Thursday, November 29, 2012

Poker Night 367: Kicking for the Swans

We confess we're big fans of Australian Rules Football.  The current champion club is the Sydney Swans.  Some poker pros refer to 2's as "Swans".  With all of this as background, look at a hand we dealt tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 500/1,000


"Hey wait," you're saying, "these aren't swans."  Be patient with us here.  We've dealt ourselves two high cards in the second hour of play.  We won several pots in the first hour, to reach the break at 16,500 chips.  With 11 players remaining, we decide to limp in at this semifinal table of five.  No one raises.


There's a swan, but the two high cards look more important to us.  We have a draw for the top straight.  The Small Blind leads off by betting the minimum 1,000.  One man calls, then we decide to do the same.


Now we feel better, as we have top pair.  The Small Blind bets 1,000 again.  The man between us calls.  Cool -- we'll lay low and call again.


That pairs the board, but we have top two pair and top kicker.  Yet the Small Blind increases her bet to 3,000.  The man in the middle folds.  We think she has an Ace, but our kicker will win.  So we call.

"I have an Ace."

"QUADS!" the woman yells.  Yeow -- she turns over 2-2!  It's no wonder she kept betting, because she led us all the way.  The Swans win it all again - as the Small Blind seizes a big pot, plus a 5,000-chip bonus for quads.

"You never saw that coming," the winner's husband (sitting in Big Blind position) tell us.  He's absolutely right.  We wound up being overconfident to a fault.

That big win launched the woman on an amazing tear, as she won six hands in a row -- including one where we made a full house with "4's over Jacks," but she won with "Jacks over 4's."  But with only enough players for two tables (which we think happened because Lil Kim's Cove was unable to show an Atlanta Falcons football game on its TV screens), eliminations at the other side of the room brought us to the final table with 8,500 chips.

We had hopes of making a move at the final table with A-8, but a big raise forced us to fold.  We finally were forced to go all-in with J-9 in the Small Blind, and the board didn't pair for us.  We wound up in eighth place, which admittedly is only "mid-list" with 16 players on hand.  But it still counts as our fourth final table in the last five live nights.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A player across from us wore a T-shirt with President Barack Obama's picture (similar to this one).  We couldn't resist asking him about one of the biggest show business controversies of the week.

"So do you agree with what Jamie Foxx said about President Obama?" we asked him.  The man didn't know what we meant.  "He called President Obama his 'Lord and Savior.'"

"No, I don't believe that," he said.  But as we expected, we sparked a conversation.

"Did he mean that as a joke?" asked a man sitting to our right.  (He'd asked at the start of the evening to be mentioned in this blog - so there it is.)

"He said it was a joke," we answered.  But a large number of Christians haven't taken it that way; some have declared Foxx a "moron" for his comment, while others accuse him of blasphemy.

It's certainly not the sort of joke we would tell, because we believe what the Bible says....
"You are my witnesses," declares the Lord.... "Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.  I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior." - Isaiah 43:10-11
But here's what puzzles us.  Why are some Christians condemning Foxx for his remarks, when plenty of conservative talk show hosts and bloggers have sarcastically called President Obama "Messiah" (based on a statement by Louis Farakkhan of the Nation of Islam) without receiving similar criticism?

Perhaps the logic is that the Christian critics "know" the conservatives are joking, while they suspect deep-down Foxx is serious.  But after thinking it over, we've concluded there's a double standard here.  If such attempts at "holy humor" are wrong for one, they should be wrong for all.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. - Exodus 20:7
When we talk about the things of God, we should be careful with our words -- since God's Son will be the final judge over all of us:
....That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:10-11
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 128 final tables in 367 nights (34.9%), 20 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 273 point wins in 1,248 games (21.9%), 85 final tables, 10 cashes, 10 wins.  No-River Hold 'em - 20 point wins in 71 games (28.2%), 15 final tables, 1 cash win.

Points remain hard to claim in full tournaments.  We had three "top ten percent" finishes in the last week, which would have earned money in casinos - but they also again occurred in money-only games.  And a final-table finish of seventh in a 39-player qualifier Tuesday night also missed, because only the top five earned points.  But earlier in the day, a No-River tournament earned us plenty of points; we finished fifth out of 85 players.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $84,260, down $1,778.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stealing More Than Blinds

The man to our right at the poker table already had told us Jesus is his Savior.  So we asked what Jesus had done for him lately.

"Well, my house got broken into.  My car got stolen...."

Ouch.  That's not the uplifting testimony you want to hear.  But sadly, crime is part of the world where we live.  Should God get the blame for that?

We've been challenged in recent days to read through the book of Job, where the main character complains:
And who else but God blindfolds the judges, then lets the wicked take over the earth? - Job 9:24 (CEV)
We need to remember Job was ranting with a measure of grief, after Satan took away his family, possessions and good health.  Satan did it all with God's consent (chapters 1-2).  And to some extent, the devil still does that today....
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.... - I John 3:8
And beginning with the garden of Eden (Genesis 3), Satan has worked in human minds and nature to spread sin throughout the world -- including the sin of stealing (Deuteronomy 5:19).

"It's a sin-filled world," we told the man who spilled out his difficulties on us.  And yes, even believers in Jesus can be affected by it.  After all, Jesus was....
This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. - Acts 2:23
But we reminded the man at the poker table, "That's why Jesus needs to come back."  When Christ returns to Earth to establish the Kingdom of God, everything will change.
Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life. - Revelation 21:27
We pray police will find the people who burglarized this man's home and stole his car.  And we pray for Jesus to come back very soon -- so the only times stealing might occur is with pots in a friendly game of poker.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Poker Night 366: The Night of 1,000 Posts

We took a secret celebration to The Red Barn Monday night, revealing it to only a few people at the end of the evening.  This report marks our 1,000th post to On the Flop!  The first two came on a warm and rainy June weekend in 2008.  This one followed a chilly November night -- and while we wish there was a $1,000 bonus prize to celebrate, we would have been happy with the $50 prize for first place.

We played well enough to win several pots in the first 90 minutes.  But then came a big moment of drama....

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000


Three full tables started the tournament; two tables of six now remain.  We have 22,500 chips, but we realize a notorious big bettor is sitting across from us.  So we call, prepared to fold to a massive raise.  Instead, that bettor raises "only" 4,000 more, to double the blind.  We call, as does a man to our left.

ON THE FLOP: 10-6-2

This looks uninspiring.  But the big bettor lives up to his reputation.  "Seventeen-five," he declares -- giving us something to think about, since we only have 13,500 left.  Our instinct tells us he did not make a pair, even with the 10.  This continuation bet smells a lot like a "go-away bet" with two big cards.  Since we actually have a pair, we decide to go for it.

"I'm all-in," we say.  The man at our left does as well.


