grab an umbrella for our walk to Lil Kim's Cove Thursday night.  A "shower of blessing" was falling from the sky.  And a few minutes later, one fell out of the dealer's hand.

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: King-Jack of hearts

We won an early pot with two high cards (our opponents might be reading this, so we won't say which two).  Now we have strong hearts in the Small Blind -- and as best we recall, someone raises ahead of us to 200.  We call, as does most of the table.

ON THE FLOP: Qc-10c-9s

No hearts, but it's still almost a dream-come-true flop.  We hit a straight "straightway!"  But here we remember the earlier pot we won.  We bet 200 on the flop, and the table quickly folded.  This time we're first to act, so we check.

A man to our left tosses out 300.  We call, of course -- but as we do, something tells us we ought to raise.  If we don't, a third club is almost certain to come on the turn to give someone a flush.

ON THE TURN: 5d

That's a relief - a very harmless low card.  Now we decide to step forward.  We bet 500.  The man who bet a moment ago isn't fazed, and raises to 2,000.  If that's not nice enough, a man to our immediate right also raises - to 4,000.

"Thirty-five hundred more?!?!"  We say this with pretend stunned puzzlement in our voice.  Unless the other men also have K-J, our hand is in the lead.  So we think for a moment, count our chips and decide against waiting any longer.  "So I'm all-in -- 2,425 more."

The man to our left pauses to think even longer.  The man to the right speculates we have a Jack.  "He's saying what he's got," the man to the left responds.  (Not out loud, of course -- our chips are doing the talking.)  Mr. Left Side finally chooses to call.

"I've got to see that straight," Mr. Right Side says.  He calls as well.

ON THE RIVER: Ah

No flushes, no full houses -- but will we split the pot?  Mr. Left Side checks.

"I've got a King, man," Mr. Right Side says as he shows one card.

That's not good enough.  "You can call me the RiverCenter," we say in reference to our nice local concert hall, "because I'm on Broadway."  As in the top "Broadway straight."

Mr. Right Side wound up showing K-Q.  Mr. Left Side never showed what he had.  We triple our chip stack to more than 21,000.

"I tried to keep it small," we note afterward.  The big bettors stumbled onto a buzz saw.

A few losses followed that big win -- but A-J brought us another top-pair winner late in the first hour, and we reached the one-hour break with 23,500 chips.  Then in the second hour, we folded A-9 when calling an opponent's all-in bet would have eliminated him with an Ace on the turn.  But we made another strong comeback when 9-9 brought a third 9 on the flop.  The table folded to our all-in bet.

We reached the semifinal table at the start of Hour 3 with 15,500 chips (improved to 20,000 by "color up" rules).  When we saw A-J again with the blinds at 5,000/10,000, we went all-in again.  A man called us with J-9.  But a 9 appeared on the turn and the board never paired for us.

"A.J. Allmendinger lost the race," we said as we shook hands - missing the final table in 14th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT:  "Romans 12:1-2" was the message on the back of a T-shirt we spotted after our elimination.  So we asked the man wearing the shirt about that Bible reference.

"It's just an old shirt," he said - seemingly unaware of what was on his back.

"Today is the National Day of Prayer," we pointed out.  "Do you pray?"

"I did earlier - when I was playing at the table."

We really have two issues in one here.  What was the real message that man wore on the back of his shirt?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship. - Romans 12:1
This doesn't mean putting yourselves in a fire, as Old Testament sacrifices were conducted.  After all, you'd eventually burn yourself to death.  It means living a holy, godly life.  How do you do that?  The next verse offers a hint....
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:2
To use an old-time church phrase, we need to clean up our "stinkin' thinkin'" - thinking the way this world does.  Bars which host poker nights display plenty of that thinking.  Some people smoke, drink excessively and play X-rated songs on the jukebox as if they don't care.  (We won't guess how many of them are along our line, and really do care.)

If you'd like some guidance about what "God's will" is, read the Bible study we wrote about it.  We'll get to the prayer part of our conversation in another post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 109 final tables in 311 nights (35.0%) - 17 cashes.

It seems a bit hard to believe, but only 14 months ago our final table percentage was at 40.  It's been a long slow descent since then - with only 15 reached in our last 76 poker nights (19.7%) to reach this new crossroads point.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 218 point wins in 928 games (23.5%), 71 final tables, 7 cashes plus 1 other win.  No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 21 games (23.8%), 4 final tables, 1 cash win.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $79,812, up $8,805.  (At one point Tuesday, we were up more than $10,600 for the week!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What's The Good Word?


We mentioned "the Word" in a recent post -- the Word who "was with God, and....was God," according to John 1:1.  That Word was around at "the beginning" as well.  Genesis 1 shows God created everything at that time, but seemingly with someone else:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." - Genesis 1:26
Some cities have "poker leagues," similar to bowling leagues.  Players try to win tournaments not only for themselves, but for their team.  We think a team concept was at work during creation as well.  Who was working with God?  Let's go back to that Word for some guidance.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:14
A Word who was God, then became flesh and lived with men?  There's only One in Scripture who really fits that description....
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. - John 1:17
So Jesus was with God in the beginning!  How could that happen?  Let's let Jesus explain.
I and the Father are one. - John 10:30
So there's God the Father and Jesus the Son.  Except Jesus is more than a Son....
While we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.... - Titus 2:13
Yes, Jesus is God, too!  And He played a part in the creation....
And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who creased all things by Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 3:9 (KJV)
If you think of Jesus Christ as merely a "good man," consider these verses carefully.  The Bible shows Jesus is much more -- he's very God, and a Creator at that.  Don't you want to be in "league" with Him?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hitting It Biggest

We used to be in charge of "Factoids" for a cable news channel.  As we were going over some archived lists tonight, we found this one:

The odds of drawing a royal flush in a poker game are 649,739 to one.

So have you ever accomplished that?  And what are your memories of it?