Thursday, August 30, 2012

Poker Night 344: Over-Confident

The opening night of college football season distracted a few poker players at Lil Kim's Cove tonight.  At one point while they discussed South Carolina and Vanderbilt on, we sat with our back to the TV screen and borrowed a line NBC's Mike Emrick used during the Stanley Cup Final in June: "In the game you're watching...."

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: 8-8

They can have six-point touchdowns and three-point field goals.  We have a middle-of-the-road pocket pair, and haven't won a hand so far.  This is a limping hand for us, and most of the table gets in with no one raising.

ON THE FLOP: 3-3-5

An ugly flop for some people -- but a hopeful one for us.  We have an "overpair" for two pair.  So when the table checks to us, we bet 250.  A couple of players fold, so about half the table remains.

ON THE TURN: 7

Our overpair remains exactly that -- higher than anything showing.  The table checks again, and this time we offer 350.

ON THE RIVER: 5

Hmmmm -- now two pair are showing.  But the cards are low, we still have an overpair and no one's made a move to challenge our betting yet.  The table checks to us again.

"Don't do it," the player to our immediate left says as we reach for chips.  Why is he saying that -- because we're about to scare him off?  We want to be firm, so we bet 500.  The man to our left calls.  But then a player across the table raises to 1,000.  We still don't think it's trouble, and we're "pot committed" anyway.  So we call, as does the man to our left.

"I've got a boat," that man to the left declares.  He shows 3-J for a full house.  Trouble is, the man across from him shows 7-7!  It's a larger full house to take a big pot.

Bottom line: we took the lead in betting -- and wound up getting burned.  We doubted anyone was playing with a 3.  But in free tournament poker, gambling with little is easy -- and sometimes the payoff is big.

We turned things around on the next hand, when 10-9 of hearts turned into a winning flush (and almost a straight flush).  Then came a split pot with K-9.  Then at the semifinal table, 8-7 of diamonds in the Big Blind turned into a victorious "triple-eight."

That provided enough chips to bring us to the final table -- where we went all-in with J-J, and they held up to improve us to 40,000 chips.  But after the two-hour break with huge blinds, we tried to push again with A-J of spades.  The board didn't pair, and a man with pocket Aces prevailed.  He took out two players, leaving us tied for fourth place -- but that's still our best finish at Lil Kim's since late June.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I found God in rehab," a man said at our table tonight.  That led to a three-way discussion, in which we remembered the moment when we surrendered to God.

"I lost my job, then needed a thousand-dollar engine overhaul on my car," we recalled.  In fact, this year marks 30 years since that double-whammy drove us to our knees on a cold Friday night.  It was a time similar in some ways to what an early apostle experienced.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground.... Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.  So they led him by the hand into Damascus.  For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. - Acts 9:3, 8-9
Read this entire chapter and you'll see it was Jesus who struck down Saul, then scolded him for persecuting the Lord while raging against the early church.  God could have gone even farther and killed Saul.  But God had bigger plans for him.
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.... At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. - Acts 9:18-20
He went from persecutor to preacher, from annihilator to apostle -- and in the process, his name changed from Saul to Paul.  Much of the New Testament is a testimony of God changed his life.  Has he changed yours?  And if you're going through difficulties now, is He trying to tell you something?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 122 final tables in 344 games (35.5%) - 19 cashes.  Tonight marked our first live-tournament final table since 7 August.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 264 point wins in 1,125 games (23.5%), 82 final tables, 10 wins, 10 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 9 point wins in 44 games (20.5%), 8 final tables, 1 win.

We squeaked into a final table in No-River play Monday, finishing tenth out of 118 players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $82,340, down $646.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To Fear or Not to Fear

We began a Tuesday night online poker tournament by writing this:


Me:  Happy Fear of Issac
Me:  night to all.
bryant284:  no fear
Me:  Fear can be good
Me:  and bad.
strawberry1:  22
jodygirl:  donk
Dealer:  j3rs3yguy wins Main Pot ($2,120) with Straight, five to nine
Me:  That phrase refers
Me:  to God. 

Oops - we misspelled the name of the approaching hurricane.  It's Isaac.  And as we write this, it's dumping devastating rain on Louisiana.

Our sympathies go out to people whose homes and lives are at risk from this storm.  But did you know the phrase "fear of Isaac" is in the Bible?
If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed.... - Genesis 31:42 (see also verse 53)
How interesting - it's the God of Abraham, but the Fear of Isaac.  Our review of the Bible shows Isaac is the only name where "Fear" is substituted for God.

So what about the player who declared "no fear"?  We've quoted the poker cliche from time to time, "Scared money won't win."  No one wins a pot by folding; the rules simply don't allow it.  The only way to make money is to bet.  But away from the table, is that a good way to live?  The Bible can seem contradictory on that....
There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love. - I John 4:18
So if the love of God is working in your life, you have nothing to fear in this world.  Even if the worst should happen, God has plans for you far beyond this life.

But wait, you may be asking -- then why is God the "Fear of Isaac"?  Because God is the One you really should fear.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. - Matthew 10:28
Jesus is describing what's called in Scripture the "second death" (Revelation 20:14) - which follows the death of our physical bodies and a resurrection to God's judgment.

We're open to your ideas on this, but we think Isaac attached "Fear" to God because of what happened when he blessed his sons in Genesis 27 - blessings clouded by family deceit.  As a modern-day Isaac wreaks havoc with many lives, put your fear in the God who ultimately is in charge.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August Senior Championship: Little Becomes Much

Our text for tonight comes from the back of the Old Testament....
Who despises the day of small things?.... - Zechariah 4:10
We're admittedly lifting these words out of context.  When you see what happened to us at the monthly National League of Poker Senior Championship, you'll understand why.

:01 IN: We have K-A, and double the blind to 60.  The flop is 7x-8x-5s.  We make a continuation bet of 50 and get callers.  The turn is As, so we bet 100.  One player calls.  The river is 4s, putting three spades on the table.  We check, and our opponent responds by betting 110.  We dare to call -- and sure enough, he has 10s-Qs.  The running spades give him a flush.

:18 IN: After a series of lousy cards and misses in the blinds, we have J-Q with 505 chips (everyone starts with 1,000).  We play them, but the flop is 6-3-10.  An opponent bets to put us all in, and we have to hold.

:22 IN: We have 8-Q of hearts in the Small Blind.  The flop is 8x-7h-K, so we have middle pair and three hearts.  But an opponent bets 240, and we concede.  (Another heart comes on the turn, but a bigger bet takes the pot.)

:25 IN: We have A-9.  The flop is 8-3-4. We check, as do two other players still in.  The turn is J.  Everyone checks.  The river is 5, and the play checks to us.  Our opponents are the biggest stack at the table and a Big Blind where the player never showed up.  We probably should bet for the pot and force the Big Blind out, but we play it safe and check.  The "M.I.A." player has 3-K, and steals the pot with a pair.

