Sunday, March 1, 2015

Following Suit

You can learn amazing things about poker from the most unlikely places.  For instance, a recent article on the business website Forbes provided some key numbers to consider when playing a hand.

If you're dealt two suited cards (such as 5-4 of spades), your chances of winning the hand only go up about two percent.  Yet how many losing poker players have we heard make the famous statement, "They were suited"?

Yet if you're dealt a high pair pre-flop, such as "Jacks or better," your chances of taking the pot are one in 72.  The odds are better - but note they're still quite long.  We've also heard plenty of losing poker players complain about Q-Q or K-K being deceptively bad.

So following a suit doesn't help you much, and following up a big pair still offers no guarantee of success.  Yet we think there's one Person you should follow, who offers a guaranteed return:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Mark 10:21


Jesus Christ invites us to follow Him, giving up anything that might stand in the way.  Sadly, the person who heard these words directly from the Lord didn't do that (verse 22).  But look at what can happen if you do:
Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.... and in the age to come, eternal life." - Mark 10:28-30


How far are you willing to go to follow Jesus -- especially if it means eternal life at the end of the road?

God may be asking you to give up something you consider important.  Perhaps it's full-time poker-playing.  Perhaps it's a poker buddy who drags you into bad behavior.  Perhaps it's something else.

Whatever is holding you back from a relationship following Jesus Christ, don't be afraid to let that thing go.  Jesus promises blessings in return - in this life and the life to come.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Remember As You Play....

No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced, but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others. - Psalm 25:3 (NLT)
One of our most memorable poker hands was the night we sat in the Big Blind, watched K-8 turn into a dream full house on the flop.... and checked it.  A man next to us jumped all-in with A-6, and paid for it.


Some would say our check was deceiving - a "trap" to lure other players in.  Doesn't that hand prove our Bible verse wrong?

For that one hand, it did -- but think it through for a moment.  Didn't the all-in player look every bit as deceptive with his bet?  We never asked about his reasoning, but he bet a lot with relatively little.  It was a bet of overstatement.

By comparison, we came across as quiet, modest and humble.  We never told anyone to bet a single chip -- but someone did, and we benefited from his "jumping offside."  Even a minimal bet on our part could have brought the same result.

The Bible has several examples of characters who acted in deceptive ways.  The first prime example was a "serpent," thought to be Satan....
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate." - Genesis 3:13
That creature blatantly lied to Eve in the garden of Eden about God's character (verses 1-5) -- and Eve bought it.  What if Satan had said nothing?  If the serpent had never appeared?  Would things be much better for the human race today?  Or would human curiosity led to disobedience toward God, anyway?


We're left to speculate about how things would have played out.  But the Bible makes one thing clear: we should avoid harmful acts of deception.
A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies. - Proverbs 14:5


Be careful with what you say at the table - and to an extent, also be careful with the things you do.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chinese Checking

Our current home is southern Kansas - a state where less than three percent of the population is Asian. Yet for the second year in a row, we received an invitation to celebrate Chinese New Year at a nearby casino.

The offer of a midnight buffet featuring "curry dusted frog legs" didn't really appeal to us. But a coupon for a five-dollar lottery ticket by playing a table game enticed us to make the trip. We couldn't stay long on a Friday afternoon, but we went to an Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table to see what would happen.

BLINDS/ANTE: $5/$5

IN THE POCKET: 6-6

Pocket pairs pre-flop can be a good thing - but a low one like this is potential trouble at a regular table.  Yet in "Ultimate" play, your only opponent is the dealer.  But still we're wary, and choose to check inside of doubling down.

ON THE FLOP: A-K-5

Flops like that are the reason why.  We check again, at the sight of two big cards.

ON THE TURN/RIVER: 10-10

A running pair actually gives us some comfort.  It probably shouldn't, but it does in this case.  We bet the required $5 to stay in the hand with two pair.... and find the dealer misses the board!  It's a $15 gain for us.

Our investment of $60 reached a high of $65 - and we chose to leave at that point. Given our recent casino trips, any gain in Ultimate is a good day.  We moved to a blackjack table, where the odds are supposedly better for winning -- but several 16's stymied us, and we lost $15 there.  It was a modest drop of $10 on the day.  Oh, and the lottery ticket didn't win us anything.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We dared to take a card in blackjack with A-7.  A King came, and we stood on 18 - but other players at the table wondered what we were doing.

"It's a free card," we explained.  Not for them - as they feared we'd lead to something that would help the dealer.

