Thursday, June 28, 2012

Poker Night 327: Hey, Big Spender

A trek to the final table at Lil Kim's Cove is much more challenging these days, compared to five years ago -- especially for players like us, who don't spend much to gain extra chips.  It can be an uphill climb against mountains of stacks.  But tonight, great cards came our way -- not once, but several times.  We won one big pot when pocket Kings held up.  Then J-J brought a third Jack on the flop, to give us another big win.  But how long can a big roll go?

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: 10-10

Those huge wins have inflated our stack from 12,000 chips at the one-hour break to more than 120,000.  Three tables remain in action, and now we see another pocket pair in the Big Blind.  No one raises ahead of us, making it tempting to raise -- but we choose to check and watch.

ON THE FLOP: 10-8-6

These "three ten-ors" are ready to perform for us.  And remembering what happened online the night before with Q-Q, we don't hesitate to use our big stack.  It's a privilege we haven't had often lately at Lil Kim's, so we bet 20,000.  A man across from us calls; everyone else folds.

ON THE TURN: 5

With the blinds getting high, we doubt this card helped our opponent.  So we don't slow down; we bet 20,000 more.

"He's making it tough for me," our opponent admits.  Yet he calls, which makes us wonder why.  Players at this table have been chasing straights and flushes with large bets all night, but our guess at this point is that our challenger has an "overpair" -- maybe pocket Queens?!

"Nine!" our opponent calls as the card before the river is burned....

ON THE RIVER: 7

Aha!  He must have been on a straight draw, and missed it.  Or maybe.... well, what maybe?  We're not sure, so we check.

"I'm all in," our opponent says quietly -- counting out 39,500 chips.  He's talked a bit about "going home" during the game, and then he called for a card which didn't come.  We conclude this is an "I dare you" bluff.  OK, we'll dare....

"Since you didn't get a 9, I'll call."

"I've got a big straight," he reveals.  Our opponent has 9-6.  He had the 9!  "I lied," he confesses.

"I could have told you he does that," a player out of the hand confirms.  A misleading word combines with our opponent's stubbornness to gain him more than 80,000 chips -- and in one hand, we lose about two-thirds of our huge stack.

We played cautiously with our remaining 45,000 chips after that.  And as other players pushed in vain, we advanced to the final table.  Once there, we pushed on the flop with a low pair -- but it persuaded the table to fold, giving us a nice rebound to the 70,000 range.  With four players to go, we folded 9-9 when a man went all-in on the flop.  He was eliminated by the chip leader -- but in the process, a 9 came on the turn which would have brought us a big win.

That left three players in the tournament -- and the chip leader had another man and we incredibly dominated.  That other man proposed a split of the prizes.  After a moment of thought, the leader graciously accepted it!  He won $50 and the "bucket of beers" coupon awarded for second place; we took away $20 along with the third player.

So we played two live tournaments this week, and cashed in both of them!  Our records show that's only happened once before -- two years ago this week.  That's a summer "heat wave" we don't mind at all.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We donated blood earlier in the day -- and won a drawing for a prize there, too!  (We haven't claimed it yet, so it's still a mystery.)  We mentioned this to the chip leader at the final table, and noted it recalled Jesus shedding His blood in our behalf long ago.

"I have Jesus in my heart," the man quietly said -- indicating he preferred to leave the discussion at that.  But it wound up being mentioned around the table moments later.

The phrase "Christ in your heart" is the stuff of hymns, and sometimes can sound like a church cliche.  You may be surprised to learn that exact phrase is not in the King James Bible.  But the concept is there....
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.... - Ephesians 3:16-17 (NIV)
Did you notice there are two "outside influences" which can come into you?  There's not only Jesus, but the Holy Spirit of God.  If you'd like to know more about bringing these blessings of God into your being and life, leave a comment with an e-mail address and we'll explain more to you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 117 final tables in 327 nights (35.8%) - 19 cashes.  By the way, tonight marked our first final table at Lil Kim's since 1 March.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 242 point wins in 1,016 games (23.8%), 77 final tables, 7 cashes plus 2 other wins. No-River Hold 'em - 6 point wins in 35 games (17.1%), 5 final tables, 1 win.

We nearly scored a win at NLOP this week, too -- finishing second out of 63 players in a Wednesday qualifying tournament.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games -- $79,444, up $870.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June Poker Studs Championship: Prophetic Gift?

If you're going to be "stud of the month" and win the National League of Poker's monthly "Poker Studs" championship, you have to be tough and manly.  Right????  Watch what happened tonight....

BLINDS: 15/30

IN THE POCKET: Qh-Qc

It's the first hand of the night -- and when we see these cards in the leadoff position we say, "First-hand bust."  Many NLOP players moan and groan about the worst hand winning, when several players go all-in.  We also know there's an unofficial NLOP "tradition" that someone usually pushes on the first hand, even if he has trashy cards.  Given all this, we choose to limp with this big pair.  But no one raises; about five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Js-3h-Ah (not absolutely sure about the Jack suit)

An Ace is out there, so we act cautiously and bet the minimum 30.  That's enough to chase most of the players away; only one calls.

ON THE TURN: Qd

Three queens make us feel much more comfortable -- but we don't want to run a potential big gain away.  So we bet 60.  Our opponent calls.

ON THE RIVER: 2h

That card may look harmless -- but now three hearts are showing.  We don't think our opponent was waiting for a flush to come.  So it's time to strike.  We bet 230 -- and our opponent raises all-in.

Oh no!  Did he really hit the big red jackpot, or is he trying to run us off with something like two pair?  We decide to go for it and call -- only to discover he has J-9 of hearts!

"Arrrrrrrgh," we write.  And well we should -- because we had two chances to make a big bet and seize the pot: pre-flop, and especially on the turn.  But by attempting to maximize our potential gain, we wound up losing everything.  We finished in 915th place, out of 922 players -- not exactly studly.

My Bi-Weekly Reader


The flop was 9-8-2.  We had 9-8.  So when our turn came, we bet several hundred.


"You have 9-8," a woman across the table from us said.  We said nothing, as the hand went on to the river.


"Who said I have 9-8?" we asked.  "You're right."  We showed the cards and claimed the pot.  But howwww did she know that?


"I read you.... how you play," the woman explained.


"We play too much d**n poker," a man next to her said with a laugh.


That man has a good point.  Play poker often enough with the same group of people, and you learn tendencies and habits -- not only about how they handle cards, but what sort of music they like and what they do for a living.


From a Biblical standpoint, there are two ways to look at this.  A believer should have a reputation for character that's above-board....
A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. - Proverbs 22:1
If you say you're a Christian, your life should reflect that name -- especially in the public arena, such as a poker tournament.
We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. - II Corinthians 5:20
But on the other hand, Jesus warned some people that you might "read" as Christians actually might be something else:
Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. - Matthew 7:15
We came across an online article offering tips on finding "tells" in online poker tournaments.  But we disagree with most of the author's conclusions.  For instance, quick bets can come from high-quality hands as much as junk cards.  It's the same way in life.  Even with believers in Jesus, their lives could be a big ol' bluff.
Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. - John 7:24
Sadly, one minister who prophesied Jesus would return in late May wound up being convicted of federal tax evasion two weeks later.


During the tournament we won Monday night, we made one "bluff bet" on the river which convinced our one opponent to fold.  (No, we won't give further details.)  It was a case where we went against our "reputation" of tight play, and it worked to our advantage.  But going against a reputation of godliness certainly will not.