The half-hour break finds us with 285 chips, and a lot of frustration.  Very few playable hands have come our way - and with 678 players remaining, we're #673.  On top of that, poor cards then come in the blinds to knock us down to 135.

:37 IN: We have K-10 of hearts, and try them for the minimum 100.  The flop is Qx-6h-4x.  The big stack bets 730, and we sigh in sadness as we fold.  (He shows Aces.)

:43 IN: After waiting through more hands along the line of 6-2 and 2-3, we're forced to go all-in for our last 35 in the Big Blind.  But we have A-K!  The flop is 4-Q-K.  The turn is 6.  The river is 5.  Two callers have nothing better than J-J, so we stay alive by winning 140.  "Finally," we write.

:49 IN: We have Q-A after folding the Small Blind, and push again with 65 chips left.  Everyone folds except an M.I.A. Big Blind, with only 6-2.  The board is 7-9-7-5-K, and we escape again by winning 195.

:51 IN: We have A-8 under the gun.  We push again.  The flop is 6-10-3, all clubs.  The turn is Qc -- and oh yes, our Ace is a club!  The river is 5, and our nut flush pays off for 540.

:55 IN: After another failed round of blinds, we have K-K.  We push - and the table folds!  Now we're up to 615.

:56 IN: The tide of bad cards clearly is turning, because the next hand brings A-10.  The flop is A-10-8.  We bet the bundle, and everyone folds!  We're nearly back to the starting line at 915.

:58 IN: The Big Blind brings an ugly 7-2.  But the table folds, giving us a walk!  We gladly take a $100 blind bonus.

1:00 IN: We have A-J.  The flop is 8-3-K.  We bet the minimum in hope, and are rewarded with folding.  We win 975.

1:04 IN: After 9-9 in the Big Blind doesn't pay off with bigger cards on the board, the Small Blind brings us 8-A of diamonds.  The flop is 6-8-9.  A player bets the minimum 200, and we call.  The turn is 8.  We respond to another 200 bet by going all-in for our remaining 715.  The opponent calls -- and shows 8-J!  Our kicker card is best, and we win $1,600.

We're thanking God for a big recovery at the second break - from 35 to 1,600.  Now we're in 174th, with 464 players left.

1:10 IN: We return from break with Q-10 of clubs.  The flop is Jc-5s-7c.  An opponent bets 300, and we call.  The turn is Jd, pairing the board.  We call another bet of 300.  The river is 6c - and we say "Yes!" to that.  We go all-in for our remaining 700.  Our opponent calls - but only has 3-J of spades.  Our flush beats his three of a kind, and we jump to $3,650!

1:20 IN: We have 3-A.  The flop is 9-Q-4.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 2.  More checking.  The river is 6, and we offer a minimum 300 bet.  Everyone folds except a M.I.A. player, so we win a sidepot of 825. (The "bot" wins the main pot with K-Q.)

1:29 IN: We have 9-9 in the Small Blind.  The flop is 3-6-K.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 7.  We off the minimum 300 - and the table folds!  With antes now required every hand, this pot is worth $1,725.

1:31 IN: We have J-K.  The flop is 7-A-Q, giving us a big straight draw.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 9.  More checking.  The river is 7.  No one's betting, so we offer the minimum 400.  Players call -- and King high is good enough for a side pot of 1105, and a $530 split of the main pot with an opponent who went all-in with 10-K.

1:37 IN: We have A-9.  The flop is J-10-A.  We bet the minimum 400.  A player calls, going all in.  The turn is K.  The river is J.  Checking continues - but our opponent has 7-8.  He's out, and we win $2,142 to put our total above 5,000!

The third break has us marveling at the mountain we've climbed - from 35 to $5,302.  Now we're in 67th place, with 158 players left.  Can we keep growing?

1:46 IN: We have an ugly 4-7 in the Big Blind, but no one raises.  The flop is K-4-4!  We bet the minimum 600, hoping to lure players in -- but a man with a huge stack raises, and then a third player goes all-in!

We now have another all-in decision, with 3902 left.  We realize our kicker card is weak, but we decide the other players aren't playing with that missing 4.  So we call -- only to discover Mr. Big Stack has K-4!  He hit an amazing full-house flop, and 6-2 on the turn and river won't save us.

The miracles finally run out.  But by not giving up when we had a puny chip stack (even though it was tempting), we end the evening in 147th place out of 880 players.  And we parlayed those 35 chips into an evening-high 5352 -- an increase of 15,291 percent in about one hour!  If only the stock market worked this way....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Poker Night 343: The Pace of the Race

This was a day of small triumphs for us.  We recouped some of the losses on our recent trip to north Florida, when a gas station where we stopped called to announce we won a drawing for a gift card.  We also reached a final table in an online tournament with 118 players.  A successful night at The Red Barn would only make things better....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: Q-9 offsuit

The night hasn't been very successful so far.  A 500-chip investment with 5-5 missed the flop, and then big bets ran us off.  But for the most part, the table has calmed down since then.  We're in the Small Blind and no one raises ahead of us, so we call to give this a try.

ON THE FLOP: Q-6-9

A very good try!  We have the top two pair and leadoff position.  But betting on the flop has been common so far, so we check.  We're a bit disappointed when the entire table checks.

ON THE TURN: 4

We're not waiting this time.  A low card allows us to make a lead bet of 500.  A couple of players with much larger stacks call, as if they're "fishing" for something huge.  The rest of the table folds.

ON THE RIVER: Q

It's a river "boat" (slang for full house)!  So sit in our lead position for a moment - how much would you bet, to maximize our gains?

We decide to set out 1,500.  Nope, that's too much.  Our opponents fold.  We gain about 1,800 chips, but in a way hoped for more.

We needed some more, because that's the only hand we won all night.  We missed a gold mine late in the first hour, when we folded K-10 and the flop was A-J-Q for a top straight.

Then we limped into a hand in the second hour with pocket Queens, then went all-in when all the cards on the flop were below them.  But our friend Harry (who says he left the hospital last Friday) stayed in with a 7.  Another 7 on the river combined with one on the flop to give him a winning three of a kind.  He eliminated two players, and sent us home tied for 19th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our area is seeing a bit of outer impact from Tropical Storm Isaac.  So we took a small flashlight to use as tonight's card protector.

"This shows I'm ready for Isaac," we told the man to our right.  "And it's also a reminder I'm supposed to reflect the light of Christ."

