Thursday, October 20, 2016

Still playing?

Yes, we still are playing poker. We're simply taking a few days away from it.

The main reason is that we're attending an annual church convention - one that's in the Bible, but may be new to you:

You must observe the Festival of Shelters for seven days at the end of the harvest season.... This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters.... honor the Lord your God at the place he chooses, for it is he who blesses you with bountiful harvests and gives you success in all your work. This festival will be a time of great joy for all. - Deuteronomy 16:13-15 (NLT)

There are church groups around the world which still obey this Biblical command. They're admittedly small, but they exist. And in many cases, they're looking forward to a time when Jesus Christ will return to set up the Kingdom of God on Earth:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: "This world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever." - Revelation 11:15 (NLT)

Regular readers of this blog know the "Festival of Shelters" (also called the Feast of Tabernacles) hasn't stopped us from playing poker before. In fact, we've done well in some "Feast games." But this year, we're in an area with no poker action for a long ways around - not even "friendly" games in bars. And a nearby state had a ballot question on casino gambling thrown off the ballot the other day.

So we're content to relax for a few days, before returning to the poker room. In fact, we suggest you consider doing next year what we're doing now. The change might do you good - physically and spiritually.

And by the way - have you ever joined a church group for Mexican Train Dominoes?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Checking in the Dark

In our last poker tournament, we had 300 chips left when the Big Blind came around to us. But the blinds were 200/400 - so we were all-in from the "get-go."

"I'll check in the dark," we announced jokingly when the play came to us. Not only because no one raised, but because there was nothing else we could do. It didn't matter if we looked at them or not, so we didn't - only turning them over when we were down to a make-or-break showdown.

But remember the candle we took for a card protector, mentioned in our last post? Earlier in the tournament, we mentioned we were trying to be a light for Jesus Christ "in a dark world." That prompted some, well, enlightening thoughts from our dealer.

"A casino can be a dark place," he noted. "No windows. No clocks on the wall."

We understand that's by design. The casino managers would like you to stay all day and all night, so "distractions" like those are left out. The inside of the building may be well-lit. But except for sports events on big screens, you're "in the dark" when it comes to the world outside.

If we come out of that darkness on a sunny day, the light may be blinding. And there's a spiritual lesson there:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. - I Peter 2:9

God wants us to walk in light - the light of Jesus Christ, as we mentioned. But our last post also noted this stunning statement:

For you were once darkness.... - Ephesians 5:8

Not "you were in darkness." You were darkness - as dark as a chocolate Dove bar. How do we get out of that?

...Find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. - Ephesians 5:10-11

Walking in God's way can require you to walk away from darkness - whether it be sinful actions or harmful people. There's this warning about people who don't walk away:

These men are blemishes at your love feasts.... for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. - Jude 12-13

Satan the devil wants people to stay in darkness. But thankfully, God plans to send Satan eventually "to the rail." A Biblical festival beginning tonight pictures that - the Day of Atonement, known to Jews as Yom Kippur. We invite you to read more about it, and even start practicing it. Then head for the light that's much better for you.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Poker Day 487: Royals, Baseball

We should explain that title right away. The Kansas City Royals' baseball season is over. They missed the playoffs. But playoff baseball was on TV at the Kansas Star Casino poker room Friday. And the royals? Well, keep reading....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

We split an early pot with a full house, but haven't done much else so far. Yet these are cards that could spark a comeback. We start the hand with about 3,000 chips from a starting 3,500. When a player across the full table raises to 250, we call. Four players are in.


We have a piece of the flop, but not the best piece. That man across the table makes a continuation bet of 250. We sense this is a "feeler" bet and he doesn't have a lot. Considering our kicker, we want to stay in - so we call. It's still a four-horse race.

ON THE TURN: 8s (suit may not be precise)

Now we have two pair - and if that bettor is using the King as a "kicker" card, we have him topped. He offers 250 again.  Of course, he could have a King - but he's not betting big like he does. So we call in hope. It's still a four-horse race.


A third diamond potentially complicates matters. That bettor tosses out another 250. We've committed this far, so we're prepared to go all the....

But wait a minute. A man wearing red ahead of us goes all-in - for 1,250. That extra 1,000 is too steep for us.

"We were doing fine, until you did that," we joke as we fold. The other three players fight on.... only to see the man in red turn over Ad-Jd!!! It's not merely a flush. He made a royal flush!

He wins big, of course - but because it's a tournament, he doesn't win a "high hand" or "bad beat" jackpot. He tells us later that was the first royal flush he's ever had.

