Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Remember As You Play....

The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. - Proverbs 27:12

When you have 4-4 and the flop brings a third 4, that feels good.  But what if that 4 is a heart, and another heart is next to it?

Simply offering a small "come on in" bet could be asking for danger.  Many players with flush draws are likely to wager a little, in hopes of winning a lot if one more heart comes on the turn or the river -- then spring a big "gotcha" raise at the key moment.

One thing we've learned only recently is the importance of "throwing the block" in those situations.  A big bet on the flop could drive the "fishermen" away.  You might not win a huge pot.  But if you need to win a pot because your stack is low, at least you'll gain something.

Now let's reverse the roles.  If you're on a flush draw and someone makes a big "I dare you" bet, how do you respond?  Do you smell danger and cut your losses -- or "go forward in faith" (to borrow from Exodus 14:15) and risk missing the draw?

Decisions like that reveal what sort of poker player you are.  The answer can depend on how you read your opponent, how many chips you have -- and if you're not careful, even whether the dealer laughed at your joke attempt three hands ago.

We've never played the reality game Dungeons and Dragons.  But we've watched other people do it - and one thing they learn when they enter a new room is to "check for traps."  Be smart and aware of potential dangers during poker hands, and you're less likely to be trapped by an opponent.  Do that in life, and your days may be a lot longer.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chances Are....

For some reason, poker never came up  Nor did other "games of chance" you might play in a casino.  But we were drawn to a public radio series this past week on "Risk and Reason" - examining how statistical probability plays a factor in many things we do.

One basic example is the weather forecast.  How do you prepare for a "20-percent chance of rain"?  Your answer may say a lot about you.  Let's translate that to some examples at a Texas Hold 'em poker table:

* If you have a "gutshot" straight draw - such as 5-6-_-8-9 - your chances of making it with a 7 on the turn are 4 in 47, or 8.5%.  The chance of making the straight on the river is actually slightly better, because there's one fewer mystery card.  It becomes 4 in 46, or 8.7%.

* If you have four cards to a flush after the flop, the chance of completing it on the turn is 19.1% (9 remaining cards in a suit out of 47).  On the river, it's 19.6%.

(Yet a flush beats a straight at showdown.... but that's another topic completely.)

Good poker players constantly figure the odds and probability in their heads.  Yet the NPR series showed if you avoid casinos because you don't like "games of chance" -- sorry.  You live in a world where the figuring of probability and chance abound.

If you're looking for a sure thing, consider this: 100 percent of all human beings who lived in the 18th century died.  And unless something unusual happens, so will you.  So will we.

But believers in God and Jesus Christ keep a "long shot" in mind -- that something unusual can happen.  In fact, the Bible offers it as hope beyond this life.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel  and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. - I Thessalonians 4:16-17
Did you notice the apostle Paul wrote those verses somewhat in the present tense?  "We who are still alive...."  From all we know, Paul eventually died -- but he had that "long shot" hope.
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet shall sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. - I Corinthians 15:51-52
The chances of hitting a straight flush card on the river (if you have the other four) is only two percent.  Believers in Jesus should live each day in faith, keeping the "chance" in mind that God could prove His word true and send Jesus back to Earth at any time.  That will be hitting the sweetest "jackpot" of all.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Big Wins, Little Wins

We'd almost forgotten to check back on the World Series of Poker Main Event.  It's down to the "November Nine," including one man who made the final table for the second year in a row.  We should have plenty of time to talk about them in the weeks ahead.

But right now, we want to congratulate a smaller-scale champion in our old stomping ground.  Victor won the "Wednesday quarterly" title at Players, one of the bars in Georgia where we played from time to time.  But we wonder how many other people at Players know what he does for a living -- directing a faith-based charity which helps homeless families.

It's Victor's job to give and serve people who don't physically have much.  (He's even helped us a couple of times, when we had small needs.)  So we think it's only right that he was blessed with success in other things, such as poker.  He displays a Bible principle....
....For God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. - II Corinthians 9:7-8
Charities such as Victor's sometimes can have tight moments financially.  So can poker players.  But this section of the Bible has a promise for those who give:
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread or food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in Thanksgiving to God. - II Corinthians 9:10-11
We're tempted to say at this point: To Victor go the spoils.  But he'd probably tell you God has spoiled him -- and he's trying to pass on blessings to others.  May you realize how much God has given to you, and be ready to pass on gifts to those in need as you're able.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! - II Corinthians 9:15

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What the World Needs Now

To borrow a radio news phrase: If you miss a week on the local poker circuit, you can miss a lot.  We were reminded of that today, as the Sunday 2:00 p.m. freeroll has moved to 4:00 p.m. -- a little late for our schedule.

