Sunday, September 29, 2013

While We Were Out

September may go down as the busiest month this blog has ever had, in terms of page views.  Two posts about a U.S. Senator ballooned the total to more 850!

Despite all this momentum, we were away from this blog for about the last two weeks -- a bit like a poker player who piles up a big stack, then leaves the table for awhile.  Before we explain what happened, here's a quick review of the poker-related activity we've done in recent weeks:

+ We filled some idle minutes at an online version of Ultimate Texas Hold 'em, staying in practice for our next casino trip.  The play is quick and addictive -- and after early gains, we lost more than 1,200 pretend dollars.

+ We played pretend cash games at Poker Stars, and practically broke even.

+ We found National League of Poker tightened its cash giveaways again.  Instead of running freerolls for money twice a day, now those games only qualify you for level 10 on a 12-step scale to win money.  It seems awfully time-consuming for little gain.

In all these cases, we did not stop at poker rooms as we have during other fall breaks.  That's primarily because our schedule and travel plans did not allow it.  But that's OK -- because we didn't lose any real money, and we focused on something much more valuable.
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise.... it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. - Proverbs 6:6-8

A wise poker player saves some of his winnings (if he wins enough to save) for tougher times.  But even then, we should keep in mind....
For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. - Proverbs 27:24

We were focused in recent days on an annual church festival picturing the coming Kingdom of God.  It included worship and daily (sometimes very detailed) Bible study.
How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! - Proverbs 16:16

It's about striving for a prize much more priceless than a poker tournament's final table.
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. - Romans 2:7

Eternal life with God and Jesus Christ is the greatest thing anyone could want.  So what are you trying to win these days?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Poker Day 411: A-A Charger

A player in the Big Blind begins with a slight disadvantage, as he's "pot committed" before any cards are dealt.  But sometimes the Big Blind can be dangerous, as playing "any two cards" can leave people guessing.  Here's an example of that from Arrowhead Poker Sunday:

BLINDS: 100/200


We've seen Aces a lot early in the game -- in combinations such as A-Q and A-9.  Some of them worked; some of them didn't.  But this pair is likely to work -- and yes, we're in the Big Blind with them.  A man across the full table raises to 600.  But when we see these cards, we know it's not enough.

"Raise - 1,700," we say as we pick a number out of thin air.  A couple of players take us up on it, and call.

ON THE FLOP: Qc-7s-Js (suits may not be exact)

So far, so good -- except two spades are showing.  Neither of our Aces are spades.  So when the Small Blind checks to us, we know it's time for a cross between a continuation bet and a block.  We offer 2,500.  Our opponents aren't scared; they call.


This still seems good to us.  The Small Blind checks again, and now we raise the stakes to 3,000.  The man across the table who raised initially is puzzled by this.

"You were on a flush draw and now...."  After pondering a moment, he calls.  The Small Blind folds.

"I could have all sorts of thing," we tell our opponent.  He agrees with that.


If he was on a flush draw, he just missed -- but part of us wishes the board had paired with that card.  What if he has something like Q-J, for two pair?  We decided not to back down, and bet 4,000.  This puts about two-thirds of our total stack in play.  This time our opponent says nothing -- he simply calls.

"I've got rockets in my pocket," we say as we show.  The table is impressed.  Our opponent shows a Queen -- and nothing else to top it.  Aggressive play allows us to double our stack, to more than 36,000 chips.

We won a few more pots after that, climbing above 50,000 in the first hour.  But then we overspent to make a flush on the river, when three Aces were showing.  An opponent with J-J proved he wasn't bluffing, and scored a big win over us with a full house.  Yet we fought back, going all in with 10-10 when a third 10 came on the flop and getting another double-up.

We reached the final table with about 60,000 chips.  But rising blinds and a lack of quality cards did us in.  Forced to finally go all-in for our last 10,000 in the Small Blind with K-2, the board didn't pair for us while it did for another man.  On a day with two full tables, we finished seventh -- out of the money, as only the top three were paid.

MINISTRY MOMENT: For a chance, the ministry did not happen in the poker room.  It happened during our trip to and from it.

"OUT OF WORK/ ANY HELP/ GOD BLESS" read the cardboard sign held by a man standing in the median at a traffic light near our home.

We learned several years ago how to prepare for moments like this.  We pulled over the car, reached into our trunk and pulled out a "beggar bag" -- a paper bag containing a small container of meat (we use chicken vienna sausages) and a pouch of juice.  But there's something else in the bags, added only recently -- little tracts about God and Jesus Christ.

The man accepted our bag, and we went on to the tournament.  Yet on the way home, we found a second man at that same intersection -- holding the very same sign.

We pulled over again, and asked a question before reaching.  "How many are in your group?"  Clearly this was some kind of organized "tag team" effort.

This man said there was only two of them.  "I hold the sign for awhile, then he holds the sign for awhile."

