Sunday, May 31, 2015

Poker Day 447: Free-Falling

The wonderful thing about a freeroll poker tournament is that you can win money without making a big investment - and if you wind up with a big bust, there's no sting over money lost.  We were reminded of that today at Winners Cardroom, because of this hand....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

It's the fourth hand of the day, at a packed table of ten. We tried to sneak into the prior hand with J-10, only to see big raises chase us off.  That was too bad, because a 7 on the river would have given us a straight.

Now we have big cards, and are first to act.  We limp "under the gun", as we normally do.  Sure enough, the raises come across the table - first to 600, then 1,600.  We call that.  But then a man across the way makes the "four-bet shove," as our dealer would say. Other players bail out.

"I have to call this," we say in contrast.  Our remaining stack of 10,200 chips comes out.

"He has you covered," the dealer notes while counting the stacks.  Of course he does; our opponent bought 20,000 extra chips for $10, while we've only spent one dollar on a can of soda worth no extra chips.

"You'll see why I had to call it," we say as we wait.

"Your Aces are good, sir," a man in the middle of the table says in a guess.  Then we see our opponent's cards: 8-8.

"I don't quite have that," we say as we show.  But we have six immediate outs - a 13% chance.  "Be nice to me," we say encouragingly to the dealer.


"I like you," we say.


"I don't like you," we turn around and say.  Just that quickly, our top pair is trumped by a "two-out" third 8 (a 4.5% chance).


A second pair is not enough.  Our big risk becomes a big bust - as we're first out of the tournament, in 20th place.  But let's face it: what thinking poker player would not have done what we did?

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our card protector of the day led to a pre-game discussion with a man about the Holy Spirit.  He indicated he believes in that Spirit.

"What's the Holy Spirit done for you lately?" we asked him.

"The trinity watches over me every day," he answered.

We know some people who would raise the offside flag at that statement.  They don't believe God is a "trinity" of Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and they'd challenge the idea of the Holy Spirit watching anyone.

We did a quick Bible review, and admittedly couldn't find any verse to indicate the Holy Spirit looks or watches people. (If you find out, leave a comment and let us know.) But consider these words....
...The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. - I Corinthians 2:10b
This was written long before Google searches with computers.  If you went searching for something the old-fashioned way, such as a missing card in your poker deck, wouldn't you look for it - utilizing eyesight?

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. - I Corinthians 2:12

The Holy Spirit can help you understand deep things about God. But perhaps you have trouble understanding how the Holy Spirit works. Review our Bible study on the Spirit with an open mind - and if you have questions, ask them in a comment.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 162 final tables in 447 games (36.2%) - 26 cashes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Smaller, Yet Bigger

The biggest season on the poker calendar begins today - World Series Of Poker season in Las Vegas.  There's something new this year that could gain more entries than the Main Event.  A "Colossus" tournament prize can be yours as soon as next week, if you pay what's billed as "the lowest buy-in in 35 years" - only $565.

We added the "only" on purpose, because some people might find that laughable. Compared to the Main Event buy-in of $10,000, the Colossus is downright cheap.  But for ordinary once-a-week poker players, $565 still seems steep.  It's more than a monthly car payment or rent check.

WSOP is trying to attract a crowd, and we understand that.  But if you're thinking about going to Las Vegas and giving even the Colossus a try, our advice is this - only play the poker game you can afford.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. - I Timothy 6:10

About ten percent of all WSOP entries last year won prize money.  Guess what - that means about 90 percent did not.  They might have had fun, but they went away empty-handed except for possible winnings in other parts of the casino.  If you consider that fact first, you can see how much money you can afford to "invest" in poker tournaments.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? - Luke 14:28

These words of Jesus seem clear to us. Whether it's a big poker event or any other major decision in life, you should "count the cost" (to use classic King James English). Don't take a "leap of faith" you might regret later.  But if you can afford to enter those events, have fun - and please let us know how you do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Big Harry Deal, Part 2

We're still reflecting on the news about Georgia poker player Harry Brooks -- and finding about his death 11 months after it happened.  What other lessons can we learn from this?

2. Don't get too busy for your friends.  That's the surest way to lose them - as relationships fade away.

Sites such as Facebook are supposed to prevent that from happening, but we noted in our last post how unfriendly that site's timeline really can be.  The Bible has one good example of friends staying close:
After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.... And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. - I Samuel 18:1, 3

In 2015, some groups have taken this "love" relationship to mean something very different than what  we think the Bible describes.  Keep reading for the real story....
Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord...." - I Samuel 20:42

Their friendship became separated by family drama, but we think David and Jonathan stayed together as long as they safely could. And David honored Jonathan after his death; see II Samuel 9 for how King David did it.

3. Talk with your friends about the greatest friend of all.  Who could this be?

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. - Proverbs 18:24

We're convinced that "friend" can be none other than Jesus Christ....