We're not sure that man heard the last part -- which is too bad, because that's the most important part.  Believers are expected to shine....
For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth." - Acts 13:47
You might think the idea of "letting your light shine" originated with Jesus.  But the verse we cited actually appears first in the Old Testament (Isaiah 49:6), hundreds of years before the Lord walked on Earth.  So how do believers do that?
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth).... - Ephesians 5:8-9
A "goody-goody" walk might seem self-righteous to other people.  But if your walk is humble and you regularly give glory to God for it, your words and actions should reflect the opposite - Christ's light.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 343 nights (35.3%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brat-Worst

Several online poker sites are free for entry and play.  So they're open virtually to all comers -- and that means all kinds of attitudes as well.  Check this chat from a Saturday night National League of Poker tournament:


Me:  Table toast to
Me:  Neil Armstrong.
Dealer:  radley666 wins Main Pot ($2,440) with Flush, jack high
radley666:  go eat a midgets dinglrburys *** neil
Dealer:  saintsman wins Main Pot ($2,120) with Two pair, kings and queens
Me:  No respect for
Me:  the dead, eh?
radley666:  what u gonna cry?? 
Me:  No.
Dealer:  flopblogger wins Main Pot ($210)
radley666:  u sick dirty sex predator

At this point, we were moved to a different table and had no further contact with Radley.  So there's an obvious question here: why did our effort to mark the death of the first person to walk on the moon bring such an ugly response -- including name-calling toward us?

We'd have to read the mind of Radley to be sure of the answer.  Maybe he was drunk.  Maybe he's a teenager going through a rebellious stage of life.  Maybe he was trying to "psych out" the rest of the table by matching bully tactics with tough words.  (Radley folded, in the hand we won.)

But people like Radley can be anywhere -- on your job, in your school, or driving aggressively around you on the highway.  The Bible advises us not to be surprised by this.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves.... boastful, proud, abusive.... ungrateful, unholy, without love.... slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited.... Have nothing to do with them. - II Timothy 3:1-5
The list here actually is longer, but we selected the traits which seem to refer most closely to Radley.

The advice to "have nothing to do with them" sounds logical, but it's almost too easy. What if conditions bring you face-to-face (in this case virtually) with such people?  Paul goes on to assure believers....
But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. - II Timothy 3:9
People with attitudes such as Radley may think they will - but they simply haven't learned the truth of life yet.

So how do you respond to this sort of potty-mouthed player?  We can think of a couple of Biblical approaches, which are easy to combine.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. - Proverbs 15:1
Speaking softly admittedly is easier to accomplish in person.  The only real "volume control" in an online chat is in typing ALL-CAPS (indicative of shouting) or lower-case.
You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth."  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 5:38-39
This was the approach Jesus took all the way to His crucifixion, as He was abused and mocked by soldiers. It goes against our nature, but it's what the Lord advises us to do.

When the tournament was over and it was bedtime, we did something we're not sure Radley would appreciate.  We prayed for him -- asking God to teach him whatever lessons he needs to learn, about whatever he's going through.  That's following Biblical guidance as well....
But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.... - Matthew 5:44-45
If more people did that, we might see a fulfillment of Neil Armstrong's famous words: "One giant leap for mankind."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Poker Night 342: Diamonds or Junk?

Our Thursday night routine resumed tonight -- as Lil Kim's Cove has moved poker night back to where it's been for years.  That meant a short walk, a two-dollar can of soda, and careful play against a table filled with much larger stacks of chips.  But can you be too careful?

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: J-8 of diamonds

We won the first pot of the night, but the gain was small.  A large-scale missed flop later in the first hour left us with only 4,500 chips after the break.  We say "only" because bigger stacks abound; one man openly is boasting about having 100,000 in large denominations.

So at our table of six, we now sit one behind the dealer.  We're dealt these medium-high suited cards.  We have enough chips for only three "laps around the race track," as we like to call it.  Would you risk 18 percent of your holdings on this, simply to see a flop?  We decide the odds of hitting a flush are too steep at this point to take this chance, especially with other players calling.  We fold.

ON THE FLOP: 9d-10d-Qd

WHAT?!?!!?!?!!?  It's all we can do to keep a "poker face" when we see this.

"Here come the diamonds," one man says.  Well, not the ones he might want.  We slowly pull back our folded cards and show them to the dealer, who also folded pre-flop.  We say nothing.  He says quietly what we knew -- we let go of a straight flush.  But the hand continues without us....

ON THE TURN: 9c

As we recall, one player offered 5,000 at this point.  "One more diamond!" another says with optimism as he calls.

ON THE RIVER: 2c

"Good no-diamond," that man now says.  After a moment of stare-down, both players check.  The caller has Q-J, and top his opponent's Queen with a better kicker.

"Look at what I folded!" we now announce -- and show our folded cards.

The table is stunned at the one that got away.  "I would have called with two diamonds," a couple of players say.

"But my stack is so small," we respond as we pick up our five chips totaling 4,500.  Those players insist they still would have entered the hand -- easy for them to say, with much larger stacks.

This hand came down to how much of a risk-taker (some would flat-out say gambler) you are.  We tend not to be.  And in this case, it cost us a 5,000-chip bonus for the straight flush -- and probably 9,000 more, because the players with Queens for two pair were likely to call if we went all-in.

We dreamed redemption would come two hands later, when we had A-8.  We limped in.  A man raised 3,000.  We added 500 more, to go all-in.  But the board didn't pair for us; instead 3-4-5 appeared, and a man with A-2 made a winning straight.  We left with 13th place -- and dreams about what might have been.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Earlier in the day, we visited a local hospital.  One of the regulars on our poker circuit checked in about a week ago due to chest pains.  Harry told us doctors found "other stuff" -- including occasional involuntary shaking, which still can't be explained.  We promised we'd pray for his recovery.

This short visit really is the least we could do for Harry.  But in making the trip, we recall words of Jesus about a future time of judgment....
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.... I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me." - Matthew 25:34-36 (NASB)
In the Internet era, a "visit" also can be accomplished in an online way.  Harry's relatives set up a laptop computer by his bed -- and of course, he's using it in part to play online poker.  The relatives also created a Facebook account for him.  So if you'd like to send him a message, click on this link -- but be patient; Harry admits he's new at using computers.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 342 nights (35.4%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 261 point wins in 1,112 games (23.5%), 82 final tables, 10 cashes, 10 wins.  No-River Hold 'em - 8 point wins in 42 games (19.0%), 7 final tables, 1 cash/win.

For the third time in August, we won money at NLOP!  It was a second-place finish Tuesday night, in a tournament with 398 players.  There's an interesting story behind that game, which we'll share in an upcoming post.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $82,986, up $1,388.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Do You Say?

As we mentioned in our last post, the Tournament Director at The Red Barn was in an especially enthusiastic mood to share his faith the other night.  During the one-hour break, he actually gave one man a good-natured Scriptural scolding.

