Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Howl-No-We Won't Go

"Are we having poker here next Wednesday night?" we asked the Tournament Director last Wednesday at Soho Bar and Grill.  We had noticed a sign on the door the Director had not, promoting a cover-charge Halloween party at the club.

It turns out Soho's party will override live poker tonight.  That's too bad, because we wanted a place to escape from the crowds of Halloween-keepers -- from children begging for candy to grown-ups acting like children with scary costumes.

The essence of Halloween involves things such as witchcraft, haunted houses and zombies - things which lean away from God, and toward God's arch-enemy.
The great dragon was hurled down -- that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. - Revelation 12:9
Read the verses around that one, and you'll find Satan lost a "war in heaven" against angels (verse 7).  The devil's dream from ages past (we don't really know how long ago) is to usurp God.  Note these words from God....
You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God... I will make myself like the Most High." - Isaiah 14:13-14
God did not allow that (verse 15) - yet Satan has been looking for a following on Earth ever since.  Maybe you've joined Satan's ranks, without realizing it.
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - II Corinthians 4:4
Demonic influences are frequently connected to Satan -- and Jesus had several encounters with demon-possessed people.  But in a recent Bible study, we were surprised to learn that's not always the case:
Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from [King] Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.  Saul's attendants said to him, "See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you." - I Samuel 16:14-15
Huh?!  An evil spirit from the Lord?  Yes, the Bible indicates Saul's servants had it right.  You can read another example of God sending evil spirits in Judges 9:22-24 -- in both cases sent in punishment for a leader's sins.

So if you're bogged down in sin or overzealous for things of "the dark side," this might be a day to avoid feeding that habit -- and even break free from it.  The devil has nothing worth celebrating.
Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. - James 4:7

Merson the Marathon Man

People who enter triathlons have to be in great shape.  But how many of them could compete at a top level for more than 12 hours in one session?

Greg Merson did -- and a few minutes ago, he won the World Series of Poker's Main Event.  The "final three" were at the table in Las Vegas all night, with the winning hand coming around 5:45 a.m. local time.

We were unfamiliar with all of the "October Nine" players.  But we leaned toward rooting for Merson because of his biography -- a story of overcoming personal addictions.

The challenge of overcoming is something we all face, whether we realize it or not.  We need to overcome the evils of this world....
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. - Romans 12:21
We'll have more to say about Merson's triumph in the coming days.  But in the meantime, what's the longest poker "all-nighter" you've ever had?  Did it end in success - or lessons from failure?  Comments are welcome.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coming For Your Chips

We saw a man get angry at a poker tournament the other day, when another player came over and knocked down his stack of chips.

But it could have been worse.  That other player might have stolen the chips and run away.  Someone did that recently from a Las Vegas casino, to the tune of $1.6 million.  A suspect has been arrested, but some pricey chips apparently are still missing.

But it leads us to ask: what's the most annoying thing someone ever did with your chips at a poker tournament?  And what did you do about it - if anything?  Leave a comment, and we'll offer our side in a future post.  In the meantime....
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands.... - Ephesians 4:28

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poker Night 359: Having a Good Time?

As the "October Nine" sat down to play at the World Series of Poker Main Event tonight, an any-ol'-time group of 28 began dealing cards at The Red Barn.  And one man acted quickly to give us plenty of time to watch ESPN2....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Q-J offsuit

It's the very first hand of the tournament, and we're sitting one behind the dealer at a table (actually a bar counter) of six.  We're willing to start things slowly with two face cards.  But the Small Blind opposite us has another idea.  He raises 300, and we call along with most of the group.

ON THE FLOP: J-3-3

Two pair looks quite nice - and the Small Blind checks, perhaps to help us.  The play checks to us, and we bet 300.  But then the Small Blind pulls a fast one, and raises - to 5,000.  Other players bail out, leaving us alone with a tough guy on Fourth Street.

"You want to take me out and send me home on the very first hand," we say as we ponder.  A call would leave us with only 1,350 chips (from a starting 7,000, enhanced by purchasing soda); he has much more, due to food and beer buys.

"You can let me have it," our opponent says - as if we have no chance.  Or is he being a bluffing bully?  We think long and hard about this, then decide it's too early to take a big risk.

"I'm going to fold," we say without showing our cards.  He doesn't show, either.

"Bullying is not nice," we then tell a couple of nearby players.  But the pot winner has a different explanation.

"I've had too many bad beats," he says.  "I had a small boat.  If a Jack had come, I would have had a big boat."

Assuming the Small Blind is telling the truth about a full house, the only hand he could have had is J-3 -- yet he also makes a rambling comment about having Queens.  We ask twice for a complete statement of his hand, but he doesn't really provide it.

At least the loss was small -- but the trouble is that the losses kept coming, as our timing was terrible all evening.  A big bet on the flop ran us off K-9, but then K-9 turned up for what would have been a winning two pair and a 5,000-chip "Rodney bonus."  Another bet on the flop turned us away from A-2 -- but then running spades came, and we would have had a winning nut flush.

We finally went all-in for our last 1,500 with K-9.  But the board didn't pair for us, and a man with a 6 eliminated us.  No final table spotlight for us -- merely a 21st-place finish and a lot of head-shaking.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Earlier in the day, an online player with a thought-provoking screen name wrote a thought-provoking chat comment....

