Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When the Master Walks In

One of the fun things about poker is that anyone can walk into a tournament, plunk down the buy-in fee (or even play for free) and become a winner.  Anyone.

Just ask Phil Hellmuth. He walked into an American Legion post in Michigan the other night, and joined the usual players for a cash game. Hellmuth clearly didn't take the night off, because he left with about $400.

A game manager says he doubts the other players went home upset, because "they lost to a master." But c'mon now - wouldn't you have a little extra incentive to win pots, if you know a WSOP bracelet winner was sitting across from you?

All our poker games should work that way.  In fact, our lives away from poker should work that way. Because whether you realize it or not, a "Master" is always watching:
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.... - Psalm 33:13-14

One old hymn adds these words to those verses: "He sees their sin, He sees their works...." In short, God sees it all. And Jesus someday will judge it all -- as "the Master" of all things will not simply walk the Earth again, but return with power.
Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. - Colossians 4:1

Jesus Christ will come soon to judge all of us (Revelation 20:11-13). We're all sinners, of course; we can't win a "righteousness race" with a perfect Savior.  But are you "playing" your best and living your best, with that time in mind - hoping to win a reward from Jesus when the time comes?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

All-Right-y, Then?

The man didn't want to talk about Jesus Christ at all, when we brought Him up at the poker table. But later on, the club's jukebox played a familiar song.

"I like that one," we recall him saying.

"See? You brought up Jesus after all," we pointed out.

The song the man heard was Jesus Is Just Alright, a "classic rock" tune by the Doobie Brothers you may have forgotten. A few "songs of faith" snuck their way onto album rock radio station playlists in the 1960s and 1970s, and that was one of them.

But of course, we'd ask a question. Is Jesus "just alright" with you?  That is, is that all He is? Or is Jesus Christ more than that?

The answer to that may show how deep your relationship with God is. For instance....
For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. - Psalm 33:4

That "word" can refer to the Bible. But that Bible goes on to say....
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us... - John 1:1, 14

The "Word made flesh" was Jesus Christ. His first appearance on earth didn't seem to end "alright" at all - as He was put on a stake and killed. But God resurrected Him after three days, and took the next step in a process to make a world filled with wrongs right after all.
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

Jesus wants to be more than "right" in your sight. He wants you to make Him your righteousness - and it's better Him than us:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. - Isaiah  64:6

Go beyond having a "just-alright" passing contact with God and Jesus Christ. Look to heaven for righteousness - and a relationship that can lead all the way to eternal life.

P.S. We did a Bible study on "being right and being righteous" several years ago. Click here to dig deeper into the topic.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Poker Day 463: Sitting in the Club

"If you can get to final 3 in this one, you are probably among the best players in Wichita area."  This statement was on Facebook at midday today, inviting us to the "Sunday Showdown" at Arrowhead Poker.  The post also said:

..all complimentary, all day...Join us today as my guest and see if our little club is a place you would like to be a part of,.

Given what's happened with Wichita poker in recent weeks, we wondered if we might get to play for free today. So we went, saw the outline of state poker laws on a bulletin board near the pay window, and were told the entry fee was still $75.

"I thought I might get to play for free."

"You can," the woman behind the counter said. "But you have to stand."

"Stand up?"

"Yes, the entire time."

So yes, there was still an unofficial "chair rental." The food was the "complimentary" part. But we brought our ATM card exactly for this possibility - and succumbed to withdrawing some money and sitting at the table, since the table's height had not been raised.

But the possibility of winning had been raised, as only five players showed up for the tournament. One organizer assured us the poker attendance had not gone down, with the recent police crackdown. Perhaps the lack of Sunday afternoon football made a difference?! Whatever the reason, there still would be moments of drama....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: A-3 offsuit

The start of this five-handed game was slow for us. Our starting stack of 62,000 chips was draining slower than a leaky waterbed (trust our experience on that). Sitting in second position, we call and no one raises. As we recall, three players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 7-3-3

Three times three, a delight to see! And since we effectively have button position, others can lead right into us. The Small Blind man at mid-table bets 5,000. The Big Blind folds. We modestly call.


A harmless-looking card. The Small Blind checks. We shake our head no to that, and offer our own 5,000. Our opponent ponders, then calls.


We didn't jot down the suits, but this may have put three clubs or spades on the board. The Small Blind checks again, and now we bet big - 20,000. This gives our opponent an anguishing decision.

"You're not in the blind," he says as he tries to figure out our hand.

"No. In fact, you are."

After several more seconds of puzzlement in which Mr. Small Blind wonders if we might have hit a straight or flush, he folds. We don't show a thing - unless he finds this blog.

We dealt that man a crippling blow a bit later, in a raising contest with a 3-Q-Q flop.  We went all-in for 50,000 with Q-10. He called with Q-8! That moved us to 133,000 chips. But then we lost a lot of that trying in vain to put a second player out.