"The Bible says there's life and death in the power of the tongue," the Director warned.  We agreed with him -- but a check of the book later found the wording is a bit different:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. - Proverbs 18:21 (KJV)
If you think about it, the first half of this verse applies perfectly to poker.  Say "I'm all in" or even "call" at the right time, and you could win a fortune.  Say those words at the wrong time, and your tournament life can end in a flash.  The Bible has much to say about the tongue....
He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. - Proverbs 13:3
The political news of recent days has shown how words said "in the wrong way" can make national headlines.  But have you stopped to consider how your words could have even stronger personal impact -- even far away from a poker table?
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. - Matthew 12:36-37
This advice comes from Jesus Christ, who will be the ultimate judge in a resurrection (II Corinthians 5:10).  Are you being careful about what you say -- and asking God for forgiveness when your tongue becomes too deadly?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Poker Night 341: Early to Raise

"The tradition continues" is what we traditionally write when someone goes all-in during the first hand of an online tournament.  At least one player pushes right away, more often than not. At live tournaments, that doesn't tend to happen -- but some people aren't afraid to turn up the heat early in the evening.  Take this case from The Red Barn tonight....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 9 of hearts - 9 of diamonds

This isn't the opening hand, but it's one of the first.  An early missed flop has left us with about 6,750 chips.  We're content to limp in with a mid-range pocket pair -- but another man raises the stakes to 550.  Since we do have a pocket pair, we don't plan to back down pre-flop.  So we call, and about four players are in the hand.

ON THE FLOP: 8h-8d-10h

So there's a pair lower than ours on the board, and we also have 60 percent of a straight flush.  But we choose to lay low and check -- and sure enough, the bet from across the table is 500.  Hoping more for a 9 (to make a full house) than a medium-high heart, we call.  We don't recall anyone folding.

ON THE TURN: 6s

This blows up the dreamiest hand.  And a player across the table now raises the stakes to 1,500.  But consider our options now -- as any 7 would give us a straight, and any 8 or 9 would still provide a full house.  Even a 10 would provide us a sneakily higher two pair.  After weighing all this, we call.  Three players remain for the river.

ON THE RIVER: 2h

Yuck -- we missed it all.  Thankfully, the other players check so we don't have to fold.  But not so thankfully, one of them turns over an 8.  He had three of a kind from the flop, and takes a sizable pot.  We take a sizable loss, down to about 4,175 chips.

So dreams don't always come true in poker.  But one did for us later in the hour, as K-9 brought two pair at the river for a "Rodney" bonus hand of 5,000.

Then in the second hour, K-9 came our way again.  A flop containing K-J led to us calling a big bet of 3,000.  Then at the turn, a woman to our left bet 15,000 -- while we had only 1,000 remaining.  We called in hope again, but she had K-J.  Her two pair put us in an unwinnable position, and she knocked us out in 20th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Rodney the Tournament Director at The Red Barn professes faith in Christ, and he was in a mood to share that faith tonight.

"This is a man of God," he told a man at the one-hour break -- referring to us.

That's a title we seldom hear mentioned in our direction.  In fact, we almost wanted to quiet Rodney down when he said it!  It's quite humbling to us, and we don't really feel deserving of it -- especially considering the Biblical characters who received that title:
Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God.... - II Chronicles 30:16
And the leaders of the Levites were.... prescribed by David the man of God. - Nehemiah 12:24
I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the room of the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah the man of God.... - Jeremiah 35:4
Wait a minute -- Ig-who?  We admittedly never thought of that person as a "man of God" until we wrote this post.  In fact, he's only mentioned in the Bible in that one verse.

Igdaliah is an embedded example of how someone can be a man (or woman) of God, without gaining a lot of prestige or publicity.  You may be living a Christian life, not thinking anyone notices or cares.  But Rodney reminded us tonight some people with careful eyes do notice.  And most importantly, God cares -- and He'll ultimately reward the faithful.
But you, man of God, flee from all this.... Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. - I Timothy 6:11-12
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 341 nights (35.5%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Modems and the Master

Last Sunday night we entered the National League of Poker's weekly championship.  But after the first half-hour where we lost about 20 percent of our stack, the system froze.  It apparently was the fault of NLOP's server; the game was suspended and resumed later in the evening.

We won several big pots after the resumption, climbing to more than 37,000 chips in 90 minutes.  With about 300 players remaining, we were 55th -- and money now is paid to the top 52 players in the weekly tournament.  But then our screen froze again.  We feared it was one of those stifling McAfee updates -- but after a restart of our computer, our Internet connection refused to work!

While thankfully the "automatic disqualification" rule was suspended for this tournament, the outage cost us half-an-hour of play.  We had another web freeze after returning, went all-in with 8-8 in desperation and lost to a straight.  We finished 96th out of 1,147 players -- but again wondering what might have been.

Another Internet slowdown and outage occurred for us later in the week, deep in a tournament.  Finally we called our Internet provider's tech support line, and it concluded our modem was fading out and dying.  The device lasted five years, which apparently was very good since the usual life of a modem is three to four.

But these frustrations remind us how in this life, nothing lasts forever and few things truly are reliable.  Your best-laid plans can be ruined when things break down, or people let you down.  At those points we're reminded:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. - Psalm 20:7
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. - Isaiah 31:1
You may count on a fellow poker player to act in a certain way which benefits you -- only to find he or she makes a very different decision.  You may even be looking for help and success from a candidate, in this U.S. election year.  But the more reliable place to turn is God -- as even Jesus pointed out:
I have much to say in judgment of you.  But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world. - John 8:26
Jesus was sent by God the Father 2,000 years ago -- and He'll be sent again to rescue this world from destruction, and bring eternal life to those who accept His salvation (Matthew 24:30-31).  Do you trust God to provide the greatest victory of all?

Friday, August 17, 2012

If It Was Real: 340-Game Report

Some professional poker players are billed on TV as "cash game specialists."  We tend to think that label does not apply to us.  That's because we play in tournaments a lot more often -- and in recent weeks, we've played fairly well.

Our last check of the scoreboard occurred in mid-June, when we marked five years of live tourney action.  In the 18 games since then, we've reached the final table seven times -- and they've resulted in one win (actually a settlement, but we had more chips), one tie for second place (also a settlement) and one fourth-place finish.

So when we plug those results into our hypothetical casino prize matrix, here's how we stand at live games:

BUY-INS: 340 nights x $50 = $16,500

First -- 6 ($3,000)
TIE for first: 1 ($450)

Second - 9 ($3,600)
TIE for second: 1 ($350)

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

Fourth - 13 ($2,600)
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 -- 67 for $15,484

A $900 investment in the last 18 games would have paid us $1,050 -- or a 16.7% gain.  But overall, our payouts are still down 6.2%.  We used to do better than that, and we plan to keep working in that direction.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Ultimate Comeback


At the cash game we visited in north Florida last week, we asked a man next to us if he believed in Jesus.  The man told us he did.  But the discussion stemming from the Lord's physical appearance didn't stop there.

"I'll just have to wait till I get to heaven to find out," one man declared.

"I'm personally hoping for Jesus to come back, so I can meet Him in the air," we responded.