Let's conclude with a few discussion questions, open for your comments:


1.  Do big-betting players have an advantage in tournaments over tight players, because they're seen as more unpredictable -- and thus harder to read?


2.  Do you wind up with better results when you play poker outside your home area?  (Our quick count shows we've made final tables on road trips four out of five times.)


3.  What secrets do you have for "reading" opponents at a poker table, in person or online?  Is online reading really possible?


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June Senior Championship: Raiser's Edge

While U.S. college football fans marveled tonight at the thought of a four-team playoff, we had a tournament which was somewhat more challenging.  All we had to do was outlast 933 other players, to win the National League of Poker monthly Senior title -- and we had no "selection committee" to help us.

:00 IN: We begin the evening with 9-8 offsuit.  A player doubles the blind to 60, and we call.  The flop is 5-9-4, giving us top pair.  The raiser bets 150, and we call.  The turn is Q, and now the raiser bets 250.  This smells like serious trouble, so we fold.  Good idea -- he had Q-9 for two pair.

:03 IN: We have K-9 of clubs, and again call a doubling of the blind.  The flop is Q-6-9, and the raiser throws out 190.  Not with middle pair, thank you.  We fold; this time we don't see the winning hand.

:04 IN: We have A-6 under the gun.  The flop is 10-A-5, so we have top pair again.  This time someone bets the minimum 30; we play it safe and call.  The turn is 6 -- and when the opponent bets 30, we raise to 230 with two pair.  That brings a call.  The river is J.  Everyone checks -- and we discover our opponent was simply playing the board!  We need a pot, and happily take $655.

:08 IN: We have 2-A in the Small Blind.  The flop is 3-5-3.  A player bets 140 -- and with a straight draw, we call.  The turn is 8.  Everyone checks.  The river is 9.  A player goes all-in.  Of course, we fold -- and he shows a third 3.

:10 IN: We're dealing with 7-A; again someone doubles the blind pre-flop.  The flop is 5-7-Q.  We call a minimum bet of 40, holding middle pair.  The turn is 2.  Now the bet is 120; we call again.  The river is 6.  We neglected to record what happened from there -- but apparently we folded; we know we didn't win the pot.

:24 IN: After a series of weak hands which we folded, we have 5-A and 635 chips to begin.  The flop is A-9-8.  We bet the minimum 100, and a player doubles it to 200.  We call.  The turn is J.  Our opponent bets 340, which would put us all-in minus 5 chips.  We suspect this is merely a bluff, so we call -- only to find our opponent has A-9 for two pair.  The river is 6, and our evening is through.

We finished in the top half of the field -- but position #411 won't even gain much respect from telephone information operators. (Assuming there are any left.)


If It Was Real: The NLOP 1,000

When you're looking for work, you have a lot of "free time" on your hands -- including time to play online poker, hoping to win money while waiting for the phone to ring.  So we've spent a lot of time since November 2009 at the National League of Poker website.  In fact, last week our count reached 1,000 full tournaments in 32 months -- an average of slightly more than one tournament a day.

Have we played well enough to make online poker a career -- assuming we moved to Canada or Monaco to do it, since the U.S. government still forbids such things?  Based on NLOP's payouts, the answer would be absolutely no.  Money normally is awarded to only a few players, even in the largest tournaments.  We've been blessed with cash only seven times in 1,000 games.

But would our success rate pay off at other websites, or at real poker rooms where the top ten percent in the standings tend to win money?  That might be a different story.  We've earned "NLOP points" in 238 of those 1,000 games (23.8%) -- but that's a bit misleading, because NLOP has changed the bar for gaining points a couple of times over the years.  (At one point, the top 150 earned points in tournaments with more than 500 players.)

The last time we computed NLOP points won versus our "buy-in," we determined we doubled our points in 2011 (137,000 to enter, 281,647 won).  We admittedly have not kept track of our buy-ins during 2012, but the point payoff looks like this:

January - 12,564
February - 8,988
March - 47,511
April - 94,969
May - 45,406
June 1-20 - 28,076 (we passed the 1,000 game point last Wednesday evening)
TOTAL - 237,514 points won

We've earned points in 55 of 205 full tournaments we've entered so far this year.  Our review of the records indicates we would have missed the "top ten percent" of the standings commonly used by casinos in 12 of those cases.  But 43 out of 205 is still a 21-percent payout record.  (In "No-river Hold 'em", our 2011 record stands at 3 point wins in 18 tournaments - 16.7%.)

The buy-in amount varies from game to game -- from 750 for a monthly qualifying tournament to 50,000 for a Sunday night weekly championship.  And currently, NLOP tends to award points above the buy-in only to the top 15 players in a big tournament.  But the math from the "total" line above computes to 1,159 points won per tournament.


(The total could have been even higher, but our 13th-place finish in the 1,045-player January Senior Championship was a "cash-only" event with no points awarded.)

After crunching all these numbers, we're still led to conclude we could make a decent living at online poker -- if we played at a website with payouts similar to real casinos or poker rooms.  Oh, and it would have to be legal.  Any suggestions?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Poker Night 326: The Uptown Tops

Downtown Columbus has Texas Hold 'em poker again.  Tonight we walked up Broadway to Uptown Wings - a rather small corner restaurant with some rather big local names behind it.  For instance, it's not every day you see a picture of the local Better Business Bureau director on a restaurant wall.

It's also a rare day (anymore) when we last indeed deep into a final table.  But a chain of events tonight opened the way for it....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 10-5 offsuit

We won a modest early pot with two pair -- but then the big betting began at our table.  One man who's notorious for pre-flop raises moved across from us, and started tossing out 3,000 chips almost like they're bread crumbs in the park.  Waiting for the "right moment" has meant a lot of folding, and slowly has dwindled our stack.

This hand begins with us at 3,500 -- and in the Big Blind for 400 on top of that.  These cards look very foldable.  But a surprising thing happens -- the big gamblers simply limp in.  No one raises.  We're grateful and check.

ON THE FLOP: Q-10-5

We're very grateful now!  We have two pair, and decide it's finally time to join the crowd.  "I'm all-in," we announce with our last 3,100.  Most of the table of six smells big trouble and folds.  But the big bettor (who earlier declared us "the tightest man at the table") thinks opportunistically and calls.  While he's made a few big hands to win pots, we suspect we have him topped.

ON THE TURN: 4

OK, that seems harmless.

ON THE RIVER: 3

We still don't sense any problems -- but the big bettor can pull acting jobs, so we're not completely sure.

"Two pair," we say as we flip over our cards.  The opponent looks -- and folds!  It's a timely "double-up plus" for us, to 7,200.

The action moved quickly with only about 18 total players.  We were at the final table of eight before the one-hour break.  Then after that break, big cards started coming our way.  We went all in with A-Q -- and it turned into a full house, which increased us to around 21,000.  The next hand brought us K-Q, which turned into another full house by the turn!  Back-to-back boats built us back to the 30,000 range, while players fell off around us.

With only three players left, we looked down at pocket Aces -- after the man ahead of us went all-in!  Of course we called, and a huge shift of chips resulted in our favor.  We were heads-up with a man, competing for a $50 Uptown Wings gift card (beginning next week, the prize will be cash).  The Tournament Director talked about splitting the prize, which was fine with us.