BurnNHell:  nothing more dangerous than a player ho ONLY sees and thinks about HIS hand

Of course, we were moved to respond:

Me:  Profound.
Me:  Others + self
Me:  Otherwise you might....
Me:  well, that's his screenname

We were out of the hand which brought this exchange.  But the discussion connects well to the Red Barn hand above.  We knew better than to make a big bet on the flop with two pair -- especially with two 3's showing.  Someone with three of a kind could (poker pun alert) trip us up.  But the principle applies outside poker as well.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. - Philippians 2:3-4
Our Pastor once gave a sermon called "When Self Gets in the Way" - pointing out the troubles that can happen, such as neglecting God.  But beyond that....
Jesus replied, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22:37-40
If you only care about yourself at the expense of others, Jesus says you're breaking a major commandment.  And if you don't repent of that, we fear you're at risk of burning in "Hell" or Gehenna fire.  So take time to think about the cares and concerns of others - because if you do, you could avoid a major loss.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 359 nights (34.5%) - 19 cashes.  We'll have no more live tournaments this week; an upcoming post will explain why.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 269 point wins in 1,195 games (22.5%), 83 final tables, 10 cashes, 10 wins.  The Senior Championship didn't award any points; we probably would have won some if it had.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $87,822, up $201.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Poker Night 358: The Perfect Escape

"The best place to see the dregs on Columbus society."  That's what a reviewer wrote this past summer about a restaurant/bar/game room called Players, on the north side of our city.  Sounds like the perfect place to do poker ministry, doesn't it?

We went to Players for the first of two weekly Sunday tournaments.  And for the first time in our city, we paid a buy.... oops; the proper wording under city regulations is cover charge.  The fee was small, at five dollars.  The potential payoff was large, as enough players showed up to fill six tables.

Unlike other local tournaments, everyone starts at Players with the same amount of chips: 5,000, with nothing extra for buying sandwiches or Jell-O shots.  The chances are even for all - and the drama maybe was a little higher....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-9 of diamonds

Our game started with a slow decline -- losing several times to players hitting winning hands on the river.  But K-J turned into a timely pot with a winning pair of Jacks, so we reached the one-hour break at 5,050.  Now after a failed round of blinds, we have 4,000 and little margin for error.  We call; most of the table of seven gets in with no raises.

ON THE FLOP: Ax-8d-5x

That's top pair and a big moment.  When the table checks to us, we go all-in for our last 3,000.  We'd be happy to buy the pot right now, but a man across the table from us calls.  Everyone else folds.  He shows A-2, so we have a comfortable lead.

ON THE TURN: 10d

Good, good.  Let's dodge one more....

ON THE RIVER: 2d

"Noooooo!" we cry aloud.  Our opponent hit two pair on the river to take us....

"He wins," a woman next to him points out -- but gesturing toward us.  "He made a flush."

"Ahhhhhh!" we now declare.  We didn't notice three diamonds on the board.  We're glad she did.  Our opponent gained his second pair -- but in the only wrong way possible.

That restored us to 10,000 chips, but rising blinds and a couple of missed chances with promising cards were our downfall.  Forced to go all-in again in the Big Blind, we had a lowly 2-9.  It didn't pair for us, and a man with three 7's took another player out with us.

The scorekeeper at the door to the Players "poker room" noted we were the 28th player eliminated.  That means 28 points for us, if we want to press on toward a quarterly championship.  That number would sound great at other local venues -- but on this day, we barely missed the semifinal table by finishing (by our eyes) tied for 18th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took our Lord's Supper card protector, which a woman sitting down to our left found interesting.

"Is Jesus your Savior?" we asked her.

She said yes - then explained one recent blessing.  "I had brain surgery recently."

You'd never know that from looking at her, except perhaps for a scar near her right forehead.  That woman apparently believes in a God with great power....
O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. - Psalm 30:2
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sin and heals all your diseases.... - Psalm 103:2-3
The medical profession can do wonderful things.  But ultimately, life and death are in the hands of God.  And even when difficulties occur in hospitals, such as the spread of dangerous infections, we can look to the Lord:
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. - Psalm 32:7
Has God ever performed a healing miracle in your life, or perhaps someone you know?  Leave a comment with your "testimony" if He has.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 358 games (34.6%) - 19 cashes.


Nine to Go

The ultimate Final Table has been moved up a couple of weeks this year - so poker's World Series finale might come right after that other one (you know, baseball) ends.

The "October Nine" gather in Las Vegas Monday, and this year the U.S. occupies eight of the seats.  So who's your pick to win it all -- and why?

October Senior Championship: Second-Hour Sensation

The timing of September's National League of Poker Senior Championship was lousy for us - on the evening of the Biblical Day of Atonement.  Perhaps out of guilt, NLOP changed the date of the October championship.  It was moved from Tuesday to Thursday night.  With baseball's World Series on TV in the background, we chased a title of our own....

:00 IN: We open the evening with 8-A.  The flop is 4-6-A.  We bet 90, the table folds, and we have a quick $210 win.

:14 IN: After a couple of showdown losses, we have J-K under the gun.  The flop is 3-10-Q.  The table checks.  The turn is A.  An opponent bets the minimum 40, and we raise to 140 with a "Broadway straight." He folds, and we win a $320 pot.