At least we could play in an online tournament.  And we came upon something surprising at National League of Poker, which we simply had to chat about:

Me:  Hmm - my screen shows an ad
Me:  "How Jesus Christ can bring you peace"

The ad apparently was placed on NLOP by the Latter-day Saints church.  We don't agree with everything the LDS teachers, but this allowed us to start a conversation -- and it brought a response:

Gou:  I thought that was Obama
Me:  Guess not. :-/....
Me:  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

No one responded to that - but that's how the Bible describes Him:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6 (KJV)

Jesus is given several titles here, and a couple of them may seem confusing. But we want to focus on the last one - "Prince of Peace."  The news of the last week was filled with deadly violence around the world.  If ever this world could use a "Prince of Peace," it's now.  And the Bible promises Jesus - but not in the way you might think:
And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. - Revelation 19:11 (KJV)

Verse 16 identifies this "Person" as "King of Kings and Lord of Lords."  And another part of Revelation makes the identity clear....
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords and King of kings.... - Revelation 17:14 (KJV)

The "Lamb" of God we call Jesus is coming to bring peace -- but did you notice He'll "make war?"  He'll be using language the nations of this world sadly understand too well:
And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations.... - Revelation 19:15 (KJV)

In poker terms, Jesus is going to win the final showdown of this age -- and punish the losers.

One way to be part of God's ultimate peace is to get on the side of the Prince of Peace.  Have you repented of your sin, and turned to Jesus for salvation?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Little Extra Time

Andres Cantor ranks among this country's best soccer broadcasters.  But as we drove up the highway on a Sunday afternoon, he frustrated us - as he seemingly refused to give the score of the World Cup Finals during the second half.

Our path home from another event took us past a casino, and we had our casino card just in case we had to time to stop for a little play.  Cantor's drama finally proved the deciding factor.  We stopped at the casino to watch the remainder of the match -- and only after walking to a big-screen TV near a bar did we understand what was happening.  Cantor gave no score because there was no score - a 0-0 tie.

The tie remained after 90 minutes, so we walked to an Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em table to (a) see if we could pay for our gas on the trip and (b) watch the overtime periods.  We answered some general soccer questions for a man sitting to our right, who didn't seem to know the game well.  But poker he knew; he had a much bigger stack of chips than we did.

BLINDS: $5 (plus $5 ante)

IN THE POCKET: 8-2 offsuit (as best we recall)

Any two cards can win, they say - but these cards aren't likely to take us anywhere.  But it's free to check, and so we do.

ON THE FLOP: 6-8-6

OK, we'll take that back!  Two pair looks good in this game, so we plunk down a $10 bet (two times the blind).  This commits us for the hand, and there's no further action required on our part.


We're feeling confident, although the King makes us wonder.  Then the dealer turns over his cards -- and they're K-5, matching the last two!  After a couple of small early gains, this is a $20 loss.

We stayed at the table until the final whistle sounded, watched Germany's Goetze get the golden goal (your tongue twister for the day) and explained a bit more about pro soccer.  We left with a $30 loss, plus a $5 tip for the dealer.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We left trying to say something about the site of the soccer match. "May everyone follow the One shown in that statue," we said (sort of).  Rio de Janeiro is famous for a 98-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ.

Was all that a sufficient testimony of our faith?  Some religious groups might say simply befriending the man next to us and answering soccer question was a "witness" enough. But that strikes us as an example, more than a witness.
A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. - Proverbs 12:17

We've heard church pastors say Christians are to be "lights" and not "loudspeakers."  But if a witness says nothing about what he or she has experienced, will anyone get the message?  Based on our years walking a Christian walk, a few people might -- but not many.
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. - I Corinthians 2:13

The apostle Paul believed in speaking what was on his mind -- and the things of Jesus were on his mind often.  If we dare to speak about Christian things, some people around us still may not get the message.  But at least they'll have heard it -- and they'll be without excuse when they stand before Jesus for judgment.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

No Limit? Or Know Limits?

Phil Ivey has seized the chip lead, as we write this entry about the World Series of Poker Main Event.  Nearly 6,700 people have entered this year -- and unless you won a seat through a tournament somewhere, the price is steep: $10,000 to buy in.

We know a man who's put up the money to play in the Main Event for the second time in three years.  We're glad he has that much "money to burn" -- because, as with most big tournaments, only the top ten percent of the players will win money.

We personally don't have $10,000 to plunk down at this point.  We didn't go begging for donations to get it, either.  We're thankful to play in smaller tournaments -- if only because it beats losing everything and going broke.  Besides, we're reminded of a proverb....
Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. - Proverbs 23:4

There's a delicate balance, when it comes to counting your riches.  Try too hard to hit the jackpot, and you could wind up penniless.  On the other hand....
And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."  But God said to him, "You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" - Luke 12:19-20

This is part of a parable of Jesus, about a "rich man" who had a good farming year.  It ends this way:
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. - Luke 12:21

Moral of the story: If you don't have a lot of money, that's OK.  Be thankful for the blessings God gives, and consider carefully any opportunities to earn more.  If you do have a lot of money, don't overlook giving some of it to God through your church.
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.... - Deuteronomy 8:18

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Poker Day 427: When Good Is Bad

Our text for today's poker tournament comes from the prophet Isaiah....
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. - Isaiah 5:20
We don't want a woe pronounced upon us -- but sometimes good starting cards in poker can turn out to be bad ones.  We learned this during today's big monthly tournament at Arrowhead Poker, not once but several times....