As best we recall, the two remaining players in a sidepot check.  This mid-range card seems hopeful for us as well.


But ooh boy - this one doesn't.  One of these players now could be "fisher-King" with a higher pair.  Yet they both check again.

"Pair of sevens," we say as we show.

The big bettor slowly, dramatically turns over.... A-9!  He missed, and so did the other opponent!  The pocket pair survives, and we score a big win of about 66,000 chips.

"I bet what the hand was worth," the big bettor says between hands.

"I didn't think you had a pair," we say.  Thankfully, our read was right -- and it provided a big enough stack to take us to the final table.

Once there, we folded Q-J twice -- only to see them make potential winning hands.  But A-K brought us another huge win, as a King on the flop ballooned us to 140,000.  But the stack slowly drained from there, until we were forced to go all-in on the Big Blind with J-5.  The board was filled with Kings and 2's, giving a man a huge full house which knocked another player out along with us.

Final result: a tie for fifth place (officially fifth on The Red Barn score sheet).  Maybe we've turned things around in live tournaments, as we've made three final tables in the last four.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Your turn, Reverend," a man across from us said at the final table.  We were first to act, so we knew he was talking to us.  Yet this comment brought a moment of pause -- because that title explains much of what the past 1,000 blog posts is about.

"I'm not a Reverend," we quietly answered.  "I try to be reverent."

Did you know the title Reverend never appears in the King James Bible?  The word only appears once:
He sent redemption unto his people: he has commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name. - Psalm 111:9 (KJV)
Reverend is whose name?  Verses 1 and 4 indicate that title refers to "the Lord," as in God.  We're not sure how the term became attached to church pastors; in the congregation we normally attend, it isn't used.

Admittedly, "reverent" does not appear in the King James.  But that translation along with the New International have several verses referring to an attitude of reverence.
God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him. - Psalm 89:7 (KJV)
Why?  Because God is powerful enough to tear down nations (verse 10), and He is our ultimate judge (verse 14).  But God offers to share his heavenly kingdom with all of us, and bring it to Earth at the return of Jesus Christ....
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.... - Hebrews 12:28 (KJV)
Revelation indicates the first phase of the Kingdom of God on Earth will last 1,000 years - something far, far more impressive than 1,000 posts to a blog.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 127 final tables in 366 nights (34.7%) - 20 cashes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Truth or Consequences

Do you remember a Fox Sports Net poker show a few years ago, where the players were wired to heart monitors?  The theory was that their pulse rates increased when they held big hands.

Now there's scientific evidence that people who lie also have a higher heart rate, as their blood pressure goes up.

So it's a risky move to bluff -- but apparently more dangerous to your body if you state the bluff to others.

Have you ever noticed your body changing during a poker tournament?  If so, what happened? (Please do not mention your stories of drunkenness; we're not counting that.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November Senior Championship: A Three-Hour Tour

It may have been the end of U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.  It may have been the night of the 100th Grey Cup final in Canadian football.  Yet the crowd for this month's National League of Poker Senior Championship was larger tonight than one month ago - 934 players, compared with 778 in October.  Would bigger mean better for us, or worse?  Let's check the highlights:

:09 IN: We have J-Q of diamonds in the Small Blind, and accept a raise of 110.  (All the players started with 2,500, providing some more flexibility.)  The flop is 5-10-9.  We call a bet  of 150, since we have an open-ended straight draw.  The turn is K!  Another bet of 150 gets a raise on our part to 500, which is called.  The river is Q, our bet of 300 brings a fold, and we win $1,930.

:21 IN: We have pocket Queens, and happily accept a doubling of the blind.  The flop is 4-10-J, and we happily accept an opponent betting 180.  The turn is 9, and we happily accept a bet of 300.  The river is 6.  Our opponent bets 460.  We warily call - but he has Q-9!  It's a win of $3,170.

We gain in the first period to $4,260 - good for 120th place, with 769 still playing.

:37 IN: We have 8-A, and accept a doubling of the blind.  The flop is A-6-8 - so when an opponent follows on with a bet of 200, we double it to 400 with two pair.  The turn is 4.  Our opponent bets 1,000 - and we call again, albeit a bit concerned.  The river is 6, and we're relieved to see our opponent check.  His A-9 loses to our higher two pair, for a gain of $4,050.

:40 IN: We have 10-K of diamonds.  The flop is Q-7-10, with two hearts and no diamonds.  We call a bet of 250 with middle pair.  The turn is Kh. Now with two pair, we bet 400 and get a caller.  The river is K, and we bet 1,200 with a full house.  Our opponent calls (for some odd reason) and shows 9-J!  We win $3,275.

1:01 IN: After a big bet with A-9 fails and we win back some money with three Jacks, we have J-J and double the blind.  The flop is 10-3-6.  A player bets 200, and we call.  The turn is K; another 200 bet is called.  The river is 3.  This time we double the opponent's bet of 200, and he runs away.  We gain $3,100..

1:03 IN: The next hand brings us Q-J of hearts.  The flop is 10-9-8!  We bet 400 with a straight, and someone calls.  The turn is 10, we bet 800 -- and they run again.  We gain $2,600.

The second period is stronger than the first, as we hit the break at $7,770. Now we're in 69th, with 582 to go.

1:22 IN: After waiting awhile for quality cards, we have pocket Kings.  The flop is 4-10-6, and we think we surprise a player betting 880 by doubling it to 1,760.  The turn is 6.  His bet of 300 brings another double from us, to 600.  The river is 4, putting two pair on the board.  This time we only call a bet of 300 - but our opponent has 10-Q! No full house means a big win of $6,620.

1:36 IN: After claiming a Small Blind battle with 9-7 and another strong pot with K-K, we have A-K in the Big Blind.  We raise 1,000, and get a caller.  The flop is 9-K-8.  Our 1,200 continuation bet brings a push from our opponent for 2,747 - but he only has 8-7.  The other cards don't change the outcome, as we score a huge $8,944 win.

1:37 IN: Next up is 6-9 of clubs in the Small Blind.  The blind is 2-5-9, and our bet of 800 with top pair is called.  The turn is A.  Everyone checks.  The river is Q.  We dare to offer 800 again - and the opposition folds!  We gain $3,650.

A massive third period balloons us to $17,967.  We're in 31st place, with 379 remaining.

1:59 IN: After grabbing three pots in a row with cards which eliminate two players, we have 9-Q of hearts.  The flop is Q-8-5, and an opponent goes all-in for 2,437.  We call, of course - and he has K-8. The turn is 9.  The river is.... 8!  He escapes with three of a kind, and we wonder if our tide is turning.

2:11 IN: After losing again with 8-8, we have pocket Aces.  After doubling the blind, the flop of J-5-Q brings an all-in bet on our part of 4,883.  No one takes us up on it, so we recover to $12,733.