That loss hurt, but we mounted a comeback near the first break. An all-in bet for 925 with two pair helped. Going all-in again with A-K and winning a race with J-10 thanks to three Aces helped even more. We reached the break back at the starting line of 3,500. But a third all-in try with J-7 and a Jack high on the flop lost to A-J. We wound up betting our last 300 on the Big Blind and failed, finishing about 37th on a day with 75 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Are we having a séance?" the first dealer asked when he saw our card protector. We brought an old, well-worn candle - but of course, the occult had nothing to do with it.

"I brought it to remind me," we explained, "that I need to be a light for Jesus Christ."

"Sounds like a plan," the dealer said.

"It's a very good plan," we assured him. We should have clarified that remark. Our candle may not have been a good plan - but God's plan involving being a light is.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. - II Corinthians 4:6

This verse speaks of a plan that goes all the way back to creation. The world was a dark place then....

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.... - Genesis 1:2

There's one school of thought based on the original Hebrew that the earth became that way, because Satan rebelled against God.

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness." - Genesis 1:3-4

Much later, Jesus Christ came to Earth to be "the light of the world" (John 8:12). And until Jesus comes back, believers are to be "lights" in their own right. That means having "knowledge" of God's glory through Christ. And we think it means sharing that light with other people.

For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)... - Ephesians  5:8-9

Feel free to read on in that section of Ephesians; we plan to come back to it in future posts. But that little candle opened a way for us to share the light of God with others in a poker room on Friday. What can you do when you play poker, to be a positive light to others?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 180 final tables in 487 games (37.0%) - 35 cashes. Our next live tournament probably won't be for several weeks; we'll explain why in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Wize Guy

We've been playing more online poker lately, and coming across some interesting moments. Take this one the other night at National League of Poker, where two players named "Bizarro" and "Wize11" went all-in:

Dealer:  wize11 wins Main Pot ($19,180) with Two pair, queens and sixes
Me:  Wize beats Bizarro
Me:  Deep lesson there :-)

Which name describes your poker personality? Are you a "Wise" player (giving the winner of that hand the benefit of the doubt) - considering carefully your moves and actions? Or are you a "Bizarro" player, trying all sorts of styles and approaches to throw off opponents and get an edge?

We tend to take the "Wise" approach. That's more our nature, and we think it's more of a Biblical nature as well:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. - James 3:13

Proper wisdom should lead to humility. We think that means realizing there's a God who's much wiser than us - and seeking wisdom from God every day.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. - James 1:5

If we're honest with ourselves, we all lack wisdom in something. It could be how to handle a big poker hand, handling the money you win, or some other aspect of life. Don't be afraid to ask God in moments like that. If we do it in humility, He can provide wisdom when you least expect it.

But what is true wisdom, really? Is it knowing "the book" on playing any two particular cards? Ultimately, no....

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. - I Corinthians 1:30

That may not seem like a standard definition. But it's a Biblical definition. Wise people humbly seek to be righteous and holy - and Jesus Christ set the example for both those traits. Doing that will lead eventually to "redemption," being cleansed from sin to serve God forever (Hebrews 9:12-14).

Taking the "Bizarro" road can lead to all sorts of wild behavior and trouble. It's better to be a "Wize11" - and follow the wisest One of all.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Mouth, the Kid and the Finger

Let's say it upfront: We are not taking sides in the U.S. Presidential election. We'll explain why in a moment.

But of course, many other people are taking sides. And this week, there's been a curious combining of poker and politics.

A lawyer and "free speech activist" asked on Twitter if Hillary Clinton was giving signals to the moderator during this week's first debate, by pointing her finger toward her face. He specifically asked for comments from "poker pros like The Mouth Matusow." Mike Matusow has been tweeting against Ms. Clinton a lot, so he was happy to respond:

Wow ive watched the debates 3 times & never noticed!! I felt the whole time she had the questions but after watching that i she def signals

(We'll open the floor for your comments right here: Do you agree with Matusow? Why or why not?)

Considering moderator Lester Holt was found to be a registered Republican and Donald Trump's campaign manager called him "brilliant" before the debate began, we're not sure why he would have suddenly switched sides. But anyway....

We move on to Daniel Negreanu - who declared on Twitter Ms. Clinton won the first debate, while admitting he's biased in her favor. Considering Negreanu is Canadian and can't vote in the U.S. election, his endorsement may hurt in U.S. voting as much as it helps.