:16 IN: We have a lowly 3-5 in the Small Blind.  The flop is 5-2-Q.  The table checks.  The turn is 10.  We bet the minimum and get a caller.  The river is 3, giving us an unlikely two pair.  We bet 200, our opponent folds, and we win a $440 pot.

:27 IN: We have J-8 in the Small Blind, and call when someone doubles the blind to 120.  (Everyone started with 2,500 chips, allowing more room for play.)  The flop is 6-9-J.  We bet the minimum, and get callers.  The turn is 5.  We bet the minimum again, and get called.  The river is a third Jack for us!  An opponent's bet of 60 brings a raise to 260 from us.  They fold, we win $1,250.

We're actually below the starting level at the first break: 2,310.  Blame it on promising cards which haven't turned out too well.  We're in 439th place.

:35 IN: We return from the break with 10-2 of diamonds.  The flop is Kd-6d-Ax.  We call a minimum bet of 60.  The turn is 2h, and we call a minimum bet again.  The turn is 5c.  We're disappointed.  But the table checks - and our pair of 2's wins!  "Did not expect that" we write while claiming $570.

:46 IN: We have Q-J.  The flop is a dream-come-true A-10-K.  We bet the minimum 150 with a straight - but the table folds, so our win is a mere $675. Awwww....

:47 IN: The next hand brings J-J.  An opponent doubles the blind, and we easily accept.  The flop is 2-2-3.  We bet the minimum, and get called.  The turn is Q.  Now our opponent bets 250, and we call.  The river is 8 - and our foe bets 340.  Fearing the worst (a pair on the turn), we surrender and take a big loss.

Misses after that bring us to the one-hour break with only 1,120 chips.  We're in 492nd place - and with 508 players left, that puts us near the bottom.

1:24 IN: After a lot of cautious folding and one Big Blind claimed in a walk, we play 8-6 of hearts in the Small Blind.  The flop is 5-4-7 for a dream straight!  We bet 300, the table folds, and we win $1,450.

1:25 IN: The next hand brings 10-A of diamonds on the button.  The flop is A-4-A.  We bet 300 again, the table folds again, and we pick up $1,300.

1:26 IN: The next hand brings 9-9.  The flop is 8-8-2.  We bet 300 and get callers.  The turn is 8, giving us a full house.  We somewhat aggressively bet 300 again, and get called.  The river is 5.  We bet another 300, get called -- and find our opponent has A-K!  It's a big win of $3,100.

1:34 IN: The next Big Blind gives us 4s-6x.  The flop is 2-A-3 - all spades!  The table checks.  The turn is 8s, securing a flush.  We check again, as does the table.  The river is 5s!  Now we bet 400, get called -- and show our STRAIGHT FLUSH, which wins a true "Big Blind Special" $2,580!  (But no one congratulates us at all.)

1:35 IN: Next comes the Small Blind with 7-7.  The flop is J-8-6.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 7!  We bet the minimum 400, the table folds, and we wrap up a huge round of blinds by winning $2,450/

1:36 IN: But wait, there's more!  Now the dealer button brings an ugly-looking 2-7 of spades.  The flop is K-Q-Q.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 7.  We bet 400 and get called. The river is another 7!  That's a "running boat," but we check in caution -- yet still prevail to win $2,210.

What a third period - ending with us at $8,235, more than a sevenfold gain in 30 minutes!  Now we're 97th, with 297 players left.

1:46 IN: We have K-J under the gun.  The flop is J-9-T.  A player bets 600, which leads to an all-in raise by someone else in the neighborhood of 2,350.  We dare to call with top pair.  The turn is Q, giving us another straight!  We bet 600, and get called.  The river is 5.  We bet 2,000, one opponent folds - and the player who pushed missed it all with A-8.  We win $8,255, and knock out an opponent.

1:50 IN: We have A-7 of hearts in the Big Blind.  The flop is college Greek: A-K-A.  We take it slow and check.  The turn is 3.  We spring out with a bet of 1,500, which brings folds.  Our win is $3,675.

2:08 IN: After opponents make big bets which run us off potential pot, we have A-Q.  The flop is 10-A-J.  Someone goes all-in, and this time we dare to match it for 7,880.  But our top pair leads, when the pusher shows 10-9.  The board brings 6-8, and we prevail for $13,010!

After two hours of play, we have 10,110 chips.  We're up to 68th place, with 102 players remaining; only the top ten will win money.

2:27 IN: We play A-J.  The flop is 9-6-4.  Everyone checks.  The turn is 3.  Everyone checks.  The river is A, and we bet 1,600 with top pair.  The table folds, and we win $9,500.

2:39 IN: We have 4-4, and fold when an opponent goes all-in.  Too bad; we had a spade, which would have turned into a winning flush.

2:41 IN: Due to rising blinds and antes, it's our turn to go all-in.  We push with 4-4, and 3,835 remaining chips.  The flop is 6-5-6.  The turn is J.  The river is 9.  But our opponent has pocket Kings.

A long night ends with us in 57th place, out of 778 players.  That would have brought a payday in a real poker room, but NLOP doesn't even award us poker points at that level.  Yet we wind up with a slightly more satisfying night than a walk to Lil Kim's Cove might have brought.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Friendly Game

Awhile back we mentioned the dilemma we faced over what to say when we eliminate an opponent.  We were challenged online for writing "sorry."  So recently we've tried something else.  From a National League of Poker chat....