The total is $12,483 at the fourth break.  We've dropped to 80th place, but are down to 137 players left.

2:42 IN: After a long wait for the right cards and facing rising blinds and antes, we have A-3 of spades in the Big Blind.  We're prepared to push with it - but the table gives us a walk! It's a $7,500 stroll.

2:45 IN: Two hands later, we play Q-J of clubs with the button.  The flop is 9c-Qx-10x, and we go for it all by betting 4,458.  An opponent calls, and shows a mere 4-J!  The turn is 10, the river is 6, and we're thrilled to improve to $20,916.

At the end of the fifth period, we're at $20,016 - in 41st place with 63 remaining.  Only the top ten players will win money.

3:10 IN: Rising blinds and antes combine with big pushes by other players to restrict our dreams again - and we're forced to go all-in for our last 1,516 with 4-3 of diamonds.  An opponent calls with A-4. The flop is Q-9-5. The turn is 6. The river is K.  The Ace knocks us out.

Only at the end of the evening does an NLOP glitch occur, and our computer forces us to close the program. So our exact final result is unclear as we post this - but we know we finished no worse than 40th place [UPDATE: it was 35th] out of 934.  We were 57th in October.  So we would have been even deeper "in the money" at a casino - if only this was a casino.

Wait For It, Wait For It

A previous post mentioned a poker player who saw no reason to be thankful this year, because he hasn't moved out of our area.  He concluded God didn't answer his prayer.

But we saw another possible explanation, based on the statement from some ministers that God's answers to prayer go beyond a simple yes-or-no.  "Maybe God wants you to wait," we told the man.  "Patience is a virtue."

Let's face it: patience isn't easy for a lot of people.  We were talking with a man who sometimes makes big bets with small hands, hoping to run off opponents and amass a large chip lead in a hurry.  By comparison, our approach tends to be on the patient side -- waiting for "the right moment," as a TV commercial says.

Is patience really a virtue?  The New Testament shows it is....
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 binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:12, 14
Yet in the classic words of rock singer Tom Petty, "The waiting is the hardest part."  Poker players who have sat idle for several minutes can "get the itch," and play a marginal hand they wind up regretting.  But it's a balancing act -- because if you fold at the wrong time, big cards could come and a winning moment will be lost.

We all have to wait at some point, about something.  Believers in Christ have been waiting for something big for nearly 2,000 years:
....While we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.... - Titus 2:13
Yet we can relate to what the unthankful man at the poker player said.  We've been waiting most of this year for a new employment opportunity to open.  In the meantime, we search as best we can -- and we're praying for God to do the rest, either in correcting us or granting us favor with employers.  We trust God to provide, even if we don't know exactly when or how.
The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.  The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. - Psalm 145:14-15
During the times in recent years when we've been waiting on God, a song from the movie Fireproof has come to mind.  Perhaps the words will help you know what to do, if you're in a waiting game of your own.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Poker Night 365: A Thanksgiving Miracle?

The first surprise came at mid-afternoon Thursday.  Someone posted a note on Facebook that there was Thanksgiving Night poker after all -- at The Red Barn in Phenix City, where we usually play on Mondays.  So we changed our evening plans, and paid it a visit.

The second surprise was inside The Red Barn, as a Thanksgiving spread was on one of the counters.  There was turkey, green bean casserole, rolls and apple pie -- all free!  "It's Thanksgiving," the Tournament Director explained.  So we filled a plate and enjoyed it before the game, buying soda for extra poker chips.

The third surprise came at game time, when an overseer of the tournament came to our table bearing 5,000-chip pieces -- with at least three for everyone!  Starting at 23,000 chips inside of the usual 5,000 allowed us a fighting chance against the "power poker" players.  And with only 15 players taking part, things looked good.  For awhile....

BLINDS: 500/1,000


We've just been moved from a table where we recovered from an early setback with some creative betting (for us).  We reached the one-hour break with 25,500 chips, but lost a moderately-sized pot moments before to drop to 21,500.

We settle in "under the gun" at a table of six.  Even though the pocket pair is large, we choose to limp in.  But  the man behind the dealer raises to 5,000.  We resist the urge to push right now, joining one other player in calling.

ON THE FLOP: 6-5-2

This flop seems harmless, especially compared to the pre-flop betting.  We check to the raiser, who now throws out 10,000.  The third player in the pot folds.

We haven't seen this man play before, so we don't know his poker history.  But the trend at our local tournaments is for "newcomers" to bet big with hands which are little.  So we decide to reach for our chip stack and take a stand.

"I'm all-in," we announce -- adding our last 6,500 chips to the 10,000.  Our opponent doesn't hesitate to call.  We show our Queens.  He doesn't show his cards yet.


He now turns over.... a Queen.  Huh?!

ON THE RIVER: 7 (as best we recall)

And under our opponent's Queen, he reveals.... an Ace.

Ouch!  He takes us out quickly and painfully.  Yet we doubt this hand could have ended any other way.  If we had pushed pre-flop, he doubtless would have called.  And when we made the all-in decision, he didn't even have a pair -- simply two overcards.

On a night when the Thanksgiving table was set perfectly for us to make a third consecutive final table, we missed it.  Our finish was 12th place -- and if that wasn't enough, our next stop was Wal-Mart, where we simply wanted to buy groceries but wound up trapped in long lines of "Black Friday Eve" shoppers.  But that's another story....

MINISTRY MOMENT: That note about Thursday night's tournament was posted on the Facebook group for Big Dog Poker.  Trouble is, Big Dog Poker does not run The Red Barn's tournaments -- it's a separate entity.

In the late afternoon, someone overseeing the Big Dog Facebook group removed the first notice and replaced it with one saying the group was for Big Dog posts only.  An exchange of comments already had occurred involving the original poster.  So we added our own: "If Israel and Hamas can work out a ceasefire...."

By evening, the entire discussion was deleted from the group's Facebook page.  But it shows even in an area the size of ours, there's competition between poker "circuits." (As far as we know, The Red Barn's tournaments aren't played at any other locations.)

From what we understand, the two circuits developed due to some kind of disagreement involving Big Dog Poker operators.  But to carry it that far on Thanksgiving Day, when Big Dog didn't even have an evening venue, strikes us as something out of a Middle East feud -- and all too common in this world.
What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?.... You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God. - James 4:1-2
It happens between competing poker circuits, poker players, married couples, and even church denominations.  Yet here's what God wants us to do....
....Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. - Psalm 34:13-14
It's no wonder Jesus Christ is coming again someday as the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) - because humans tend to do a terrible job finding peace between each other.