"Let's play a couple more hands," our opponent said.  He won the first, when he pushed and we folded with little.  He went for it again in the second -- going all-in with three hearts on the board.  We held Ah-7c, as well as a chip lead.

"Say go ahead.  Say go ahead," he urged.

"But that gift certificate sounds so tempting!" we admitted as we pondered.  We didn't want to blow it now -- so after a few seconds, we folded.  (Of course, the river card was a heart which would have given us a victorious flush.)

On the third hand we had A-9 of clubs, which felt much more comforting when our opponent pushed again.  But before that happened, he accepted the settlement offer: we'd split the $50 prize.  Playing out the hand showed he had K-10, and an Ace on the flop would have ended things with us in first place.

It turned out Uptown Wings didn't want to split the gift card -- so our opponent accepted the $50 card, and paid us $25 cash from his wallet.  (That's something we could not have done; we showed up with three.)  It marks our first live tournament win since last December -- and we walked home smiling and thankful to God.  But not whistling a happy tune; we didn't want to become a "mark" for any downtown criminals.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "What's your name?" our final table heads-up opponent asked at our crucial moment of decision with A-7.

"Richard."

"Richard," he said with the Tournament Director.  Then they loudly said together, "Dick!!!"

We smiled and said nothing, as these adults turned our name into a sexual perversion.  We admittedly have never used that shortened name because of the connotations some give it.  (We're amazed Dick's Sporting Goods has become a successful national chain in recent years.)

By choosing to say nothing, we followed the example of Jesus....
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
The apostle Peter wrote these words with Christian slaves in mind.  Verse 18 advises them to show respect to all masters, regardless of how the masters act.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.... if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. - I Peter 2:19-20
We've faced this kind of name-related "trash talk" from time to time, going back to junior high school.  But tonight we heard from adult men -- and sadly, one of them wore a T-shirt promoting Masonic lodges, which we thought were supposed to uphold God and solid character.  Truly there are times when it's better to keep quiet.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 116 final tables in 326 nights (35.6%) - 18 cashes.

Is There a Game Tonight?

You could be in a "big game" right now, and perhaps not even realize it.

And the game doesn't have to be poker, either.

A blogger we read from time to time makes some good points about what we're "playing" -- at the table, and away from it. (Please tell him we sent you.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Correction or Insurrection

Let's return to the "Forgotten Face-Card Foul-Up" from Thursday night's poker tournament.  We overlooked a K-Q on the board, and let another player's A-10 take a pot over our A-9 even though both of us had three Aces.

We didn't spot the mistake until minutes later.  And when we did, we realized it was too late to reset the matter and make things right.  The time to object was at that moment -- before the cards were swept up from the table for the next hand.  There's a lesson here, which could apply to many aspects of our lives.
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.  Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. - Matthew 5:25
Jesus is using an example of legal matters to say disagreements should be settled quickly -- on the spot, if you can.  If they fester and grow, the damage could spread.  And the final outcome could be worse than the original act.

Admittedly, in our case a trained poker room dealer would have settled the issue in only a moment.  But in a free tournament, other players at the table should notice what happened and speak up....
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." - Matthew 18:15-16
At the poker table, the players might haggle in front of everyone else around.  Away from the table, disputes should be addressed peacefully and privately.  People have done that with us on poker nights over the years; in fact, we've mentioned a couple of those cases.

But the true test of someone's character shows in how he or she responds, when a decision doesn't go their way....
Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. - I Corinthians 6:7-8
Paul is writing in relation to legal action as well.  But there's a good principle in what he explains here: take the loss and move on -- and as you move on, don't do anything illegal to get even.


(Going "on tilt" at a poker table is not illegal.  It can annoy other players to pieces and make you look selfish -- which is also questionable from a Biblical standpoint -- but it's not illegal.)

In the case of Thursday night, we accepted the mistake -- and our role in allowing it to happen.  Hopefully we'll remember the lessons of it all.  And in future poker games, we'll try to avoid forgetting any faces.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Omaha, Anyone?

So we called up Poker Stars for a little late-night pretend cash game fun -- and saw this surprise:

We know Boston Celtics basketball player Paul Pierce has played in the World Series of Poker.  And former baseball pitcher Oral Hershiser had a nice "run" in National Heads-Up a few years ago.

But Rafael Nadal endorsing Poker Stars?!?  Does this say more about the current state of online poker?  Professional tennis?  Or something else?

Discuss....


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poker Night 325: Error Apparent

At a casino or official poker room, the house provides a dealer who serves as "referee" over the hands.  At free tournaments in bars, every player shuffles and deals -- and the players normally watch how the cards play out.  But what happened tonight at Lil Kim's Cove was a little different.  See if you can figure out why....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-9 offsuit

We won the first pot of the evening, but haven't had a lot to play since then.  We start this hand with about 4,850 chips, and decide to give this potential big hand a try.  We're helped by the fact that no one at the table of six raises.

ON THE FLOP: A-K-Q

An Ace is exactly what we want to see -- but the face cards for a possible straight are potential trouble.  Two players check to us, and we toss out 1,000.  This seems to surprise a man to our immediate left; he hesitates, then calls.  A couple of other players call as well.

ON THE TURN: A

A third Ace means it's time for a big move.  But a man across the table moves first, offering his own bet of 1,000.  The men between us fold.

"I'm all-in," we declare -- and count out 2,450 chips left.  Players to our left bail out, leaving the man who bet originally.  We have him covered, as he calls with 575 left.

"Do you have an Ace?" we ask.  It turns out he does -- A-10.  "Ooooo," we say as we flip over A-9.  "I need...."

ON THE RIVER: 3h

The other man's 10 tops our 9.  He takes the pot, and we take a big loss.  We get out our notepad and scribble it all down, to report here.

But wait a minute -- did you spot the problem with that hand?  Not in how we played, but the hand overall?  Minutes later during the one-hour break, it suddenly occurs to us.


"Wasn't there King-Queen on the board on that big hand?" we say.  None of the players who folded seem to remember.  The man who won the hand says something we can't quite hear; we don't think he remembers, either.


"The King and Queen should have played, so we should have split that pot," we note.  But there's no video replay at a bar, short of requesting tape from all the hidden security cameras -- and about ten minutes after the fact, it's far too late to change the outcome.

We'll have to take the blame in this case.  We somehow overlooked the face cards in plain sight, which would have saved us thousands of chips.  But really, the entire table shares the blame for this blunder.  No one spoke up about the mistake; it apparently went past everyone.

We hoped to recover from that error in the second hour, but all we had at our disposal was 1,500 chips.  Forced to go all-in for the Small Blind with 9-8, our cards paired at the river.  But 3-10-3 also appeared, and a man with a 10 topped our two pair.  A big lack of attention on our part helped send us home early, in 21st place.  We'll have more to say about this in another post.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "That's your lucky rock," quipped the man at our left as we set it on the table tonight.  Well, not really; it's a simple ordinary rock we found in our driveway the other day.  But it gave us an idea for a card protector -- and a conversation.


"I brought it to remind me," we said, "God is my rock and my salvation.  Is He your rock and salvation?"


"Yeah," the man answered.  "Always."


God is referred to as a "rock" several times in the Bible -- but why?  Let's check an Old Testament song for some clues:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. - Deuteronomy 32:4
Some might call this the original "rock song," as Moses calls God a "rock" four times in this chapter.  Note the descriptive adjectives: perfect, just, faithful, upright.  We might compare God nowadays to being "rock solid" - trustworthy and unchanging.


