Sunday, June 30, 2013

Poker Day 407: Aussie Rules

We walked into Arrowhead Poker today planning to play Texas Hold 'em.  But then someone at our table uttered two words which changed everything: "Dealer's Choice."

The poker room had paid dealers on the staff, and our dealer agreed to this idea for a Sunday change-up.  Except each player could call the rules for a hand, as the dealer button came to them.  This forced us to play all sorts of poker variations we'd never tried before -- and even one round of blackjack!  They included this one....

BLINDS: 100/200


We've been dealt four cards instead of two, because the player with the button has called "Billabong."  It's like Omaha poker, except you must use at least three pocket cards (perhaps all four) to make your best possible five-card hand.

We're under the gun with two high cards and a pair.  That seems good enough to start after a few admittedly hesitant hands on our part with other variations.  We call; as best we remember, a player to our left raises to 600 and we call it.


Top two pair looks nice -- unless someone has three diamonds, which already would give him a flush.  The blinds check, and we offer a "statement bet" of 1,000.  The raiser to our left isn't scared; he bumps it up to 2,000.  A player behind him calls, and so do we.


Our cards don't offer flush potential, so now we're content to check.  The man to our left refuses to slow down, betting 3,000.  The man between us calls, and we face a challenging decision.  We choose to call, hoping for an Ace or King on the river....


....but instead, we make a full house in the most unexpected way!  Now we offer a modest-looking bet of 2,000.  The big bettor responds by going all-in for 7,500 more.  The man in the middle calls.  If we were more familiar with this version, we probably would have pushed at this point -- but instead we settle for a call.

"I've got a flush," the big bettor confirms.

"The 3 was my friend," we say -- displaying a threes-over-tens full house.  It knocks the big bettor out, and we hit the jackpot to jump above 51,000 chips.

Only after we get home do we look up the word "billabong."  We knew it's Australian, but thought it was either an animal or a musical instrument.  It's actually a "dead end" tributary of a river.  Considering the river card which came for us, this version of poker is very well-named.  Only one other Billabong hand was played all day -- and we called it, only to fold our cards pre-flop.

But that big haul helped us last for a while -- and on a day with only enough players for two tables, we reached the final table.  (The game returned to regular Texas Hold 'em at that point.)  Then we won a couple of timely pots, including an all-in moment with 6-6 and a push with A-9 which brought a fold.  With careful play and timely cards, we lasted long enough to reach the final two!

Our opponent had a big advantage in chips at that point, and our attempt to go all-in with K-6 and King-high at the turn did us in.  He made a pair of 4's on the turn, and survived the river to win the tournament.  But we finished very thankful - as second place paid three times our buy-in, or $60.  (Third place had a payout as well.)

MINISTRY MOMENT: We told you during an earlier Arrowhead tournament about a man who served time in prison, and now is going straight with his life.

"Thirteen months," he told the table, "and I haven't touched a drop."

"Praise the Lord," we said in response.

"And I do," the man confirmed -- giving God the credit.

If you have success, whether at a poker tournament or in battling life's trials, do you give credit where it's due?
Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. - Psalm 115:1

It's tempting to be like Little Jack Horner, of nursery rhyme fame -- and declare, "What a good boy am I!"  But we heard a sermon on Christian radio as we drove to the tournament which reminded us we're not good.
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one.... All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." - Romans 3:10, 12

These are humbling words -- and as we heard during a sermon in our own congregation over the weekend, we should be humble in our daily walk.
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - I Peter 5:5b

We couldn't even drive or walk to a poker room without God providing the life and strength to do it.  Be sure to thank God for those seemingly small daily blessings -- as well as the bigger ones when they come along.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 141 final tables in 407 tournaments (34.6%) - 23 cashes.  We've played in five live tournaments since moving to Wichita, and finished first or second in three of them!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Purse and the Posse

We had forgotten about 2011 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Jonathan Duhamel -- until we came across an update on what happened after he won the title.

You may recall Duhamel's home in Quebec was robbed as he slept, and the thieves took his Main Event bracelet along with cash.  But you may not have heard his former girlfriend has pleaded guilty to the crime.  The girlfriend apparently conspired with at least one other man to do it; two other suspects await trial.

