Sunday, November 30, 2014

Poker Day 436: Ace is Enough?

Life can become very busy at times.  For us, it's been so busy that we hadn't played in a poker tournament in five weeks.  So we went to Arrowhead Poker this afternoon, after practicing a bit in an  online cash game.  Would absence make our play better or worse?

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-8 offsuit

Only 11 players have shown up for Sunday action on a holiday weekend, giving us hope for "small table" success.  We're at the table of five, but have yet to win a hand.  With nearly our full chip stack, we take this cautiously and limp in.  Most of the players are in.


Top pair is nice -- and when the table checks, we get the feeling we're leading.  We bet 500 to see how serious the opposition is.  One man calls; the others fold.


That seems harmless - and something tells us our opponent is chasing something, perhaps with a Queen.  We bet 1,000.  He doesn't hesitate, and calls.


That complicates things a bit.  Now there are three cards for a straight.  We check with caution - but our opponent offers 1,900.  This strikes us as a "get lost" bet.  But with top pair, we really can't.  So we call -- and he shows A-9!  His kicker card topped ours to take the pot.  And our read on that man turned out to be very wrong.

It was that sort of day for us -- betting on promising hands, only to lose to better ones.  Our stack of chips drained rather quickly.  An all-in moment with 9-9 brought a third 9 on the flop to allow a triple-up to 8,200 chips.  But it didn't last -- and a final push with J-9 when a Jack came on the flop led to an opponent making two pair, while we did not.

We finished 11th out of 11, which is technically in last place.  But if the tournament had not allowed re-buys, we would have been a couple of spots off the bottom.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man at our left -- the one with a depiction of a long-haired Jesus on the other side, when he turned it over.

"That's awesome," he said.

"I think Jesus is awesome.  Do you think Jesus is awesome?"

"Yes, he sure is," the man said quietly as he refocused on the game and his smartphone.

We think the word awesome gets overused today.  We've even heard church pastors say it to describe young people playing music a bit less than perfect.  The ministers may be trying to encourage young talent.  But consider how that word is used in the Bible....
Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? - Exodus 15:11

This verse comes from a song celebrating God's miracle for the Israelites at the Red Sea (verse 4). We think God showed a bit of that glory in providing a "pillar of fire" for Israel to keep moving away from the Egyptians (Exodus 13:21).
The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land. - Zephaniah 2:11

This moment of "awesome-sauce" (to borrow from that credit card commercial) is written for the future.  The "Lord God" plans to destroy all other gods. How will that happen?
Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." - Revelation  19:15-16

To borrow from a carol at this time of year, the return of the "Lord of Lords" Jesus Christ will not be "tender and mild."  Jesus will strike down all opposition - and we suspect that will include the gods of those opponents as well.  Now that's one awesome Lord.  Agree?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 436 games (35.6%) - 25 cashes.  We missed a final table for the first time since mid-August (five tournaments ago).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Poker Thanksgiving

One of our most curious Thanksgiving Day memories comes from the last decade, in the city where we used to live. After working in the morning, we took advantage of a discount coupon at a shopping mall restaurant. It was open at 1:00 p.m. - but with no trace of Thanksgiving at all.

There was no special turkey dinner on the menu.  So we dined on steak and broccoli with cheese -- and we looked up at the TV screens in the restaurant to see poker players, instead of football games.  It was an ESPN World Series of Poker marathon.

Over the years. the usual Thursday night poker spots in our cities have closed for Thanksgiving.  But this year is different; one poker room plans to open in the late afternoon (although it doesn't mention any tournament play).

So to borrow from our last post: are you a thankful poker player? Perhaps you've had a lousy year, and see no reason to be thankful. But the Bible reminds us....
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - I Thessalonians 5:16-18

We can talk about joy and prayer another time - but our focus here is about giving thanks. We think it should go beyond wishing friends a holiday greeting and serving food.  It should be about expressing thanks to the One who makes all things possible, including our lives.
For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. - I Corinthians 11:12

As radio host Michael Baisden used to say: "Everything is everything."  God provided the ingredients for everything at a poker table -- from trees for wooden tables to a brain for you to read opponents and make winning moves.