But our reference at the poker table actually came from another Biblical song:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. - Psalm 95:1
Hiding behind large physical rocks might protect you from pursuing criminals, or thaw you out on a windy winter day.  But the Bible shows salvation and eternal life only can come from an even greater Rock.  Are you counting on God to provide those blessings -- and committing your life to Him as a result?


UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 115 final tables in 325 nights (35.4%) - 17 cashes.


NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 239 point wins in 1,003 games (23.8%), 76 final tables, 7 cashes plus 2 other wins.  Another monthly "championship week" is on its way next week.


POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $78,564, down $227.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cover-Ups

In our five-year review of live poker last week, we noted several Columbus-area venues have introduced "buy-in" tournaments -- games we admittedly have yet to play.  The reason why came up the other night, without our even mentioning it.

"It's a 'cover charge,' not a 'buy-in,'" one man said of the five-dollar fee.  He explained the wording makes all the difference, in the eyes of the local vice squad.

Cover charges to enter bars or clubs are legal.  A buy-in for a tournament makes it gambling, which is illegal under Georgia law.  (We've entered two buy-in tournaments in Florida, but they were at a state-regulated poker room.)

Speaking personally, we don't any to take part in any illegal poker.  We're reminded from the Bible:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)
Of course, we realize some people consider it the "appearance of evil" merely to walk into a bar to play poker.  They would turn to another verse:
"Therefore come out from the and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you." - II Corinthians 6:17
But bars can have "clean things," as well as unclean things.  We've never bought alcohol (which is not necessarily an "unclean thing") at any place where we've played.  We settle for sodas, even though that usually means fewer bonus chips at the table.

(Besides, unclean things can show up anywhere.  A man asked us the other day about smoking pot -- as we played a game of chess beneath a shady tree in our neighborhood.)

Our point is that a good Christian witness should uphold the law -- whether that means the rules of a poker game or city ordinances.  After all....
Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. - II Timothy 2:5
As we write this, the sports news of the day includes the strange case of a baseball pitcher who was thrown out of a game.  Not for throwing at the batters -- but for having an illegal substance in his glove.  


May you be fair and legal in everything you do, whether poker is a matter of work or play.  Follow a Biblical principle of family affairs....
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. - Colossians 3:20

Monday, June 18, 2012

Poker Night 324: The Devil, You Say

A TV station in our area surprised us a few weeks ago, by making a big fuss about new license plates.  The station managers decided to exchange three news car tags which had the numbers 666 in them -- even though a fourth number followed the sixes.  Should you be afraid of that series of numbers?  That issue actually came up tonight at The Red Barn....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit

We're in the small blind, at a table which has been playing "friendly poker" before the flop most of the evening.  We won an early pot when our K-10 turned into a straight on the flop.  But we've been biding our time otherwise -- and with no one raising, this gives us no reason to change.  We call, and most of the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: 6c-6d-6h

Several players laugh at this, since enough people know the symbolism associated with those numbers.  "That's a beast of a flop!" we declare -- but we're not sure how many get our play on words.  (If you don't get that, your assignment is to read Revelation 13:11-18.)

After the commotion dies down, we check.  So does everyone else.

ON THE TURN: A

That's practically the best card we could see at this moment.  It gives us a full house -- but we bet 500, just in case.

"He's got the Ace," someone says.

"He could have a 6," another speculates.  That would give us quads -- but we realize to earn a 5,000-chip house-rule bonus for quads, we have to carry the hand all the way to the river.  So this bet actually should tell thinking players at the table we don't have quads.  We hope they get the "next best thing" message and fold.  Most of the table does, but one woman does not; she calls.

ON THE RIVER: 7

That card is really inconsequential.  What matters is what that woman has.  We think she most likely has an Ace of her own, which would mean we split the pot.  We offer 1,000, to show we mean business in case she's holding a smaller pair.  The woman responds by raising to 2,000.  Oh no -- could she be the one with quads?  We remain skeptical, and think this is a "dare and double dare" move.

"You'll have to show me the 6," we say as we call.  "I've got an Ace."

After we show our cards, the woman dramatically turns over 7 of spades.  Then 6 of spades!  She played suited connectors and hit it big!

"I knew he had an Ace," the player out of the hand repeats to someone else.  "He's been playing cautious all night."  Thanks for the tip.  At least he got our message; perhaps we should have read the woman's hint better.

We recovered our loss on the next hand, when 3-3 brought a third 3 on the flop.  We went all-in with 3,025 left and won.  Moments later, K-K brought another big gain.  We rolled to the one-hour break at 21,700 chips -- then won a couple more modest pots in the second hour.  A timely win with A-6 and a pair of 6's on the flop helped us reach the final table at 20,500.

But once there, we made a tactical blunder.  We held a Queen, saw Queen-high on the flop and only bet 8,000 chips instead of pushing completely.  A man stayed in with 5-6 and made a winning full house.  It came down to an all-in move with K-9 for us -- but a woman with K-K topped us, so we settled for a seventh-place finish.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I have a bone to pick with you," a man said as soon as we walked in the door tonight.  He called us over to the bar, and proceeded to disagree with the nice words we wrote here last week (and elsewhere online) about Mr. Wing.

"The service was terrible," the man told us.  So were the wing prices, he added -- even though we never went into detail about the food menu, because we didn't order from it.  The man claimed to speak for many when he concluded: "Your recommendation s*cked."

Instead of getting into a quarrel about it, we asked the man to forgive us.  We tried to follow a Biblical example....
Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors. - Matthew 6:13
But that man did not respond to our request by forgiving us.  That's also a Biblical example:
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13
We realize poker players can have differing opinions about everything from sports bars to the handling of pocket Jacks.  We've learned to accept those differences, without turning them into a big fuss.  Are you able to be that accepting?  That's really the approach which shows a more Biblical attitude of humility.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 115 final tables in 324 nights (35.5%) - 17 cashes.  Maybe we should give up the Thursday night games, because we've made seven out of the last nine final tables early in the week.

NLOP Weekly Championship 27: Aces Up, Aces Down

If we really desired, we could enter the National League of Poker $1,000 Weekly Championship every couple of weeks.  All that's needed now is a 50,000-point buy-in.  With our total around 400,000, we thought Father's Day might be a good time to sneak in and play well.  Did we?

:01 IN: We have A-2 under the gun on the second hand.  The flop is 5-8-2.  We bet the minimum 30, but someone raises to 160 and we call it.  The turn is 7.  The raiser bets 130, and we've seen enough.  We fold.

:03 IN: We have A-J in the Big Blind, and wind up heads-up with the Small Blind when the rest of the table folds.  The flop is A-2-5.  We bet 70, and our opponent folds.  Would they were all that simple....

:04 IN: We have A-A and the button!  So we raise to 230, and get one caller.  The flop is 4-3-2, and our opponent leads for the minimum 30.  We call, cautious about that board.  The turn is K; we call another bet of 30.  The river is 8; we call another minimum bet as we remain suspicious.  But there was no reason; our opponent has K-10 -- so we win $875.