This case is a sad reminder that success in anything -- whether it be poker, athletic sports or business -- can come with a risk.  King Solomon apparently knew that well, because he wrote....
The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends. - Proverbs 14:20

Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him. - Proverbs 19:4

King Solomon had it all, at least for the time when he lived.  His stash of gold alone might have rivaled Fort Knox (I Kings 10:14-29).  But in addition....
He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.... So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. - I Kings 11:3, 6

How many of those 1,000 ladies were faithful to God?  We don't really know -- but it appears too many of them were not, and King Solomon paid spiritually for it.

Some people cling to the wealthy like mosquitoes to your skin -- sticking around only for what they can draw away.  If you're successful in poker, consider that carefully.  Times of trial reveal who your real friends are -- but the time to evaluate those friends probably should come much sooner.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pray Before You Play?

Our Saturday night web surfing found something very unexpected: "An Agnostic Poker Player's Prayer for Passing."

We have no idea who Kelly Schulz is.  But it was submitted to a Spokane, Washington newspaper's request for verses which could be used at memorial services and funerals -- not really for use at a poker tournament.

This prayer inspired us to think about how we pray before heading into a tournament -- especially the live kind.  We don't prepare anything pre-scripted to read before God, because....
And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. - Matthew 6:7

It's interesting that Jesus gave this warning against repetitive prayer right before saying "the Lord's Prayer" (verses 9-13) -- the one recited verbatim in countless churches and congregations week after week.

So here's our question: do you pray before a poker tournament -- and if so, what do you ask God in your prayer?  Please leave a comment with your thoughts; we'll share ours in a future post.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mr. Know-It-All

Playing cards are a vital part of any poker game.  But sometimes for certain people, they can turn into a sort of magic show.

"Nine," someone might say before a turn card comes out -- and lo and behold, it's a 9.  We don't know how they do it.  But we know of someone who lost his job for doing it the other day.  And of all places, it happened during the World Series of Poker.

Mike Sowers tells he went all in with three 9's.  With three hearts showing on the flop, the dealer said: "Sorry man, bad beat."  Then the dealer flipped over a fourth heart on the turn, giving another player a winning flush to eliminate Sowers.

What did the dealer know?  Apparently too much -- because he reportedly admitted to not shuffling the cards.  The dealer apparently wound up fired, while Sowers received a refund of his buy-in.

One question lingers from this strange story -- why didn't the players at the table notice the dealer's actions?  Didn't anyone realize he hadn't shuffled the cards?  Perhaps there's a lesson here for all of us:
This is what the Lord says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord." - Jeremiah 17:5

We'll focus on the first part of this verse for now.  Alert poker players always watch for people not playing by the rules or taking shortcuts.  Perhaps we should even watch supposedly "neutral" dealers in poker rooms, too.

Eventually humans will let you down because, well, they're only human.  For a better answer, we recommend....
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. - Jeremiah 17:7

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Language Foul?

It wouldn't be World Series of Poker season without a little controversy - right?  And there's one posted today, from a H.O.R.S.E. tournament.

It involves two players fluent in Russian, who spoke Russian to each other during a hand.  They were both out of the hand at the time.  Many poker rooms in the U.S. have "English-only" rules for tables.  But in this case, a WSOP official ruled the players could speak in Russian "on the side" because they were out of the hand.

The video report we saw didn't reveal what the players discussed in Russian.  It could have been President Vladimir Putin's pending divorce.  But it could have been poker strategy -- so we can understand why others at the table would be annoyed by what they did.

Perhaps the WSOP might consider applying some guidance from the Bible:
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two - or at the most three - should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. - I Corinthians 14:27

Why would the apostle Paul bring up this issue?  Because some early churches had people who spoke in different languages.  Even modern churches have this; you may know of congregations which have separate weekend services in English, Spanish, Korean or some other dialect.

Paul's instruction is that when everyone gathers together, the emphasis should be on unity....
What then shall we say, brothers?  When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. - I Corinthians 14:26

By having one "official language" during a service, everyone can understand what's said.  That way, everyone can profit from it.  We think the same principle can apply at a poker table.  There's no question about what others are doing or discussing if everyone speaks the same language - and if players need assistance in speaking English, an interpreter can help.

We're interested in your comments about this issue.  In the meantime, feliz jugando.  (Spanish for "happy playing.")

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gifted and Rewarded

A recent post looked at what can happen when players show up late for poker tournaments, and what our attitude should be about that.  We based our thinking on a parable of Jesus.  The parable ends with these famous words:
So the last will be first, and the first will be last. - Matthew 20:16

Sometimes the first person to show up for a poker tournament winds up in last place -- as the first person eliminated.  Then there are the latecomers who adjust their game to higher blinds, take over a table and go on to great success.