If there are quarrels and feuds in your life, one suggestion we'd make toward starting a "peace process" is to simply let the other side have his or her say.  Let them spill, while you quietly listen.  Then switch roles, to start a dialogue.  As it happens, Friday is the National Day of Listening - a perfect time to sit down with others, prepared with open ears and minds.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 126 final tables in 365 nights (34.5%) - 20 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 273 point wins in 1,236 games (22.1%), 84 final tables, 10 wins, 10 cashes. No-River Hold 'em - 19 point wins in 68 games (27.9%), 14 final tables, 1 cash win.

We've had "poker room payoff" finishes in three huge NLOP tournaments in the past week -- among the top one percent, including a 21st-place finish out of 971 players on Monday.  But the freeroll tournaments don't award points, which hurts our record.  However, we came in seventh out of 60 in a No-River Hold 'em tournament Wednesday.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $86,038, down $2,016.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks for Nothing?

Since today is U.S. Thanksgiving Day, we took this small "thank you" card to our live poker tournament this week -- provided to us by a bank.  We've found one sure way to make people stop in their tracks and think is to ask: "What are you thankful for this year?"

But this week, a man at one of our tables had a quick answer for that question -- an answer we never expected to hear.  "Not a G** d**n thing."

The man went on to explain his goal was to move away from our area this year.  "That prayer wasn't answered," he said.

Some people might have stopped right there and condemned the man for his words.  And they'd have good Biblical support for it....
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy....  - II Timothy 3:1-2 (KJV)
Many ministers probably have preached in recent days about how an "attitude of ingratitude" has swept over too many people -- and perhaps even over some believers in God.  Paul went on to warn people in such a condition are "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" of God (verse 7).

But in the case of the man at our poker table, we focused on his claim that God didn't answer his prayer.  Have you concluded if God doesn't give you what you want, He must not exist at all?  A dramatic example from the life of Jesus may change your thinking:
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.  "Abba, Father," he said, "everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will." - Mark 14:35-36
This occurred on the night Jesus was arrested, leading to the crucifixion less than 24 hours later.  Jesus, who was sent by God from heaven to Earth, prayed for relief from the torture.  BUT He trusted God the Father, putting the outcome of the matter in the Father's hands.  God answered the prayer, all right -- by telling His firstborn Son no.

Are you surprised by God turning down Christ's request?  Then maybe we shouldn't be surprised if our human-based requests sometimes get turned down by God as well.
You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:2-3
Do we trust God enough to accept His answer to prayer as the right answer -- even if it's not our desired answer?

We'll get back to that man's allegedly "unanswered" prayer in our next post.  In the meantime, consider this online poker chat which developed Wednesday night after we wished the table a happy Thanksgiving eve:

uPeaKn: anyone have an extra pecan pie
Me: Don't even have one. :-(
sissysmurf won Main pot 1,315
uPeaKn: hummmmm not sure what 2 think
uPeaKn: no pecan pie no ThanksGiving
Me: Well, no.
Me: I can give thanks without it.
Me: Thank God for free poker. :-)

A lot of traditions (food and otherwise) are associated with Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  But we've followed a contentious debate within church circles over the last couple of weeks, over whether all those things make the day "pagan" - something Christians actually should avoid.

After studying our Bible on the issue, we concluded giving thanks can include food -- and it did in Old Testament times (Leviticus 7:11-15).  But far more importantly, it should be directed toward God.  And that gets back to the aspect of prayer....
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6
It's thanksgiving without a capital T, without a formal holiday and Presidential proclamations.  May you be thankful every day for what God provides -- even if you only finish in the money at poker tournaments a couple of times a year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Soho No-Go

Lil Kim's Cove traditionally is closed on Thanksgiving.  So we've traditionally traveled to Soho Bar and Grill on Thanksgiving Eve, for their Wednesday night tournament.

We did it again tonight - and found hardly anyone was there. A staff member told us the poker game was on Tuesday night this week -- moved up for some kind of pre-Thanksgiving bash tonight.

That's their choice, and we respect that.  We only wish the notice had come much earlier, to spare us the drive.

So we'll update our weekly poker statistics another time.  In the meantime, here's something else that could raise your.... well, hold it.  A New York doctor says he has a way to prevent your eyebrows from going up, and giving your hand away.  It's a form of plastic surgery he calls "poker-tox."

We think the price of several hundred dollars is a bit steep - especially considering it only lasts a few months.  Would you give it a try?  Why or why not?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Poker Night 364: 5-2 Pickup

As we began the Monday night tournament at The Red Barn, we remembered well what happened the week before.  The good news is that we lasted more than two hands. In fact, we lasted long enough to see some amazing things happen....

BLINDS: 10,000/20,000

IN THE POCKET: 2-5 of diamonds

If we've made it to blinds this high, we must be doing well -- and in fact, we're at the final table!  We picked up a few nice pots along the way, but otherwise played cautiously while surrounded by the usual massive stacks of chips.

We've already been dealt pocket Aces at the final table, which allowed us to quadruple our small stack to 20,000.  But now the Big Blind has come, and we're all-in by force with what some consider the worst hand in poker.  The man who took us out last Monday night bets big pre-flop to run everyone else off.  Then he shows Q-10.  Ugh.


This is a race -- and we're way behind.


Not anymore, we're not!  We've paired.  Our opponent has not.  "Oh no," he says.


"Praise the Lord," we say out loud.  We escape the ax again, climbing to 60,000 chips.

Other players at the final table risked it all, with relatively limited success.  When we tried again with A-6, it was our turn to miss the pair.  That man with the huge stack eliminated us again -- but on this Monday night, we finished in fourth place.  That's our best outcome at The Red Barn since October 2011.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Parts of The Red Barn have strange air circulation.  At a semifinal table, a man to our left folded on the turn -- and as he tossed his cards into the middle of the table, a bit of air blew them face-up!  (He had K-J.)

"That must have been an act of God!" the man exclaimed.

"God can control the wind," we told him.  A writer of Psalms puts it this way....
He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.  He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. - Psalm 104:3-4
The King James Version indicates verse 4 refers to angels, instead of winds which can make you shiver on a November day.  But there's a famous moment in the Bible when the Son of God confirmed in the New International Version, while aboard a boat:
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boar, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.... - Mark 4:37-38
Jesus's disciples were concerned they might drown.  Thankfully for them, they had a Passenger on board who could change that.
He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!"  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.... They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!" - Mark 4:39, 41
This passage indicates Jesus has ultimate control over the weather.  Could it be that weather-related disasters hit some places because too many people fail an important test mentioned in this section?
He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?" - Mark 4:40
Serious storms in life (weather-related or otherwise) can challenge anyone's faith in God.  So do you think God sends "natural disasters?"  Leave a comment with your thoughts; we'll consider that further in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 126 final tables in 364 nights (34.6%) - 20 cashes.  This marked our first "back-to-back" final table appearances (much less back-to-back top five finishes) since mid-July.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 40-Dollar Man

"I'll donate to you."  That's a common, cliched line some poker players use when someone else at the table goes all-in.  But what we encountered at a recent local tournament was something else.

