Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poker Day 434: Clash of the Titans

The manager of Arrowhead Poker admits Sunday action starts slowly.  But there still can be plenty of action, even in a one-table tournament.  We faced some big hands today, but we're deferring to one where we simply watched:

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET:  Q-10 offsuit

To be honest, we don't absolutely remember what we had in this hand.  But we know we still had 9,000 chips in the fifth round of blinds, after winning several pots.  And we folded pre-flop, so it must not have been very impressive.  We know Q-10 came up at some point late in the tournament, and it seemed too marginal to play with our chip stack so precarious.

ON THE FLOP: 6h-5h-4h

We murmur noisily at the sight of this - three suited cards in a row.  Seven players are still in the running, including the manager.  As we recall, he made a bet which chased all but one player (the only woman at the table) away.


The plot thickens further - with four suited cards in a row.  Now both players check.


So there's a straight on the table, but that may be the least of our issues.  The manager now goes all-in.  The woman thinks about it for a moment or two.  Is that a big bluff?  She decides it is, and calls.

The manager turns over.... 8h!  It's not a bluff; he has a straight flush!

The woman shows.... 3h-Ah!  She had the Ace for an old-fashioned "nut flush," and the 3 gave her a straight flush of her own -- but not the winning one.  She's eliminated in seventh place, with a true bad beat.

It was our turn to go all-in a few hands later, as we faced the Big Blind with our last 10,000 chips.  We had K-J, but a man called with A-J.  Two Aces on the board settled the matter, and we were ousted in sixth place -- better, but not in the money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man on our right -- the one with an artist's depiction of Jesus on the flip side.  "I don't really think he looks like that," we said of the depiction showing a long-haired Lord.

"I don't know," the man said.  "Maybe they weren't able to cut hair back then."

We didn't tell the man this, but that theory doesn't match the Bible at all.  Consider one of the most infamous haircuts in recorded history:
So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazarite set apart to God since birth.  If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man." - Judges 16:17

These are the words of Samson - a man who had his hair in seven braids.  When Delilah put Samson to sleep and her friend shaved off those braids, indeed "his strength left him" (verse 19).  In fact....
Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"  He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free."  But he did not know that the Lord had left him. - Judges 16:20

Not only did Samson's strength go away -- the Lord went away.  It's curious to us that Samson bluffed (as in lied to) Delilah three times earlier in this chapter about the source of his strength.  When Samson finally told the truth, God responded by leaving him!

What sort of lessons should we learn from this?  In terms of poker, we think there's one obvious lesson -- don't lie in pressure situations.  Samson may not have realized he was in one, with his invincible strength at stake.
Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. - Proverbs  16:13

We think this especially applies to the "King of Kings," Jesus Christ.  Would Samson have kept his strength, had he told the truth to Delilah right away?  We're left to guess -- but in poker, we think it's better to say nothing about your hand before showdown, instead of lying and breaking God's command against offering a "false witness" (Exodus 20:16, KJV).

NOTE: There's more to the conversation with that man at the table; we'll get to it in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 154 final tables in 434 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.  Until more players show up, the final table count will keep piling up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bitter Bread

You're dealt pocket Queens, but face A-K and lose.  Or you're dealt pocket Aces and push, only to watch someone else make a flush that beats you.

What's a poker player to do?  It's easy to let it affect your play in upcoming games.  If you do that, you might be falling prey to one of the biggest potential perils -- worrying too much.

We heard a sermon on Christian radio this week which claimed (based on scientific research, we suppose) only eight percent of the things people worry about ever come to pass.  Yet if the minister was trying to dissuade people from worrying, he hurt his point when he told the story of a 1940s artist who built a mountain home to protect his children from city traffic - only to run over a toddler in his driveway.

Terrible tragedies in this world can make anyone concerned about the future.  So can a series of bad beats in a poker room.  Yet the Bible advises....
Vain is it to rise early for your work, and keep at work so late, gaining your bread with anxious toil! God's gifts come to his loved ones, as they sleep. - Psalm 127:2 (Moffatt)
People in Western cultures tend to be taught bitter-tasting things are bad, and sweet things are good.  Yet both can have benefits for you -- with bitter moments teaching us to savor sweet moments when they come.