Many people (even many Christians) think they're going to heaven when they die. But there's a problem with that reasoning - and it's Biblical:
"Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.... God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.... For David did not ascend to heaven...." - Acts 2:29, 32, 34
Jesus was resurrected, and Acts 1:9 shows He ascended to heaven.  But David, who's called a man after God's own heart in Acts 13:22, has NOT ascended to heaven.  His body apparently awaits a moment many believers hope to see:
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. - I Thessalonians 4:14
We admittedly did a double-take when we reviewed this verse.  How can God in heaven "bring" someone who's asleep in the ground and buried?

The answer may be hidden in the Greek word for "bring."  That word is translated "led" elsewhere in the New Testament (such as John 18:28 and Acts 8:32).  We've concluded Jesus will lead dead believers out of their "final resting places."
After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever. - I Thessalonians 4:17
Several people at our cash game expressed opinions that the way world events are going, Jesus needs to come back quickly -- and even should.  We mentioned in our last post no one knows the exact return time.  But are you ready, whenever it happens?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Poker Night 340: Power Points

"You're playing a little different tonight," the man to our left said at Lil Kim's Cove.

"Sometimes you have to dare to be different," we answered -- recalling a religious radio broadcast we heard the other day.  The preacher actually encouraged people's praise to get a little wild.  And there were times when we did the same thing, by taking on a couple of players known for big bets....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-A

Who wouldn't go wild at the sight of that?  And we're in the Small Blind, so we're very late in the betting order.  But the players ahead of us only call.  Our circuit's version of the Notorious BIG (as in big raiser) sits in the Big Blind -- so what will he do in response to us?

"I'll raise this time," we say -- and add 1,000.  That's relatively modest for some of these players, and we really don't want people to run away from the hand.  Most of the table calls, including Mr. Big.

ON THE FLOP: Q-10-8

So far, so good.  Now we're first to act, and we make a continuation bet of 1,000.  In a surprise move, Mr. Big folds.  Two players call, including the dealer.

ON THE TURN: J

Uh-oh.  That's potential trouble, because anyone with a 9 now has a straight.  But we decide to be as "bold as a lion" (to borrow from Proverbs 28:1) and bet 1,000 more.  Our opponents aren't fazed, and call again.

ON THE RIVER: Q

"Now what are you gonna do?" the dealer asks.  That's a touch trash-talky, since a pair of Queens is showing.  Is someone hiding a third one?

We quietly check.  "That's what I thought you'd do," the dealer responds.  The woman in order between us checks.  The dealer hesitates, perhaps looking for a sign from us.

"I'll check," he decides.

"I have Aces," we say as we show.  The woman doesn't show her cards, but concedes.

"I've got trips," the dealer says -- turning over 10-4.  Uh, no he doesn't.  He was joking, and we are winning a big pot which puts us close to 19,000 chips.

"I should have gone all-in," Mr. Big mumbles to himself.

"He would have folded," the man to his left says about us.  "Because he's a good player."  A third-hand compliment is still a compliment, and we thank him for it -- but the way the table was playing, we're not so sure about his conclusion.

We took on that big pre-flop raiser twice, after he added thousands.  In the first case, we had A-9 which led to both cards pairing by the turn.  A 5,000-chip bet at that point ran him off.

But at the end of the first hour, we re-raised him 5,000 with pocket Kings.  He called, talking about having a pocket pair.  Then he checked after an ordinary-looking flop, only to go all-in on the turn.  We considered it a bluff, called for our last 9,975 chips -- only to discover he had A-2, and the board included 3-4-5.  His big gamble paid off, and eliminated us in 12th place.

Bottom line: fighting fire with fire can be a dangerous thing.  We waited for good moments with potentially big hands to take on the big bettors.  But high rewards also carry high risks, and our opponent simply caught the cards he needed.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The betting was so large that at one point while we were dealing, a man offered 6,000 at a pot.  We announced the bet as matching "man's time on the earth before Jesus comes back."

No one responded to that statement -- and we think it was because they didn't understand it.  Some religious  groups say the Bible clues point to a 7,000-year plan of salvation for man.  Take this verse...
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. - II Peter 3:8
A common understanding of this verse is that time means nothing to a God who has no beginning or end of days.  But some believers in a seventh-day Sabbath see a deeper meaning, when they compare this verse with others.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.... Let is, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. - Hebrews 4:9, 11
The idea is that after man's free will (influenced largely by Satan) runs Earth for 6,000 years, Jesus will return for the seventh 1,000 years:
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge.  And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God.  They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands.  They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. - Revelation 20:4
This thinking admittedly can be dangerous, because some ministers have used this formula to jump to conclusions about the exact date for the second coming.  One minister predicted Jesus would return in late May of this year -- but He did not, and that minister now awaits sentencing for tax fraud.

We refuse to set any dates here for Jesus's return.  After all, the traditional Jewish calendar indicates we're only in the year 5772.  Could the Lord's second coming really be more than 200 years away?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 340 nights (35.6%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 258 point wins in 1,097 games (23.5%),  81 final tables, 10 wins, 9 cashes.

The point percentage at NLOP may be misleading for awhile, because the big-money daily midday game we often play is now a "freeroll."  You don't pay points to enter, and you don't get points for finishing well -- it's all about making the final table and winning money.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $81,598, up $1,020.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Poker Night 339: Diamond Life

We don't claim to have any knowledge of jewelry, but we've been told it takes time and care to prepare a top-quality diamond.  A hand at The Red Barn Monday night proved that can be true outside the jewelry store as well....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: K-9 of diamonds

We split one early pot with J-9, but we've lost a few moderately expensive chases.  We have about 4,650 chips, and the Tournament Director has been too preoccupied to pay us the 2,000 more we're due for soda.  Now we've dealt ourselves diamonds, and we hope they'll shine for us.  We call, and no one at the table of seven raises.

ON THE FLOP: Qh-Jd-Ad

This flop leaves us with no pair, but plenty of possibilities -- as a 10 would bring a straight, and any diamond would give us the "nut flush."  But these high cards have other players ready to bet.  One of them offers 600. This is too good an opportunity to flee, so we call.  About four players are still in.

ON THE TURN: 8s

Nope, that didn't do it.  So a player offers 600 again, and we face an "I dare you" moment again.  We're fully committed to the pot at this point, so we call -- putting us heads-up against the player to our immediate right.

ON THE RIVER: 10d

The "hope diamond" comes!  And our poker face apparently is working, because our opponent starts counting chips.  He decides to bet 1,700.

"I'm all in," we respond.  Our count leaves us with a raise of 1,500.  The other man laughs quietly for a moment at this.

"I'm gonna fold my Aces," he decides.  But the hand isn't completely over.

"Rodney!  Suited!" we announce with a loud voice.  Regular readers will recall the Red Barn's "Rodney rule."    Win a pot with K-9, and it's a 5,000-chip bonus.  In this case, the K-9 were both diamonds -- so the bonus is 10,000!  So we hit it big, and jump to nearly 20,000 chips.