But as we mentioned before, Jesus's parable is about more than Texas Hold 'em tournaments.  It's about the process of bringing people to salvation -- an eternal relationship with God.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Some people accepted Jesus as their Savior during their teenage years.  Some did it during a "deathbed confession" in old age.  Both will be entitled to the same "gift" of eternal life.  The longtime believer won't live any longer than the latecomer.  After all, eternal life is eternal - without end for all time.

So what's the advantage of "showing up early" in the game of believing?  The Bible hints at an answer....
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. - Matthew 16:27

What will that reward be?  That answer isn't clear.  Another parable of Jesus indicates the reward will be based on how much we've done for Him in the time that we have (Luke 19:11-27).  The more time you have, the more "profit" you can build.

So if you've never accepted Jesus, we recommend you do so quickly -- before the years of life "blind you out" and eliminate that opportunity.  And if you have accepted Him, get into the practice of sharing Him with others.  It could be by words or a quiet example -- but either way, work on building up that spiritual chip stack.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Price to Pay

We return to our recent chat during a National League of Poker tournament.  The discussion delved into matters of the Holy Spirit -- and then came this:

kingkupkake:  repentence isnt cheap
Me:  True.
Me:  It cost Jesus His life.
kingkupkake:  poker witness lol
Me:  amen

We don't recall exactly what happened at the table to bring up repentance -- but it's something we all need to do.
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  "The time has come," he said.  "The kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the good news!" - Mark 1:14-15

Jesus gave us two things to do.  Believing the "good news" (called the "gospel" in other translations) sounds rather easy.  Repenting sounds a little scary.  Yet Jesus also said....
....But unless you repent, you too will all perish. - Luke 13:3, 5

What does it mean to repent?  A study Bible we have offers this definition: "Make a radical change in one's life as a whole."  Our lives tend to be sinful.  But Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins.
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.... - Acts 3:18-19

Some ministers say you should radically change away from playing poker.  We wouldn't go that far -- but we should repent of harmful destructive things often associated with poker.  Addictions such as smoking, drinking and gambling come to mind.  So do the points listed in God's Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5).

Look over your own life carefully.  Are there things you regret doing or saying?  Is it time to confess them before God - and then walk in a repenting way, instead of simply talking about it?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Poker Day 406: Toss Across

A newcomer at a poker room has a bit of an advantage, because no one else knows how they play.  That may have helped us on our first trip to Arrowhead Poker two weeks ago.  But the disadvantage is that we don't know how others play. Let's see if the tables turned on us today....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: King of hearts - Queen of hearts

Early feelers haven't worked for us; in one case we folded 8-8 to a big bet on the flop and missed a winning 8 on the river.  Now we have great-looking suited connectors, and a man ahead of us at our table of seven has raised to 700.  We're happy to lay low and call; about half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: Q-10-4 (no hearts; last card may not be precise)

Top pair and a strong kicker give us hope.  But an older gentleman across from us seems even more optimistic; he tosses out 2,000 without a care.  We're puzzled by what he has (two pair, maybe?!) - but we feel strong enough to call.

"If you called, I'm folding," a man next in line from us.  He was one of the dealers on our last trip to Arrowhead, and will reveal later in the game that we "play tight."  Doesn't he realize loose lips can sink ships -- such as ours?


We're now heads-up against the older man, and he tosses out 2,000 more.  This actually makes us more skeptical about what he has -- now thinking he has a Queen only.  So we call again.


Without hesitation, our opponent flips out his last pink 5,000 chip to go all-in.  He's been tossing chips like coins into a fountain -- but that Ace was absolutely the last thing we wanted to see.  So we take a moment to think about this.

"If you've got an Ace..." we finally say.  He says nothing.  We conclude (admittedly more out of hope than a read) that he missed some kind of flush draw.  "I'll call."

Sure enough -- our opponent flips over A-J.  He chased a winning hand to the river and won it, throwing up big bluffs along the way.

We never recovered from that big loss -- finally going all in for our last 2,500 with our own A-J amid rising blinds.  Another man went all-in for even more, then showed A-K.  The board paired, but his King kicker was better.  On a day with only two tables playing, we missed the final one by finishing 13th.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The pre-game talk turned to a penny someone had picked up along the way.  What, if anything, made it a "lucky penny"?  Someone said it had to be face-up.  This was news to us.