Dealer:  flopblogger wins Main Pot ($3,345) with Four of a kind, fives
dukerdot:  nice
Me:  Good try friends
Me:  Thanks
Dealer:  flopblogger wins Main Pot ($45) with High card, ace
drummer266:  who said anything about friends
drummer266:  lol
Me:  :-)

We know, we know -- some people take poker very seriously.  Their reactions to losing big pots at the river can make that obvious.  But we try to be friendly in our approach to tournaments.... or should we?
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?  Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. - James 4:4
At first reading, you might conclude a Christian is supposed to cut off all contact with non-believers.  In fact, we know a few sects which practice that -- even to the point of children separating completely from unbelieving parents.  But what does "the world" mean, exactly?
Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. - I John 2:15-16
We don't have to look far to find items (or even people) which spark sinful cravings and lust in people.  But notice how Jesus explained this in a prayer 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
There's a distinction between living in this world and being of this world.  We also think there's a distinction between friendly with "the world" and its sins, compared with the other people living and playing poker around us.  After all, Jesus also said this:
Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for."  Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. - Matthew 26:50
Jesus called the betraying disciple Judas Iscariot a "friend," even though the Lord knew a plot against His life was unfolding.

So we consider other poker players "friends," whether they're Christians or not.  But to borrow from Facebook, we consider fellow believers to be "close friends."  How close are you to Jesus - the Savior who desires to be your friend?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Poker Night 357: Throwing the Change-Up

The first change came from National League of Poker.  Its monthly Senior Championship has moved to Thursday night this month.  Since we qualified for it, Thursday night live poker probably is out -- so Soho Bar and Grill on Wednesday night was in.  We started slowly on purpose, because of a big bettor to our right and ordinary cards in front of us.  But then....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: J-9 offsuit

We won a small pot with A-K in the first hour, and turned K-J into another winner early in the second hour. Now we start with 9,000 chips in the Small Blind (as best we remember) - and when no one raises in front of us, we seize the opportunity to simply call.

ON THE FLOP: 5-9-6

That's top pair, combined with a table made a bit more cautious by high blinds.  So why not keep seizing?  We bet the minimum 2,000.  A couple of players fold, perhaps recognizing our overall quiet approach.  But a man across from us calls.  Hmmm....

ON THE TURN: 9

Ahhhh - now we have three of a kind.  But somehow we have the feeling our opponent also has a 9.  We doubt he hit a straight on the flop, because he would have raised on us then.  So this time, we check.

"Two-thousand," the other man says.  If that's all he's betting....

"All in," we declare - a raise of 3,000 more.

A check-raise clearly was not what our opponent expected.  "I'd take a hit," he admits as he examines his stack of about 4,000.  He's looking at what he has more than us, which makes us feel more confident.

"You might have a straight, might have trips," he thinks out loud.  It all looks too negative for him, so he folds.  Thank you very much.

"I think he had a straight," a player between us guesses.  "Did you have 7-8?" he asks us.

"No, I didn't have 7-8."

"Did you have a 9?" the losing player asks.

"I didn't have 7-8," we repeat.  Yes, we did hear that other question.

The next hand was even better for us, as the Ace of diamonds led to a "nut flush" on the river.  We claimed 12,000 from the big bettor at our right by going all-in, and eliminated a player in the process.  That put us at 63,000 chips, and we entered the third hour of play with 50,000.

But then an old headache came back to haunt us.  A player across from us went all-in, and we saw A-J of hearts.  Admitting we've lost with that recently, we called -- and the opponent's 5-5 wound up prevailing when the board didn't pair or flush for us.  A big rally ended with a disappointing 14th place, and a promise to ourselves to avoid A-J for awhile.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We used a little rock for our card protector, and told a man to our left it's a  reminder "Jesus is the rock of my salvation.... Is Jesus your Savior?"

The man answered yes - but so quietly that he almost didn't want to admit it.  Some might take that lack of enthusiasm as a sign he's really not a believer.  But we're leaving that in the higher hands of the One who said:
Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. - John 7:24
We heard a female preacher claim on radio earlier this year the Holy Spirit should stir you to the point of shouting, dancing and getting your "hair messed up."  If that's true, why would the Bible say this:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment.... Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. - I Peter 3:3-4
Some ministers seem to overlook the fact that God made people with different kinds of personalities.  Just as some poker players are quiet and calculating while others are talkative and boisterous, we think believers in Jesus can be the same way.

There is a time for everything.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7
If someone doesn't fit your mold of what should be a Christian, remember you're not the standard for them to follow. Jesus Christ is the standard - the highest standard anyone can have.  Are they matching that?  And more importantly, are you?


UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 357 nights (34.7%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 269 point wins in 1,185 games (22.7%), 83 final tables, 10 wins, 10 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 16 point wins in 57 games (28.1%), 13 final tables, 1 cash win.

No-River is no problem for us lately - as we finished sixth in a 95-player tournament Tuesday afternoon.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $87,621, up $838.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Poker Night 356: You're No Jack-Kennedy

"It's a sports bar, not a debate bar."  That was the Tournament Director's response tonight, when we noted the TV screens throughout the Red Barn.