BLINDS: 200/400


We've won a couple of modest pots.  But we've lost a good bit, as we pursued marginal hands with a starting stack of 50,000 chips and relatively small blinds.  Our stack has tumbled to the 40,000 range, and a high pocket pair like this gives us hope for a rally.  So we raise to 1,000.

"I'd better call," says a man across the table from us.  "He might be bluffing."  We'll see; about half the table of eight is in.


One of those cards was not what we wanted to see.  But we decide to "man up" and make a continuation bet of 1,000.

"Now I know you're bluffing," says that man across the table.  He calls; the other players fold.  But the way he's talking has us wondering -- is he bluffing?


Ugh.  The board goes from potentially bad to worse.  Now we check.  So does our opponent.


Unless our opponent was chasing a wild-guess straight, that card seems harmless.  But the higher cards compel us to check again.  Now he bets 3,500, and we realize the worst.

"Too many ways to beat me," we say -- and we fold.  He's polite enough to turn over A-2, proving we were right.

To borrow from a former TV news anchor in Canada, that's the kind of day it was for us.  Pocket 10's brought a big raise against us with an Ace showing, forcing us to fold.  We took pocket Queens all the way to showdown, but lost to a man with K-J who gained two pair.  We even had pocket Aces and tried to slow-play them into something big, but made only a modest gain when we had to throw a "block bet" on the flop with two spades showing.

Finally we had A-K -- and when an Ace came on the flop, we check-raised all-in for our last 20,000.  A man called, showing A-7.  But of course, the turn card was a 7!  The 6 on the river didn't save us, and we had a relatively early collapse -- finishing 21st on a three-table day.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The players were so focused and scattered at our table that we couldn't do much in the poker room.  But on the way home, we saw a familiar sight - a man standing on an island in the middle of an intersection two blocks from our house.  We've come to call it the "Beggar's Corner," because someone seems to be there every weekend with a cardboard sign.

"FOOD" is all this man's sign said.  We're ready for these moments, as we parked the car and pulled a "Beggar's Bag" out of the trunk with a can of Vienna sausage and a juice pouch.  We added a small tract we found at a religious bookstore, walked to the intersection and gave it to him.

"I'm Les," he said.  "God bless you," he said shaking our hand -- not once but twice.

We admitted to him how sad it is to see beggars constantly at that corner.  In fact, we're now up to 29 beggars we've encountered this year -- most of them at that very corner.  It's easy to get frustrated and weary of this constant demand for help.  But then, we realized, we must remember the example of Jesus:
Who is he that condemns?  Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. - Romans 8:34
Jesus comes to the aid of all who call on Him, before the throne of the Father.  And on a typical day, thousands (if not millions) are asking for His help.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. - Hebrews 7:25
The demands (as in prayers) reaching heaven are constant.  God doesn't always answer them the way we might like.  But Jesus is serving as an intercessor on our behalf, at any hour of the day or night.  If you're a believer in Jesus, are you ready to serve in the same way?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 151 final tables in 427 games (35.4%) - 25 cashes.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sad About Chad

The World Series of Poker is still going -- but there may be heavy hearts among many players.  It was stunning to learn today that one of the more popular pros on tour had died, much too soon.

Chad Brown completed in some of the biggest poker tournaments.  Yet in many ways, he wasn't the stereotypical poker player.  He was well-built and handsome, not frumpy.  His background was in baseball and acting, not really as a "card shark."

And we remember him best for what a TV commentator said when he was eliminated from an event: "One of the nicest guys on tour."  Brown actually shook the hands of players who beat him.  Trust us to say not many players do that, at any level of poker.

A rare form of cancer took Chad Brown's life at age 52.  For the poker players who are missing him, we'd like to offer some words of comfort.
If a man dies, will he live again?  All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. - Job 14:14
The story of Job is that of a man who endured extensive trials, which God allowed Satan to bring on him.  The devil was not allowed to take Job's life (2:6) -- but even in the worst of times, Job looked ahead to a "renewal".  So did other Bible characters,
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. - I Corinthians 15:52
Death was like sleep, in the mind of the apostle Paul.  He also looked forward to a "change."  And as a believer in Jesus Christ (verse 57), Paul had faith about what that change would be....
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. - I Corinthians 15:53
We don't know the religious background of Chad Brown.  But believers in Jesus have hope that they'll receive eternal life, as Jesus did when He was resurrected from the grave (Romans 1:4).

May all poker players follow the sort of good example Chad Brown set at the table.  And may they be filled with a hope that goes beyond the table, beyond this life -- a hope of a life with Jesus which will never end.