We only had one bag left in the trunk, so we gave it to that second man.  The humorous side of us wants to say we hit a "two-bagger."  But we think it's important to provide aid in such cases -- not simply throwing money, which beggars could misuse to feed dangerous addictions, but something which meets a specific need.
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. - Hebrews 13:2 (NASB)

The context of this verse seems to refer to bringing them into your home.  We've done that from time to time, but our current living situation doesn't really allow for that.  Yet our new city seems to offer plenty of opportunities to help "strangers" looking for whatever aid and assistance they can find.
Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality. - Romans 12:13 (NIV)

You may say street-corner beggars aren't really "God's people."  But unless you know their full life stories, how can you truly be sure?  We choose to err on the side of giving -- keeping in mind God gave us the promise of eternal life through Jesus His Son.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 144 final tables in 411 days (35.0%) - 23 cashes.  Our final table percentage climbs back to 35 percent for the first time in almost a year!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Focus Point

This blog had a record number of page views this past week, because of what we wrote about a U.S. Senator playing online poker during a hearing.  Thanks to everyone who paid us a visit -- and have inspired us to go deeper into what that Senator did.

Giving Sen. John McCain the benefit of the doubt, he was listening to testimony about Syria while playing poker.  In our day, that's known as multi-tasking -- and it's something we all do to some extent or another.  You may play poker in a room which has sports events on a big screen above you.  Or you may have a job where you type information while answering phone calls.

Did you ever consider God made us with the ability to multi-task?  You can see people and hear conversations while tasting food in a restaurant.  But how well can you do all these things at once?  We suspect utilizing a combination of senses reduces all their effectiveness a little.

When it comes to our lives, we think Jesus would agree:
No man can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money. - Matthew 6:24

How interesting that the New International Version capitalizes "Money" -- since it can become a god to many people.  But Jesus made it clear that you must choose between God and money as your "master" in life.

If you're living for nothing more than a poker payday, we think you have the wrong master:
Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!" - Acts 8:20

God's gifts, such as the Holy Spirit and eternal life, are priceless.  That is, you can't buy them.  They require a commitment to serve God, above all else.
Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8

If you focus on the televised game above you in a poker room, you might miss something at the table and foul up a winning hand.  In the same way, if you focus on things other than God in your life, you might miss a moment when God wants to draw near to you and help you with a big problem or dilemma.

Hebrews 12:1 advises us to throw away everything that hinders or entangles us.  We're to focus on what matters most.  In poker, that can mean your cards.  And in life....
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Ultimate Half-Hour

We withdrew $60 from a bank ATM and headed for the casino.  The casino had a poker room, where we'd never played before -- but then we found it took $100 to have a seat at the cash game table.

Too bad for us?  Actually, no.  Wandering around the Kansas Star Casino floor, we found a table where people were playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'em -- a blackjack-style version of the poker game.  After watching a couple of hands, we sat down and gave it a try.

The sign said we needed a minimum of only five dollars - but in reality you needed $15 to play a hand: five for the blind, five for a matching ante, then five more if you choose to play your two cards all the way to a showdown with the dealer.

We never plunked down pre-down money on the "trips" button in front, which promised bigger returns.  A cautious first-time approach was enough for us, and one time it paid off big....

IN THE POCKET: 4-6 of clubs

They're suited but uninspiring.  We could bet right now... but why?  We check.

ON THE FLOP: 3c-5c-Kc

OK, that was why.  We make a flush on the flop!  Now we can bet again -- and we want to go for it all.  But under the rules, we can't; we're limited to two times our ante.  We offer $10, and we're frozen from betting any more in the hand.

The turn and river cards were dealt together, and we missed our open-ended straight flush draw.  The dealer turned over 7c, which would have been perfect for us -- but happily enough, he lacked another club.  We doubled our money on the blind and ante, with a flush paying three-to-two for our "play" bet of $10.

Our $40 chip investment brought us double our money within 30 minutes - reaching a high of $82.50.  We left the table with $62.50, happy to score a gain of more than 50 percent in a hurry.

There's a lot to like about the Ultimate format.  For one thing, the dealer is helpless.  He can't change the two cards he's dealt -- and since only one deck is used, those cards are every bit as likely to be as lousy as yours.  Also, you don't really compete against the other players around the table; anyone who beats the dealer's hand gets a payoff.

MINISTRY MOMENT: There's also an opportunity to interact with players next to you at the table.  The woman to our left scored a nice pot with pocket kings.

"As they say on Christian radio," we told her, "walk with the Kings and be a blessing."

That catch phrase (with only one "King," not two) comes from a late radio Bible teacher who still can be heard each weekday.  We ask you one simple question: which King do you follow each day?  We pray it is....
....God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who live in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.  To him be honor and might forever. Amen. - I Timothy 6:15-16

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria, Scandal and Sin

The big news in the poker world this past week came from an unlikely place -- a U.S. Senate hearing, which wasn't even about poker.

John McCain plays on iPhone "Scandal!" Sen. John McCain of Arizona tweeted after the Washington Post took a camera behind the hearing desk and found he was playing video poker.  He admitted in the same Twitter message he lost.

