Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Real Story: 2014 In Review

Our work schedule seems to get busier and busier -- and as a result, our time for playing poker gets smaller and smaller.  But here's how the past year went for us.

LIVE TOURNAMENTS: 11 final tables in 21 games (52.4%), 1 cash.

Critics might call those numbers deceptively high.  Several tournaments wound up having only one table, so we "made the final table" simply by showing up.  And we cooled quite a bit after making our first five finals of the year.


OTHER CASINO GAMES: Ultimate Texas Hold 'em - Down $280.  Computer machine heads-up -
Down $59.  Blackjack - Up $55.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER: Regular - 0 for 4.  No-River Hold 'em - 1 final table in 9 games.

POKER STARS: Play money cash games - Down $2,762.

Our conclusions?  First: much to our surprise, maybe we're playing the wrong game.  We did shockingly better at blackjack than anything else, with three gains in four sessions - especially in terms of making money.  (We also earned 95 cents with "free play" at casino slot machines.)

All those final tables in poker rooms didn't make us money, because most of them had entry fees -- and our single $40 win in February didn't make up for all of that.

So second: unless you're really sharp at playing poker or hit a big jackpot somewhere, you're liable to lose money more often than you win.  If you can afford that in small chunks and not become addicted, that might not be bad; stock traders see ups and downs as well.

But with some people, the dream of "beating the system" can turn into a downward spiral of financial and personal trouble.  We'd recommend those people stay away from poker, and probably any casino gaming.  Find something better to do.  As the Bible recommends....
...Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. - Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

The way this world is going, those standards seem to set a very high bar.  But there's Someone who is a great One to focus on....
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. - Hebrews 12:2

If you've never considered the life and example of Jesus Christ, there's no better time to start.  Go through the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Take your time - perhaps a chapter or two a day.  Take notes on what you see Jesus saying and doing.  And ask how those points can apply in your life.

We're thankful we had some extra money to spend on poker (and doing poker ministry) during 2014.  We're also thankful for all of you who read this blog and offer comments.  We're planning to continue on in 2015, as our schedule permits -- but perhaps picking our tables and locations more carefully.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Poker Day 438: Hearts On Fire

Our last scheduled poker tournament for 2014 found us plunking down 60 more dollars at Arrowhead Poker, and winning the first hand of the day with K-10 when a King came on the flop.  But then a string of losses -- including a fold on the river when we had a pair of 10's and an opponent with nothing ran us off with a 3,000-chip bet.

We needed a big comeback at some point, and hoped the right cards would provide it....

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET: A-9 of hearts

We start this hand with the Dealer button at a six-handed table, holding 42,000 chips.  No one is raising -- and even though these cards are pretty big, that's fine with us.  We call, and about four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 7h-7c-8h

Talk about a big flush draw.-- not to mention 60 percent of a straight flush.  A man who moved over from the other table in this two-table tournament a few minutes ago puts out 10,000.  Other players ahead of us fold.  This man bet us off a hand with a big wager moments ago, but we can't really afford to move aside now.  We call in hope.


Hope is rewarded!  And our poker face must be working well, because our opponent takes a look at our chip stack before acting.  Now he bets 20,000.

"All-in - 28,000" we announce.

The opponent doesn't really hesitate.  He calls, and the dealer takes a moment to sort out the chips.  Then comes our cliché line, as we show our heart flush:

"You can call me Planters - because I've got the nuts."

Our opponent turns over 7-4.  He has three 7's, but we need to dodge a full house.


We do!  It's a big gain for us, to around 110,000 chips.

Other big hands came for us -- including A-K, which brought another Ace on the board.  That provided enough pad to last through bad blinds, and we reached the final table with 50,000 chips.  Then A-Q brought an Ace on the flop, and we built our stack to a high of 190,000.

But rising blinds eventually did us win, and we were forced to go all-in with Q-3 in the Small Blind.  The board didn't pair for us but did for a woman down the table.  We finished with a strong fifth-place finish, then sat disappointed as the last four players split up the prize money.  They each won $105. We received.... well, a few slices of free pizza and drinks.  But it was still our best finish since late October.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector medallion to a grandfather at the final table. (At least we assume he was, from the Gramps" shirt he wore.) He seemed surprisingly amused by the portrayal of Jesus on the back, which we keep face-down.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked Gramps.