Finally things looked bleak with three players left and the blinds at 10,000/20,000. We were all in twice for the Big Blind. Once with A-Q, the other players folded. The second time we had a lowly 2-9 - but a 2 came on the flop, and that turned out to be the only pair!

A comeback which can only be described as miraculous led us to the final two, earning prize money. A woman was ready to chop the money with us - and a manager noted that's technically not allowed under the newly-emphasized state law. But he decided to make one last tournament exception. The least we could have won was $100, but we wound up with $150 - double our entry fee!

We're told Arrowhead Poker will have "affordable" fees to join its "private social club," which it now advertises. No details have been finalized yet. But there might be a couple of freerolls every month. We hope so - because $75 still is a steep price to play poker in our city.

But we made money by spending money. We left thankful for whatever help God provided (probably a lot) - and with that "best players" title, which we're not really sure we deserve. 

MINISTRY MOMENT: "A packet of salt, huh?" a man in his seventies said as he reached for our card protector.

We repeated the statement we've made at other times about that - Jesus has told us we're to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). "What does everyone think of Jesus?" we asked the remaining table of four plus a dealer.

"I shouldn't do that," a man across from us replied, "but I'm going all in."

Translation: no one wanted to talk about Jesus. But we noticed practically every player cursed at one some point in the game - several times invoking the name of God in the process. The Bible clearly warns about that:
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. - Deuteronomy 5:11

We were reminded during a weekend Bible study that the ancient Jews took this verse to an opposite extreme. They were reluctant to say the name of God at all - even writing it in Hebrew shorthand as YHWH, with no vowels. Yet Jesus showed no reluctance at all....
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him.... - John 8:58-59

Why did critical Jews do this? Because Jesus invoked an ancient name for God:
God said to Moses: "I AM who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'" - Exodus 3:14

Long before Popeye the cartoon sailor, God called Himself "I AM" - and Jesus did, too. Jesus thus revealed Himself to be God. If you're not comfortable with that, we suggest reading through the gospel of John from the beginning. You might be surprised by what it says about Jesus's relationship with God the Father.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 175 final tables in 463 games (37.8%) - 33 cashes.  Since Thanksgiving 2015, we have cashed in four out of six tournaments for more than $320. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Private Plan

Steps continue to unfold in our area's crackdown on gambling - which seems primarily to be a crackdown on poker rooms and tournaments.

We've now learned a big tournament was held earlier this month, outside the Wichita city limits - put on in the suburbs as a fundraiser for the football team. The school district and football team websites didn't seem to have anything about it when we checked today (including the fine print about whether there was a required buy-in). But one poker group's Twitter feed indicates it's gone on for several years.

Then there's the move by our primary Wichita poker room. Arrowhead Poker has cleansed its Facebook feed of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of posts about cash games in progress and upcoming tournaments. Now it says this:

Arrowhead Poker Cardroom is a private social club. We offer free texas holdem tournaments daily. Like this page to keep up with current events we are running. We are seeking Spades players as well for future tournament play details to come. 

The poker room's website still advertises daily tournaments - but the "Sunday Showdown" which once had a $75 buy-in now has no price showing.

"Private clubs" have a long history in our state. They go back to a time when "liquor by the drink" was not openly allowed, people would cross state lines to stock up on wine, and a minister with a lost voice box led an anti-alcohol "Life at Its Best" movement warning about "drug suffering."  That all changed in Kansas in the mid-1980s. But we wonder if what Arrowhead Poker is promoting is a first step toward bringing it back.

If you choose to play poker in private to get around local and state laws, keep one thing in mind. You might be able to hide your cash game from police - but you can't hide it from God:
..All who sin under the law will be judged by the law.... This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. - Romans 2:12, 16

To borrow from a song co-written by the late Glenn Frey, "You can't hide your lyin' eyes." Not from God, you can't. He watches over "the wicked and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).  But that doesn't mean secret acts are bad.  In fact, the Bible also says....
..And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:18b

The King James Version says God will "reward you openly."  He wants others to know about the deeds you do for Him - but on the other hand, He doesn't want you to promote them:
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.... do not let your left hand know what you right hand is doing. - Matthew 6:2-3

We've heard ministers preach for decades about attempts by big government to encroach on your "right to privacy." But ultimately, that "right" does not exist. The idea is a farce, because God watches it all and will judge based on all. How are you spending your private time - and will it pass the final judgment test?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Poker Night 462: Nilla Folders

"So what's the difference between this game and 'Cards for the Cure'?" we asked at one point during Saturday night's poker tournament.

"They haven't shut this one down yet," a woman down the table answered. Perhaps sarcastically - but perhaps with a grain of truth.

"You'd better show us your ID," another woman said jokingly.

But then she gave us a break, as we had admitted it was our first time at Nilla's Poker Room. It's close to a main highway in our city, but a bit hard to find - hidden behind a rather notorious nightclub.  We found a nicely set-up place, with a full bar and a few food items.  Room for cash games were secluded behind walls in corners, while the main tournament was out in the open.