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.... I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. - John 15:13-15

In a way, we're trying to make friends at poker tables - while introducing people to Jesus, who gave His life for friends.  If Jesus is your friend, stay close to Him.  And also to the people around you, whom you consider friends in this life.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Big Harry Deal

Poker tables sometimes remind us of the old TV comedy Barney Miller.  They can be filled with interesting characters.  We learned this weekend one of our most memorable characters from the Georgia era of this blog has died.

Harry Brooks never seemed to have the most glamorous jobs.  But when he walked into a poker tournament, he had everyone's respect.  He played the game well, talking and acting out bluffs at times to his advantage.  He made a lot more final tables than we did, during our time in Georgia.

"Big Harry" had some health problems in recent years.  We went to see him in the hospital at one point, and asked here for prayers on his behalf.

But here's the saddest part of all for us -- Harry Brooks died in June 2014.  We never knew about his passing until this weekend, more than 11 months later.  One of his relatives took over his Facebook account (something we don't think Facebook allows), and posted a picture of a gravestone which apparently was only finalized in recent days.

We're assuming that gravestone picture sent Harry to the top of our Facebook timeline.  But to be honest (and yes, we know we're getting off the poker theme here), this explains one of our biggest frustrations with Facebook. What used to be a "timeline" has become so jumbled and random that we probably miss most of the posts by our friends.

But we also must be honest with ourselves, and take some of the blame for the lack of knowledge. We get so busy that days can go by without a single Facebook check -- and we've never really made a habit of reading newspaper obituary pages, especially in places where we don't live anymore.

So we can draw several lessons from the life and death of Big Harry:

1. If you really have "friends," spend time with them.  We've heard ministers challenge church congregations about how many "Facebook friends" they really know.  Are they merely online connections - or is there personal contact?
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.... - Exodus 33:11

Of course, this was long before Facebook or telephones.  But God had conversations with Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.

Some poker players prefer to gather in their own groups for games, because that's who their closest friends are.  We can understand that, in a "home game" situation.  But we can also understand why some people don't think that's fair when it comes to tournaments, because it appears the group is stacking the odds in their favor.

NOTE: Our thoughts on the death of Big Harry will continue in our next post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tip For the Waiter

The hands kept coming, but the good cards for us did not.  When you see 8-5 or 6-3 offsuit with mounting blinds, that's not much inspiration for getting in a hand.

So when we pushed in last Sunday's tournament with J-J in the pocket, our dealer noticed.  "You've shown a lot of patience," he told us.

"We'll see if patience is a virtue," we answered.

It turned out the answer was no (see the post below).  But we still think patient play is a good approach to take in poker.  You're more likely to stick around in tournaments, leading to a better position in the standings. And we think you better show a godly example.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience.... - Galatians 5:22
The phrase "patience is a virtue" sounds like it ought to be in the Bible.  It's not.  But it's one of the "fruit" that should be reflected by people with God's Holy Spirit.  In fact, Jesus's disciples had to show patience before the Holy Spirit came.

He said to them... "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you...." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. - Acts 1:7-9

Some calendars mark today as "Ascension Day."  It's the day when Jesus ascended to heaven, 40 days after He was resurrected (verse 3).  The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus's apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) - 50 days after the resurrection (Leviticus 23:15-16).

What did believers do during those ten days? Acts 1 indicates they became organized, choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot. And....
They all joined together constantly in prayer.... - Acts 1:14

We suspect they were praying in anticipation of the Holy Spirit's coming.  And that sets a good example for us.  While we're waiting patiently for God to provide something, we should pray constantly about it.

Will God always provide pocket Jacks at the key moment, after hours of clunker cards?  Maybe. Maybe not.  But waiting patiently for as long as you're able allows more time (and hands) for God to work.  You might even impress someone at the table as you do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Poker Day 446: Captain Hooked

Nothing says Mother's Day quite like a good poker game - right?!  Well, in our case it did.  Our mother passed away years ago, so we were free to go to Winners Cardroom for its Sunday afternoon freeroll tournament.  It had ups and downs - and then this:

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000


We won a few pots, thanks to good cards and an occasional bluff.  But the cards have grown steadily worse as the blinds have gone up.  Now we're at 8,000 chips, with the blinds about to go up again.  We see this pair, and don't have to think very long about them.

"Let's go for it," we say as the full stack comes out.  Six players are at the table.  Most fold - but a man to our immediate right thinks it over, and decides to try.  He shows A-2.  We feel hopeful.


Aw, c'mon!  The Ace is supposed to do us in - yet his deuce has brought two more!  But if a Jack comes....


A full house for him!  All we can do is drop our jaw and laugh.  But we're overlooking something.  A Jack could still come to our rescue.


A two-way full house!  We shake our head, and shake his hand.

"I think they say that's not a boat - that's a yacht," the dealer comments.

Indeed.  We made the right move, but at a terrible time.  It sends us home in 12th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took a packet of salt for our card protector, and reminded a man to our left about how we're to be "the salt of the earth."

"Do you believe in Jesus?  Is He your Savior?"  The man indicated his answer was yes.

"What's Jesus done for you lately?"  Then came a long pause - so long we thought e hadn't heard us.  But an answer came.

"He's sustained me today, as I'm living without my mother."