We're thankful for a year where we haven't played many live tournaments, but we've gone 10 for 17 in making final tables.  One of them brought a third-place cash win.  But all of them have brought opportunities to share the things of Jesus Christ with fellow players and others who may be listening.

If you need reasons to give thanks, check our Biblical list.  Then tell us - what one thing are you most thankful for this year?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Favorites or Longshots?

Since we've been talking about numbers lately here, try this one: 2,598,960.

That's reportedly the total number of five-card combinations possible in a 52-card deck.  We learned this from a Business Insider article on poker odds.  It's an article that's pretty clunky to us, with lots of photos -- and we're not sure it's helpful for players, because it doesn't figure in two-card combinations you might be dealt.

But here's another number to ponder: the odds of a single card turning into a straight flush are 0.00154%.  That statistically is a longshot.

And to be honest, the odds of you reading this may be even higher.  You have to be alive.  You have to be at a computer, tablet or smartphone.  You have to have this blog called up, out of millions of websites.

We thank you for defying those odds and reading this entry.  But how about even bigger odds than that?  You're on a planet that isn't too close to the Sun, so you melt - or too far away, so you die from extreme cold.  In fact, you may be on a part of the planet that has a range of seasons and temperature changes.

The odds of that happening are so ridiculously high that we think there's only one sound conclusion for it:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - Genesis 1:1
The odds of everything evolving into the position you're in probably are even higher -- because there's no guiding hand to put everything in a proper place.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree than will never pass away. - Psalm 148:5-6

So far as we know, the Earth and other planets have kept the same orbit around the Sun for thousands of years.  Can any evolutionary theory really explain that?  Consider what "wisdom" poetically proclaims:
"I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep...." - Proverbs 8:27-28

This is Thanksgiving week in the U.S.  We hope you take time not only this week, but every week, to thank God for all he's provided you -- whether it be a big win at the poker table, a living body for playing poker, or a world where it's physically possible.  Make God your favorite, and show it in living a life that's pleasing to Him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Future Tens

As the poker world moves past the "perfect 10's" of this year's World Series of Poker Main Event champion, we asked about the number ten in the Bible.  We noted there are the Ten Commandments - and we asked where other combinations might be found.

Jesus mentioned one group of ten in a parable -- then He divided them in two:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lambs and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not have any oil in them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. - Matthew 25:1-4

What's Jesus driving at here?  Is this a message to "preppers" about a coming apocalypse?  Well, in a way it is. Keep reading....
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. - Matthew 25:10
Let's apply this moment to the poker room.  We don't think it's good to show up "fashionably late" to a tournament.  You'll probably have to start with higher blinds, which means less room to maneuver - and you'll probably have to square off against players with larger chip stacks from earlier action.

But Jesus really was talking about something else - His own return to Earth. Check what happened to the five people had to go buy oil for their lamps:
..."Sir! Sir!" they said. "Open the door for us!" But he replied, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. - Matthew 25:11-13

If you're not ready for the return of Jesus, you might miss out on something - the greatest wedding in history:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. - Revelation 19:7

The Bible shows believers (God's church) will be wed to Jesus, and be joined with Him forever.  It pays to be ready for that moment.  Stay close to God in prayer and Bible study to keep your "oil supply" well stocked.

We did some more Bible number-crunching, and put the results in one of our newest articles.  We welcome your thoughts about it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can I Get a Witness?

The moment admittedly felt awkward.  After a wonderful Sabbath day with good food and Biblical preaching, we sat at sunset in a car in the parking lot of a casino.

It's closer from our church hall to the casino than to our home.  So we decided for one Saturday evening to go there from church -- hoping to win some money and do a little ministry.

A dealer saw us standing near his table wearing a suit and "Praise Jesus" lapel pin, and gave a respectful (perhaps stunned) nod.  Then he went on with the game, because his table was full.

