Sunday, November 29, 2015

Poker Day 458: Down, But Not Out

The original plan was to drive up the turnpike today to see a relative. But the weather seemed too risky for that, with cold rain and a chance of icy precipitation. Instead, we went to Arrowhead Poker - where, of course, danger can lurk around every turn in a tournament as well:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-J of clubs

Early chances have not worked for us, but these are the best starter cards we've had so far today. No one's raising at this full table of ten, so we bump it up to 700. About half the table gets in.

ON THE FLOP: 3-7-5 (don't recall suits)

This flop seems fairly innocent, but the Small Blind jumps out with a bet of 600. Other players are folding.

"That seems small enough," we say as we call.  We're now heads-up.


"I guess I'd better raise the stakes a little," our opponent says. He now bets 1,100 - right into the top pair and top kicker we've made.  We probably could raise, but we decide to trap a bit and call again.


"Looks like it's now safe to bet 5,000," our opponent says - and that's exactly what he does. We're not convinced he has anything.  So, still with top pair and top kicker, we call.

"I've got Jacks and 5's," he says.  Ouch! We both benefited from the turn card - but he did more. He takes the pot, and we take a noticeable loss.

Yet this was a day when the old advice to "never quit" proved true for us more than once. With our chip stack around 40,000 out of a starting 62,000, we were dealt pocket Aces. They held up in an all-in moment against Q.Q.  Pocket Aces came again later, to bring us a double-up against a player with K-K.

But with our stack up to 165,000, a man went all-in for 130,000. We had A-K, and had little choice but to call. He had A-4 - but caught a 4 on the flop and an Ace on the turn! He survived, and we drooped to a lowly 35,000 with rising blinds and six players to go.

But again, we resolved to not quit - and were rewarded for it. A couple of good hands allowed us to push pre-flop and scare other people away. Our stack rebuilt to the 100,000 mark. Then we won an unlikely race against a man by making a straight on the river, to eliminate him and make the money in the top three.

We wound up heads-up against that man who escaped with an A-4. "You want to play it out?" he asked.

"If you want to chop the money, that's fine with me," we said.

"I'm not chopping nothing."  It was all or nothing - and he had a big chip advantage.

With little to lose, we chose to play on - and pushed with K-5 in the very next hand. He had something like Q-7. But he made the Queen to win the contest. He won $100 for first place; we settled for $65 in second - still better than our $35 buy-in.  We praise God for allowing the "second option" of the day to make us money! We're now at five cash wins this year in 20 live tournaments.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I could use a miracle," one man across the table said as he called a big pre-flop bet.

"Miracles can happen," we told him. (We were out of the hand, so it was easy for us to say that.)

But after the flop, that man folded. "Those cards aren't my color," he admitted when his turn came.

"Sometimes they happen," we told him. He smiled at that.

Have you ever wondered why that is? Why do miracles sometimes happen for people - whether it's a physical healing or running cards for a flush - while they sometimes don't?  Is it simply a matter of luck?

We don't claim to know the full answer to this question, but we went to the Bible for some guidance.
You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. - Psalm 77:14

The writer of this psalm wrote words of faith. Asaph knew God can perform miracles. Yet we heard a preacher on Christian radio this weekend point out even many church-going believers don't expect miracles these days. If you're not looking for any, should God even bother providing one?
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those with gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. - I Corinthians 12:28

Did you realize God has put people in His church with the ability to do miraculous works? Not everyone has that gift, as verse 29 points out - but some apparently do. While some people say the "age of miracles" ended when the original apostles died, why should we assume that - especially if the other "spiritual gifts" are still evident today?
God also testified to it [salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. - Hebrews 2:4

So God performs the miracles, as people allow themselves to be used by Him to provide them.
What do you think, when it comes to miracles? We're interested in your comments; please leave one, and we'll return to this topic in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 172 final tables in 458 games (37.6%) - 30 cashes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remember As You Play....

...Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - I Thessalonians 5:18
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. It's a custom not many other countries have. But it's something we all should do - even if there's no national holiday or big dinner associated with it.

The casino closest to our door is offering a special ten-hour Thanksgiving buffet. But no, we plan to eat elsewhere.  And really now - when was the last time you heard someone openly give thanks for a casino?

This year, we're actually thankful to God for the opportunity to play casino poker - especially after our amazing two-day back-to-back final table combination in August. We've won some money, and had several opportunities to share our faith.