Thoughtful words, these.  God is more than our Father and Lord - He is a sustainer.  What does that mean?
Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. - Psalm 55:22

Our dictionary defines "sustain" essentially as keeping things going: "To keep in existence; maintain; prolong."  God provides parents to give children many things - such as food, clothing and shelter during youth.  But from birth through adulthood, God can keep you going through the challenges and trials of life.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. - Isaiah 46:4

It is ultimately God who gives us life.  And His support for us can be more than physical:
The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.... - Isaiah 50:4

God's Word as expressed in the Bible can give us hope for the future - even beyond this wearisome life.  It is the hope of eternal life, for those who put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.  That's far more "sustaining" than constants re-buys into a poker game.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 162 final tables in 446 games (36.3%) - 26 cashes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Praying About Playing

With the National Day of Prayer in the U.S. almost here, we asked in our last post about ways in which poker players should pray.  We think it goes far beyond hitting a "one-card out" on the river when you're all in.

With the NDP website as a guide, one good way to start is to pray for the people who have the power to decide whether you can play legally at all.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. - I Timothy 2:1-2
State and national legislators have the authority to set rules for playing poker.  So do local and state gaming boards.

But note the wording of those verses.  We really should pray for everyone, that things may be "peaceful and quiet" when you play.  We've met some people who show up for poker night with an attitude that is quite the opposite -- and a few drinks served in bars can only make things worse.
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Matthew 5:44-45
These words of Jesus admittedly can be very hard to do.  It's easy to desire getting even with persecutors -- people who get on your nerves at the poker table, either with words or demeanor.  The King James adds those people might "despitefully use you."  Yet the Lord tells us to pray for them.  To help do that....
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.... Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. - Psalm 51:2-3, 10
Yes, it means praying for yourself.  Pray for God to give you a proper spirit and heart, so you can be a good example during the game.  And last, but probably not least....
Pray continually. - I Thessalonians 5:17 
A prayerful attitude should be part of our lives all the time.  Not only on one designated day of prayer, and not only before a big poker tournament.  May God help you to develop such an attitude -- inside and outside the poker room.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Poker Day 445: Go Ahead and Jump

Some poker tables are filled with big spenders.  Others are tighter than an old suit.  One key to success in poker is hoping for people to spend, when you're pretending to be tight.  Here's an example from today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 2-6 offsuit

We've won a couple of early pots and played carefully otherwise.  We have about 65,000 chips, from a starting stack of 60,000.  But these cards.... bleh. The only thing keeping us in the hand is the fact that we're in the Big Blind, and nobody raised. About five players at this table of seven are in.

ON THE FLOP: 2-6-2

Are you kidding us?!?!  Our lowly cards turn into a full house!  But we don't want to tip anyone off to that.  We check when our turn comes, hoping some greedy player will jump in.  Sadly for us, no one does.


Yeow - now we have the full house in both directions!  But we check again, hoping for someone to unwittingly jump offside.  No one budges again.


OK, there's a big card.  Now will someone jump in -- even to bluff?  The Small Blind checks, and we decide to instigate things ourselves.  We bet 3,000.  A man to our left calls; everyone else folds.

"I kept waiting for someone to bet," we say as we show our cards.  Our full house tops the opponent, who we don't think ever showed his cards.

"Big Blind special," another player points out.  True, it was.  But we were hoping for a bit more of a payoff.  Perhaps that 2 on the turn was a hindrance to us, scaring potential bluffers away.

We won several more pots, including an all-in moment with A-K.  Our stack reached 180,000 chips, on a day when 17 players showed up.  We held on deep into the final table.

Then with four players left and blinds at 20,000/40,000, a man to our left went all-in.  We saw K-Q with 80,000 chips left in the Big Blind, chose to go for it -- and ran into A-K.  The flop brought him a winning Ace, and we finished fourth.  Only the top three won money, so we came awfully close.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our card protector today was a pin mentioning the National Day of Prayer.  "Here's what I plan to do this week," we said as we showed it to a man at our left.  "Do you believe in God?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you pray?"

"Yes. I pray every day."

Good for him -- but how about you?  If you're not sure how to pray, the Bible offers help in several places.
This, then, is how you should pray: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debts. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." - Matthew 6:9-13

You may have grown up reciting a form of that prayer. It's come to be called the "Lord's Prayer." But what many churches may not tell you is what Jesus said right before these famous words:
And when you pray, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. - Matthew 6:7 (NASB)

Reading the Scriptures in prayer is not necessarily wrong.  You might do it to remind God of His promises to you, when times seem difficult.  But Jesus's point was that praying the same words over and over again can make them "meaningless." They become rote, and without any thoughtfulness or feeling.

The goal of Thursday's National Day of Prayer is actually to pray for the U.S. The "Pray for America" tab at the website linked above will provide some guidance on doing that.  But how should a poker player pray?  Offer a comment on that if you have ideas; we'll offer ours later in the week.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 162 final tables in 445 games (36.4%) - 26 cashes.  We've made the final table in two of the last three multi-table tournaments we've entered.