We've attended church groups where a preacher might spend 15 minutes during a service listing examples of how the world grows more sinful and terrible by the day.  Despite it all, Jesus Christ told believers they should not worry about such things:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Matthew 6:34
Why not worry?  Because the Bible promises Jesus will come again and remove this world's bitterness and anxieties.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away - Revelation 21:4
Accomplishing that will take time.  But we're entering a season of the year picturing how that will happen.  People who keep the Biblical "fall holy days" learn about Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God from heaven to this earth.

Those days start tonight, with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah and some Christians call the Feast of Trumpets.  We suggest you consider those days carefully, using the Bible as your guide and praying for understanding of what they mean.  We believe the "King of Kings" can provide the ultimate victory over all our worries and anxieties.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Poker Day 433: Waiting for the Moment

Our tournament performances recently haven't been very strong.  So we went to Arrowhead Poker today thinking this could be the day the odds turn around.  Sooner or later, they have to turn around - right?!?

BLINDS: 100/200

We're trying to play cautiously early in the tournament.  A couple of small attempts have missed the flop.  Now we have good starter cards, and a man at our full table of ten raises to 1,200.  A call is only natural; about four players are in.


We have a "belly-buster" straight draw.  But the raiser is making other people pay for it, with a continuation bet of 2,200.  Holding about 18,000 chips, we dare to call.  So does one other man to our left.


It's hard to believe that helped anyone - but as we recall, three hearts are now on the board.  Mr. Raiser now tosses out 5,000, and we stop to do some math:

Three Aces + Three Kings = top pair.
Four Queens = straight
Nine hearts = flush (a miscount on our part; the Kh and Qh repeat).

In short, we have a lot of outs - 17/46, or about 37%.  We conclude this is worth the risk.  We call.  The man to our left does as well.

ON THE RIVER: K (not a heart)

Knowing the way people tend to play at Arrowhead, top pair gives us some comfort.  The fact that Mr. Raiser checks does as well.  We bet 2,000.  The man to our left folds - but not the better across the table.  He calls.

"I hit the river," we say as we show.  But our opponent quietly turns over K-J!  He made a second pair with that river, and we take a big loss.

That was the way play went in general for us.  A few minutes later, we entered with J-10.  When the flop showed 10-9-5, we pushed for our remaining 3,600.  Two speculative players called.  The turn brought a Jack, making us feel good about two pair.  But after the river, a man to our left pulled out K-Q!

His straight made us the first player out at the table - and since there was only one table, we finish 10th.  We think.  The poker room manager filled our spot and played for awhile, and it looked like someone came in late to join the game.  So technically, it's a "final table" -- but not one which feels very good.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A couple of people seemed edgy at the start of the game.  "Must be a full moon," a man to our right commented.

"Actually, it's a new moon this week," we said quietly.  "The Rosh Hashanah moon."

We're not sure if the man heard us, but that's what the calendar shows for this coming Wednesday night and Thursday:
The Lord said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.'" - Leviticus 23:23-25
For some reason, the start of the seventh month in God's calendar has become known as "Jewish New Year."  But more importantly, the Bible shows it's been kept as a time to remember the Law of God:
So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly.... They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being said. - Nehemiah 8:2, 8
Perhaps we should stop here and ask: do you know what the "Law of God" is?  Just as poker games have rules which must be followed, God set laws over society.  And while some people say that Law is now a thing of the past, society still follows much of that law -- such as commandments against killing and stealing.

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are known as "the Books of the Law."  This might be a good time of year to review the instructions in those books.  You might be stunned by some of the things you see.  Then ask God in prayer to show you what He would have you do about them.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 153 final tables in 433 games (35.3%) - 25 cashes.  Yes, we're counting it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Can You Tell?

We asked in a recent post when it's a proper time to speak up during a poker hand, and when it's not.

For us, a lot depends on the mood of the table.  If we're surrounded by quiet workmanlike players, we tend to wait for a good moment to say something to the group.  In a sense, it's like poker strategy -- only in when to be relational, instead of when to make a big chip move.