We captured a couple more pots in the first hour, bringing us to the break at 26,000.  Then pocket Queens paid off in the second hour, and we improved to about 46,000.  But then rising blinds and a couple of small failures started eroding our stack.

We reached the third hour, and stayed alive with A-Q in the Small Blind when our Aces were good enough.  But A-10 minutes later lost to A-Q, and an all-in move with A-2 failed to bring a pair.  We came close to the final table, but finished 12th.

MINISTRY MOMENT: One of the most popular songs we hear at local poker tournaments is a Grammy-nominated tune by Cee Lo Green -- one with an obscene four-letter word in the title.  The cleaned-up version for radio is called Forget You.  But that's not the version bars play.

"He doesn't need that word in the song," we said to another player at the table.

"But without it," the man told us, "it wouldn't have the same oomph."

We disagreed with that view.  "The words should be wholesome words," we commented.  "We should have wholesome songs."

"I don't think he really cares about being wholesome," the man answered -- and he's probably right.  In this world, you can gain a lot of fame and fortune by being risque.  The death of magazine magnate Helen Gurley Brown earlier in the day reminds us of that fact as well.  But what does God want?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. - Philippians 4:8
Jesus admittedly left the second-highest throne in the spiritual universe, to come to Earth and save humans from their sins.  But as a result, God wants us to think in a high-quality way -- as opposed to another barroom musical favorite, Friends in Low Places.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. - Ephesians 4:29
Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. - Ephesians 5:4
Of course, we realize bars and nightclubs are filled with these things.  And for decades, we stayed away from them.  But the potential money and ministry of poker lead us into such places now -- and we try to keep things on the highest level possible when we go.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 339 nights (35.7%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hamilton Downs Cash Game: Undressed to the Nines

It sits 11 miles from the nearest real city, Live Oak.  But the Hamilton Downs poker room in north Florida seems better positioned for card-playing travelers -- as it's less than one mile from Interstate 75 and about seven miles from Interstate 10.

A road trip this past week allowed us to stop at Hamilton Downs, hoping at least to win some gas money.  But there was no crowd at all on a Friday afternoon -- no jai alai action, and only one poker table with what we assumed were "the regulars."  We took that to mean we'd have to be very careful with our play.

You officially need $60 to take a seat at the 1/2 No Limit table.  We only had $56 on us, but the staff showed some mercy and let us in.  At least the sodas were inexpensive, at 50 cents for a cup.  Playing for a pot would cost a lot more....

BLINDS: $1/$2

IN THE POCKET: 9-9

We've tried to nibble our way in with marginal hands, only to miss the flop and get run off by players making large bets.  Showdowns at this table have been the exception, more than the rule.  Our opening $56 stack has dropped quickly to 28.  But this pocket pair is the hand we've been waiting for -- so when a man raises to six, we call with optimism.

ON THE FLOP: 7-5-4

Our overpair gives us more optimism.  So we make a lead-out bet of five -- only to see the pre-flop raiser raise again to 20.

We draw two possible conclusions from this.  Either he has a higher pair (maybe Kings) -- or he has nothing, and he's testing the willpower of a "newbie."  Other players at the table have been making bluffing bets against each other, so we decide to take a stand.

"I have to do it," we say as we call.  This leaves us two $1 chips.  Everyone else has folded.

ON THE TURN: 3

Before we can act, our opponent makes a mistake in our favor.  Apparently thinking we're all-in, he turns over pocket Aces!  The dealer quickly puts his hands over the cards, but we see them.

"Oh, I'll check," we say with an approach that indicates our answer is obvious.  That man has us seriously beaten.  To his credit, he checks as well.  We need a 9 to win, or a 6 to put a straight on the board and get a split.

ON THE RIVER: 10

We show our losing 9's, and announce we're leaving with our two-dollar consolation prize.  We might need emergency cash for the drive home (although thankfully, we didn't have to spend it).

We realized a walk into this format was dangerous ground.  We needed the income from a gain at the cash game, but took the risk of losing a lot in the process.  It's way we prefer limit cash games at the 1/2 level, because you have more time to get a feel for the table and play more hands.  At least we didn't take our entire "envelope of blessings" on this trip.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The regular players seemed intrigued by the coin protector we brought, depicting the Lord's Supper.  One of them apparently thought it was from a casino, and flipped it over to show the picture of a long-haired Jesus.

"I really don't think he looked like that," we explained to the players at our end of the table.  We noted the advice of the apostle Paul:
Does not he very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?  For long hair is given to her as a covering. - I Corinthians 11:14-15
One man then speculated about the culture of New Testament times.  He said sheep farmers tended to roam the desert, and "they couldn't cut their hair very easily."

"But they'd have to shear the sheep," we responded.  "Couldn't they cut their own hair as well?"

That admittedly was speculation on our part -- so we did some checking on this.  After all, Jesus was a "traveling evangelist" in the Middle East.
Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." - Matthew 8:20
Yet the Old Testament law actually contains some instruction about haircuts....
Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. - Leviticus 19:27
One study Bible notes this approach still is taken by modern-day Orthodox Jews -- but read the gospels and you'll find Jesus's approach was anything but Orthodox at times.

We found a detailed online analysis which indicates Greeks and Romans preferred clean-shaven appearances, and speculates "Temple barbers" existed at the time of Christ.  Remember Jesus appeared on Earth at a time of Roman rule, and Paul wrote I Corinthians when the Romans were in charge around 55 A.D.  Paul concludes his writings on the topic this way:
If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice -- nor do the churches of God. - I Corinthians 11:16
In other words, short hair for males and long hair for females was the standard practice.

"I never thought I'd be getting into a religious discussion at a poker table," a man across from us said about all this.  That's part of our plan, sir -- part of our plan.

(The religious chat didn't stop there.  Watch for more in an upcoming post.)

CASH GAME COUNTER: 2 gains, 5 losses, 1 even in 8 sessions - down $96.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Poker Night 338: The Lucky Loser

The schedule finally worked out tonight, so we could stroll over to Lil Kim's Cove where poker night is currently Tuesday.  But many things that we tried to do went wrong.  For instance, we reached over to make change from the pot for a player -- and spilled our cup of soda on the table.  But could we clean up later, in a different way?

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: K-K

We were generously given 5,000 extra chips by the Tournament Director for that cup of soda -- and that's the biggest gain we've had all evening.  The players at our table are betting like they're trying to match one of Judge Marilyn Milian's lines on The People's Court: "Quien es mas macho?"  But they're surprisingly tame in this hand -- only calling in the last hand before the one-hour break.

After several missed flops, we have 6,050 chips (by our count) -- and we've dealt ourselves Kardashians.  Other players might have thrown out thousands.  Instead, we raise to a modest 1,000.

"I've got to do that," the player to our left says as he calls.  Several players jump in, but don't re-raise.