:18 IN: After a few hopeful flops get overpowered on the turn, we have A-10 of clubs.  The flop is 7s-Qc-As.  A player bets the minimum 60; we raise to 120 only to be re-raised to 180.  We call and stop there.  The turn is 2s.  Our opponent bets 160, and we dare to call.  The river is Qs, and our opponent goes all-in.  We dare not call, even though we have top two pair -- not with four spades showing.

:21 IN: We have 4-10 and fold -- only to see a flop of 2-3-A, and a turn of 5 which would have given us a comeback straight.

We hobble to the half-hour break with 385 chips.  Out of 584 players still in the running, we're a lowly 559th (tied).

MINISTRY MOMENT: At about this point in the tournament, we landed at the same table as a player named "FatherofLies".  That player split a pot, and it led to this exchange....


Me:  Can't root for 
Me:  FatherofLies, sorry....
Me:  I support God.
FatherofLies:  I understand....
FatherofLies:  Atleast you know me
Me:  Even if I
Me:  would rather not :-/


Why would we write such a thing?  Because yes, we understand the origin of that phrase....
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44
Jesus called the devil the "father of lies."  Many ministers say this is a reference to Satan appearing as a serpent in the garden of Eden:
"You shall not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.  "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." - Genesis 3:4-5
God had told Adam he would "surely die" if he ate of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (2:17).  The serpent (Satan) then came along and lied to Eve.  Eve accepted the serpent's view over God's warning -- and the result has been sin and death ever since (5:5).

Come to think of it, we played poker with a "father" on Father's Day - one who takes his screen name from Satan.  Which father would you rather have?  An untrustworthy devil - or God, a heavenly father?

Now back to the tournament in progress....


:43 IN: We have 6-A as decisive blinds approach.  So we go all-in with 235 chips left.  Several players call to give us hope.  The flop is 6-9-K, which offers a bit more hope.  But 7-9 follow with three spades showing, and another player makes a winning flush.

So there's no championship for us again -- but 437th out of 1,255 entries beats the first-hand bust-out we had earlier in the day.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father Figures

Today is Father's Day in the U.S.  It's a day to celebrate Dads who are living, and perhaps reflect on memories of those who are deceased.
Laurence A. Burkard: 1921-2001

How do you remember your parents?  Do you have anything special around your home -- or maybe in your wallet or purse?  It's a question that ties in well with one we asked in a recent post: do you carry any reminders with you of God?  After all....
Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? - Deuteronomy 32:6b
Are you surprised by the location of that Bible verse?  All the way back in the Old Testament, God was referred to as a "father" -- long before Jesus the Son appeared on Earth and recommended:
This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...." - Matthew 6:9
We can't really carry a picture of God or Jesus in our wallets, because all we have are artist's depictions -- and there's plenty of debate among religious groups over how accurate those depictions are.  But the Bible shows there are plenty of things in this world which can symbolize God, and remind us of Him.  For instance:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. - Psalm 18:2
We've never taken a rock or a horn to a poker night, to use as a card protector.  (After looking up this verse, that might change!)  But regular blog readers know we take other things -- admittedly more as conversation starters than physical reminders of God.

There's one big thing Jesus provided for stirring up memories of Him, and of heaven....
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me." - Luke 22:19
Christians know this as the "Lord's Supper," communion or the New Testament Passover -- introduced by Jesus on the night before His death.  The church group we attend only does this "remembrance" once a year.  It's considered that big a deal -- so big that our Pastor tends to lead up to it with three months of Passover-related sermons.  Of course, the world only tends to make Father's Day a once-a-year event as well.

So how do we remember our fathers at other times of year -- especially our heavenly Father?  We wrestled with this topic here a couple of years ago.  Despite what some ministers say, we still see nothing wrong with carrying reminders of God -- as long as you don't worship those things.  Doing that crosses a Biblical line:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.... - Exodus 20:4-5
We realize bowing before a little bottle of Liquid Paper would look very silly.  May you honor your physical father in a way which doesn't dishonor your heavenly Father -- the One who gave both of you life.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Poker Night 323: Anniversary Present

Several people were amazed at Lil Kim's Cove tonight, when we mentioned it was our fifth anniversary of live poker tournaments.  They couldn't believe we remembered the date.  But what happened during the first hour may have seemed even more unbelievable....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We've already had a roller-coaster ride, even though the table is playing relatively tight.  We made a straight on the flop holding 5-6 -- but only 150 at first, allowing two players to stay in and make flushes on the turn.  Their big betting cost us thousands, but we were wise to fold on the river before going all-in.  We've taken a couple of pots since then, including the Big Blind with 8-3.  Now we're in the small blind with this, and choose to limp in.  Most of the table gets in.

ON THE FLOP: 5-J-7

Triple J's look quite OK!  So in lead position for action, we offer 600.  That's too much for most of the table, but the dealer to our immediate right calls.

ON THE TURN: J

Whoa!!  J now stands for jackpot -- but we know we can't claim a 5,000-chip bonus for quads unless the hand goes all the way to the river.  So we check.  The dealer checks as well.

ON THE RIVER: 7

We play innocent and check again.  The dealer is in no mood for that -- and gives us even more than we expected.

"Four-thousand," he says.  Now it's time for what they call in TV poker "Hollywooding."

"Four-thousand?!?!?" we ask with mock astonishment.  We start counting our chips, because we're honestly not sure how many we have.

"Don't do it, man.  Don't do it," the dealer advises.

"That might put me all in," we say while we count.

"You don't want to do it."

"I shouldn't do it?!" we ask with an added measure of uncertainty in our voice.

"Don't do it."

Nope.  Our mind is made up.  "I'm going to do it," we say with a hint of resignation.  "I'll call."  Our count totals 3,875, slightly below the dealer's bet.

"But I've got a boat," our opponent says.  He flips over a 7, to show a full house.

"But I've got to call, when I've got quads."

We turn over the Jacks, and the table is stunned.  One man guessed we might have pocket Aces, but nobody saw quads coming.  We win a double-up and that 5,000-chip bonus.

"I had to bet.  I had a boat," our opponent says in frustration -- not once, but several times.  We can't really blame him.  But he ran into an unexpected buzz saw.  At least he was able to joke about it minutes later.

"You didn't have to call," he said.

"I know, but something told me I should call there."

"But you didn't have to listen to that something."

"I think it's called The Idiot's Guide to Poker," we said with a smile and a giggle.

That was the middle of three hands in a row which we won -- the following hand coming when we dealt ourselves Q-Q, and they prevailed.  We reached the one-hour break with more than 20,500 chips.  Trouble was, we lost half of them early in the second hour to a woman who made two big hands.  A comeback with Queens returned us to 15,500.  But a final push with A-Q and an Ace on the flop lost to a man who made three of a kind.  Our anniversary night ended in 16th place - at least better than five years ago.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A young man walked over to our table during the one-hour break, and told some players about a couple of habits he's given up recently.

"I've stopped drinking.  In fact, I gave up smoking pot."

One person described him as "clean and really sober."  Then he continued.

"Several months ago, I made a promise to the man upstairs that if he'd help me give up pot, I'd quit.  The man upstairs has given me the strength."

"God's helped you do it," we said -- making sure of which "man upstairs" he meant.  Indeed, he gave God the credit.  And he went on from there, to mention which church he attends every week -- a church which was familiar to a couple of people at the table, but not to us.