Most screens were tuned to Monday Night Football on ESPN.  One showed a replay of the London Olympics on NBC Sports Network.  Surprisingly, none showed the deciding game of baseball's National League Championship Series.  And only one small TV near the door had the final Presidential debate -- with no sound, and no one seeming to pay attention.  Most of the poker players in the building were focused on their game, anyway.  And we tried....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-6

Compared with last Monday night, we're at a table where the betting is relatively calm.  But we haven't won a pot yet, and haven't seen many quality cards to try.  A pocket pair could work, though.  We call, and no one raises.

ON THE FLOP: 5-5-8

We feel fairly good about this flop, since the cards are in our range.  A man to our right bets the minimum 200, and we call with two pair.  As we recall, a third player remains in the hand with us.

ON THE TURN: 4

That's an even more hopeful sign, since we now have a straight draw.  The man to our right checks, perhaps due to caution about what we might have.  We don't give a clue, as we check with him.  The third player also checks.

ON THE RIVER: J

We're not really sure where our hand stands -- but we're somewhat doubtful anyone's sticking around with a Jack.  Yet the man to our right offers 200 again.  We've come this far, so calling a minimum bet is a no-brainer.  The third player folds.

"Sixes and fives," we say as we show.

"Jacks and fives," our opponent answers.  He has J-K and hit the river!

That man did something we like to do -- bet on the flop to "take the temperature" of the table.  We had the best hand at the time, and a raise on our part might have brought a fold.  Or it might have been big trouble -- because what if he had 5 or 8?

Careful play kept us around for a while, with only a slow erosion of our chips.  An all-in bet in the second hour with A-9 in the Big Blind paid off, improving us to 9,500.  But more misses followed, and we finally had to push again for our last 500 with J-2 in the Small Blind.  A flop of J-9-2 gave us a lovely two pair -- but a 6 on the turn gave a man with J-6 an even better two pair.  He took out two players, and we finished tied for 14th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We apologized before the tournament to the older woman who brought up Elijah last Monday night -- the Bible character we confused with Enoch.  We gave her a slip of paper, listing the Scriptures we mentioned in our later study.

"We all can make mistakes," the woman said accepting our apology.  She's right, of course -- and anyone who's ever lost in a poker tournament should agree.  Errors in judgment can send even the top-ranked pros to the rail.  So why would Jesus say this....
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:48
Talk about an impossible-sounding task!  We admit when we read these words years ago, we tried very hard for a time to live up to them -- perfect in word and action.  The result was personal frustration, and even a bit of depression.  It verified another verse of Scripture:
....For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23
So what's a believer (or even a non-believer) to do?  The good news is that in the original Greek, the word "perfect" also can be translated "complete."  We are incomplete people, who need something added.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. - Romans 8:10
Jesus Christ can dwell in believers, through the addition of the Holy Spirit.

If you need that extra ingredient and want to know how to obtain it, leave a comment with an e-mail address and we'll offer advice.  And if you're fighting a losing battle with perfectionism, you're not alone; read the Bible study we've prepared on the topic.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 356 nights (34.8%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Advantage Law

The other night we noticed something about the poker player sitting to our immediate left.  So between hands, we whispered an advisory to that woman.

"I can see what you have, when you lift your cards."  In other words, we could tell what kind of hand the woman had.

We don't recall her saying anything in response -- but her facial reaction was one of surprise.  Perhaps it was because another player actually told her he could take advantage of her actions.

"What are you doing?" may be your first response to this.  "Don't you want to win the tournament, and get the money??"  Yes -- but the Christian in us puts fairness and ethics ahead of winning money:
It is God's will that you should be sanctified.... no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.  The Lord will punish men for all such sins.... - I Thessalonians 4:3, 6
The context of this passage refers to sexual sins, but we think the standard should apply in all walks of life.  In fact, Paul does that elsewhere in his writings.
Why not rather be wronged?  Why not rather be cheated?  Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.  Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? - I Corinthians 6:7-9
We live in a world where professional athletes, and even corporate executives, look for every edge they can to gain an advantage over their competition.  If it's done legally and within the rules, that's one thing.  But if someone cheats to get ahead, that's another.  Instead, our motive should be....
The commandments.... "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore  love is the fulfillment of the law. - Romans 13:9-10
Huh?!  We're supposed to practice love -- at a poker tournament??  Yes.  In fact, we should practice it everywhere.  That's what the God who is defined as love does (I John 4:8).
Dear children, let us not love with words of tongue but with actions and in truth. - I John 3:18
A word of quiet advice can be an act of love, of course.  What sort of loving example do you set - in the poker room, and outside it?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Poker Night 355: Slow and Unsteady

From time to time, fellow poker players like to think they have us "figured out."  If we're deep into a hand, they think they know why -- and with what.  But part of the art of poker success comes in throwing your opponents off-guard.  Look at what happened tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 6-6

On an evening when the play never has moved beyond two tables, we're doing all right.  We've won a few pots, received a little help from a player who divided his chips because he had to leave, and even was given 1,000 chips by the longtime Tournament Director simply because "he never buys food here."  (We do, but not often.)

We reached the one-hour break with 13,500 chips, and want to keep playing sound poker.  So we call with this pocket pair, and a tight-playing table means no one raises; as best we recall, three total players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Ac-6s-2s (based on best memory)

Good news for us, as we have a well-hidden three of a kind.  It's so well hidden that since we're playing first, we check.  But no one jumps in at the sight of that Ace; the opponents check as well.