"I think he was the Prince of Peace."

We agreed, because the Bible agrees:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
You may have heard that verse sung countless times during Handel's Messiah, especially in December.  But you may be asking a question -- where's the peace?  Why didn't Jesus end all wars, violence and hostility?

If you're asking that, maybe you haven't experienced the peace Jesus personally talked about....
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. - John 14:27
The Lord went on to say, " me you may have peace" (John 16:33)  We think it means peace of mind, knowing what follows this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. - Matthew 5:9
Do you consider yourself a "son of God"?  Jesus hints here one way to prove it is to be a peacemaker -- making peace with other people, instead of stirring up difficulties.  That phrase brings up another part of our conversation with Gramps; we'll get to that in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 156 final tables in 438 games (35.6%), 25 cashes.  Our next post will wrap up our 2014 poker activity

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Two-Minute Warning

Kansas Star Casino seemed busier on December 24 this year, compared to last year.

"Wait until tomorrow," we overheard one table game dealer tell his players.  "People will have all the cash they got as presents."

But we were there on Wednesday night, hoping to make money player 1-3 cash game poker.  We went on a waiting list, and received one of those "your seat is ready now" electric plates you might get at restaurants.

We walked around for a long time, stopping to watch table games.  Finally after about 30 minutes, we decided to sit down at Ultimate Texas Hold 'em to bide our time and perhaps make a gain.  And wouldn't you know - during our first hand at the table, the notifier went off.

We had good cards in that one hand, but the dealer beat us and we lost $20.  With $40 in chips left and $40 in our wallet, we went back to the poker room desk.

"Minimum $100," the attendant told us.  That standard hasn't changed, and we came prepared to offer that $100.  But that one hand elsewhere in the casino had changed everything.

"I played one hand over there, lost $20, so I only have $80," we admitted.  We could have walked over to the ATM, withdrew $50 more and been ready to play.  But instead, we handed our electronic gizmo over and said "thanks, but no thanks."

We wound up losing $70 back at the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table.  But we learned quite a lesson without even sitting down.  It was a lesson in patience -- waiting even longer than you might think, to obtain what you really wanted.

"Patience is a virtue," we often hear.  It's a helpful trait to have while playing poker -- folding lesser hands while waiting for good cards to come.  And we think it's valuable in all aspects of life.
A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. - Proverbs  19:11

Some players bet big right after losing a tough hand, saying they're "trying to win my money back."  Sometimes that works; sometimes they dig themselves an even deeper hole.  That's where patience needs to govern our play -- as it should everything we do.
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm because the Lord's coming is near. - James 5:7-8

We live in an area where "winter wheat" grows. Farmers know better than to harvest it during winter. Seeds lie in the ground, absorbing moisture from rain and snow until plants begin to shoot up in spring.

Maybe you have to develop patience by telling yourself to be patient -- over and over again, if necessary.  That would have made all the difference for us this week.  We might have won big in the poker room -- but then again, we might have lost our entire $100. We'll never know in this life. May you develop the patience that brings a good harvest, in poker or elsewhere.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Poker Day 437: Bounty Picker-Uppers

The "freeroll period" at local poker rooms seems to have passed.  It cost the managers too much money.  Instead, we're now in a  "bounty period" on Sunday afternoons at Arrowhead Poker.  The tournament has a bounty section attached: $25 chair rental + $25 bounty chip + $10 extras = $60 entry fee.  But if you eliminate a player, his/her bounty chip is worth $25 at the end of the day.

Our game today didn't offer any moments to take players out.  But we won a few nice pots, and hoped to win one more here....

BLINDS: 5,000/10,000


It's a two-table tournament, and seven players remain at ours.  We start the hand with 35,000, but we're in the Big Blind.  So we're substantially committed, and see no reason to hold back when our turn comes.

"All in, 35,000" we say - putting the white bounty chip in, along with everything else.

Only two others were interested in this hand.  One man folds.  The other, a manager at another card room, thinks it over out loud.

