Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Time

Did anyone teach you how to play poker?  Maybe it was your older brother or sister at the kitchen table.  Maybe it was a buddy in a poker room.  Maybe you went through an instructional book or video.

However it happened, we have a suggestion. Do NOT assume you know it all. Former World Series of Poker Main Event champ Jamie Gold once admitted on TV he still felt he had a lot to learn about the game.  He didn't say exactly what -- maybe strategy, maybe reading an opponent, maybe something else.

One of the nicest things we've heard people say about basketball legend Tim Duncan is that despite his stardom and championship rings, "he's willing to be coached."  We all need to be -- and not only in the fine points of poker:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. - II Peter 3:18

The Bible suggests we grow in the "knowledge" of Jesus. We think that means not believing everything you've heard about Him, just because someone said it was so.  That even goes for church ministers, because we've found some of them might have personal or denominational agendas.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

This verse comes from the early days of the Christian church, which had roots in the Jewish synagogue (verse 10).  The people in this city listened to what the apostle had to say -- but they went to the Bible (they only had the Old Testament at that time) to verify whether it was accurate.

Read through the Bible carefully, and you may find some surprises.  It's helped change our thinking over the years about going to poker rooms or casinos -- much less playing games there.

So tell us: what's the best piece of poker advice you ever received?  Who gave it, and how did it help you?  The comment box is open.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Another Day?

We've been away from this blog for vacation time - and that allowed us to finally watch some of ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage.

Everyone seemed to be struck last week by the player (sorry, we didn't catch his name) who reached Day 5 of the Main Event, yet told the interviewer it was simply another game.  He treated poker's biggest contest like another day at the office.

We can understand having that kind of mental approach -- but at some point, you'd think the "thrill of the moment" would kick in.  We'd guess it's like reaching the 20,000-foot mark in a climb up Mount Everest.  It's a big milestone, even if you don't make it all the way to the top.

How do you approach a poker tournament -- or for that matter, the dawning of a new day?  Has it become ho-hum and "old hat"?  If it has, maybe you need a fresh perspective....
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Believers realize God has made every day.  And one of the background dramas of life is that we don't know how many days He's given us.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. - Psalm 90:12

Have you ever stopped to count how many days old you are, as opposed to years?  We've done the math -- and by the time you reach "age 55," you'll have lived more than 20,000 days.  We should be thankful for each day God gives, and live as if that daily gift is valuable.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man's life is but a breath. Selah. - Psalm 39:5

Our only hope for a breath beyond this life is through God resurrecting us -- and he offers eternal life to those who will believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Is that offer so valuable to you that you'll accept that great prize?  Or is it nothing special?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Clean

"Is there a place around here that has poker during the week?" we asked the motel attendant.  We were on vacation in a resort area that we knew had no casinos or full-fledged poker rooms.  We would have settled for a small game at a bar, to do some surprise poker ministry.

But the woman behind the desk said there was no such place -- not even in a bar.  She named a big tourist attraction in the area, and told us the managers exert a lot of influence to keep any sort of gambling from starting.

That woman at the motel seemed a bit annoyed by that approach.  We accepted it -- and we respect it.  Those managers are trying to keep things "G-rated" and family-friendly for visitors from around the country.

How do you "clean up" an area of things which might be considered sinful?  It starts with people cleaning up themselves....
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior, - Psalm 24:4-5
But the better approach to cleaning is really not to do it ourselves.  We should ask God for help in the clean-up job:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. - Psalm 51:1-2
This step is known in "church-speak" as repentance. Ask God to lovingly show your unclean areas. Confess them.  Seek God's forgiveness.  Then strive to walk a different way, seeking God's help in doing it.  II Peter 1:5-8 outlines several steps in doing that -- leading to this:
But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. - II Peter 1:9
We encourage you to review the steps listed in that chapter.  If certain things are missing, ask God to help you find ways to grow in those areas -- and to be "carried along by the Holy Spirit," as the end of the chapter puts it.