Two thoughts come to mind here.  First, we're glad God has helped the man overcome those habits.  If you have weaknesses or addictions in your life, God can help you as well.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. - Psalm 73:26
How does this happen?  How does God become your strength?  It begins by confessing your weak areas to God -- and admitting you need His help.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.... I can do everything through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:6, 13
Our second thought may seem a bit nit-picky -- but it involves the wording that young man used.  We think some people use the phrase "man upstairs" to avoid possibly offending people with a direct mention of God.  The apostle Paul took a similar approach when he addressed a crowd in Athens....
In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  For he has set a day when will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. - Acts 17:30-31
Paul never named the name of Jesus Christ in this mini-sermon -- but that's clearly the "person" he was describing.  A few men followed Paul after that address, and believed in God (verse 34).  Perhaps this young man's testimony (even posted here) will help others do the same.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 114 final tables in 323 nights (35.3%) - 17 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 236 point wins in 992 games (23.8%), 76 final tables, 7 cashes plus 2 other wins.  No-River Hold 'em - 6 point wins in 34 games (17.6%), 5 final tables, 1 cash win.

We mentioned the qualifying tournament we won last Friday.  In addition, we came in seventh out of 203 players in a No-River tournament Wednesday.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $78,791, down $630.

Our Grand Opening

On this anniversary, you may be wondering how we did on our first live poker night five years ago.

We wrote about it, of course.  The Blog of Columbus is now closed, but the entry from 15 June 07 is still there -- the good, the bad and the funny.

If It Was Real: After Five (Years)

Today marks five years since we walked down the street to a bar in our city, to play our first live poker tournament.  The goal in 2007 wasn't primarily on ministry; we wanted to see if we could compete against the other poker players in town.

We've had a good bit of success, over five years and 322 poker nights.  Our final table percentage was in the 40-percent range for a long time, only to drop to around 35 percent in the last year or so.  And we've finished "in the money" (winning cash) at live tournaments 17 times -- including a two-for-two record at Florida poker rooms, which offer prizes in the hundreds of dollars.

But what if we played in poker rooms or casinos all the time?  We've kept track of that, using a tournament prize formula from a casino in our home area of Kansas City -- with a $50 buy-in paying $500 for first place, $400 for second, and on down to $100 for fifth.

Since we crossed the 300-game mark, we've made six final tables in 22 games.  But we've only made the top five in two of them, and one of those was a fifth-place tie.  We plug those into our earlier records, and here's the result:


BUY-INS: 322 nights x $50 = $15,600

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 -- 16 ($1,600)
TIES for fifth:
5 two-way ($250)
1 three-way ($17)

TOTAL -- 64 for $14,434


Our "buy-in investment" would have lost 7.5 percent over five years.  But we would note in local tournaments, the odds often are stacked against us -- as we usually only buy one soda for extra poker chips, while other players accumulate tens of thousands through sandwiches and beer buckets.  (Lil Kim's Cove even allows you to buy 15,000 extra chips for five dollars now.)

A few weekly tournaments in our city now have the Florida or casino format -- a buy-in tournament (normally five dollars) with NO extra chips given from the bar.  The result is a bigger payout, and a more level "playing field" (OK, table) for all the players.  But we have not entered one of those tournaments yet; our reason why is being held for another day.

In the meantime, we thank God for whatever success we've had -- both financially and in spreading "good news" about Jesus.  After all, the Bible reminds us....
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. - Proverbs 11:4

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where's the Evidence? II

That poker table discussion last Thursday night involving a religious skeptic brought up so many issues that we're still sorting through them all.

"Skeptic?" you might be asking.  "She sounds like an atheist."  In fact, someone at the table asked the woman if she was -- and she said she wasn't.  She doesn't believe in Jesus or the Bible, but she claims she's not atheistic.  Yet our dictionary defines atheism as "disbelief in or denial of the existence of God."  That's different from agnosticism, which "does not deny God but denies the possibility of knowing Him."

Some Christian ministers would turn at this point to a blunt message in the Psalms....
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."  They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. - Psalm 53:1
But while this woman made some bold statements about not believing in Jesus and having power over her own life, we're reminded of a prayer Jesus offered to God the Father shortly before His death:
I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.  They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. - John 17:6
While God wants everyone to be saved (I Timothy 2:4), you might be surprised to learn He's not revealing Himself to everyone right now.  We even heard one player at the poker table mention that skeptical woman will have a "second chance" to understand Jesus someday.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened... The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. - Revelation 20:12
Those demanding proof of Jesus's existence will have it then -- because the Bible refers to this as "the judgment seat of Christ" (II Corinthians 5:10).  In other words, He'll be there.

This discussion went on well after we were eliminated from the poker tournament -- and we told the young woman at one point this issue ultimately is a matter of faith.  She seems to put plenty of faith in herself.  But the years of life may well reveal to her how we even let ourselves down at times.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. - I Corinthians 2:5 (KJV)
P.S.  We received a comment via Facebook about this discussion.  She says using Bible wisdom is not the best answer in this case....

I think a good place to start is to try and show her that the Bible truly is the Word of God by revealing its accurate prophecies etc. 

One of the most amazing prophetic proofs involves Daniel 11.  It takes some time and digging in a library using encyclopedias (and the old-fashioned hardback versions are going out of style at many libraries) -- but years ago, we verified how historical events recorded by Daniel have been fulfilled, all the way through World War I.  Some ministers maintain the "time of the end" events from verse 40 on still have yet to occur.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Poker Night 322: A Wing and a Pair


Big Dog Poker has a new Sunday night "free spot" -- Mr. Wing Sports Grill, near St. Francis Hospital in Columbus.  Since it was a rainy Sunday with little else to do and our schedule for this week is a bit different, we stopped by tonight.

The "grand opening" sign was out, the service was outstanding (we received a soda refill for the road without even asking) and a man at our table praised the chicken wings.  In short, the place impressed us.  Maybe a bit too much, judging from a few hands we played....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 10 of hearts - 10 of diamonds

We're in the Big Blind, early in the game.  After a modest loss with a missed flop, we have 5,500 chips when the blind is removed.  No one at this full table raises, and the play has been tame so far.  Would you elect to turn up the heat, seeing this nice pocket pair?  We're tempted, but we decide after a moment to check and "play possum."

ON THE FLOP: 5s-5c-Ac

We wanted to see numbers here, not letters.  We have two pair with a "top kicker," but that kicker could be something anyone is holding.  The small blind checks, and we decide to semi-bluff to test the waters.  We bet 300, and several players call.

ON THE TURN: 7c

This card seems harmless to us.  But we're still puzzled by what our opponents have, so we check.  A man across the table spreads out 700.  This might be a signal to some players to fold, but something tells us to press on.  We call, as do one or two others.  "No club," a man then says.

ON THE RIVER: Jd

Wish granted for him.  Not really for us.  We now feel seriously defeated, so we check again.  The earlier bettor offers 1,300 -- and we wonder to ourselves what we were thinking earlier.  Playing firm and stubborn seemingly got us nowhere here.  We fold.  Someone else calls -- and the bettor shows Kc-2c.

It's admittedly not a good excuse, but the poker tables at Mr. Wing were set up around big-screen TV's.  The action on two screens distracted us at times.  (Have you ever played poker to The Cleveland Show?)  So we never realized three cards for a flush were showing.  That man hit it.  At least we minimized our losses.