And what if we hadn't won a dime? We still would be thankful for the freedom to speak up about the things of God, and how good He desires to be.
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. - Psalm 7:17
You may have the tallest stack of chips known to man. You may have simply "a chip and a chair."  Whatever your situation, at the table or outside it, be thankful to God for any blessing you have - because ultimately He's the one who provides it to you.
...Because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! - II Corinthians 9:14-15

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Funeral for a Poker Friend, Part 2

We return to the funeral we attended this past week for fellow poker player "Bobby."  He died in a car crash 13 November.

The short message by a church deacon (we think Bobby's grandson) included these words to the grieving family: "Robert knows a lot more about giving and taking -- and hoarding! - now than he did last Friday morning."

Was this a reference to Bobby's poker habit?  We didn't ask afterward, so we don't know. But let's face it - the object of the game in poker is to hoard. The tournament is won by the player who takes everyone else's chips. But there are other games that work that way; Monopoly and checkers come to mind.

Hopefully Bobby was able to detach that poker objective from the rest of his life. It's something we all should do:
People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. - Proverbs 11:26

If you're rounding up items for a time of trouble that you know is coming, that seems wise. But will you be willing to share those items when the trouble comes? That shows what kind of a loving heart you have - as Joseph showed when he knew seven years of plenty would be followed by a famine (Genesis 41).

But wait a minute - the deacon claimed Robert knows a lot more about these things now.  We realize this may step on some religious toes, but that's not what the Bible says.
For the living know that they shall died, but the dead know nothing.... for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. - Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10

These words were written by King Solomon, one of the wisest men of his time. These are words of the Bible, the "word of truth" (John 17:17).  He said dead people "know nothing."

But the deacon also claimed we're on a transition "from life to life" - where death perhaps is only instantaneous, and we pass into the next life immediately.  That's also not what the Bible says.
For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said, "The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.'" - Acts 2:34-35 (NLT)

King David talked of Jesus's resurrection (verse 32) - not his own. That's coming someday, but hasn't happened yet.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. - I Thessalonians 4:16

David will go up when Jesus Christ comes down - and not until. If Bobby was judged to be among "the dead in Christ," he'll go up then as well.

In the meantime, we all should walk in a way so that we'll be considered "the dead in Christ." Learn Jesus's ways now, and practice them daily. You may indeed understand them a lot more after you die - but that will be the start of living with Jesus in God's Kingdom forever.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Funeral for a Poker Friend

Our last post mentioned the death of local poker regular "Bobby" in a car crash. We attended his funeral earlier this week at an Eastern Orthodox Church, keeping in mind these words from the Bible:
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. - Ecclesiastes 7:4

Our only contact with Bobby was through what some might call a "house of pleasure" - the poker room.  Yet when we passed through a receiving line after the funeral to meet several relatives, our mention of poker brought an overall positive response. One person noted with a smile how Bobby loved to play the game.

Perhaps some of our fellow players attended the cemetery interment for Bobby the next day. But it was disappointing to see we were all alone on a Monday night, when it came to the poker community paying respects.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. - Proverbs 17:17
A short message during the funeral service was given by a church deacon, whom we believe is Bobby's grandson.  The things he said revealed quite a bit.  He noted Bobby "didn't go to church every Sunday.... even most Sundays."

A lot of people have drifted away from attending church services in recent decades. Ask ten of those people why, and you'll probably get at least eight different reasons. Perhaps poker players feel more of a connection with fellow players than with people of faith. Yet the Bible tells us:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:23-25
If you have a hope for God's Kingdom, you might find encouragement toward "love and good deeds" at a poker table. Emphasis might. From our experience, we don't think it's very likely. It's far better to have a church connection, to grow in your belief in God and Jesus Christ - and to keep from going off a godly path.

(NOTE: We'll have more to say about the funeral in our next post.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Poker Day 457: The Honeycomb Hideout

"It's a perfect day to play poker," a man said before today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker.  "Cold and windy."

The cloud cover and breeze were a bit deceiving, as the temperature actually was in the mid-50's F. at game time. But since poker sometimes is a game of deceit, that would be OK - as in this hand.

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A of clubs - 8 of spades

We made an early flush to move ahead in chips.  Now we're one off the Big Blind at this one-table eight-player tournament, and these cards seem worth the trouble. We call. No one raises.  Three players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 3c-5c-7c

We're one card away from something very nice. But we don't have it yet, so we check. As we recall, everyone checks.


The very nice "nut flush" is ours! But we decide to be deceitful polite about it in lead position, and check. A man to our left bets 2,000.  A man across from us calls. Now Hollywood is calling.