"I need 40 dollars," a man said loudly toward our table while standing behind us.  This occasional player needed that much to tide himself over until.... well, until exactly when was unclear.  At one moment he mentioned taking a job next week paying more than $100 an hour; in the next moment he talked about moving across the country to be with his children.

It's a rare day when we carry 20 dollars to a poker tournament, or anywhere else -- a practice we've had for years, after discovering beggars can stop you and ask for cash when you least expect it.  And since we're between jobs ourselves, we certainly didn't have 40 dollars in our wallet to offer this man.

So what did we do?  Let's first ask the question: what should you do?  Jesus made a suggestion which we think many people find hard to swallow....
Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out. a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Luke 12:33-34
Does that mean simply handing out 40 dollars to any stranger who asks for it?  We didn't see anyone do it on that poker night.  And we think Jesus understands if we give to others with care and wisdom.  After all, scams and schemers abound in our society -- from street-corner addicts to nice-sounding fake online charities.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.  But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues.... - Matthew 10:16-17 (NASB)
To borrow from the fantasy game "Dungeons and Dragons": always check first for traps.  But God wants believers to have a heart that's willing to give, when it's prudent and possible.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.... if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.... if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. - Romans 12:6-8
We went to that loud man quietly during a break, and told him of our financial situation.  He understood.  Then we offered to pray for him.

"I've already got priests praying for me," he said.  That's OK -- but every added prayer for other people can't hurt.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. - James 5:16
The man's name is Eddie.  Will you "donate" some time, and pray for God to turn his life around?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Poker Night 363: Fishing Expedition

"I think you're going to make the final table tonight," a man told us before the Lil Kim's Cove tournament began.  "Along with me."

"We'll see," we said quietly.  Our confidence level was low because for the most part, the day had not gone well.  For instance, we were a first-hand bust in an online tournament while holding A-K.  We put all the games in God's hands, praying for wisdom to do better in this one....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000


Thanks to a soda and a 5,000-chip "on-time bonus," we started the evening with a competitive 13,000 chips.  We won a pot in the first hour, when two diamonds turned into a flush.  Then a bigger pot came our way when A-K became a winning pair of Kings.

Now two tables remain from a starting three -- but before we look at our cards, there's plenty of action.  A man across from us is ready to play dominoes, so he goes all-in for 6,500.  A man to his left does the same, with only 1,000 left.  Holding a large stack of chips and a high pocket pair, we call -- but then a man to our immediate left also goes all-in for 4,500 more.  We call that as well, sensing several players simply want to move on.


Two players can still bet: the Tournament Director to our right and us.  She checks.  With three of a kind, we bet 5,000 -- and she folds.

"Jack, Jack, Jack," we say as we turn over our cards.  Memories of a similar winning hand in metro Atlanta in 2010 come back to mind.  We took out one player then.  Now no one has cards to top us, and the payoff could be bigger.


The other players have far higher cards.  So this is harmless.


That gives us a full house, to win every single chip in the pot.  We knock out three players at once -- and because it's been declared a "bounty tournament," we collect a 5,000-chip bonus for each of those players!  Our "fishing trip" with a couple of "hooks" led to one of the catches of the day.

This win vaulted us to more than 74,000 chips, which filled a hat for a stroll to the final table.  Our "prophet" turned out to be accurate (and we thanked him).  The table of nine dropped to six, and then a player proposed a settlement: with $65 and a "bucket of beers" at stake, all six would win $10.  The game continued for five bucks and five beers.  "It's poor man's poker," we admitted.

Then we were dealt A-A, which led to a nice sidepot (losing the main pot to a man who hit a straight).  With only four players left in the third hour, we called with A-Q -- but a man to our left pushed, and we called him.  He had A-9, but found a 9 on the flop.  The board didn't pair for us.  But we walked home happy -- with our best finish in four weeks, and our first cash win since late June.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A couple of times when we were dealing, we announced the turn card this way: "In honor of Dr. Flakes.... Fourth Street."

The players around the table said nothing about this.  But we find it hard to believe no one understood our reference.

Lil Kim's Cove sits only one block away from Fourth Street Baptist Church, whose longtime pastor Dr. J.H. Flakes, Jr. died this week.  He was a relatively quiet voice for racial unity in our city, yet an influential one through the One Columbus organization.

Sadly, we heard more than one reference by African-American players tonight to the "N-word" - and even one disparaging comment about Hispanic people.  We don't think that's what God ultimately desires:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. - II Peter 3:9
Anyone of legal drinking age can walk in the door on Thursday nights and play free poker at Lil Kim's Cove -- regardless of gender, skin color or skill level.  May we all come to the point where racial remarks are buried in the realization that God made us all, and wants us all in His Kingdom:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28
UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 125 final tables in 363 games (34.4%) - 20 cashes.  We're declaring that leftover Diet Coke from Monday night "liberated," after tonight's cash win.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 272 point wins in 1,227 games (22.2%), 84 final tables, 10 wins, 10 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 18 point wins in 65 games (27.7%), 13 final tables, 1 cash win.

While we went one-for-two on points in the No-River game this past week, we expect the point percentage in full tournaments to keep dropping -- because we're primarily entering big-money tournaments which don't award points to runners-up.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $88,054, up $1,605.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

If Kings Won't Do It....

Maybe a different pocket pair might.  Between our two Monday night missteps with pocket Kings at The Red Barn, there was this moment from the Sunday night National League of Poker Weekly Championship:

BLINDS: 75/150


Everyone started with 10,000 chips in this tournament.  We've won a couple of pots, but lost a couple of tough ones.  We're coming back from the half-hour break with 6,980 chips.  When a chip leader raises pre-flop to 940, we don't mind calling.


We keep a small sheet of paper at our desk, to note our hands for this blog.  We try to write down these cards, but one pen refuses to work.  Then another.  Then ANOTHER!  Our opponent bets 770 while we finally find a felt-tip pen which works -- then we hastily call.  (He might be bluffing with a continuation bet, after all.)


Again it takes us several pens to mark two simple strokes on a sheet of paper, to show that 7.  Our opponent is acting as tough as the paper, because he now bets 1,390 during our frustration.  Admittedly asking for trouble, we call again.


This time we use the felt-tip first -- and it struggles a little, before finally working.  Trouble is, our opponent has gone all-in with his tens of thousands of chips.

"I'll do it," we say to the computer with some annoyance.  Bad move.  Our call leads our opponent to show A-J -- and we're eliminated in 974th place.