Will there be poker games when God's perfect Kingdom comes to earth?  We're honestly not sure -- but if there are, they'll be cleaned-up ones.  How about taking steps toward that now?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

By Any Means Necessary?

One of professional poker's biggest stars is defending his actions in a British courtroom right now.  Phil Ivey is being denied more than 12 million U.S. dollars by a casino, which claims he played a form of baccarat unfairly.

Ivey, as you might guess, denies he is a cheater.  Instead, he is an "advantage player" -- looking for anything that might give him an advantage over the house.  To quote a statement he made in court: "As a professional gambler, my job is to seek to lawfully reverse or reduce the perceived house edge...."

Isn't playing poker a bit like that -- especially when you're in a bad situation?  You might miss a straight or flush draw.  But you can still win a hand through "lawfully reversing" the situation -- perhaps with a big bluff bet, after everyone else checks.

We also think life is a good bit like that.  Whether you realize it or not, the "house" of this world tries to get an edge on all of us.
In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God., should shine unto them. - II Corinthians 4:4 (KJV)
Who is "the god of this world"?  This verse indicates it is not God the Father or Jesus Christ.  It must be someone or something else.  Note what Jesus said it is:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44
Those are tough words -- but they're the words of our Lord.  He came to "lawfully reverse" that edge, by keeping the Law of God perfectly and giving His life for our sins.
.Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.... He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. - Galatians 3:13-14
To borrow from a radio sermon we once heard, God turned the tables.  You get an advantage over Satan by claiming Jesus as your Savior -- especially at the ultimate showdown, which we call death:
"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?'.... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 15:55, 57
Try as you might, you can't defeat Satan and the devil's tactics on your own.  You need Jesus to claim the greatest win of all -- eternal life.  Will you put your faith in Him, to get the win?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Big Stack

Let's go back to the man we mentioned in our last post, who offered a theory about why Jesus possibly could have had long hair.  We asked him if Jesus was his Savior - and after thinking for a moment, he said yes.

"What's Jesus been doing for you?" we asked.

The man thoughtfully began naming several things, starting with good personal health.  Hopefully he's doing that God's way....
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. - Proverbs 3:7-8

"Giving me a job that I love," the man said next....
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. - Ecclesiastes 5:19

The man also mentioned his family.  If yours is functional and not dysfunctional, that's also a blessing from the Lord....
God sets the lonely in families.... - Psalm 68:6

Perhaps you can add to this man's list, with how Jesus is working in your life.  It's good to consider these things - and we're entering a great time of year to do it.  Some church groups will mark a fall "harvest festival" beginning next week, and Canada will mark its Thanksgiving Day a few days after that.
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

If you have the things mentioned by the man next to us, you have a "big stack" of blessings.  May you take time to realize it - and be thankful, to borrow from a familiar song, to the "God from Whom all blessings flow."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poker Day 434: Clash of the Titans

The manager of Arrowhead Poker admits Sunday action starts slowly.  But there still can be plenty of action, even in a one-table tournament.  We faced some big hands today, but we're deferring to one where we simply watched:

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET:  Q-10 offsuit

To be honest, we don't absolutely remember what we had in this hand.  But we know we still had 9,000 chips in the fifth round of blinds, after winning several pots.  And we folded pre-flop, so it must not have been very impressive.  We know Q-10 came up at some point late in the tournament, and it seemed too marginal to play with our chip stack so precarious.

ON THE FLOP: 6h-5h-4h

We murmur noisily at the sight of this - three suited cards in a row.  Seven players are still in the running, including the manager.  As we recall, he made a bet which chased all but one player (the only woman at the table) away.


The plot thickens further - with four suited cards in a row.  Now both players check.


So there's a straight on the table, but that may be the least of our issues.  The manager now goes all-in.  The woman thinks about it for a moment or two.  Is that a big bluff?  She decides it is, and calls.

