Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Biggest Loser

When you hear about big-name poker players, the news is usually impressive and positive. Player A made a final table. Player B walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But then there's Player C - and we offer Dan Cates as an example of that. He calls himself on Twitter "one of the most successful online poker players of all time." Yet he made a poker news website this week because of how much money he's lost - nearly $500,000 since the start of the year on PokerStars. (He clearly plays for money on that site; we only use play money, and don't even buy extra chips.)

Perhaps more surprisingly, Cates seemed to call attention to his own losing streak by writing on Twitter:

for someone who has played games all over the world and on many stakes, I have to say has the WORST games by FAR (toughest)

The fate of Cates is a reminder of why some people warn against playing poker. in the first place. When someone when money, especially in a cash game, someone has to lose money. But believe it or not, sometimes losing a lot can be a good thing:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7

The Biblical apostle Paul's resume didn't have poker tournaments on it. But for his day and his religious circle, it was impressive....

If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.... as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.... - Philippians 3:4-6

In other words, he was a Jew's Jew. But there's one item on the resume we left out: for zeal, persecuting the church... - Philippians 3:6

And that was the problem. Paul (originally called Saul) thought he knew what God was doing, and thought the new "church" movement after the resurrection of Jesus Christ couldn't possibly be it. But God proved him wrong by striking him down.

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." - Acts 9:5-6

Saul left that moment temporarily blind, and had to be led to Damascus. But once there, he was healed and began preaching Jesus "is the son of God" (Acts 9:18, 20). The success he had doing that led him to write later:

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 might gain Christ.... - Philippians 3:8

Maybe you're like Paul, or like poker's "Jungleman Dan.". You've lost a lot, at the table or in life. Maybe God is trying to tell you something. Ask Him in prayer to show you what that message is. Ask for His wisdom, which - pardon any offense - is far better than yours (I Corinthians 1:25). Serving God is the real path to victory, in this life and beyond.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poker Day 499: Good or Bad?

"As far as I'm concerned, they're all good." We borrowed a "Good Friday" line we heard years ago on an Atlanta radio station as we sat down to play poker at Kansas Star Casino. It was our first live poker tournament in about two months, due to a busy schedule. But three recent top-100 finishes in online events with more than 1,000 players gave us some hope....

BLINDS: 100/200


The game got off to a good start for us, as A-K allowed us to win a big pot with a pair of Kings over a couple of chasers. We were above 5,300 at that point. But then the cards went dry, and hopeful pairs hit bad flops.

We now come back from the first break with 3,400 chips. Sitting two seats from the button at a table of nine, we see these cards and raise to 600. The man in the dealer's seat calls. So does one of the blinds. Everyone else says no.


The man in the blind checks, so we can have a bit of fun. "I'm making a classic continuation bet," we say. It's 700.

"I'm all-in," the button man says in response.

The blind folds. Yet we don't feel very worried. We bluff-bet this opponent out of a hand to win a modest pot when we had the button two hands earlier. And this is a table where some people have been betting big with relatively little all day. So we quickly conclude this man hit Jack-something - maybe Jack-Ace. And we have him topped.

"I have to call," we say. After all, 1,300 of our 3,400 already is committed.

Then it happens. Our "dealer" turns over J-J! He hit the Jack-pot on the flop. "I need some help," we admit.


"A 10 would be good," we say hopefully. A straight would be quite an escape.


No escape. Only a trip to the rail, finishing 54th out of 89 players. Perhaps we were overconfident?!

MINISTRY MOMENT: Noting what day it was, we took our "Lord's Supper" card protector and showed it to a man who called himself a poker rookie. (He lasted longer than we did.)

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked him. He clearly did not expect that sort of question in a poker room.

"You mean Chris Ferguson?!" he answered, straining for some humor.

No.... not the poker champ who's been given the nickname "Jesus" because some people think he looks like the Savior (at least the way He's been depicted since the Renaissance). The real Jesus.

"I grew up in a town full of Catholics," the man admitted. In fact, we checked and found that small town of around 600 people was founded by a Catholic priest. But the man at the table said little more than that about our question.