"Two-thousand?!?" we ask with a bit of uncertainty in our voice. We shake our head a bit, then seem to reluctantly say, "I'll call."

ON THE RIVER: 10d (as best we remember)

This card doesn't matter. We keep playing our part and check again. The man to our left checks.  But the man across from us bets 10,000 - exactly as we hoped.

"Double," we now say with no trepidation; "20,000."

This causes a hubbub for some at the table, who clearly didn't see this coming.

"He really slow-played that Ace," the man to our left says as he folds. Our poker face is on, and we're not commenting.

"I have to call," the man across from us says. He matches the 20,000, and shows why. He has the King of clubs.

"You thought I slow-played that," we say to the man at our left. "You're absolutely right." We show the Ace and score a big chip gain of more than 24,000.

This was a classic case of what poker players call "letting others bet into you." We let our opponents do all the work, until we sprang the trap with a check-raise at the river.

Those big hands gave us the chip lead for awhile, with a high of 104,000. That helped us through a period of dry cards and habitual folds.

But then with six players left, we over-reached. In the Small Blind with 8-8, we doubled our opponent who turned out to have Q-10. When 7-9-10 came on the flop, he went all-in for 60,000 and we instant-called. Our open-ended straight draw missed (we had ten outs, if two remaining 8's are counted), and we dropped to a lowly 5,000.  A desperation push with A-2 failed, and we ended the day tied for fifth (officially sixth).

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Before we begin, I have some sad news," a regular player who manages another poker room said at the top of the tournament. "One of our everyday players, Bobby, died."

The newspaper obituary for Bobby Kallail was posted on the poker room bulletin board. There we learned things he'd never revealed at poker games - about how he operated a once-popular downtown-area nightclub, and was a part of high school and college wrestling teams.

The man who announced Bobby's passing thinks he might have been heading for the poker room when he died in a car crash. Several players were comforted to know that at least he'd played poker the day before, and was doing what he wanted to do.

"I have hope of seeing Bobby again someday, beyond this life," we said. Only one other player at the table seemed to acknowledge that - and that one barely did. We would ask: do you have such a hope?
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 ancient Job expressed hope of a resurrection. And the New Testament indicates it will happen for everyone.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. - Revelation 20:12

Were not sure if Bobby ever expressed faith in Jesus as his Savior. All we know for sure is that his funeral will take place at an Orthodox Christian Church. But the Bible shows a time of resurrection and judgment is coming - for him and for you. Are you prepared for that moment? Have you prepared, by giving your life to Christ?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 171 final tables in 457 games (37.4%) - 29 cashes.

We have cashed in four out of 19 in-person tournaments this year. Our next event (probably not until mid-December) will determine whether our percentage hits 20 or 25 percent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Evening Joe

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It's the biggest win for Philadelphia since the Phillies won the 2008 World Series over Tampa Bay. Joe McKeehen from the suburbs wore Eagles and 76'ers gear, as he rolled to victory Tuesday in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

One report on the "November Nine" indicated McKeehen was able to dominate because he never lost a pot which cost him a lot of chips. But not everything went perfectly for McKeehen in Las Vegas. Last Saturday he tweeted:

McKeehen later tweeted he "instantly felt 10 times better" after leaving that hotel.  And hopefully a champion's prize of $7.5 million will improve on that.

But isn't it interesting how small things can become big annoyances -- with social media around to make them seem even bigger? Here's what the Bible recommends instead:
He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. - Proverbs 17:9

Hotel showers will fail.  Customer service teams will let you down. But how you handle those moments reveals the sort of person you are.  You can start a Twitter or Facebook rant and bring the weight of your friends down on someone. Or....
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. - Matthew 18:15

Jesus gave this advice about personal relationships. We think it can work with fellow poker players, and even with businesses hosting poker tournaments.

So best wishes to what one news report called the "soft-spoken" Joe. And may we all learn to communicate softly at all times - promoting love that pours out better than any shower head.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nine to Go

The long wait is over. The "November Nine" gather around poker's ultimate final table tonight in Las Vegas, competing for the World Series of Poker Main Event bracelet.

Pierre Neuville of Belgium makes history as the oldest player ever at a Main Event final table. He's 72, and talked with about what he likes most about the international poker circuit: "To meet the world, and to meet them friendly, even if we are fighting so hard at the table."