We finally found a Ultimate Texas Hold 'em seat, next to a man in a very verbal mood.  He asked us not to say "Boom shaka-laka" ("Boom goes the dynamite" was acceptable) - and we proceeded:


IN THE POCKET: Q-7 offsuit

Nothing worth shouting a boom about here.  We check.

ON THE FLOP: 7-10-K (last two cards not precise)

As best we recall, we have bottom pair.  Our practice at the online Ultimate game has taught us to be wary about betting bottom pair.  It's tempting, but we check.


The house is full, and we're quietly happy.  We bet the $5 to stay in.

The dealer turns over his cards, to show a flush - but we have him topped.  A player to our left has a better hand, and his full house pays well.

"I have a boat," we say as we quietly turn over our cards.

Except the dealer doesn't recognize that - and he starts to take or cards and chips away!

"He's got a full house," a man next to us says before we can speak up.  He saw it, too -- and the dealer apologized.  He points to the empty "trips" diamond, where an extra $5 bet would have paid us 8:1.  But instead, we get a $25 payout (blind paying 3:1).

We didn't tip the dealer - but probably should have tipped the player to our left, for speaking up in our behalf.  In legal terms, he was our "advocate."  And whether or not you play poker, we all need one.
Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. - Job 16:19

Job said this in the midst of a difficult trial.  Without his knowing it, God had allowed the devil to take away practically all his belongings in life.  It was a test -- and at this point, Job was passing it by stating his faith in God.
My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.... - Job  16:20

Who is Job talking about?  We're led to think he knew something about a Savior who would come to Earth much later, then go back to heaven:
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

There he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  - Hebrews 7:25

Jesus can intercede and be an advocate at the throne of God in your behalf, too.  But you have to believe in Christ, and His ability to do that.  Are you willing to do that -- so God the Father doesn't declare you an ultimate loser?

P.S. We wound up losing $50 at the table, after having a modest gain for a moment.  The chances of us repeating the "church-casino" double are slim, at best.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Perfect Tens

Congratulations to Martin Jacobson of Sweden, this year's winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event.  And the way he won the bracelet Tuesday night was quite noteworthy.

Martin Jacobson"Tens for ten!" Jacobson's supporters chanted when he turned over 10-10 in response to Felix Stephensen of Sweden's all-in bet.  Stephensen had A-9, but a third 10 on the flop did him in.  So talk about numerology - three 10's earned Jacobson ten million U.S. dollars.

The number 10 is important for believers in God as well.  Why?
Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire.... He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. - Deuteronomy 4:12-13

God summarized the basic rules for righteous living in ten points.  Have you looked at those points lately, and considered whether you're following them?  For instance....
You shall have no other gods before me. - Deuteronomy 5:7

If you decide to take a "week off" from worship because of a big poker tournament, or if you're too busy with online games to spend time reading the Bible, you might have a false god.

The "gods of poker," as some players call them, can't come close to the God of the Bible.  Can poker gods do this?
...Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. - Psalm 103:3-4

What does "redeeming your life" mean?  The poker gods also can't resurrect you to eternal life....
...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

That's why it's important to keep the first commandment. We encourage you to look through the rest of God's "winning ten" and see where you stand compared to them.

In the meantime, let's have a little fun with that winning number. What other 10's can you find in the Bible? Leave a comment with your answer, and we'll compare notes in an upcoming post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The World Series of Poker website is calling it "one of the great feats in poker history."  And it does NOT involve one of the game's big-name celebrities.

mark newhouseMark Newhouse sits down at the Main Event final table Monday night for the second year in a row.  Rising to the top from among 6,000 or more players once is outstanding.  Doing it twice ought to get Newhouse considered one of the best poker players in the world.

But in an interview with, Newhouse wasn't ready for that sort of title:

I don’t want to say that about myself. Yeah, I know it’s amazing, but I’m never going to say "greatest" about anything with my name in it.

