Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What to Dump

It had been a long time since we watched poker on television. But a short road trip this week allowed us to catch a bit of the World Poker Tour "Ladies' Night" tournament on cable.

Vanessa Rousso was the biggest name at the all-female table, and she had the biggest chip stack throughout the time we watched. (We'll let you go elsewhere online, to look up whether she won.)  But what struck us was how many times players gave up what seemed to be very playable pre-flop hands.  A couple of players folded A-10, even when the raises ahead of them were relatively small.

Every poker player has boundaries, we suppose -- hands they wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole unless they sit in the Big Blind and all they have to do is check.  And as we walk through life, there are some things we should throw away....
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7

This was written by the apostle Paul, who had a lot going for him as a young man.  Verses 4-6 show he had a great religious pedigree -- at least in the established religion of his day.  But when Paul encountered Jesus Christ, his entire perspective changed.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.... - Philippians 3:8

Some players get a reputation for playing only "quality hands."  Beyond pocket Aces, the definition of that phrase can be subjective.  In a similar way, Paul tossed aside a lot, for the knowledge of Jesus.  What makes that so much better?
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. - Philippians 3:10-11

Paul wanted to be resurrected to "a new life," as he calls it in Romans 6:4 -- an eternal life with Jesus.  Are you willing to throw away things which are "rags" by comparison, to have that new life?

And while we're at it -- what's the biggest hand you ever threw away at a poker table?  And did you wind up making the right decision when you did it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Ifs, It's Real: One-Year Report

This week marks one year since we moved to a new city.  We moved from a place where we were unemployed to a place where we have full-time work.  We're thankful to God for that.

In fact, it's more than full-time work -- as we're busy so many hours a week that our poker playing has dropped considerably.  So has our blogging about poker, as regular readers may have noticed.  But our poker environment also has changed in Kansas.  Instead of playing a lot of free tournaments in bars hoping to win a little prize money, now we play almost all our games in poker rooms and casinos with entry fees and bigger stakes.

So how have we done?  We added up the score, and found we've only played 17 live tournaments in the past year.  They break down this way:

WPT AMATEUR LEAGUE: One final table in two games.  That "one" was a second-place finish, with first only earning points toward a bigger tournament later.

POKER ROOMS: Eight final tables in 15 games (53.3%), 4 cashes, 1 outright win.

Those stats are rather stunning, considering we aren't playing a lot.  And our poker room performance admittedly dropped in the last six months, to two final tables out of seven.

But have we made any money doing it?  By our figuring, no.  We paid $395 in buy-ins (only a couple were more expensive than $20).  We won $220, so we had a net loss of $175.

As we mentioned in a recent post, this past year also allowed us to play in more casinos than ever before -- and also play more variations of Texas Hold 'em.  We only played one full tournament in a casino, and missed the final table there.  Otherwise, how did those do?

CASH GAME POKER: One session, down $60

ULTIMATE TEXAS HOLD 'EM: Eight sessions, down $217.50 (we were up $77.50 after two)

HEADS-UP MACHINE HOLD 'EM: Three sessions, down $19

BLACKJACK: Two sessions, up $35

Ouch!  What does it say when our most profitable game is the one which arguably has the most luck involved - blackjack?

Our online poker playing hasn't stopped completely, but it's also been reduced by our new situation:

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - two "cashes" (top ten percent) in 10 games.  No-River Hold 'em - Six point wins (about top ten percent) in eight games; four final tables, one win paying cash.

The No-River success rate is an astonishing 75%!  Perhaps we've found our "niche" specialty game there.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $88,531, up $4,031.

So overall, we're winning online a great deal.  We're winning on occasion in person, but losing overall (the total loss is about $436).  But anymore, our poker playing is less about money and more about ministry - sharing the things of God and Jesus Christ wherever we go.  After all....
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. - Proverbs 11:4

"Lifetime winnings" make for nice statistics and healthy discussion at the table.  But once your lifetime is ended, what will you ultimately gain?  May your goal be the same as the apostle Paul:
I press on toward the goal for of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:14 (NASB)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Flushed Out

If you think a "flush" in competitive poker only refers to five cards of the same suit, think again.

National news reports this week tell of a man who's accused of using counterfeit chips during a tournament in Atlantic City.  Police say he tried to hide the evidence of his actions by.... (we should pause for comedic timing here) flushing them down the toilet in his hotel room!

Only one problem: the cover-up didn't work.  The poker chips became stuck in hotel pipes.  They caused a water leak on a lower floor.  And the man accused of doing it now is under arrest.