ON THE FLOP: 6-A-7

Ugh.  That Ace was the last thing we wanted to see.  Sure enough, a man bets 1,000.  There are callers.  We choose to call, and hope the next card is better.

ON THE TURN: 8

Nope, it's not.  And the man who offered 1,000 before now spreads out 5,000.  That would put us all-in, and we don't dare risk that.  We fold, while a couple of players call.

ON THE RIVER: 8

The betting escalates without us, until one player is all-in for 32,000.  He gets called -- and shows 8-6!  Running cards came for a full house, and our fold winds up being wise.

We erred during the "color-up" which followed -- not noticing one of the black chips we had (worth 1,000) really was blue (worth 100).  Blame the bar's dark lighting.  But the Tournament Director had mercy on us when we offered it for a Big Blind, and exchanged blue for black.  We lost with that hand, too.  And we were down to 2,000 lowly chips.  But then....

"Final table," the Director declared.  On an evening when only about 18 players showed up, despite our mistakes and bumbling, we reached the last table of seven without winning a pot!

Playing carefully and without ego paid off -- but when we saw A-9 in the Small Blind, we had to put our last 500 in.  It failed to pair, while a man paid two pair with Kings and Jacks.  We finished seventh, but thankful to God for wisdom in knowing what not to play.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Poker used to be fun," a woman moaned to us before the tournament.  She said it's not that way anymore, because some players are becoming "bullies."

We agreed it's not nice to be a bully.  "We should be compassionate," we said in a spur-of-the-moment sermonette; "we should we caring, we should be kind."

There's one character trait we didn't mention in that list -- being godly.  But the traits we mentioned are part of that.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.... And over all these virtues put on love, which bids them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:12, 14
The apostle Paul compares these virtues to putting on clothing.  That's because, as strange as it may sound, they're not the sort of things most people naturally have.
The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. - Romans 8:7
Our human nature is sinful.  So we need to put on godly virtues every day.  How can we do that?
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. - Romans 8:9-10
Is that Holy Spirit dwelling in you?  Are you sure?  Review Peter's standards mentioned in Acts 2:38, and make sure there's no doubt.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 121 final tables in 338 games (35.8%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 257 point wins in 1,090 games (23.6%), 81 final tables, 10 wins, 9 cashes.

We mentioned our fourth-place finish in an afternoon tournament last week.  We haven't mentioned it was followed by a sixth-place finish the very next day!  That means we won NLOP cash two days in a row, after a drought of more than a year.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $80,578, up $1,014.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Poker Night 337: Hearts and Letters

Have you ever played poker against someone who seems to be weak, yet keeps winning pots?  The sort of player you want to get in a big hand when the right moment comes, so you can score a huge gain?  That situation faced us tonight at The Red Barn.  A man who said he "plays poker, but not Hold 'em" seemed unsure about what he was doing, yet kept building his stack.  Then came this....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

We've had mostly marginal cards all evening, and haven't won a pot yet.  A starting stack of 7,000 chips (helped by a soda purchase) has slowly dropped to about 5,500.

Now we're in the Big Blind at a table of six with our best hand of the night -- and the man with the big stack is two seats to our left.  The table calls to us, and we raise 500.  That man calls; in fact, most of the table does.

ON THE FLOP: 4-5-K

Top pair, top kicker -- top-notch for us!  When the Small Blind checks, we put in a continuation bet of 500.  But to our disappointment, Mr. Big Stack folds -- which surprises one player enough to point it out.  Only the Small Blind accepts our challenge and calls.

ON THE TURN: 7h

This puts two hearts on the board -- but all we're really noticing is the top King.  Our opponent checks, and now we bet 1,000.  She folds, and we win the hand.

"Can I see the last card?" a woman across from us (who also seems new) asks.

ON THE RIVER: 10h

"F**kin' A," she says.  We apparently chased her off a flush.  Good (giggle).  We recover to 8,100 total chips -- but this is a "Big Blind Special" we really hoped would be more profitable.  Should we have waited on that confident man to bet first?

We had little reason to be confident after that, because we didn't win any more pots.  We lasted well into the second hour, but finally went all-in with A-4 and failed to match the board.  A woman with two pair eliminated another player with us, and we finished tied for 18th.

But look at what happened to us online, earlier in the day!  A suited King-Queen in the Small Blind turned into a "diamond jubilee," as we made a royal flush on the river.

"Ralph" across the table made his own straight on the flop, but didn't make big bets to run us off.  The river card prompted the player at our left to go all-in with two pair.  Then Ralph made a big raise, to around 1,300.  We doubled that bet -- and wound up stunning the table.

That big win gave us enough cushion to reach the final table of this qualifying tournament, and finish fifth overall out of 63 players.  So we'll be back in the National League of Poker Senior Championship at the end of August.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Back at the Barn, a flop of 7-7-K prompted the man with the big stack of chips to have a moment of praise.  "How did you know, Lord?" he said in a loud voice.  "How did you know?!?"

"Because God knows everything," we answered him.  "He knows it all."

Yes, we realize that man probably was joking.  But he didn't comment on our serious response.  The Bible reveals a God of brilliance....
Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest? - Job 21:22
Besides, God made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).  Have you seen any humans do that lately?  And God knows more than the big things of creation -- He knows you.  Personally.
Then they prayed, "Lord, you know everyone's heart.  Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry...." - Acts 1:24-25
When God looks at your heart, what does He see?  A life filled with vices, and corrupted by sin?  Or a heart you're trying to clean up, with His help?
Create in a me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. - Psalm 51:10
King David knew he needed to ask God for help, in cleaning up His life.  And God knows how to do that -- if you'll ask Him for help.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 120 final tables in 337 nights (35.6%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Greatest Ghost We Know


west59:  f*rtblogger you stink

Oh, what encouragement and kindness in an online poker chat.  We faced that from another player recently -- but then another came to our defense.

Toddlar:  another fan
Me:  What?!?!!?
Toddlar:  hes popular
Me:  You can visit my poker blog later: ontheflop.blogspot.com .
Toddlar:  hope u have a ghostwriter
Toddlar:  cause it looks like poker wisdom aint ur thang
Dealer:  WesK wins Main Pot ($700)
Me:  No.  Sorry.
Toddlar:  lol
Me:  A Spirit yes, a ghost no.

Let's make some sense of this discussion.  We do all the writing at this blog (at least to this point).  But we pray the Holy Spirit will guide us in writing helpful things for you.  That was the apostle Paul's hope for a congregation long ago....
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. - Ephesians 1:17
We all need to know God better, so that we can follow Him better and do His will.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. - Colossians 1:9
Wisdom to know God's will ultimately is better than "poker wisdom," anyway - because it can lead to eternal life.

Let's address one other thing here.  We indicated we have a Spirit, but not a ghost -- and that really was misleading.  The King James Version of the Bible tends to use those words interchangeably in referring to God's Spirit.  For instance:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. - II Corinthians 13:14 (KJV)
The New International Version has "Holy Spirit" in that verse, as do several other translations.