"I'm probably going to chip you up," he says -- but he goes ahead and calls.

"Al-Qaeda," we say as we show.  He shows a meager 4-5 of hearts.  This looks very promising.

ON THE FLOP: 5-8-Q (8 is a heart)

Wow - we both pair the board.  But our Queen leads.


Uh-oh - now this is potential trouble.  He has four hearts, for a flush draw -- in fact a straight flush draw, and a straight flush was hit at this table only a couple of hands before.  By our count, he has 13 outs.


....and he hits the more unlikely one!  Two pair stun him, and leave us shaking both our head and his hand.  We leave the contest in 13th place, and he gets our $25 bounty chip.

MINISTRY MOMENT: There was no "Christmas music" playing in the poker room; they call up classic hits from the late 20th century during the afternoon games.  One of them was George Harrison's My Sweet Lord.

"That's a curious song," we said to several people (none of whom responded).  "Jesus is my Lord - but he turns it into a song about something else."

We've mentioned this song here before.  Have you noticed the last part of the song refers to "hare krishna" - as in Hinduism?  Harrison apparently wanted to cut through religious divisions.  But there's a problem with that:
...Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.... Salvation is found in no one else, for there s no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:10, 12
The Bible never mentions Buddha once.  It mentions Jesus often -- and it dares to say Jesus is the only name by which you can receive salvation.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.... - I Timothy 2:5
Perhaps it's little wonder that some people call Bible-believing Christians intolerant.  It's because the God who inspired the Bible demands a choice: accept Jesus as your Savior or else.  What choice will you make?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 37 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

All the Wrong Reasons

One reason why some people condemn poker is because other people do strange things when they play.  In fact, they sometimes do illegal and disgusting things.

One case currently in a British court is a sad example of this. A couple is accused of persuading schoolchildren to play "strip poker" after getting them drunk.  The charges grow worse from there.

We've never played strip poker, and don't really want to do it. (That's OK - you don't need to e-mail us the rules.) It takes a good card game and turns it into a perversion.  So we can understand why there's a law in Britain against enticing children to play it.  And an old "law book" tells us....
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious.... for adulterers and perverts.... - I Timothy 1:9-10
The accused couple is innocent until proven guilty in court.  But it's easy to point fingers at them for what they might have done -- until we stop and think a second.  Who has not broken the law at some point?  Especially the holy law of God?

....For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

The author of I Timothy realized that in his own life:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. - I Timothy 1:15
So is Paul the author a lost cause?  Not at all.  Jesus staged a dramatic intervention in his life (Acts 9), and Paul became a preacher and teacher of the ways of God.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. - I Timothy 1:16
Do you feel like the worst sinner ever -- perhaps of something you've done at a poker night?  Jesus helped Paul, and He can help you.  Turn to God, begin walking in law-abiding ways based on what His "law book" (the Bible) shows you, and amazing things can happen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Wild Life

So what has Martin Jacobson done since winning the World Series of Poker Main Event?  What - you don't know?  To be honest, we're not sure, either.

But another "poker pro" has made a lot of headlines - for the wrong reasons.  Dan Bilzerian was arrested this past week on charges of having materials to make a bomb.  That follows a case where he reportedly threw a naked actress into a swimming pool.

We don't follow the social media of poker players very much, but a news article on Bilzerian's arrest said this:

Bilzerian's popular Instagram account is consistently filled with photos of a playboy lifestyle: private jets, scantily clad women, piles of cash, guns, and Bilzerian shooting those guns in the desert.

And oh yes -- he does movie roles, too.

He sounds like every poker player stereotype come to life.  Yet check his poker record, and Bilzerian shows only one time when he placed in the money at a World Series of Poker event.