The confession has brought a wide range of reactions.  Some people say he should have been paying attention to the topic of the hearing -- a possible U.S. military strike against Syria, which could have life-or-death ramifications throughout the Middle East.  On the other hand, McCain's mind seems made up on the issue; he wants military action, and little at the hearing might have changed that view.

We don't think McCain lost real money at the Senate hearing.  The company which makes the poker app calls it "simulated gambling."  And by the way, it reports downloads have increased 30 percent since the McCain picture went public.

Yet there's a possibly overlooked issue here.  McCain got caught playing video games on the job.  He tried to hide it well, behind a Capitol Hill desk.  But could you get away with playing online poker at your workplace -- or even old-fashioned FreeCell?

The Bible has some things to say about that....
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. - Colossians 3:22

Paul wrote this in an era when slave ownership was common.  But we think the same principle applies to modern employer-employee relations.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving. - Colossians 3:23-24

We'll all have to answer to Jesus for our actions someday -- even our actions or inaction on the job.

We should make a confession here: we had a job during college which had a lot of "down time" between tasks.  Our first experience with poker was playing against a computer at work, on an early-model Commodore (before there were Internet hookups).  The supervisors didn't mind, because they knew the nature of our job gave us plenty of time to spare.

In more recent jobs, we've realized we can't play online games and do our work properly.  (In one case, there's no time to play computer games at all.)  So we err on the side of doing the work -- realizing another Biblical principle:
Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor. - Proverbs 12:24

We'll have more to say on this in a future post -- but for now, we leave these two questions for your thoughts and comments:

1.  What's the strangest place where you've ever played poker (even stranger than a Congressional hearing room)?

2. There's a time to work, and there's a time to play poker.  Unless you're a poker pro, ask yourself: do those two paths really cross?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Running for What?

Photo courtesy Washington Post
Have you heard about the next big poker movie?  Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck have a drama coming out in October called Runner RunnerWe'll save details about the plot for another day -- but we're thinking about that title.

Regular poker buffs know the phrase "runner runner".  It refers to the turn and river cards in Texas Hold 'em.  If you have three cards to a flush (let's say diamonds) after the flop, then diamonds are dealt on the turn and river, you hit the flush "runner runner."

We're not sure how that phrase developed -- but if you think about it, all poker players in a tournament are "runners" in a way.  They're in a race to gain chips, as blinds go up and options become more difficult.

And beyond that, everyone is "running" whether they play poker or not.  We're running in a race called life.  A Biblical writer looked at it that way:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize. - I Corinthians 9:24

Yes, there's a prize at the end of the race.  For poker players, the goal is to finish in the money.  What's the prize on the road course of life?
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:14

Really - God's handing out prizes to runners?!  That's what Jesus says....
Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. - Revelation 22:12

Jesus will reward faithful followers when He comes back to earth.  Tonight marks the start of a fall "holy day season" which pictures that return, as well as that reward.

It begins with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah, the "Jewish New Year."  In ancient Israel, it was celebrated by blowing trumpets (Leviticus 23:23-24).  The book of Revelation indicates many trumpets will sound in heaven, right before Jesus comes back.
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." - Revelation 11:15

Jesus will rule the world -- and then His "runners" will receive (at the minimum) the reward of eternal life.

If you'd like to read more about the upcoming holy day and the return of Christ, this study guide provides plenty for you to consider.  Review it with an open Bible.  Then ask yourself: are you really running to win the ultimate "jackpot" God has to offer?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Think and Grow Rich

"Any idiot can pull the lever on a slot machine."  So says the last line of an article about whether or not poker is pure gambling, or a "game of skill."

To be honest, that writer sums up well why we walk right by the rows upon rows of slot machines at casinos.  We ask where is the challenge there.  Where is the opportunity to outwit "the system" built into a video slot machine, and actually have success?

Yes, we've heard stories about people who have defied the odds and won consistently.  They're stories mixed with allegations of cheating, primarily by casino operators catering to "high-roller" customers.  But to us, poker requires more thinking than that -- at least to have consistent success.

Which leads us to ask: what do you think about away from the poker tables -- or even during games?  There's one mind we need to be copying and emulating:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.... - Philippians 2:5 (KJV)

Some would say this sounds bland and boring.  But it's actually a better way to think.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9 (KJV)

God's way of thinking is "higher" -- which in the original Hebrew means it's loftier.  Yet there's a catch here, because many times we think too highly of ourselves....
For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. - Galatians 6:3-4 (KJV)

You might think you're a good poker player.  But if the evidence doesn't show up in the statistics (such as cash game winnings or tournament final tables), you're deceiving yourself.

It may sound like the "mind control" of a cult, but ask God to help you think properly -- when you're playing poker, and in all aspects of your life.  (For starters, we suggest reviewing every time "mind" and "think" appears in the Bible.)  That help might bring you better skill at a table, and a better life overall.