The moral of this story?  Several possible morals come to mind, besides the need to find better-quality paper stock.  (It accepted everything we wrote before that hand.)  One moral is that we let ourselves get off-kilter emotionally -- not due to the game, but from taking notes on it.  Yes, troublesome ink pens put us "on tilt."

Believe it or not, the Bible has plenty to say about what we did -- correcting us:
The end of all things is near.  Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. - I Peter 4:7
The Moffatt paraphrase translates part of this verse: "Steady then, keep cool and pray!"  The Contemporary English Version advises instead of self-controlled, "be sensible...."  If relatively little things take control of your thinking and your emotions, you'll make bad decisions -- in poker and in life.

But here's the strange thing: the best self-control doesn't really come from yourself.  How?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience.... gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23
Believers who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them should use it to govern their actions, and even their thought processes.  For instance....
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.  Selah - Psalm 4:4
If you think you're starting to "lose it," stop and pray for God to help you find it.  Then let Him do it.  It beats ripping a tell-tale hole in a sheet of paper -- and playing poker like there are holes in your pockets.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Poker Night 362: Cut to the QuicKK

Last Monday night at The Red Barn, we folded a big pocket pair at a crucial moment.  It cost us a big pot.  Tonight we tried to show we'd learned our lesson.  What could possibly go wrong?

BLINDS: 25/50


It's the second hand of the night.  We folded 5-8 in the first one, so we still have our original 7,000 chips (2,000 gained by purchasing soda).  But the man sitting to our immediate right is "Big Daddy" - a man we've mentioned here before, who's known for huge bets and off-kilter play.  He's first to act, and he raises 1,000. When we see our cards, we don't hesitate to call.  So do two other players at the table of seven.

"I'd just like to say," Big Daddy tells the table, "f**k you, and have a nice day."  Hmmm - does that mean he didn't really want callers?

ON THE FLOP: 4-5-6

A woman in the Small Blind checks.  Big Daddy then tosses out 2,000.  We realize, of course, this must be a "continuation bet" to buy the pot.  With a big overpair, we call.  One man folds; the Small Blind calls.


The woman checks again.  "Five-thousand," Big Daddy announces.  He started with around 30,000 extra chips, due to things such as buying food or feeding the jukebox.  So he can afford a big bet like that.  We can't.

"All I have," we say as we count, "is 4,000."  But after what happened with pocket Kings last Monday night, there's no doubt we're calling to go all-in.  We're confident he's bluffing.

"I fold," the Small Blind says.

"I flopped it," Big Daddy says.  Huh?!

He tosses his cards across the table -- 3-7!  He has a straight!  We have no hope.


Big Daddy does what we used to call the "male bonding symbol" - pumping his fist in a couple of times.

"You need an easy button," we tell him.  "That was easy."  Ridiculously easy.  We never expected him to have a straight.  But then again, how many people would raise 1,000 pre-flop with 3-7?

For the second Monday in a row, pocket Kings are our ruin.  We are "two-hand slammed" out of the tournament -- first out at our table, and the fastest exit we can recall making at a live tourney.  Why, we were eliminated even before we even opened the can of Diet Coke we bought.

We drove home with that can and a cup of ice.  They now sit in our refrigerator/freezer.  Maybe we should make that an "incentive can" -- opening it only when we win a tournament.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We sat down about ten minutes early, and were on our way home ten minutes into the game.  That gave us no time to develop any kind of a ministry topic (and we had one in mind, in light of the day's local news).  Maybe there's a lesson for us there, too....
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money."  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. - James 4:13-14
John Madden was fond of saying the cruelty of pro football playoffs is that every team except one eventually loses.  That's true in poker as well.  Lots of people enter tournaments with dreams of staying around for a long time, and winning money at the end.  But for most players, the game doesn't turn out that way.

That can of Diet Coke in our refrigerator is good through 21 January (according to the date stamp on the bottom).  But our opportunity to do poker ministry came and went in a hurry.  It can't be retrieved again.  Neither can our lives.  So what our you doing with the days you have -- especially since you probably don't know how many you have left?
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. - Isaiah 55:6
Wait too long to seek God, and you risk missing out on something wonderful:
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection.  The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:6
That first resurrection will be granted to those who believe God (I Thessalonians 4:14-17).  Are you living a life which shows you really believe?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 362 nights (34.3%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Good Light, Bad Light

Most local poker tournaments are played in bars, which can be pretty dark inside.  At The Red Barn this past week, the Tournament Director told someone how to turn on an overhead light.

"Let there be light!" the Director then said.  "God's first command...."

Hmmm.  We know this man is a believer in God.  But was he right about this?  Let's check the official record:
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. - Genesis 1:3
This is the record of "creation week."  But deep Bible students realize there's a record of pre-creation as well - the time when the angel Lucifer rebelled against God.
How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations! - Isaiah 14:12 (KJV)
A check of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 shows no command from God toward Lucifer, so our Director's statement is correct.  But consider that name a moment.  The Contemporary English Version translates Lucifer by the meaning of the name: "the bright morning star."  Lucifer was bright.  But now as Satan, the devil is quite the opposite.
Giving thanks to the Father.... For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves.... - Colossians 1:12-13
Satan is called "the god of this world" in II Corinthians 4:4 - a world which the Bible calls "darkness," whether we'd like to believe it or not.

Lights are turned on in bars on poker nights so everyone can see the cards.  (Yet some players wear sunglasses - but that's another issue.)  And to see life more clearly, we need the light of God in us:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - I Peter 2:9
As you play poker and live from day to day, whose light are you reflecting?  If you're involved in sinful activities, you're reflecting a bad light -- the light of Lucifer.  Wouldn't it be better to be a shining example of God's goodness, reflecting His light to others?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Poker Night 361: Too Jacked Up

Tonight marked our first trip to Lil Kim's Cove in three weeks -- and it may go down as the craziest night we've ever had in a poker room.  We'll explain why in a moment.  But first, we want to ask for your help in an unusual way -- especially if you live in our area:

MISSING PERSON: Jessie Everett's picture was posted on a wall at Lil Kim's tonight.  He was last seen Thursday, November 1 walking from the First Avenue club toward the Oakland Park area. He's described as disabled (with a limp), and has a bad left hand and arm. If you've seen him, call Columbus 911.

At the table, we won one pot by making a straight from a starting 5-6.  But we didn't win any others, and finished in 16th place.  But this was one of those nights when the most memorable hand was one we didn't play....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 9-10 offsuit

A brand new deck of cards has been introduced for this hand, because the old one had a few clipped corners.  We have about 5,700 chips -- and a man sitting "under the gun" challenges us by raising to 1,000.  We look at him, stare for a moment seeking clues, see none and fold.  But most of the table gets in.