We don't know if Bilzerian is guilty of the bomb-making charge or not. But we think he's guilty of one thing -- a lifestyle that emphasizes material possessions.  And yes, we think that's something worth the title "guilty."
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. - Ecclesiastes 1:2 (KJV)

This "Preacher" was King Solomon of Israel.  He had more possessions and money than even modern-day millionaires (see I Kings 10 for a partial list).  Yet at the end of his life, he realized how vain it all was.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.... - Ecclesiastes 5:13

Solomon admits being able to enjoy wealth and possessions is a "gift of God" (verse 19).  But how many people realize that, and give God thanks for it?  Even Solomon eventually caved in to sinful actions (I Kings 11).  That's why he concluded:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. - Ecclesiastes 12:13
 May we all learn to do that "whole duty" better.  Better to fear God than be a playboy fearing arrest by the long arm of the law.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Czech or Bet

It's one of the classic poker questions. Is it a game of skill? Or simple luck? Or a combination of both?

This question has gone to courts of law more often than you might think. The latest ruling comes from a court in the Czech Republic. It ruled even poker tournaments (as opposed to cash games) are gambling, so organizers have to obtain state licenses:

The court argued that chance was a crucial factor in poker, making it gambling rather than a game.

We really can't deny that point -- and we don't think most experienced poker players would, either.  When tournaments get late, blinds are high and players are scarce, the cards you're dealt matter a lot.

But we'd add life is full of chances and big decisions. The biggest risk you'll ever make does not involve the choice of a spouse, or even whether to go all-in with pocket Kings.  It's this....
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out -- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:28-29

Jesus is talking about an upcoming time of judgment. How will He determine good from evil?  He answered that....
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me will not be condemned.... the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. -- John 5:24-25

You can "hear" the words the Jesus said, by studying the Bible - especially the first four books of the New Testament, including John. Then believe them by putting them into practice.

We believe Jesus advised doing good things, not bad things. We have an article which attempts to sort them out. Which bet in life will you make?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Push Or Be Pushed?

Some poker players can come across as bullies.  They'll raise early.  They'll bet often.  They'll try to force opponents into tough decisions which test their backbones.  When you come across that sort of player, how should you respond?

We found an article from California on one of the 2013 World Series of Poker tournaments.  Chad Holloway responded to an all-in bet by calling, scored a big win and went on to capture a bracelet.

Holloway offers this noteworthy advice:

Amateur poker players have a tendency to put opponents on stronger hands than they actually have, but it's important not to be a pushover.... don't back down in the face of adversity.

Start talking about the things of God at a poker table, and other players might conclude you are a pushover.  They might conclude that based on some verse they might vaguely recall Jesus once saying....
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39
Our NIV Study Bible notes indicate this "strike" is "more of an insult than an act of violence."  But it's easy to overlook something else Jesus said in this same chapter....

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." - Matthew 5:38

This quote recalls a principle established by God way back in the Old Testament:
If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.  As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. - Leviticus 24:19-20

This is "fair and balanced" justice. It's leveling the amount of damage.  If someone "pushes" you in a poker hand, you can push back in kind -- as long as you don't go overboard and take vengeance.

Sometimes in poker, that "second cheek" might be a trap you set to get your chips back -- even with interest.  That's the nature of the game.  But away from the table, it shouldn't be that way.
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
 Play humbly, for that matter -- but be ready when the moment is right to show you have a "strong hand" at your disposal:

The Lord gives strength to his people.... - Psalm 29:11

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Talking a Good Game

The player seemed to need one card to make his hand.  He called for something (let's say a club to make a flush) - and the dealer dropped a club on the river.

"Ask and you shall receive," a player next to us at the table said.

"I read that in a book once," we told him.

Do you know which book?  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you can probably guess....
Hitherto have you asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. - John 16:24 (KJV)

Jesus said these words to His disciples shortly before He died.  They indicate disciples are to ask for things "in my name."  That's not the name of the "poker gods" - but the God who became man.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.... - John 1:14 (KJV)

So what things should be on our "wish list" for God?  Should it be a club at exactly the right moment?  Should it be for opposing players to make bad decisions?  Not necessarily....
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:3

If you ask God for breaks at the poker table simply because you'll win beer money -- well, we have the feeling God will turn that down.  Here's a better approach:
As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. - I Samuel 12:23

We can't recall ever hearing a player asking the "poker gods" to intervene with another person's all-in bet.  Yet in our lives, it's good to ask God to bless other people - as well as ourselves.  That way, everyone can benefit.