ON THE TURN: 5 (don't recall the suit)

Since no one budged before, we conclude the time is right.  Now we bet 4,000.  That's too much for one man across the table, who folds.  The other quietly calls.

ON THE RIVER: 3

Uh-oh -- now the chances for a straight have improved.  But we don't think our opponent still would be in this hand with a 4.  So we bet 5,000.  The other man ponders for a moment, then calls.

"I've got a beast," we say to borrow a popular phrase by that Tournament Director.  "The beast of Revelation - triple 6."

Our opponent is frustrated.  He shows A-7, giving us a pot of much more than 10,000.  Then he mutters a bit about our actions to the men at his side.

"I don't understand why he didn't bet the flop, since two spades were out there."

The men answer with something we don't hear -- perhaps explaining our "slow play" approach.  Instead, we turn to a man at our left and say in faux sorrow, "We disappointed him."  Then we tell our opponent, "Sorry."

(He actually has a good point; players with the lead in hands often "throw a block" by betting big to run away straight and flush chasers.  But our approach maximized our gains.)

We won enough timely pots to stay comfortably in the running, and reached the final table with more than 30,000 chips.  We held 35,000 at the two-hour break -- but then after losing a pot, we went all-in for 25,000 with A-Q of hearts in the Big Blind.  The chip leader called with a 10, and was rewarded when a flop of Q-10-10 gave him three of a kind.  He wound up with a winning full house.

Another man was knocked out with us, but we felt good about finishing tied for fourth.  It was our best finish in live poker (in fact, our first final table) since early September.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A woman who came to the final table knows we bring card protectors with a message.  So she asked about the small rock in front of us.

"That reminds me that Jesus is the rock of my salvation," we were able to say to everyone at the table.

She simply nodded in response.  But did you know the "rock" symbolism for God begins very early in the Bible?
Joseph is a fruitful vine.... his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel. - Genesis 49:22, 24
The King James Version actually says "stone of Israel."  But why such a word comparison concerning God? Apparently because large stones in ancient times were very hard to move.  They were used in building a temple for God in I Kings 5-7.  And that may have led to this New Testament reference:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. - Ephesians 2:19-21
Jesus should be the key piece in building a Christian church, as well as a holy people who make up the membership.  If your spiritual life isn't "rock solid," we suggest comparing it carefully with how Jesus lived and what He taught.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 355 nights (34.9%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 269 point wins in 1,177 games (22.9%), 83 final tables, 10 wins and 10 cashes. No-River Hold 'em - 15 final tables in 55 games (27.3%), 12 final tables, 1 cash win.

We actually had two top-five finishes in poker today; the first came in the mid-afternoon No-River Hold 'em tournament - fifth out of 113 players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games (corrected after review) - $86,783, down $1,343.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Pair of Elijahs


Let's return to the poker table conversation we had about Elijah.  An elderly woman told us Jesus cannot return until Elijah "comes back from heaven."

This admittedly is a complicated Bible puzzle to address.  For starters, it apparently was a common idea 2,000 years ago as well, when Jesus walked the earth....
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" - Matthew 17:9-10
Elijah was one of the greatest Old Testament preachers and prophets.  His "departure" was as unique as hitting a royal flush on the flop....
As they were walking and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.... And Elisha saw him no more. - II Kings 2:11-12
Many believers, then and now, take these verses to mean Elijah currently lives in heaven with God.  But is there a verse of Scripture they're overlooking?
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man. - John 3:13
This verse is so contrary to mainstream Christian teaching that many ministers jump over it, never quoting it.  But the Lord who came from Heaven to Earth declared no one has ever gone to Heaven!  This would have to include Elijah.  So if he disappeared in II Kings 2, he may have landed elsewhere on Earth and eventually died there; the Bible admittedly doesn't provide that detail.

Wherever Elijah went, notice how Jesus answered the disciples' question about him:
Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.  But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished...."  Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. - Matthew 17:11-13
An angel explained to the father of John the Baptist his son would go "in the spirit and power of Elijah...." (Luke 1:17) The angel never said John WAS a second coming of Elijah; that would be a form of reincarnation, which is a concept the Bible does not support.

(Some Christian groups think the "Elijah" in verse 11 refers to still another person - not the Old Testament prophet, but someone at the end of our age.  But that's very speculative, and also lacking in complete Biblical support.)

So to sum up all this: an ancient Elijah went to heaven.  Some teachers (past and present) say he has to come back before the Messiah comes.  But Jesus said a "type" of Elijah came, in the form of John the Baptist -- born six months before Jesus was born to Mary.

Jesus already has fulfilled what the teachers of the law predicted.  It's the second coming of the Messiah (Christ) which should have our attention.  Are you watching for that - and ready to see it?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Poker Night 354: A-J Vu?

After a church convention road trip, we returned to the local poker circuit tonight.  Compared to a Harrah's casino, The Red Barn doesn't require a "rewards card" to enter.  The soft drinks are not free.  And the poker playing is as wide-open as the Nevada desert....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Ace-Jack of hearts

We sat down at this table to begin the tournament with 7,000 chips (2,000 extra for buying a soda).  Other players sat down with 30,000 or more, because they paid for food or tunes from the jukebox -- and they're already betting like big spenders, with raises in the thousands.