"All I know," we told a man next to us, "is if you find ten pennies, you tithe on one of them."

Are you familiar with a "tithe"?  The word means a tenth, and it's often used in church-speak.
A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. - Leviticus 27:30

These instructions to ancient Israel were for an agricultural society.  It's different from an "ante" in poker, where everyone contributes the same amount of chips pre-flop.  The amount of the tithe depended on how much of a crop people produced.

The tithe was given to he Levites, who served as ministers -- then national leader Moses passed along a "tenth of that tithe" to Aaron the priest (Numbers 18:21-28).  We suppose poker rooms work somewhat the same way; a certain amount from buy-ins is set aside for covering the room's expenses and salaries.

You might be giving more than a tithe of your income to the government today, in the form of taxes.  But have you given God His tithe?  There's a promise for those who do:
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." - Malachi 3:10

God blesses those who give -- especially if you give to Him.  One way to do this is through a church congregation.  It's only fair to repay ministers who work hard to preach God's Word and provide us spiritual support.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 140 final tables in 406 nights (34.5%) - 22 cashes.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Leading the Right Way

In a recent post, we mentioned an online chat where confessing to God came up.  The discussion continued in the following hands....

Dealer:  lovesbowling splits Main Pot ($825) with Straight, nine to king
Dealer:  mks splits Main Pot ($825) with Straight, nine to king
Me:  (church clap)
kingkupkake:  holy ghost growl
Me:  He's leading me away from this
Me:  Hoping everyone here is led by the Spirit

We admit some Christians have worship services where the Spirit seems to "inspire" all kinds of curious noises and behavior.  But we can't find any Bible verse where the Holy Spirit growls.  Instead we find....
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. - Exodus 16:2

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." - John 6:41

The King James Version translate "grumble" as "murmuring."  People have murmured against God's appointed leaders throughout time - from Moses in the Old Testament to Jesus in the New Testament.  We think the grumblers wound up on the wrong side of history.

It's easy to get into a grumbling mood at the poker table.  You might be dealt low disjointed cards hand after hand for 30 minutes.  But that's when we need to remember that's not a godly approach.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.... - Philippians 2:14-15
 Yes, everything.  No, that's not easy - not at all.  But pray for the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and words.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.... If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. - Galatians 5:16, 18

This online chat isn't over yet; it will continue in an upcoming post.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Better Early Than Late?

It's World Series of Poker season in Las Vegas - and the first big event of the year is a record setter.  More than 6,300 players are entered in the "Millionaire Maker" tournament, with a $1,500 buy-in leading to a million-dollar top prize.

Based on the newspaper article we read, apparently players were allowed to enter after the official starting time.  Admittedly that's always irked us a bit -- people showing up as much as 45 minutes late, yet being allowed to sit down and start playing as if nothing has happened.

Perhaps because of our background in broadcasting, we try to be on time for everything we do -- including poker games.  We're happy to be rewarded at some establishments with extra chips for an "on-time bonus."  But it seems to us that's what everybody should be doing. Yet we're reminded of a parable from Jesus:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.  About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  He told them, "You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right." - Matthew 20:1-4

The following verses describe the landowner rounding up more workers during the course of the day - even at the 11th hour of a 12-hour day.  Yet when the payoff came at day's end, look at what happened....
The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more.  But each one of them also received a denarius. - Matthew 20:9-10

Does that seem fair to you?  Verses 11-12 show the "early birds" didn't think so, and they grumbled about it.
But he answered one of them, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn't you agree to work for a denarius?" - Matthew 20:13

Read the "contract details" from verse 2, and that's absolutely correct.
"Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you." - Matthew 20:14

In poker terms: the player who walks into a 12:00 noon game at 12:50 p.m. still could win the first-place money.
"Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?" - Matthew 20:15

This landowner erred on the side of generosity -- on the side of giving.  When you look at things from his perspective, it's hard to fault that.

We can see advantages to being at a poker table on time.  For example, you can build a big chip stack while the blinds are small.  Latecomers may be given the same number of starting chips, but have less margin for error because of bigger blinds.  But in some poker rooms, latecomers actually have their starting count reduced to reflect missing rounds of blinds.

Which player do you think has an edge in this situation?  Leave a comment with your thoughts.  And we should note this parable has implications far beyond the poker room; we'll address those in a future post.