We've heard one radio preacher suggest the "Holy Ghost" and "Holy Spirit" are two different things.  But in practically every case where the phrases occur in the New Testament, the Greek root word for "ghost" and "spirit" are the same.  So you can call it either one -- but Jesus warns you'd better use the phrase with care:
But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. - Mark 3:29
Seek the Spirit's wisdom.  Draw closer to God.  And you may be surprised by the blessings which come -- even at a poker table.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Game Or Sport?

"Should poker be an Olympic sport?  Yes or no?" we asked at a live tournament this week.

The question was meant as a humorous conversation-starter, in light of the London Olympics -- and it brought mixed opinions.

"Poker's a game," one man said skeptically.  In other words, it's not a sport -- but they are called the "Olympic Games," you know.

Another man thought poker could be an Olympic sport.  So we gave him our follow-up joke:

Q: What country would be favored, if poker became an Olympic event?

A: The Czech Republic!  (As in "check."  Get it?)

One online poker site actually is holding eight days of "Pokerlympics," offering medal avatars to winners of unusual tournaments.  One actually was a Pot Limit tournament, a first for that site.

So what do you think?  Is it time for Hellmuth, Heinz, Negreanu and the poker pros to be on the same stage as Usain Bolt and Gabby Douglas?  Discuss....

At the Crossroads

Irving is NOT his real name, but that's what we're calling him to protect his identity.  We met him at a poker tournament the other night.  He seemed to be new at poker -- but he told us about a trial in his life that's far too commonplace.

Irving apparently went to the game to escape the pain of a marital break-up.  He's separated from his wife of more than 25 years.  We didn't press for details about who did what to whom.  It was a moment to be a listening ear, not an investigative reporter or busybody....
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave hem over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.... They are gossips, slanderers.... - Romans 1:28-30
Irving told us he's come to several crossroads, as he deals with this major change in his life -- much like the key decisions poker players face during a tournament.  But he said he's looked to God for help at all those points.  We were glad to hear that.  It's something everyone should do.
...Because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."  So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?" - Hebrews 13:5-6
We've faced our own personal challenges in recent years.  They truly can test your faith -- but we've realized ultimately, only God can provide the solutions.
I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. - Psalm 121:1-2
Will you join us in praying for this man we're calling Irving?  Please pray that God will provide the comfort and wisdom he needs -- and help him learn whatever spiritual lessons God wants to teach him.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Poker Night 336: A Pair of Fours

Let's say right off the bat: we were never dealt 4-4 Wednesday night at Soho Bar and Grill.  Not once.  So why are using that title?  Because of a day of poker which rivals the best we've ever had.  Here's how the springboard started going in the evening....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 9-10 of clubs

It's early in the tournament, but a couple of players have won nice-sized pots while we've waited for better moments to come.  We try to get in small with suited connectors, and it works as no one raises.

ON THE FLOP: 7s-8c-Js

Well, thank you very much!  We make an embedded straight, and sit late in the betting order.  One man tosses out 1,000.  Another raises 2,000.

"I'll re-raise," we declare -- up to 4,000.  The sight of two spades prompts this aggressive move, to run people off a flush draw.  The two players who bet aren't scared; they call, and one of them is all-in.

ON THE TURN: Kd

The player ahead of us with chips checks.  We refuse to allow "free cards," and go all-in for our remaining 1,775.  Our opponent calls.

"Do you have a straight?" we ask as we show.  No, he doesn't -- he has two pair.

ON THE RIVER: 6s

Our straight wins a big side pot -- but the man who went all-in earlier turns over two spades.  His flush dream pays off with the main pot.  Yet we still double our stack, to about 12,600 chips.

We had few big setbacks after that hand -- helped in part by the arrival of an aggressive-playing woman to our immediate left, who kept us watchful.  (She ran us A-K of clubs right away with huge bets, which cost us another straight.)  But solid pots came our way -- with a 7-7 semi-bluff on the river winning one hand, and pocket Queens taking another.

Our stack grew and grew, until we reached the final table with 165,000 chips.  We won a couple of pots there as well, including one with A-Q of spades.  But once the field dropped to four, lower stacks won all-in bets and moved ahead of us.  Rising blinds eventually reached 50,000/100,000, and good cards ran out for us.  Finally forced to go all-in with K-6 and the Small Blind, a man made two pair and topped us.

So we finished #4 at Soho -- which matched what happened earlier in the day at a National League of Poker online tournament!  We were #4 there, out of 453 players.  And with the top seven being rewarded with money, we had our first NLOP cash in more than a year.  It was only five dollars (the top three won 50-20-10), but a payday is still a payday!  Soho paid $75, but only to the winner.  It was a "pair of fours" which left us thankful and satisfied.

MINISTRY MOMENT: As we sat at the final table, we could hear eliminated players at the bar nearby.  We couldn't hear every detail, but one man was talking about Cain, Abel and Job.

"Stop talking about religion at a bar!" a woman at the final table yelled at them -- perhaps jokingly.

"Why not?" we asked.  "The people there need it."

"Unless your name is Amy Grant, shut up," the woman responded.

Huh?  We've sung Christian music over the years, but we wouldn't dare compare ourselves to the "Queen" of contemporary Christian songs.

The woman across from us then shared a story (which we were unable to verify online) about how Grant actually walked into bars and performed years ago.  She reportedly did this to present the gospel at places where sinners were most likely to be.

If that's true, then we have more in common with Grant than we realize.  After all, that's part of the reason why we play like poker.  Consider a prayer Jesus offered for His disciples....
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. - John 17:15-16
Let's face it -- bars and nightclubs can be very "worldly" places.  Some believers say Christians shouldn't even walk near tavern doors, because the "influences" of things inside might corrupt them.  To a point, we agree with that view.  If Christians have a weakness for alcohol, tobacco or flirtatious affairs, they would be wise to avoid nightclubs.  Yet the Bible also says:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. - I John 4:4
We take this verse to mean the "one who is in you" refers to the Holy Spirit, or "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27) -- while that "one in the world" is the devil.

We've been playing live poker for more than five years, almost entirely at bars.  And while we don't claim "super sainthood," we have never been tempted to buy one can of beer or smoke one cigarette.  Those vices (as the world commonly considers them) are things which we've simply never done -- not even from our youth.  Perhaps our "habits" of carefulness are too hard to break.  And in this case, that's a good thing.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 120 final tables in 336 nights (35.7%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments- 254 point wins in 1,078 games (23.6%),  79 final tables, 10 total wins, 8 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 8 point wins in 41 games (19.5%), 7 final tables, one cash win.

Wednesday's "cash" technically was not a win, since we finished fourth.  But it followed an eighth-place finish in a No-River tournament Monday afternoon.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $79,564, down $316.