Realizing this, we want to pick the right moments to play.  We also realize this exact same hand didn't work for us in Kansas City last week.  So we try to get in small, by calling.  But no -- a man across the table raises.  Not to 1,000, but 5,000.  He gets a caller, while other players fold ahead of us.

"I pretty much have to call this," we say -- and reluctantly take the 5,000-chip dare, committing about 70 percent of our stack.

ON THE FLOP: 5-5-4 (one 5 is a heart)

What an ugly-looking flop, especially for us.  We check, but the big bettor doesn't slow down.  Now he bets 20,000 -- and we have less than 2,000 left!

"I missed the flop," we confess as we fold.  Apparently everyone else did, too; they fold, and the pot-winner graciously turns over his dominating pocket Kings.

Trying to join this party was expensive, and the loss handcuffed our play for the rest of the night.  Potentially good hands such as A-8 and A-3 had to be folded to big raises -- although to be honest, they also would have lost.  We endured to the one-hour break, but then were forced to go all-in with 9-6 in the Small Blind early in the second hour.  We missed a straight draw, and lost to a pair of 7's to finish 22nd.

MINISTRY MOMENT: An elderly-looking woman sat to our left tonight.  We showed her our "Lord's Supper" card protector and asked, "Do you think Jesus Christ is coming back?"

The woman said yes, but added something had to happen first.  "Elijah has to come back and die, and he was taken up to heaven."

"What if I told you," we responded, "the Bible indicates Elijah has died already?"

This was news to the woman, as we suspect it would be to a lot of casual Bible readers.  So we suggested she review the book of Hebrews -- but when we got home, we discovered we had our E's mixed up:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. - Hebrews 11:5 (KJV)
The key word here is translated.  The Revised Standard Version substitutes the phrase "taken away."  The New International Version says Enoch "was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death."  Bible resources we reviewed indicate translated originally meant in Greek "transfer" or "transport."  (The same word appears as "removed" in Galatians 1:6).

But we've heard some ministers say Enoch is part of a list of ancient Bible heroes, which leads up to this:
All these people were still living by faith when they died.... - Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)
Based on this verse, those ministers claim when "God took him [Enoch] away" in Genesis 5:24, Enoch "disappeared" (as the Moffatt translation puts it) -- only to die later.  It might be compared to kings who "took Lot" in Genesis 14:12; that was a case of hostage-taking.

Yet after reflecting on this, a lot depends on when the author of Hebrews actually starts his list of those who were "living by faith when they died."  Does it begin with Abel in Hebrews 11:4?  Or Noah in verse 7?  We'll leave the issue open for your comments.  In the meantime, we apologize to this woman for getting Enoch and Elijah mixed up -- and we'll explore what really happened to Elijah in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 123 final tables in 354 nights (34.7%) - 19 cashes.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

I've Got a Secret?

"Thanks for giving me your house key," we said to our older brother as we stayed with him for a day during our recent vacation.

His response threw us for a moment.  "Did you win?"

No, we didn't win at the poker room we visited.  But he won the discussion, by knowing one of our locations without our even bringing it up.

Our brother might have guessed at the visit based on this blog, or our recent habits.  But it turns out he had to review his computer's online browsing history for some kind of Internet activity -- and he noticed we'd called up a couple of casinos in the area, looking for a place to play.

There's a lesson for all of us to gain from this -- especially if you're "sneaking out" to play poker without telling your family or friends.  Does someone close to you oppose your poker habit, perhaps because you're gambling away vital money?  An ancient leader named Moses warned....
But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. - Numbers 32:23 (emphasis ours)
How does it "find you out"?  Smart people (like our brother) can track down your online habits, to see if they're for your good or harm.  And suspicious minds can follow you around in other ways (check TV series such as Cheaters for proof).  Whether or not you're good at hiding your trail, keep in mind:
The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. - I Timothy 5:24
That "place of judgment" ultimately is the judgment seat of Jesus Christ, where everyone will stand someday (II Corinthians 5:10).  We think it's best to follow the advice of a hymn, and "live transparently" -- with your activities open before God and man.  And even better....
In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not cannot be hidden. - I Timothy 5:25
If you're hiding a bad gambling habit, work on developing a good one in its place -- one that's a lot less expensive, and maybe others will appreciate.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Poker "Night" 353: Matinee Madness

The last time we played poker in the Kansas City area, it was Spring 2009.  It was a cash game.  And it didn't go well.  So when we returned to our home area this week, part of us said there was a "score to settle" at Harrah's casino.  But this time, we avoided the cash games -- since we made enough wrong turns during the trip to tell us that wouldn't be wise.

Since the Harrah's poker room has daily tournaments, we entered the Wednesday 1:00 p.m. game.  It was a full event, with the maximum 40 players and a 50-dollar buy-in offering a nice potential payday.  But unlike our local free tournaments, everyone starts with 2,000 chips -- and buying food only gets you a full stomach, not bonus chips.

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET:  A-J of hearts

We won several pots in the first hour, facing players who tended to be on the tight side.  But with rising blinds, we took a chance on an open-ended straight draw and missed.  Now we're in the Big Blind, starting this hand with 1,275 chips left.  Only a couple of players at our table of seven call.  When we see these high hearts, we see an opportunity.