We thought an early exit was looming, as another big loss dropped us to about 1,200 chips.  But then good cards came to win us a couple of all-in bets.  We rebuilt to 3,350, then missed with A-J and dropped to 1,550 at the one-hour break.  Then came one of those second-hour comebacks, as a couple of pushes paid off to get us to 6,500.  Two more pot wins (including a "Big Blind Special" with 10-5 bringing two pair on the flop) and we reached the final table with 17,000.

But with seven players left, we had a Queen in the Big Blind and saw Q-8-4 on the flop.  We went for it, pushing again with top pair.  A man across the table didn't hesitate to call -- then showed 8-8.  His three of a kind took another player out with us.  Yet a night of ups and downs ended on an uptick, as we wound up tied for sixth place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our small bottle of Liquid Paper was back on the table tonight as a card protector.  We told a man to our left, "I brought this to remind me that Jesus can wash my sins whiter than snow?"

That man then asked an excellent question.  "Do you need the bottle to remind you of that?"

We paused for a moment -- then confessed.  No, we really don't need that bottle.  But we're aware some people wear crosses around their necks as a symbol of their commitment to Christ.  The idea actually goes all the way back to ancient Israel.
The Lord said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them, 'Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.  You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.'" - Numbers 15:37-39
Let's open the blog for discussion on this.  Do you carry something as a reminder of your relationship with God and Jesus Christ?  Do you intentionally avoid doing such things?  Why or why not?  We'll look more closely at this in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 114 final tables in 322 nights (35.4%) - 17 cashes.  The "first of the week" game succeeds again, with six final tables in the last eight on Sunday through Wednesday nights.

Where's the Evidence?

Let's head back to Thursday night's lively discussion with an admitted skeptic of religious things.  Among other things, the woman declared, "I wake myself up every morning."

If this woman has power over her own sleep, we find that amazing.  We're more inclined to believe what the apostle Paul said before an audience of skeptics:
For in him we live and move and have our being.... - Acts 17:28
One man pointed to life itself, as a proof of God's existence.  We know of no scientist who's been able to accomplish this feat....
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. - Genesis 2:7
In a tournament, poker players can fulfill a cliche and "come back from the dead" -- except they do it through "re-buys" or multiple double-ups.  You don't see actual corpses playing in tournaments.  Someone would have to give their bodies life to do that.  While CPR can save lives, it can't resurrect truly dead people.

It was fascinating to watch other people at the poker table take our viewpoint when it comes to the existence of God, while we sat back and waited for a moment to comment.  (In fact, it was a lot like the poker strategy of those players that night.)  One man noted how he rescued someone years ago by picking up a car, through some sort of "superhuman strength."

"That's adrenaline!" the skeptical woman countered - contending "Jesus" didn't pick up the car.  Yet note these words of Jesus from Scripture:
I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. - John 14:12
We do not take this as a guarantee faith in Jesus will turn you into Superman or Wonder Woman.  Jesus's primary mission was to preach the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15) -- then live out the Bible's message by becoming our Savior.  Believers might accomplish things Jesus never did.  (Perhaps even blog about Him on the Internet?!)

Another man finally brought up the words of that great (ahem) U.S. philosopher, D.L. Hugley.  The stand-up comic once said if you believe in God and nothing happens after you die, it's no great loss.  But if you don't believe and wake up in a judgment, what will you say then?
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - II Corinthians 5:10
We're not finished with this discussion, and we'll have more in an upcoming post.  But in the meantime, we found an online article offering several proofs of God's existence.  Do you agree with them?  If not, why not?  And how would you answer our table skeptic?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Two for Nothing

We won an online poker tournament at National League of Poker today, for the second time in 60 days!

Here's a screenshot of the decisive moment, as we topped 40 other players and won with 7-9.  But we have to admit there was a catch or two:

  • It was a qualifier for the monthly "Poker Studs Championship" in the last week of June.  The top ten automatically qualified.
  • The winner claimed more than 9,000 NLOP points - but no money.  (This explains our title, because that was also the situation in April.)
  • Because of those facts, everything at the final table was a bit like "garbage time" in basketball.  Some players bet big with relatively little.
  • Two of the final four players we eliminated (including "Smoker" defeated in the final hand) apparently left the table early.  Their hands "auto-folded" when we challenged them.  So all we had to do was "drain the pool" to win.
But we did rally from about ninth place at the start of the ten-seat final table.  And we even had to overcome an NLOP computer freeze at "three-to-go," which seems to happen to us every other day these days.  And in heads-up play (albeit against a player who had left), we won 17 pots in a row!  The streak ended with identical hands, and an "all-in" tie.

So all in all, we say a win is a win is a win.  Thank God for even little wins!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Poker Night 321: Heavy Artillery

"If anyone ever hits you in the face about God, send him to me."  That's what a man across the table said to us, before play began tonight at Lil Kim's Cove.  We tried to tell him Christianity isn't supposed to work that way.  But once the poker tournament is on, sometimes you do see a need to fight fire with fire:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-9 offsuit

Our table is betting big and early -- which we take as a sign a critical basketball game is on TV.  Two players already have pushed themselves over the cliff and out to the rail.  But we've been biding our time, waiting for a good hand.  When a player raises to 300, we decide this could be it.  We call, and about five players get in.

ON THE FLOP: 4-7-9

An ugly flop to some, but good-looking to us -- top pair with a top kicker.  A man across from us who likes to bet big tosses in 1,000.  We see no reason to object.  We call; everyone else bails out.

ON THE TURN: 9

Three of a kind makes us feel downright dangerous - especially because we don't think our opponent has anything more than a high pocket pair.  He bets 1,500.  We shake our head no, and double to 3,000.

"How much do you have?" the man asks us.  We've dealt with him at local tournaments before, so this is no surprise.  His tendency is to make huge bets, to force big decisions from opponents.  Now he's answered our raise by going all-in.

"I have 2,650," we say after a count.  We call, and see no reason to turn this into a Western movie drama.  "Three 9's with an Ace."

Our opponent looks stunned for a moment, then slowly shows what he has: 9 -- with an Ace.  We have matching hands!  And with no flush threat for either of us, the river card doesn't matter.  A split of the pot means a gain of about 600 for us -- but oh, what might have been.

The big betting continued throughout the first hour, and we were right to lay low -- even folding A-Q pre-flop when several players bet 5,000.  (It would have lost.)  We finally emerged with suited connectors, but lost a lot of chips when we missed a flush draw.  Near the one-hour mark we tried A-8, then was forced all-in after seeing a flop of Q-8-2.  But true to the mood of the table, an opponent topped us -- with three 2's!  Bad timing left us eliminated in 24th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our game was overshadowed by unquestionably the most robust religious discussion we've ever had in a poker room.  And it all started when a woman to our right asked about the little bottle of Liquid Paper we used as a card protector.

"I brought this to remind me," we explained while shuffling the cards to deal, "Jesus can wash my sins whiter than snow [Isaiah 1:18].  Do you believe in Jesus?"

"Actually, I don't believe," the woman answered.  "Show me the proof.  There's no proof He lived."

"There's all sorts of proof."  This comment didn't come from us -- but from the man across the table who had offered to come to our defense in a fight.  (Thankfully, no punches were thrown during the discussion.)  Yet his support for his claim sounded curious to us.  "There are pieces of the ark...."

There are?!  We thought Noah's ark and the "ark of the covenant" were missing pieces of Biblical history -- despite occasional expeditions to Turkey and that Indiana Jones movie.

Then a woman sitting to our left spoke up.  "I'm not into God at all, but I believe."