The manager turns over.... 8h!  It's not a bluff; he has a straight flush!

The woman shows.... 3h-Ah!  She had the Ace for an old-fashioned "nut flush," and the 3 gave her a straight flush of her own -- but not the winning one.  She's eliminated in seventh place, with a true bad beat.

It was our turn to go all-in a few hands later, as we faced the Big Blind with our last 10,000 chips.  We had K-J, but a man called with A-J.  Two Aces on the board settled the matter, and we were ousted in sixth place -- better, but not in the money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man on our right -- the one with an artist's depiction of Jesus on the flip side.  "I don't really think he looks like that," we said of the depiction showing a long-haired Lord.

"I don't know," the man said.  "Maybe they weren't able to cut hair back then."

We didn't tell the man this, but that theory doesn't match the Bible at all.  Consider one of the most infamous haircuts in recorded history:
So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazarite set apart to God since birth.  If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man." - Judges 16:17

These are the words of Samson - a man who had his hair in seven braids.  When Delilah put Samson to sleep and her friend shaved off those braids, indeed "his strength left him" (verse 19).  In fact....
Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"  He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free."  But he did not know that the Lord had left him. - Judges 16:20

Not only did Samson's strength go away -- the Lord went away.  It's curious to us that Samson bluffed (as in lied to) Delilah three times earlier in this chapter about the source of his strength.  When Samson finally told the truth, God responded by leaving him!

What sort of lessons should we learn from this?  In terms of poker, we think there's one obvious lesson -- don't lie in pressure situations.  Samson may not have realized he was in one, with his invincible strength at stake.
Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. - Proverbs  16:13

We think this especially applies to the "King of Kings," Jesus Christ.  Would Samson have kept his strength, had he told the truth to Delilah right away?  We're left to guess -- but in poker, we think it's better to say nothing about your hand before showdown, instead of lying and breaking God's command against offering a "false witness" (Exodus 20:16, KJV).

NOTE: There's more to the conversation with that man at the table; we'll get to it in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 154 final tables in 434 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.  Until more players show up, the final table count will keep piling up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bitter Bread

You're dealt pocket Queens, but face A-K and lose.  Or you're dealt pocket Aces and push, only to watch someone else make a flush that beats you.

What's a poker player to do?  It's easy to let it affect your play in upcoming games.  If you do that, you might be falling prey to one of the biggest potential perils -- worrying too much.

We heard a sermon on Christian radio this week which claimed (based on scientific research, we suppose) only eight percent of the things people worry about ever come to pass.  Yet if the minister was trying to dissuade people from worrying, he hurt his point when he told the story of a 1940s artist who built a mountain home to protect his children from city traffic - only to run over a toddler in his driveway.

Terrible tragedies in this world can make anyone concerned about the future.  So can a series of bad beats in a poker room.  Yet the Bible advises....
Vain is it to rise early for your work, and keep at work so late, gaining your bread with anxious toil! God's gifts come to his loved ones, as they sleep. - Psalm 127:2 (Moffatt)
People in Western cultures tend to be taught bitter-tasting things are bad, and sweet things are good.  Yet both can have benefits for you -- with bitter moments teaching us to savor sweet moments when they come.

We've attended church groups where a preacher might spend 15 minutes during a service listing examples of how the world grows more sinful and terrible by the day.  Despite it all, Jesus Christ told believers they should not worry about such things:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Matthew 6:34
Why not worry?  Because the Bible promises Jesus will come again and remove this world's bitterness and anxieties.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away - Revelation 21:4
Accomplishing that will take time.  But we're entering a season of the year picturing how that will happen.  People who keep the Biblical "fall holy days" learn about Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God from heaven to this earth.

Those days start tonight, with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah and some Christians call the Feast of Trumpets.  We suggest you consider those days carefully, using the Bible as your guide and praying for understanding of what they mean.  We believe the "King of Kings" can provide the ultimate victory over all our worries and anxieties.