We went to Nilla's this weekend, even though Nikki's Poker Room is open again.  Nilla's cost $30 to play, so we theorized the prize pool would be better than the Nikki's "totally free" approach. And as a side issue, we might learn more about the current poker crackdown by Wichita police.

One woman at our table put the two recent shutdowns together, declaring Nikki's led to the end of Cards for the Cure. "They applied to renew their liquor license, and said up-front: We are a poker room."

"They didn't have to be so honest," another woman said - and that's a topic for another day. Now let's get to the action....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: King of hearts-King of diamonds

Nilla's is easily the busiest poker room we've visited in Wichita - with four full tables playing in the tournament on a regular Saturday night. We haven't won a pot yet, despite a couple of feelers.

Now we have "the donuts" (K-K) in lead position, holding about 9,900 chips (starting with 10,500, including a newcomer's bonus) - so we limp in. A man across from us raises to 500, and we call. As best we recall, about four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 10d-7d-6d

The jewelry store is open, but we're thinking more about our overpair. We bet 700 on it. That chases a couple of people away, but not the man who raised pre-flop. He calls.

ON THE TURN: Qc (may not be precise)

Not a diamond - but not a rib-sticking Ace, either. We increase the bet to 1,000, and get called again.


We hit the diamond flush - but one card beats us. Does our opponent have it? We bet 1,000 again to find out. We're not really sure if he calls or not - but he flips over pocket Aces! Thankfully, they're both black Aces! The flush is a winner, and we gain more than 3,000 chips.

Another pot win brought us close to 14,000.  But then the third period of blinds brought disaster - as our A-K brought an Ace on the flop.  But 2-3 showed up, and a man with 4-5 hit a straight which severely hurt our stack.

We staggered to the one-hour break at 5,500 chips, and couldn't recover from there. We went all-in with A-Q of spades (as best we remember) - but the board brought only two spades. It also brought three clubs, which a woman used to make a winning flush.

While two players were "eliminated" at the table ahead of us, they took a re-buy option. We did not, walking to the bar to finish our soda in roughly 30th place - and wondering if we should keep going to a place which seems on the edge of breaking city law.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A couple of women at our table were quite talkative. One of them mentioned how "God gave me such good looks...."  We think she was making fun of herself, but we responded to it.

"You should be thankful to God for your good looks," we said. "We should be thankful to God for every blessing."

The woman didn't respond to that. But perhaps we made her stop and think for a moment.  The Bible describes several beautiful women, even in ancient history....
..The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. - Genesis 6:2

But there's a different kind of beauty that God ultimately is seeking:
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. - I Peter 3:3-4

Outward beauty is "fleeting" (Proverbs 31:30) - but godly character from a proper spirit never goes out of style. If you're a woman who plays poker, what sort of beauty are you trying to develop?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 174 final tables in 462 games (37.7%) - 32 cashes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Back in the Game

Well, that didn't take long. Look what was posted on Facebook today about the place where we had our last two poker tournaments:

10 hrs
We're not bluffing. We're re-opening our doors TODAY!
With our re-opening and with new city regulations, Nikki's will undergo a few changes.
As Nikki's is a family operated business, our mission is to always put our customers & staff first. Nikki's has and will continue to honor any card player's choice to play for free in our daily tournaments. Chair rentals are an optional charge to maximize a player's comfort during the tournament. As a courtesy to our players, we choose to donate the chair rental fees back to the players as a prize rather than keep the rental profit to our business. Our focus is our players.
Nikki's does not claim to be a gambling establishment. Our business focus is to serve our patrons beverages in a entertaining and safe environment.
Nikki's is currently in operation of scheduling upcoming tournament events.
As a family operated business, Nikki's would like genuinely thank those who showed support at our time of closing.

The "new city regulations" obviously are vague. The next time we visit Nikki's Poker Room, we plan to ask about that.

But based on what they're posting on social media, we're led to conclude people who want to "play for free" now will be allowed to do so. We somehow doubt those players will be eligible to win money; we've faced situations like that a few times in the past.

It all may boil down to what the motive of each player is.  Are you there simply for fun and fellowship? If so, let 'em play for free.  Are you there to build a "poker resume," getting ready to go after a WSOP bracelet? If so, that can be a different matter.

But keep one thing in mind: God in heaven knows your motives - and may well know them far better than you do:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts... - I Chronicles 28:9

We think God is far more likely to bless your efforts if you do them for the right reasons.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. - Colossians 3:22

This verse could apply to a poker player, abiding by the rules of the game. It could also apply to a poker room, trying to avoid another police raid. God wants us to develop an obedient heart - not only for those we serve around us, but for Him.

We should note Nikki's has another game people can play for free. A big checkerboard with giant checkers sits outside the main poker area. But we don't think even the lesser cable sports channels have reached the point where they're showing "Championship Checkers" - and side bets on a game might get the poker room in trouble as well.