To meet the world in a friendly way is one thing. To become friends with the world.... well, according to the Bible, that can be trouble:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. - James 4:4

Why would God hate the world? After all, didn't He create it? Yes, God did -- but the people of this world have made it a sin-filled place.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned... - Romans 5:12

So in God's eyes, if you choose to be friends with this world, you become friends with sin. Our sinless God would much prefer you become friends with Him  -- and with Jesus Christ, who said:
You are my friends, if you do what I command. - John 15:14

Wherever you play poker, do it the way Neuville recommends. "Meet them friendly" - but develop an even better friendship with Jesus. Go through the New Testament to see what He commands of us. Then be daring enough to do it.

OK, enough of the preaching. Who's your pick to win the Main Event - and why?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Making the Saints

We asked a question in our last post about saints. Who is one? How do you define one? Is it as easy as bringing drinks for a poker home game?

Let's see what a New Testament apostle wrote about this:
To all in Rome who ae loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 1:7

Being a saint is a calling from God.
Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greeting. - Philippians 4:21

Saints are "in Christ Jesus." We're led to think that means they've accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord - and the commitment doesn't stop there:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. - Revelation 8:3

Based on verse 2, saints offer prayers toward God in heaven.
...(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) - Revelation 19:8b

Saints also perform acts of righteousness. We think that goes beyond buying two-liter bottles of soda for the poker group. It means living a righteous life, in obedience to God.

Our last post quoted I Corinthians 1:2, about being "called to be holy." Here's how another Bible translation has that verse:
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.... - I Corinthians 1:2 (KJV)

So saints should believe in God and Jesus Christ. They should pray. And they should live holy, righteous lives.

Can you do all that and still play poker? We think so - if what you do at the table reflects a saintly conduct in the rest of your life.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Poker Day 456: Small Blind Ordinary

Many poker players dream of hitting the "Big Blind Special" - strong cards in the Big Blind that bring a huge pot.  Today at Arrowhead Poker, we had that once.  But could history repeat itself, to keep us alive in a tournament?

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET: Ac-5s (suits may not be precise)

We've had an up-and-down day at this one-table 10-player tournament.  We scored a big gain when 9-10 in the Big Blind turned into a King-high straight, and we topped a man with three Jacks.  But then we lost about half our stack when we made three Jacks on the river, and lost to a straight.

Now we're in the Big Blind with 37,000 chips, looking for a big moment.  No one raises in front of us, so we call and hope.

ON THE FLOP: 8-8-5

Two pair and top kicker looks very good!  The Small Blind checks.  We could push right now, but instead we bet 10,000 and try to finesse as much out of the table as possible. A man to our left calls, as do two others.


Now we have a full house -- and we really have little choice.  "All of it," we say after the Small Blind checks. We commit our last 23,000.

"I'll call," the man to our left says. Uh-oh - that's not exactly what we wanted to hear. What if he has an 8, for a higher full house?

A man across the table folds. The Small Blind thinks it over, then calls. Huh?!  Could they both be trying to outbluff each other?


The only way this seems to change anything is if someone has pocket Jacks.  The two remaining players who can bet check each other.

"I've got an Ace," the Small Blind says. (Actually A-9.) Good.

"I've got a full house," we say hopefully as we show.

Then the man to our left turns over.... 8-5!!! It was what we feared, and in abundance! He hit his full house on the flop, and we never had any real hope.  We shake his head, shake our head and leave the table in seventh place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: On one hand, the flop was 6-6-6.

"A beast flop," we declared. "And on All Saints Day!"

A man across the table recognized what we were talking about - and as we left the table after finishing seventh, we repeated it. "May you all be saints, on this All Saints Day."

Let's make one thing clear right away: we are not Roman Catholic. All Saints Day is a traditionally Catholic event. It's not a day we personally celebrate (short of buying Halloween candy at half-price). But we realize several of our fellow players are Catholic - and we tried to offer a thought-provoking comment about it as we left.

We didn't grasp until we reviewed the link that All Saints Day is supposed to be a "solemn holy day." The Bible lists several "holy days" of God (see Leviticus 23), and this is NOT one of them. But our question to the table would be what we're asking you: Are you a saint?  Now - even before you die?
Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. - Psalm 30:4

Could this command really be given to dead people?  We think living saints are supposed to sing praise. But how do we define a saint - or better put, how does the Bible define one?
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? - I Corinthians 6:2

Note the distinction: "the saints" and "you" are the same things to the apostle Paul. This letter was written to....
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours. - I Corinthians 1:2

So saints appear to be church members, sanctified believers and people who call on Jesus's name. The fact that saints were mentioned in Psalms indicates they existed in Old Testament times, as well as New.

How else would you identify a saint?  Offer comments if you wish; we'll share more about this in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 170 final tables in 456 games (37.3%) - 29 cashes.