If the table is more talkative, it's easier for us to join in.  And it's usually easier for us to bring up topics related to faith and God....
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. - Ephesians 4:15

There are two parts to the instruction here.  First, speaking the truth.  We avoid lying -- either about our cards or our faith.
....Better to be poor than a liar. - Proverbs 19:22b

If someone figures out our hand and asks what we have, we have creative truthful non-responses ready.  We might talk about the weather.  We might say we have "something" - which could mean we have anything.

The second part is speaking in love.  Some preachers talk tough about the need for people to repent of their sin, and we can understand that approach.  At the poker table, we tend to define "in love" as easing our way up to a point.  Jesus used both methods at times:
"I have no husband," she replied.  Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true." - John 4:17-18

Jesus "sprung the trap" on this woman's background after making three other comments to her. He didn't walk up with a pointed finger and immediately call a foul on her history.  The Lord waited for the right moment to make the convicting point.

However you communicate with fellow poker players, may you do so in a truthful and loving way.  We think that's the way which best reflects the example of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Poker Day 432: The Return of the King

This time there was no trouble getting a seat at the table.  We offered our $20 today, and sat down to play at Arrowhead Poker.--even showing up an hour early, because the website indicated Sunday tournaments now begin at 12 noon.  (It was fixed after we pointed that out.)  Could we take advantage of players distracted by a room filled with pro football games?

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

We captured a couple of early pots, including two hearts which became a flush that an opponent never saw coming.  But several promising pre-flop hands have missed the flop, so we need to win another hand fairly quickly.  Sitting in the Small Blind at a table of six, no one raises before us - so we dial it up to 2,500.  Only one player dares to call us.

ON THE FLOP: 3-10-5

An ordinary flop at best.  But we're first to act, and see a need to look strong.  So we make a continuation bet of 1,500.  Our opponent calls.


The board pairs, but we doubt that changes anything for our opponent.  We check to make sure.  He checks as well.


Now that's what we needed!  We make a "go-ahead, call me" bet of 3,000.  But after thinking it over, our opponent folds.

"I figured you had a King," he says.  We respond by saying half-jokingly he "had me figured out."  But the river was a fountain of blessing for us, as we gain several thousand chips.

We won another big pot minutes later when two diamonds turned into a flush on the flop.  We checked, and a big better obliged us by wagering 10,000.  We raised all-in to 19,000, and he folded.  From there, we endured to the final table (admittedly on a two-table day) with 35,000 chips.

Once there, a man went all-in across from us.  We saw A-Q, and couldn't resist calling.  But that man had K-K -- and despite the notorious difficulties pocket Kings can bring, we only paired a Queen.  We were eliminated in tenth place.  Out of 12 players, that's not really good -- but a final table is a final table, in our scoring.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The female dealer at our table took a short break, and the poker room manager took her place.  She's "getting the dew off her lily," he said.

"That sounds so Southern," we noted (remember we used to live there).

"More like hillbilly," a man across from us joked.

But we recalled an old Atlanta afternoon newspaper which claimed on the top of Page 1 it "covers Dixie like the dew."  Then we noted: "Now Jesus is the lily of the valley.  The Bible makes that clear."

That comment seemed to stump the table -- and perhaps that's OK, because we couldn't remember exactly where in the Bible that phrase is.  It's in a book you may have never read:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.  Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. - Song of Solomon 2:1-2

What does this mean -- and how do we know this refers to Jesus?  After all, it's in a section of the Old Testament.  But by turning to similar-sounding sections of scripture, we can understand this better:
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.... I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. - Hosea 14:4-5

Who is our ultimate Healer?  None other than God....
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. - Psalm 103:2-3

Jesus did numerous miraculous healings when He walked on Earth.  Several Bible translations indicate Song of Solomon is an exchange of poetic language between a "Beloved" one and a "Lover."
I am my lover's and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies. - Song 6:3

Are you browsing in this world for true love - perhaps for physical or emotional healing?  With apologies to Whitney Houston fans, God offers the greatest love of all....
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

This admittedly is a complex topic.  If you have questions about it, leave a comment and we'll research things further for upcoming posts.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 152 final tables in 432 games (35.2%) - 25 cashes.  Today marked our first final table since mid-June -- but we're still at a 50% final table percentage in 2014 (7/14).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Free To Play

A recent post mentioned our frustration in trying to enter a "true freeroll" poker tournament.  But on this day, we're at least thankful for one thing - we're free to play any kind of poker.  Online or in person.  For fun or for potential prizes.