This certainly isn't the first case of people trying to use water to hide evidence of wrongdoing.  River and lake cleanup projects have found everything from guns to stolen cars -- and in the worst cases, a few human bodies.

Yet here's the thing - the Bible recommends we take this approach.  Only in a very different sense....
A man named Ananias came to see me.... He stood beside me and said.... "And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." - Acts 22:12-16

The man Ananias went to see went on to become the apostle Paul, who wrote many New Testament books.  After Paul was struck down and blinded by Jesus Christ (verses 2-11), Ananias told him about the first steps in becoming a witness for God.  One key step involves baptism.

We grew up in a Christian denomination that sprinkled babies on the head, to perform a baptism.  Yet we recall a Pastor in our church admitting one day in a sermon the Baptists had a better argument when it comes to that custom - the method Jesus followed:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. - Matthew 3:16

Jesus went up and out, because the Greek word for "baptism" means "immersion."  A few drops of water on your head might disinfect your head, but it won't clean the rest of your body.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. - Romans 6:3

The ceremony of baptism pictures your sins becoming dead and buried -- whether you're carrying fake poker chips, or have some other issues.  But be sure you do one thing before the baptism begins....
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ of the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

Repentance means turning around and making a real change.  It means not going fishing a few days from now for those fake poker chips, because you're short-stacked in a tournament.  Let them go. Keep them buried. And live the "new life" Paul mentioned, walking away from sinful behavior.

The Atlantic City casino which had this scandal has changed its poker chips, to make them more secure.  That's understandable - but what we all need to "secure" is our minds, to make them honest and upright.  Baptism and the entrance of the Holy Spirit is the only true way to make that possible.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Lonely Old Man at the End of the Bar

The first two parts of our road trip had gone well.  We attended a memorial concert for a college music instructor, then took spring cleaning to one of the very few places in our area which accepts styrofoam for recycling.  But then....

Hollywood Casino was only a few exits up the highway from the recycling point.  So we dreamed of making quick money playing poker there, even on a Wednesday morning.  The casino was a largely-empty place, with only one full-looking table active in the poker room.

So we sat down at the slot-style Texas Hold 'em machine where we'd won money several weeks before.  But alas, not many good cards showed up for us -- and only in one hand did we hit a successful-looking flop.  In this heads-up format, our $50 investment evaporated to nothing in only a few minutes.

As we drank a free consolation soda before leaving, we pondered why we'd done this.  Money to pay for the trip would have been nice.  But there was no engagement with anyone, no moment of interaction about the gospel or the things of Christ.  We'd simply drained our wallet quietly, then walked out as quietly as we walked in.

This isn't really why we started playing poker several years ago.  Instead of using it as a tool for evangelizing, we'd become simply another small-scale gambling junkie.  We only visited casinos on occasion and with a set limit on losses, but we still were not being the sort of light Jesus wants believers to be.
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)

We've visited casinos more in the last 12 months than we ever have before.  There have been moments of success - but more often times of loss and defeat.  The lesson for us is clear: resist the urge to stop and play, unless we don't mind throwing money away.
It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile.  That's why officials must have a good reputation.... They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved.... they must be kind and gentle and not love money. - I Timothy 3:1-3 (CEV)

We do not hold an official title in the church group we attend.  Yet a similar standard should apply to us.  We shouldn't be "greedy of filthy lucre," as the King James puts verse 3. We should realize the chances of losing money in casino games, instead of drifting toward expensive habits.

Our apologies for making this post a confessional.  But as we mark one year in our new home this week, we think it's important to share some of the lessons we've learned from playing poker more often for real stakes.

Not everything has been bad (an upcoming post will get into that).  But as the annual "Lord's Supper" service approaches for us, we see a need to shake ourselves away from the trend we've been on with poker.  What about you?  What is your experience - past or present?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Remember As You Play....

The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more.... The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, "Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more." The master was full of praise. "Well done, my good and faithful. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, s now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!" - Matthew 25:16, 20-21 (NLT)

In many poker tournaments, everyone starts with the same number of chips.  You could be thankful simply to be in the tournament, and have that many chips.  Or you could try to gain more chips, in an attempt to win the tournament.

Which way is the more logical approach for a poker player?  It's clearly the attempt to add to your stack.  And believe it or not, that's the approach Jesus endorses in the parable we've quoted.