Then there's Phil Hellmuth, who's apparently become a political analyst in his spare time. He gave both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump "A" grades for this week's debate - and in other commentaries has compared Mr. Trump to a "loose aggressive" poker player.

So the poker world is watching the election closely - and they're certainly free to comment about it. So why are we not taking sides? Because several months ago, we handed over our vote to a higher authority....

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. - Romans 13:1

These words were written when the Roman Empire was in charge, and voting for leaders was unheard of. The apostle Paul accepted the fact that, like them or not, God had put the Roman authorities in charge - or at least allowed them to be there.

Some people wanted Jesus Christ to overthrow the government during His time on Earth, and become "King of Kings" on the spot. But instead....

"Do you refuse to speak to me," Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above...." - John 19:10-11

The Lord could have called down angels and begun to "fight the powers that be" right then. But He didn't. Jesus came to Earth for a different purpose about 2,000 years ago. But someday soon....

"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." - Acts 1:11

Jesus will come back to Earth in a powerful way, to establish the Kingdom of God upon this planet:

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. - Revelation 19:16

That's the leader we're waiting to see - and Jesus is the One who has our ultimate vote. Can you think of anyone who would do a better job?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Button of Irony

While we waited for a spot to open at our most recent Texas Hold 'em poker tournament, we wandered around the casino and came to a different kind of poker: Pai Gow.

If we understand it correctly (please correct us if we're wrong), players are dealt seven cards. Then they put forward their two best in an attempt to beat the dealer - while the five remaining have their own showdown with the dealer.

But what struck us most about Pai Gow was the "ENVY" button. Players can win a bonus if someone else at the top makes quads or better.

"From what I've read, envy is a bad thing," we said to the dealer. It was a quasi-joke. because....

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. - Proverbs 14:30

No matter what kind of poker you play, envy can creep in. If someone gets on a hot streak and wins several pots in a row, you can envy his or her success and want to get your own big stack of chips. But that can be a dangerous thing. Consider....

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. - Genesis 4:4-5

Cain brought a "fruits of the soil" offering, which he probably presumed God would like. But God didn't. We think Cain's anger grew out of envy - and it led to a warning from God:

"If you do what it right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." - Genesis 4:7

Sadly, these were prophetic words - because verse 8 shows Cain eventually killed his brother in history's first recorded murder case.

So what is the right answer for fighting envy? It may sound incredibly simple - but it's the Bible's advice:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. - I Corinthians 13:4

To borrow from the U.S. political season, we should let love trump envy - and "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). I Corinthians 13 deserves a close look, when it comes to what true love is all about. May godly love show from you in whatever game you play - and leave the "envy" for somebody else's wager.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Double or.... Something

A "double-up" at the poker table, when a player goes all-in and wins, happens often. A double win is another matter - usually referring to the players who capture two or more bracelets at the World Series of Poker.

But consider what a nurse in France did last week. Iwan Roberts won two big online poker tournaments.... at the same time! He defeated nearly 19,000 opponents in a tournament that began at 11:00 a.m. And in a tournament that started at 12:30 p.m., he outlasted nearly 12,000 players. (No, we don't know how many of them were the same people.)

We've marveled over the years at the poker multi-taskers - players who can have four or six games going on computer screens at the same time. Wouldn't it be easy to get your hands confused, and make a bad play? How many hands would you lose by timing out, while staying occupied with another?

Yet if you think about it, practically all of us "multi-task" every day. We breathe in and out while walking down the street. We might watch TV or listen to radio while eating dinner. If one of those activities doesn't distract you away from the "main thing" you're doing, that's probably no problem. But consider these words:
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 said this because ultimately, we all must have one goal - one overarching task in our lives. If you put your life's focus on money, you're probably going to end up disappointed. Even if you win enough WSOP bracelets to fill your arms, you won't be able to take the prize money with you when this life is over. That's why Jesus recommended:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:33

"His" kingdom, as in the one our "heavenly Father" oversees (verse 32). It's a kingdom that's promised to come from heaven to earth, with Jesus Christ in charge (Revelation 11:15). And it's a kingdom that will never end.

Yet did you notice how verse 33 is worded? Seek God's Kingdom first - and you'll get the other things. The list between verses 24 and 33 includes food, drink and clothing. There's probably much more to go with those.
He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. - Revelation 21:7

We think it all comes down to your focus. If you can focus in multi-game poker on one hand at a time, you're more likely to succeed. And if you focus your life on the goal of God's eternal Kingdom, the chances of being part of that Kingdom go way up.