That's indeed a nice start.  But consider these words from the New Testament:
You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that -- and shudder. - James 2:19
The Bible indicates demons are "fallen angels," who sided with Satan long ago in a heavenly insurrection:
The great dragon was hurled down -- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.  He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. - Revelation 12:9
God wants a belief that goes beyond "fair-weather friendship," or waiting for the opportune moment to do something like pot-stealing.  Jesus summarized it in terms of two great commandments....
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  There is no commandment greater than these. - Mark 12:30-31
Now that's what "going all-in" really means, from a heavenly perspective.  But none of that would impress the skeptic to our right.

"I wake myself up every morning," she maintained.  "When I die, I know death is all there'll be."

How would you respond to this firm non-believer?  We'll get back to this lively chat in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 113 final tables in 321 nights (35.2%) - 17 cashes.

We've been doing well at tournaments early in the week (five final tables in the last seven), but haven't reached the final table at Lil Kim's since 1 March.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 232 point wins in 980 games (23.7%), 74 final tables, 7 cashes plus 1 other win. No-River Hold 'em - 5 point wins in 32 games (15.6%), 4 final tables, 1 win.

We had a sixth-place finish out of 61 players in a monthly qualifier Tuesday.  But sadly, two other point wins came in games where the NLOP browser froze (in one case three times) - which seems to be a common problem for other players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $79,421, up $561.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First to Act

Let's head back to that pre-game discussion about God from the other night.  A man noted the challenge of attempting to believe in something you can't easily see.

"Besides," he added, "how do we know Buddha wasn't the first god?"

The answer to that can be found in history.  Researchers agree the ancient Buddha was alive and teaching about 2,500 years ago.  The roots of Judeo-Christian faith have been around much longer.  Take this example....
Because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem in the fifth year of King Rehoboam. - II Chronicles 12:2
When was Shishak on the throne?  Archeologists who research these things (and know much more about it than we do) believe he was in charge around 925 B.C.  Rehoboam was the successor to King Solomon (I Kings 11:41-43) -- a leader who had several personal encounters with God (I Kings 9:1-2).  So this is a God who predates Buddha by hundreds of years.

But beyond the historical record, there's that matter of faith.  Faith that says....
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. - Psalm 90:2
How could God be around before there was a world?  Many have asked that question through the centuries.  It's a mystery waiting to be revealed after God sends His Son back to Earth.
My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. - Colossians 2:2-3
Isaiah 55:9 adds God's ways are "higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  Are you prepared to have faith to trust God to reveal Himself -- at the time and schedule He considers best?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Poker Night 320: Slow and Go

Monday was a time for Kings and Queens - in some places, at least.  Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth's 60th anniversary on the throne.  Then Monday night, the Los Angeles Kings moved within one game of their first Stanley Cup hockey title.  But we lost a hand with pocket Kings at The Red Barn, when a woman made three of a kind with 9's.  An earlier hand was a little bit loftier....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-A

A big bet on the turn chased us off a potentially winning flush on the river in an early hand.  That reduced our starting stack of 7,000 to about 5,800.  But here's our chance for a comeback.  Sitting second in line, we limp in and wait for players with bigger stacks to make confident raises.  Too bad - no one does.  But most of the table calls.

ON THE FLOP: 7-8-9

Uh-oh, here's potential trouble -- three cards in a run.  But the play checks to us, allowing us to offer a guessing-game 600.  A few players fold, perhaps thinking we caught a straight.  But about three others call.

ON THE TURN: A

That's safely out of the "straight road," giving us three of a kind.  Players in front check again, so now we increase the bet to 1,200.  Two players don't seem thrilled about it, but they call anyway.  The lack of a raise leads us to think they're "on draws," and don't have the straight already.

ON THE RIVER: A

Whoa -- we didn't expect that!  We now beat any potential straight with top quads!  The play checks before us again, and we decide 2,000 is the right amount to maximize our profits.  A woman calls; a man folds.

"You have an Ace," a man out of the hand predicts in our direction.

"No," we answer. "I have two of them."

We show our quads; the woman indeed was on a straight draw, with at least a Jack (we think it was J-6).  The quads give us not only a big pot, but a 5,000-chip bonus -- plus compliments from a couple of players for how we slow-played a monster hand.

Another pot of two came our way, allowing us to reach the one-hour break at 15,025 chips.  Then things looked bleak, as due to missed flops and players making huge bets to force all-in decisions.  But a push with A-Q brought a pair of Queens, to restore us to 18,000.  Then we were invited to move to the other semifinal table, and took a modest pot there.

That brought us to the final table with 25,000 chips.  But another all-in moment with A-Q fell short, when the board didn't pair for us.  We finished the evening satisfied with another "mountain climb" against larger beverage-bought stacks, and a seventh-place finish.

MINISTRY MOMENT: An interesting discussion developed before the tournament when a man across the table mentioned how he'd like to die a certain way.

"And then what?" we asked -- borrowing a line from a Christian radio broadcast we heard recently.

The man admitted he didn't know for sure, but offered to mention something he saw "in a book."  We noted we have ideas as well, from "a good book."  For instance:
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27
"But how do you know your book is better than any other book?" the man asked.  "I think there's only one God...."

"I agree with you," we answered.  "There's only one God."  Our "good book" mentions that, too:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. - Deuteronomy 6:4
"You're trying to draw me in," the man said a bit defensively.  "It's just hard to believe in something you can't see."  He's correct about that, too.  That's why the Bible also says:
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. - Hebrews 11:1
We're reminded of a line from Paul Stookey's classic 1970s tune The Wedding Song: "Do you believe in something that you've never seen before?"  He's referring to marital love -- but the same sort of belief is involving in accepting God and Jesus Christ as your Savior.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - II Corinthians 4:18
(There was more to this discussion; we'll continue it in a future post.)


UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 113 final tables in 320 nights (35.3%) - 17 cashes.  We'd normally pause at this point for a 20-game update on our live tournament play.  But we're going to postpone that for a few days; you'll understand why when the update appears.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Take a Bow

Before play began at a live tournament the other night, a man to our left did something unusual.  He lowered his head toward us a couple of times, palms down toward the table.

Some people might have soaked in that moment of attention, and begged for more.  We didn't.  Instead we responded by saying, "I am not worthy, I am not worthy" -- the sort of phrase you'd expect the other man to say as he bowed.

Why did we say that?  Because we have nothing to deserve people bowing at our feet -- poker players or otherwise.  Besides, we remembered a similar case at the end of the Bible.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things.  And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.  But he said to me, "Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book.  Worship God!" - Revelation 22:8-9
John had amazing visions in Revelation -- including the judgment throne of God and the lowering of the "new Jerusalem" from heaven to earth.  He was awe-struck, as probably anyone would be.

But this actually marked the second time in Revelation that John was corrected on his worshipful response toward an angel....
At this I fell at his feet to worship him.  But he said to me, "Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus.  Worship God!  For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. - Revelation 19:10
If we're not supposed to worship angels, why should anyone even think to worship humans?  Yet it happens throughout our world.  The World Series of Poker which began this past week is likely to provide new champions and "stars" that other players will want to emulate.  But there's only One who's truly worthy of our worship.
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. - Psalms 95:6-7
Christians are simply ordinary people who have come to see their need for an extraordinary God and Savior -- and who live their lives praising and worshiping Him.