"Rules are made to be broken," a man to our left said.  Perhaps he said it to encourage us - but he actually opened a door.

"Some rules are made to be obeyed," we told the players around us.  "I read a book that's full of rules. It's called the Bible."

One man to our right seemed to nod his head in understanding.  But sadly, some religious groups - and even some Christian groups - would take issue with our comment.  They might say something along these lines: "Christianity is not a list of do's and don'ts." Is that accurate?
"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." - Matthew 19:17


Some claim Jesus did away with the Ten Commandments. If that's true, why did He make this comment?  And then go farther?
"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" - Matthew 19:18-19
Jesus lists half of the Bible's "big ten." And this list is repeated in two other gospel accounts of the Lord's life (Mark 10:18-19; Luke 18:19-20).  The apostle Paul even lists some of them in a letter after Jesus's resurrection (Romans 13:9-10).


Christ made it clear: keeping God's key laws are vital for entering into eternal life.  They were written for us to obey - even now.  Is that what you're doing?


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Unlikely Order of Being

Have you ever been at a table where a player called for a card to come out of the deck, perhaps for the river -- and that very card came out?

We've seen it happen a few times at poker tournaments.  But we only realized recently that you can do something like that every night to win big money.

Oklahoma's state lottery has a "Poker Pick" game.  You buy a card with five playing cards from a standard deck on it.  If it makes a good poker hand, you win an instant prize -- and you can win a second time if the cards drawn by the lottery every night match yours.

But there's a big catch.  You apparently CANNOT pick the cards you play; a machine gives you something randomly on a ticket.  And you can't use cards on your ticket to supplement the cards drawn by the lottery, to improve your winnings.  Perhaps that's why Poker Pick only seems to have a few hundred winners every night.

If your ticket matches the five drawn by the lottery, you can win $100,000 - and you defy some pretty huge odds.  The state lottery website actually shows you the chances of doing that: one in almost 2.6 million.

Would you enter a lottery with unlikely odds that high?  Plenty of people do it when games like Powerball have a huge jackpot.

But here's the thing - you're living on a place which defies those odds right now.  It's called Earth.  Wherever you're reading this on Earth.  That's because our solar system defies logical odds -- with the Earth making a constant regular orbit around the Sun, and turning in a predictable way so that a day lasts 24 hours with slow adjustments for seasons.

Why doesn't our orbit go out of control, and go more "on tilt" than it normally does in a year?  We dare to think we know the answer:
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heaven and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat. - Psalm 19:4-6


King David wrote this psalm, and noticed the regular pattern of sunrises and sunsets.  So did other Biblical writers.
The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. - Ecclesiastes 1:5


You might argue things on this earth have "evolved" over millennia and centuries. But how do you explain this orderly pattern of the days, seasons and years in the heavens?  Why doesn't that "evolve," with the sun rising earlier and earlier year-round?  Again, we think we know the answer.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. - Psalm 113:3


Scientists and writers smarter than us have noted this Earth could not sustain life without the orbit it has, and the location it holds related to the Sun.  Astronomers can chart what will happen - day by day, year by year.

Unlike cards from a deck of poker cards, the paths of the solar system are sure.  And they lead us on only one logical path for an explanation.
Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.... his understanding no one can fathom. - Isaiah 40:28


We know of no better explanation than this - an explanation that defies human logic and odds.  Do you?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Poker Night 441: An Epic Decision

"I guess we know who the singles are!"  That's what one man said Saturday night at Winner's Cardroom -- and he probably was right.  It was February 14, "Valentine's Day" for many -- and here we were in a poker room.

The Saturday night game at Winner's is $20 less expensive than a Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Poker.  But the "holiday" (more on that later) meant a lot of players apparently were missing.  So we sat down for another one-table tournament, hoping to hang around long enough to win some money.

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-J of clubs

We haven't won a pot yet, although we could have -- throwing away 5-6 on the opening hand that would have made a straight.  Now we have high suited cards and the Dealer button.  When no one raises ahead of us at the table of eight, we raise to 1,200.  About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 7-2-2

"And that is an epic flop!" the professional dealer jokes.

"No one really expects that," one player admits.

So the players in front of us check - and we make a continuation bet of 1,100.  Two players fold, but a woman across from us calls.

ON THE TURN: 3

That card doesn't seem to enhance things.  The woman checks -- but we're wondering about that call, so we check as well.  Could she have a hidden pair?

ON THE RIVER: 5

It's not a blockbuster board at all -- but now the woman sets out 4,000 chips.  She could be trying to outbluff us, but somehow we don't think so.  After thinking it over for a moment, we fold.