"Raise," we announce; "500 more."

Our goal with this big bet primarily is to chase away the other players, and gain some fast easy money.  But a man across from us thinks for a long time about how to respond.  Then he looks at our stack, and does something we don't expect.

"Raise to 1,075."

Gulp -- that's exactly the amount to put us all-in.  A player between us folds, and we face a moment of commitment.  More than have our stack already is in play.  The blinds will go up after the upcoming break to 200/400, so having 575 left in our hand wouldn't allow much breathing room.  So we bite the bullet, and call.

"Do you like racing?" the dealer asks after our opponent turns over 7-7.  That's a curious statement, considering the Kansas Speedway several miles away now has its own casino next door.  (But then again, we did refer to our A-J as "Allmendingers.")  In any case, this is what poker pros call a "coin flip."

ON THE FLOP: Q-10-9

No hearts appear to make a flush possible, but we have plenty of hope.  An Ace or a Jack gives us a higher pair, and now a King or an 8 provides us a bail-out straight.  That's a total of 14 "outs" from 45 cards, or about a 31-percent chance of hitting.

ON THE TURN: 5 (as best we recall)

That missed, but we still feel optimistic.  Now it's 14 outs from 44 cards, so our odds actually have improved a bit.

ON THE RIVER: 2

Two strikes and we're out.  His 7's win the race, after we went one-for-two with pocket 7's in our hand during the game.

Had we simply checked in the Big Blind, we could have bailed out with a small loss had our opponent bet the flop.  But all things considered, we thought the time was right to make a big move.  Yet it didn't pay off, we finish in 21st place, and now stand two-for-three when it comes to making money in big poker room tournaments.

MINISTRY MOMENT: This Harrah's poker room now has a rule banning portable music players, which opens the door for us to do ministry.  We took our Lord's Supper card protector along on the trip, and showed it to a player sitting to our left.

"Do you believe in Jesus?" we asked.

"I think He existed."

"So He was a person?"

Yes, he accepted that.  But he didn't want to go any farther.  We explained we'd traveled to Kansas City from a church convention picturing a time when Jesus will come and reset the "game" this world is playing.
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever." - Revelation 11:15 (KJV)
The only way we can envision Jesus taking over "the kingdoms of this world" is for Him to return to Earth and rule here.
At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:30
While Jesus called Himself the "Son of Man," our Lord truly was much more than a man 2,000 years ago.  He was God come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14).  What will it take to convince you of that?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 123 final tables in 353 nights (34.8%) - 19 cashes.  Updates on our online play (there hasn't been much lately) will resume next week.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Audacity of "Hope"

While we're away on vacation, we invite you to review some poker adventures we mentioned during our years writing The Blog of Columbus (a news and humor blog).

Take the night we eliminated a woman who lasted far longer in a tournament than anyone could have imagined.  You'll have to read it to understand why....

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mr. October?


While we're away on vacation, we're sharing past poker moments we mentioned at our former blog The Blog of Columbus (a news and humor blog).  This one was posted 26 October 07, two weeks after our first live win:

Call it Night of Glory II! Your blog won the Thursday night poker tournament at Lil Kim's Cove, for the second time in three weeks!! I now have more wins this fall than the Atlanta Falcons!!!

I outlasted 20 other poker players, to win the Thursday night tournament - and this time, I decided NOT to split the prizes with the runner-up. So it's 50 dollars for me, while Rodney the slightly disabled man won a "bucket of beer" for second place. Let's face it: it's a lot easier for someone like me to tithe to a church on money, instead of beer bottles.

The biggest early clue that it might be my night came when someone to the right of me had a full house - but I beat him with four 7's. In poker lingo, losing with a great hand is known as a "bad beat." The phrase probably means something different to the staff at Rock 103....

My hands eliminated three players in a row, at the start of the evening. But the most satisfaction came when I won a smaller pot over an older gentleman named Len. He's known for unpredictable plays and bluffs, and he bet 50 big chips at a time against me. I kept calling him, and he finally confessed to a pair of 7's. I laughed out loud as I showed a pair of 9's - which may have put me on his enemies list.

The last two opponents of the evening proved hard to eliminate -- not only Rodney, but a grandmother who isn't even 40 years old. They seemed to hang on longer than Superman at the edge of a sea of kryptonite.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Name That Flop

The flop at a recent live tournament was 4-9-7.  And we pointed out something interesting about it.

"That's a Wal-Mart flop - 4-9-7."

Several players got our joke -- but one man had to explain $4.97 is a common price-point at Wal-Mart stores.

Maybe it's a sign that we've played too much poker, but we've moved beyond giving our hole cards code names (such as the relatively common "Gretzkys" for 9-9).  Now we're putting names on flops as well - and since everyone sees the flop, we can openly state those names.

We mentioned one of those names a couple of years ago: the Boeing flop -- which actually could be several combinations of cards.  If you see 7-2-7, 7-4-7 or 7-6-7, all could be Boeing jets.

So now it's your turn.  What card combinations can you concoct, which deserve a special name?  Have fun....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Night of Glory

While we're away on vacation, we invite you to review some poker adventures we mentioned during our years writing The Blog of Columbus (a news and humor blog).

For instance, there was the Thursday night five years ago this month -- when we first hit it big at Lil Kim's Cove....