ON THE FLOP: J-10-10

Ouch!  We would have made three of a kind right away.  On top of that, the table checks.


Now we would have had a full house.  As we recall, the table checks again.


The checking now stops and the fireworks start.  A woman across from us bets 1,000 (as best we remember).  The man under the gun goes all-in.  The woman to his left (our immediate right) also pushes.  Then a young man to our left who's playing in his first live tournament also pushes!  It looks like a mad case of full house fever.

"I've got the boat with a Jack," the first woman says -- turning over a Jack of hearts.  So she would have beaten our "10's over Jacks" full house.  The other woman in the hand also shows a Jack.

"I guess you don't have a Jack," we say to the new player at our left.  But no -- he also shows a Jack!  A grand total of five Jacks are showing!

"There are two Jack of hearts," we note -- pointing to one on the board, and the one the first woman has.  We turn over the cards for a moment, to make sure they're both from the same new deck.  What's going on here?

After a moment, the dealer figures it out.  He turns over the rest of the deck -- and there are no low cards at all.  He was given a pinochle deck, instead of the regular Ace-through-two deck used in poker!  Our late Dad played pinochle for decades, and he would have been thrilled.

The Tournament Director is called, and he rules everyone gets their bets back.  But after reviewing the pinochle rules online, we wonder why the dealer didn't notice that deck had only 48 cards.  We watched the count, and it didn't look quite right to us -- but we deferred.  And we wound up with the two lowest cards, anyway.

(That wasn't the only crazy moment at our table tonight.  But we'll hold another matter for a future post.)

MINISTRY MOMENT: We apologized before the game to the man who was outside our front door Monday evening.  It turns out he used to live in the apartment next to ours, and is friends with the owner of the property.

"I was not offended," he assured us -- adding he understood we were hurrying to The Red Barn.  That was comforting.  We don't think he's a Christian, yet he reflected a Biblical trait....
A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. - Proverbs 19:11
The sports world (and perhaps to a lesser extent the poker world) is filled with "grudge matches" and rivalries.  But holding long-term grudges against other people is something believers in Jesus should not do.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you. - Colossians 3:13
God showed His willingness to forgive men and women by sending Jesus Christ to pay the death penalty for our sins.  Have you confessed your sins and repented before God, to receive the comforting forgiveness He wants to provide?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 361 nights (34.3%) - 19 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 272 point wins in 1,215 games (22.4%), 84 final tables, 10 wins, 10 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 17 point wins in 63 games (27.0%), 13 final tables, 1 cash win.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $86,449, down $1,373.  The re-election of President Obama may mean pretend games still will be all U.S. residents can play for awhile.

If It Was Real: 360-Game Report

When it comes to playing poker, a good knowledge of math matters.  That's also true when you're computing success or failure at the poker table.  The last time we added up the scoreboard of live tournaments 20 nights ago, our "buy-in total" was off by $500.

We correct that this time, along with one other error: a three-way tie for a $100 fifth-place prize should bring us $33, not $17.

But a careful check confirms in the last 20 nights, we've had three "top-five" finishes.  All of them occurred at Lil Kim's Cove, which is a switch from months ago when the early-week games brought us better results.

After two ties for fourth place and a tie for fifth, we plug them into our hypothetical casino buy-in and payout.  With the buy-in total corrected, we show:

BUY-INS: 360 nights x $50 = $18,000

First -- 6 x 500 ($3,000)
TIE for first: 1 ($450)

Second - 9 x 400 ($3,600)
TIE for second: 1 ($350)

Third -- 9 x 300 ($2,700)
TIE for third: 1 ($250)

Fourth - 13 x 200 ($2,600)
TIES for fourth:
6 two-way ($900)
1 three-way ($67)

Fifth -- 16 x 100 ($1,600)
TIES for fifth:
6 two-way ($300)
1 three-way ($33)

TOTAL -- 70 for $15,850

We would have lost $650 in the last 20 games, making our total pretend loss about 12 percent.  In reality, we did lose money in two live tournaments during the last 20 -- $55 in buy-ins in Kansas City and Columbus.  Can we find a way to turn this around?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Player Outside the Door

It was well after dark Monday, when we stepped outside to go to the car and drive to a poker tournament.  Four people were chatting in two separate conversations near or apartment door.  We thought little of it, said "Hello" when someone greeted us and walked on by.

"Hey," one of the four people then said when we were halfway down the sidewalk.  Instinctively we stopped, knowing he was talking to us.  It was based on years dealing with beggars whose path we crossed -- strangers who summon up the courage to get your attention, so they can make a pitch for money.  A few times, they've even gone door-to-door at our apartment complex.

We turned around, walked back a little -- and found the man who called us was someone who attends other poker tournaments.  He explained he used to live in our apartment complex.  "I wondered why you didn't say hello to me," he said.

Well, we had in a quiet way.  But we never looked at the group, to see who was standing outside the door.  (It was hard to see in the darkness, anyway.)  We also presumed the four people outside were talking with a neighbor -- and that none of the people in his circle of friends would also be in our circle of poker players.

We drove to poker night and became increasing upset -- with ourselves.  By simply walking past a group of people, we had failed a command of Jesus:
You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.... let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:14, 16
One way to be a "light" is to be friendly toward others.  Yet for some Christians, who read their Bibles closely, this can be a challenging concept.  Why?
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendly 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
The man who stopped us Monday has challenged our belief in God at times.  Some might contend he's no "friend" at all.  But consider the example Jesus set....
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"  On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." - Matthew 9:11-13
We never even looked to see who any of the people outside the door were.  We actually didn't want to interrupt them.  But Jesus probably would care enough to check, and engage with that group -- doing the work of calling people to walk with Him.

Based on the population of our area and the number of regular poker players we face in live tournaments, the odds of a "regular" standing outside our door on a Monday night were about 4,500:1 -- far higher than the odds of hitting a "one-out" straight flush on the river.  Yet it happened.  And not only did we miss it, we were totally unprepared for the possibility.

When we see that man again (wherever it might be), we plan to ask for his forgiveness.  And we hope to learn a lesson from it: "checking" and "reading" other people goes far beyond the poker table.  It can be all about building good relationships.

As we finished writing this, we heard an old song on Christian radio which seemed perfectly timed to put an exclamation point on this personal lesson.  Maybe you could use it, too....

NOTE: We'll have more to say about "light" in a future post.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Poker Night 360: When Kings Go to Battle

Chris Berman noted during tonight's Monday Night Countdown second place on Election Day used to reward a U.S. Presidential candidate with the title of Vice President.  These days it doesn't.  Second place in a poker tournament might gain you a nice payday.  But what if you start somewhere around 22nd?  We face that every week at The Red Barn, so we need every big-name endorsement we can find....