Compared with the Hellmuths and Iveys of the world, this sounds different - a poker player showing a measure of humility.  Perhaps it comes from Newhouse finishing ninth out of the "November Nine" last year.  But it ought to come from a proper understanding of our own humanness.  Consider one famous example of this:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.... - I Corinthians 15:9-10

Who wrote these words? The apostle Paul, whose name is on at least 13 books of the New Testament. (The authorship of Hebrews is open to debate.)  He realized what sort of man he'd been, under a different name....
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples.... - Acts 9:1

But later in that chapter, Saul was struck down and made blind.  Jesus Christ could have killed him, to defend His church.  Instead, Jesus humbled Saul to walk in a different direction:
But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go!  This man is my chose instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."  - Acts 9:15-16

As the apostle Paul, he went through a lot - including several floggings (Acts 16:23).  Yet he kept humbly doing what God had directed him to do.

If you consider yourself God's gift to the poker table, we have a few suggestions.  1) Go to Las Vegas and prove it at the WSOP level.  2) If you don't (and odds are you won't), admit you're not -- then find ways to serve others in a humble way.  As Jesus put it:
For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest. - Luke 9:48b

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More Than the Money

It's November. The U.S. election is over. So it's safe for poker's biggest final table to gather in Las Vegas - the "November Nine" of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

You can read about the entries on the WSOP website.  We were struck by how the contenders plan to spend their winnings, which at worst will be about $730,000.

"It's going to be for travel and partying," one finalist said.

"Try to divide some to people close that need it and stuff like that," another said.

At least the second player is thinking outside himself, considering needs of other people.  But how many poker players would be willing to follow this famous advice?
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:21

Jesus Christ gave this advice to what many Bible headings call a "rich young ruler."  That ruler found that suggestion to be a personally tough one - an "all-in moment" that could change his life.
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 19:22-23

Why is it hard?  Because many people turn money into a god.  They become so consumed with making more that they forget something - they can't put the cash in a plastic bag and spend it beyond the grave.
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

Jesus calls for a choice - and eventually God will call for "the clock."  We're all destined to die, unless Jesus comes back right away.  The Lord gives more advice about the right decision to make:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:33

A reward is promised to those who stay faithful to God and Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:27).  It starts with eternal life - and then potentially much more.  Will it be riches?  Cities? Planets? We're left to speculate about that. But that reward certainly will be better than a $10 million payday - because it will last for eternity.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Surprise Raise

We check the poker room websites before we go to tournaments, because the schedule can change practically by the week.  Arrowhead Poker showed nothing unusual today, so we grabbed $20 and made the drive.

"That'll be $70," the manager told us.  "Or 50 without the buy-in."

We should've known.  The first Sunday of every month traditionally is the big tournament at Arrowhead - with a bigger buy-in and prize pool.  But the "freeroll fad" of earlier this year came and went at local poker rooms, so we went on the theory the monthly event had disappeared as well.

"I checked the website before I came," we admitted before we left.  (We didn't carry an ATM card which would have let us obtain the difference on the spot.)

But perhaps we didn't check online hard enough.  While the main website didn't mention the monthly big tournament, Arrowhead's Facebook page did - a couple of times.  It was a page we don't think we've ever checked before.

Moral of the story for us: it pays to "dig deeper" and investigate, even if one source indicates things will happen a certain way.  That's true in poker games as well as poker websites; sometimes a leading question or two will draw out opponents, so you can read them better.

And guess what -- that approach is also a good idea when it comes to the things of God.  We were reminded of this by a couple of Christian speakers this weekend:
Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

Studying the Bible can help you see if you're really living the way God wants you to live, or doing what He wants you to do.  One way to do this is by reading through the Bible - perhaps in a year, or faster.

But we recommend doing more than skimming through it.  Take notes on noteworthy verses you find - and take time to compare your approach to life with the Bible's instruction.  "Rightly dividing" it means sorting out Scriptural fact from the fiction some speakers (or even ministers) might tell you.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen. - II Peter 3:18  (KJV)

The better you know Jesus, the more you'll understand how He lived -- and the better you'll be able to copy that example, at the poker table and other locations.  That example might actually surprise other people, and get them into digging deeper.