This is Patriot Day, marking the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.  Terror groups then (and now) wanted to put the U.S. under serious restrictions.  Not in relatively little things such as playing poker - but in big things such as freedom to speak and worship.

One online version of the Muslim Quran (which we're admittedly not sure we should trust) only includes the word "freedom" once -- and that's in terms of making deals with idol-worshipers.  In contrast, the Christian Bible mentions freedom many times....
Live as free men; but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. - I Peter 2:16

Some people use the word "freedom" to justify all kinds of bad behavior.  But living "as servants of God" means accepting God's standards for proper conduct.
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. - Psalm 119:45

A precept in the original Hebrew refers to a "mandate" -- in this case, something ordered by God such as a commandment.  Walking and living within the boundaries God sets can keep you out of trouble with the law (such as not stealing), and gain respect from other people (such as not lying at a poker table).

Believers in Jesus long for a different kind of freedom.  It has nothing to do with rules set down by tournament directors.  It's for freedom from "bondage" in human bodies....
...That the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. - Romans 8:21

The decay of death will turn into a "godly body" that cannot die.  Read the first half of Revelation 20 to find out more about that -- and be thankful to God that you're free to even read about such things from the Bible, and openly hope for eternal life to come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stuck In Neutral

Can playing poker make you a business success?  We've seen several articles over the years indicating the answer is yes.

The latest one comes from the executive vice president of a high-tech company.  Scott Welch offers five business lessons he's learned from poker rooms.  His top tip is "watching for clues" - checking people's body language or "tone of voice" to determine if they're honest or phony.

In poker, we suspect one of the best approaches to take with a hand is neutrality.  Make yourself as nondescript as possible, in your betting gestures or comments.  We learned to do this long before we entered our first poker tournament -- and sadly, we learned it by listening to church messages which sometimes made outlandish or inaccurate claims.
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. - Proverbs 10:19

There are times when saying nothing during a hand is the best way to stay out of trouble.  You won't be caught lying, and you might leave your opponent guessing.
Even a fool is thought wise is he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. - Proverbs 17:28

But the wise writer of these proverbs also noted this....
There is a time for everything.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

So we're open for your thoughts on this.  When do you decide to speak during a poker hand, and when do you keep quiet?  Does it depend on the opponent?  The time in the tournament?  Leave a comment, and we'll get back to this in a future post.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Daily Grind

If all you've seen in the poker world are big televised tournaments, it might look glamorous.  Players toss around big-money chips in lavish casinos, and make ridiculous sums of money - right?!

Well, let's be realistic. Not all poker players are gazillionaires.  Some do well simply to make a living at the tables - and some may be trying to cheat you out of yours.

An essay posted by the New York Post reminded us of this.  It's about an Australian player who talks about losing or winning more than $1,000 a day - and does it by playing ten hours a day, five days a week.  In other words, "professional poker" becomes a job.

But it seems this job is an exception to what the Bible says about work:
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. - Proverbs 14:23

Is that a guaranteed paycheck in poker?  Unless you have a sponsorship deal, the logical answer is no.  What you earn depends on how long and how well you.... uh.... play?! Work?!  Whichever.

The key comes in knowing what you're doing, and doing it well.  That's not only true for poker players, but in other walks of life.  For instance, farming come to mind....
The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. - I Corinthians 3:8

That principle will be true at the end of our lives as well, no matter how long we play poker:
....You, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done. - Psalm 62:11-12

But don't overlook one important standard God uses in figuring that reward....
The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. - Psalm 18:20

Do you "labor" in poker in a clean way?  An ethical way?  A way which sets an example for others of proper (even godly) conduct?  That kind of work will bring a good reward - including the hope of eternal life with Jesus Christ.