We never thought of a poker connection to the "parable of the talents" until we heard a well-known preacher on Christian radio mention the story this week.  He put it this way: we can be satisfied and thankful for the blessings God has given us -- and in reality, we should be grateful.  But God expects more from us than that.  He wants growth in those talents -- looking for the blessings to increase.

Another servant in Jesus's parable chose to settle for the talents he was given. He buried them in the ground (verse 18).  How did the master respond to that approach?
But the master replied, "You wicked and lazy servant!... Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it... Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:26-30 (NLT)
Time moves along.  The blinds go up.  Inflation (maybe antes) happens.
To paraphrase that radio preacher: it's nice to have $10,000 now - but you don't want to look several years from now, and find you still only have that base $10,000.
So with apologies to the people who see Jesus Christ as a quasi-socialist, "give it all away" preacher, the Lord shows here growth can be a good thing.  God plans to reward it in His kingdom, once Jesus returns to Earth.
For the Son of man is coming in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward everyone for what he has done. - Matthew 16:27 (Moffatt)
Do you play poker defensively - perhaps "playing not to lose"?  Or do you play to advance, grow and hopefully win?  God doesn't object to the growth method - as long as you don't cross a line into being greedy.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Whom To Root Against

One interesting twist about the casino trip mentioned in our last post was that it occurred during the opening weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.  The day we went included a shocking upset, as the Mercer Bears beat the Duke Blue Devils.

"I'm a Christian," we told our table, "so I can't root for any team called the Devils."

We recall one high school where we used to live, where the girls' basketball coach actually changed her team's nickname.  Instead of "Devils," they became the Angels.  Why would someone do that?  Because the Bible warns against the devil....
Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. - I Peter 5:8

The devil offers people all sorts of interesting temptations, pretending to be your friend.  But the Bible shows Satan wants to "devour" you -- eating your life away through things such as over-gambling at poker.
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

 Jesus said these words -- and Jesus battled against the devil's temptations several times (Matthew 4:1-11).  Yet the Lord prevailed, and so can we.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering. - I Peter 5:9

Resisting the devil isn't easy.  That's why God offers help, through the Holy Spirit.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. - I John 4:4

With all due respect to graduates of Duke, Arizona State and other schools, the "devil" is not one to support.  God plans to remove Satan eventually.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven.... He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:2

God created all the "chips" of the universe, and He eventually will hold them all again.  Including you, if you allow it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Time To Lend

A promotional card enticed us to head to a casino this weekend. We had "25 bonus entries" to win $1,000 in slot machine play -- which would have been interesting had we won, because we never play slot machines.

But we took $60 to the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table.  The $5 table was surprisingly open, as only two players were beside us for awhile.  But one needed our help at one point....

BLINDS: $5 (plus $5 ante)

IN THE POCKET: 4-8 offsuit

Ugh.  This doesn't look promising - but anything can happen on the flop, as the dealer can't raise to drive us away.  So we check.


That highway must be in our state somewhere.  But it's not on our road.  We'll check again -- but first, the player on our right is anxious.

"What do I do?  I don't have the money to bet!" he says.  It looks to us like he has $10 in chips, but he clearly wants to do more than that -- and he apparently doesn't have extra cash.

"Can I borrow $5 from you?" the man finally asks us.  "I'll give it right back.  I've got a 7."

At any other place and occasion, we probably would have said no.  But he's made a promise and he's sitting right next to us.  So we hand over one of our $5 chips, so he can bet 2x the blind.

ON THE TURN/RIVER: 9-6 (as best we recall)

We wisely fold.  But our borrower wins big, as his "trip 7's" top the dealer and get a big payoff.  And yes, the winner then gives us back that $5 chip.

"Always tip the dealer," we joke.  "Or in this case, the lender."

The man did not do that.  And we eventually lost $55 of our $60 at that table (dropping the other $5 in a quick time of blackjack).  But it was an opportunity to practice giving -- something we all really should do.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.... if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.... - Romans 12:6-8

So far in 2014, we've had an amazing ten encounters with beggars around our area.  We haven't gone looking for them; they've simply crossed our path or come to us.  In fact, we stopped for a street-corner beggar at a traffic light on the way to this casino trip.  We held up traffic and probably infuriated a few drivers, while we hurried around to open our trunk and give a man with a "HOMELESS" sign a small bag of food.

We do these things because we're trying to follow the example of God....
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

The greatest gift God ever provided for you and me was Jesus.  And why did the Father and Son do this?
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10

Our $5 loan at the casino table helped a man win, well, maybe $50.  God's gift is much better and long-lasting -- salvation and eternal life.  Will you accept Jesus, the gift God offers you?