"That was an epic flop," she now says - and she shows 7-7!  She scored a full house on the flop, then waited us out.  We're thankful it didn't cost us more than it did.

We finally won a couple of pots, including a double-up with K-K which turned around our evening.  We reached a high of 61,000 chips, as other players were knocked out.

Then with four players left, we had 3-4 in the Big Blind.  The flop was a lovely-looking 3-4-5.  After checking the flop, we went all-in on the turn -- and were called by a man with A-2!  He slowplayed us to our hurt as well, with a flopped straight.  The river brought no full house for us, and we went home in fourth place (only the top two earned money).

MINISTRY MOMENT: We intentionally did NOT try to have one.  The reason why goes back one year.

Regular readers will recall on Valentine's Day 2014, we went to a casino on a Friday night (an evening we turned into a three-part post).  For one week we broke the seventh-day Sabbath we normally keep fervently, because the church group we attend considers Valentine's pagan and wrong....
Thus says the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed by the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. - Jeremiah 10:2 (KJV)
That group had left the impression last year that any act of love on Valentine's was wrong.  And since it also teaches this....
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.... - I John 5:3
....we logically concluded keeping the Sabbath commandment would be showing love, and thus be wrong.

But this year that church group's messages about Valentine's Day were scaled back a bit.  The emphasis was on showing acts of love all year long, instead of something special on February 14.  So we decided to have a "bare minimum" Saturday - keeping the Sabbath and even going to church to be obedient, but not doing anything that might be considered out of the ordinary and over the "holiday" line.

It turned out only one or two players brought up Valentine's Day in the poker room.  Only two of the eight players at the table wore red tops.  So this group wasn't really keeping that "holiday," either -- and we really couldn't complain about that.

But maybe you're confused by all this.  You may wonder what possibly could be wrong with a day set aside for "showing love," such as Valentine's Day.  We recommend carefully considering this blog post by a church pastor, with an open Bible and mind.  What "holidays" does God really consider, well, epic?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 159 final tables in 441 games (36.1%) - 26 cashes.  We've reached four final tables in a row.... even if only enough players show up for one table.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Payoff Guaranteed

Poker tables and dice tables are two very different things.  Yet the other night we heard a statement which could apply to both of them.

The speaker warned when it comes to evildoers, God has "loaded the dice" against them.  This practically matched the classic title of a church sermon on The Andy Griffith Show - a title which won the preacher praise from Barney Fife for being clever.

Yet we heard that warning from a real-life church pastor (now deceased) - and he has a valid point.  The Bible had a warning along those lines, long before those men came along....
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. - Psalm 34:14


Some people go to poker nights to have fun.  We'd like to think most of them do.  But sadly, a few may show up seeking trouble. If that describes you, God has this warning:
..The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. - Psalm 34:16


The word evil can refer to many things.  Look at what this psalm emphasizes:
..Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. - Psalm 34:13
Evil things can be done with words, every bit as much as actions.  Yet make no mistake....

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. - Galatians 6:7-8
The Bible warns our actions will have a payoff - whether we're at the poker table or outside.  Wise actions will be rewarded; it could happen in this life, but most assuredly in the life to come.  Evildoing will be punished as well, with destruction authorized by God.


The game of life ultimately is that simple.  How will you choose to act in it?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Call or Be Called

We're still thinking about the online player who told us last weekend, "I don't do church."

In our last post, we noted churches can be groups that sit in judgment of disputes.  (Yes, we know - sometimes they also pass judgment on people and events.)  But a church can be other things....
I am writing to God's church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people.... - I Corinthians 1:2 (NLT)


Players "call" at the poker table all the time.  It's the minimum requirement for getting into a hand.  (You might get in trouble if you call someone else on the phone during a hand, but that's another topic.)

But a church is filled with "called" people.  The Greek word for church (the New Testament was primarily written in Greek) means "calling out."  Our verse shows God calls people out -- and unlike our modern slang, that's not a negative thing.
And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. - Romans 1:6 (NLT)


Belonging to Jesus might sound boring.  But if you heed it, that call results ultimately in something remarkable:
In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus.... I Peter 5:10 (NLT)


You can live forever with Jesus -- and it starts with a call.  It's a call from God, to be part of what Jesus is doing.  It's a call to a church containing "his own holy people," as our first verse noted.
...Don't slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn't know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. - I Peter 1:14-15 (NLT)
God may well be calling you to give up selfish desires for something bigger and better. If He's calling, it's your turn. How will you respond?