BLINDS: 50/100


A soda purchase gave us 2,000 extra chips, to start at 7,000.  But other players pay more to begin with 30,000 or more -- so careful play matters to us.  This high pocket pair in the is our best chance to make a move.  And a player ahead of us helps, by raising to 400.

"One-thousand more," we announce when our turn comes.  Three players call -- and we know from experience some of them could be speculating with iffy hands, because they can afford it.

ON THE FLOP: 3-5-9

We have the overpair, and we plan to exploit it.  When the play checks to us, we bet 1,000 again.  Two of our three opponents call.


This puts a troublesome pair on the board, but we don't want to look weak.  We bet 1,000 more.  The two challengers call again.


We're now ready to hit the brakes, because we're wondering what our opponents are doing.  A man across from us checks -- and this time we check.  But a young man to our left tosses in 5,000!

"I have to call," says the man across from us.

Ooh boy.  We don't have 5,000 -- our stack is more like 3,150.

"I've got nothing, man."  Hmmm -- the young man to our left may have given us a huge clue.  He holds his cards up and out, like he'll fold any second.

"Are you going to call?"  asks the other man.

"I'm thinking about it," we answer -- and we mean it.  Our concern is that he has a 9 for a winning three of a kind.  After a moment, we decide.

"I'm going to fold."

So does the young man who acted like he would.  The pot-winner then turns over pocket Jacks!  We don't show our cards, but we guessed wrong and lost a big gain.

We tried again a few minutes later with A-K, and a man forced us all-in on the flop.  But he also had A-K, so we gained some chips back.  Then J-10 turned into top two pair on the river, and we were back above the starting level at 7,350.

But after the one-hour break, our attempts to get in small with semi-promising hands were beaten down by large pre-flop raises.  We finally went all-in again with A-7, and were happy to see an Ace on the flop.  But an 8 on the river gave a man with A-8 two pair, and turned our happiness into disappointment.  We left in a lowly 18th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Happy Election Eve, everybody," we said when it was our turn to shuffle and deal the cards.

"Who do you want to win?" a man to our left asked.

"I'm not even registered to vote," we answered.

The man took that as a dodge of his question.  "Who do you want to win?"

"I gave my vote to a higher authority a long time ago," we explained.  "I'm letting God put the right people in office, because He's a lot wiser than I am."

Surprised?  We belong to a church association which preaches not getting involved in the politics of this world.  Even though we know a longtime member of our congregation who's told us of plans to vote, the official "party line" of our denomination is against it.  Why?
Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.  He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them.  He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning." - Daniel 2:19-21
For years we understood this to mean God decides the rulers who are in authority -- whether they be kings, queens, the U.S. President or even your boss in the workplace.  But our pastor has changed that explanation since Barack Obama became President.  He's indicated God steps aside and lets the U.S. population have what it wants and deserves.  (The pastor has left little doubt he's pro-Republican.)

The thinking behind this goes all the way back to the first king of Israel....
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us such as all the other nations have...." And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." - I Samuel 8:4-7
Believe it or not, God didn't really want a "republic" or a "democracy" government.  He wanted to rule the people through prophets He appointed.  Admittedly, changing to that method today would cause all sorts of problems -- because all sorts of people claim to be "prophets" of God, sometimes teaching different things.

If you'd like to look further into this, review the magazine article we've been using for Bible study in this election season.  In the meantime, we leave you with this U.S. election riddle -- which stumped the Tournament Director when we asked it tonight:

Q.  What is the Republican Party's favorite book of the Bible in this election?

A. Deuter-Romney!

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 124 final tables in 360 nights (34.4%) - 19 cashes.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Twelve a Clock High

One of this year's Grand Slam tennis finals took almost six hours to finish.  Playoff games in hockey have gone to four overtimes, and lasted nearly as long.  But those events seem tame, compared to what the three finalists in the World Series of Poker Main Event went through this past week.

Greg Merson won the championship after a session which lasted 11 hours, 59 minutes -- practically from dusk to dawn!  Admittedly, a WSOP event doesn't have the physical action of a tennis match or hockey game.  But think about it: could you do your job at a top level for 12 hours, through more than 250 transactions (or "hands" in poker)?  And lest we forget, Merson had to outlast nearly 6,600 other players in preliminaries last July.

Merson credited long cash games for preparing him for the final-table marathon.  He learned a trait all of us could use -- endurance.  It's not simply for poker players, athletes and hard-working laborers:
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.  But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. - Matthew 24:12-13 (KJV)
Yes, Jesus Christ had something to say about endurance.  Believers must endure, if they want to achieve salvation.  What sort of things must they face?  Let's note one example....
We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.... - I Corinthians 4:12-13
Christians around the world face a wide range of persecution today.  It could be as relatively tame as name-calling in a U.S. school lunchroom -- or as serious as churches being attacked in Africa and Asia.  Yet they're told to endure.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father? - Hebrews 12:7
Tough times can teach us the importance of being obedient to God, and following his Biblical instructions in our lives.  In doing that, Christians follow the best example of all....
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2
Jesus endured to the end of His physical life, then was resurrected to the eternal life He had in ages past.  Believers can have the same thing -- a prize even better than Greg Merson won:
....For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.... but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper - Proverbs 27:24, 28:25

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Great Equalizer

In a post earlier this week, we mentioned a man at our table who became angry because a "friend" knocked over his big stack of chips.  We tried to counsel him a bit.

"Vengeance is not the answer," we said.

"I'm gonna get vengeance, all right," the man responded -- then swore a little about what he might do.

Virtually all poker players who have lost a big pot in poker have plotted ways to regain their chips.  A good betting strategy and timely cards can accomplish that goal; we went from 200 chips to more than 15,000 in an online tournament late Wednesday night, and finished in the top 20 out of about 400 players.

But sometimes losing players go "on tilt" -- becoming so desperate that they go all-in with virtually nothing.  It only takes one courageous player with good cards to send the "tilts" to the rail.  At times like that, we'd all do well to remember these words....
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. - Romans 12:19
That quote from the apostle Paul goes all the way back to Moses, shortly before Israel entered the promised land (Deuteronomy 32:35).  So when someone pulls a fast one on you in a poker room, what should you do?  The answer may shock you....
On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." - Romans 12:20 (from Proverbs 25:21-22)
The chapter concludes with another point we mentioned in a post this week: "Overcome evil with good."  Yes, we know - that goes very contrary to our human nature.  But the Bible shows we need to "fold" that very nature, and replace it:
....The sinful mind is hostile to God.  It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. - Romans 8:7-8
As we've put it here before: let your chips do your talking.  If other people want to "mess with you" at the table, let them -- and even look for ways to be nice in response.  You may not change their habits right away, but you might give them something to think about.  And that something might lead them to a new life in Jesus Christ.