Here's the good news for him, and even for you. You don't have to be Roman Catholic to be a Christian. In fact, the word "Catholic" isn't in the Bible at all. Here's a bit of how it really works....

Peter and the other apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men!.... We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." - Acts 5:29, 32

There's obedience involved in being a Christian - and some simply some nebulous "god."

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.... - John 14:15-17

These are words of Jesus Christ. While countless churches might give you differing set of rules about how to serve God, the real Jesus said you should obey what He commands. That means reading the Bible carefully, beginning with the four "gospels" which begin the New Testament. Among them....

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." - Mark 16:15

That's what we try to do in poker rooms. We start small, simply by bringing up Jesus and God the Father. Where it goes from there is up to God. Just as big things can happen in a poker tournament, we believe God can make big things happen in your life. Will you obey the real Jesus, to open the door for it?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 499 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. We're not sure yet when tournament #500 will happen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

High hand, or high-handed?

Today we reach a milestone - 1,500 posts on this blog! That's something to celebrate, much like winning a big poker tournament.

If you want to win the tournament, you'll probably need to have the highest hand most of the time. If you win a pot with a royal flush, that's the highest hand of all.

But there's another kind of "high hand" that we're thinking about right now - and so are observing Christians and Jews. It's this one....

And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the 15th day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. - Numbers 33:3 (KJV)

It's easy to crack poker jokes about what this "high hand" might have been. A full house? Nope; the Israelites left their homes empty. A straight? Well, maybe - but they wandered around to get to the Red Sea.

But to be serious, we're in a season picturing the time when Israel was allowed to leave Egypt and head for the promised land. Other Bible translations say they went out "with boldness" or "defiantly." The English Standard Version says "triumphantly" - but the victory was only partially their doing.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. - Exodus  12:13

These were instructions from God. The Israelites did their part, marking homes with blood from sacrificed animals. Then God did His - striking dead the firstborn of all Egypt, and causing such anguish that the Egyptians were happy to get rid of a people which had been slaves.

Yet in our time, a third definition of "high hand" has developed. "Arrogant or arbitrary in manner" is how our hardbound dictionary defined someone who is "high-handed." That is something God does not want to see - even if you have a high hand at the table:

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the forward mouth, do I hate. - Proverbs 8:13 (KJV)

Arrogance is linked here to pride. God wants your attitude to be exactly the opposite, when you play poker and live your life....

But he gives us more grace. This is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - James 4:6

Some believers go so far as to eat unleavened bread (such as matzo or crackers) for seven days - what some call the "bread of humility."

So we're really celebrating a seven-day Biblical feast, more than we are 1,500 blog posts. But we're trying to do so with the right kind of "high hand" - thankful for God providing triumphs in our lives, from poker pots to victory over stubborn sins. We humbly thank all of you who take time to read these posts, and invite you to comment on where you're reading and what we can do better.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

King-Queen Winners?

Can someone play poker and have a happy marriage at the same time? Some of the stories that make the news can make you wonder.

The latest comes from New York, where poker pro Beth Shak has filed for divorce. She's been married to cable TV news reporter Rick Leventhal only ten months. But an attorney says "irreconcilable differences" have developed.

We're struck by what Shak said about meeting Leventhal:

"I’ve never been lucky in love, but meeting in him proved that my luck has changed...."

Disclaimer: We've never been married, so we won't pretend to be experts at this. But we'll go to a great guidebook on the topic, and ask: is love a matter of "luck" - or something more?

He who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord. - Proverbs 18:22 (NLT)

Both Shak and Leventhal will be ending their second marriages. Assuming "she who finds a husband" also receives favor from God, both of them found it twice. But we think finding it is one thing, while maintaining it is something else....

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.... - Ephesians 5:25

We don't know what sort of "differences" Leventhal and Shak have. But this verse says love is about giving - in this case, a husband going "all in" for his wife. How far did God and Jesus Christ go with that?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

It's about going all in, even if the other party is sinning and doesn't deserve a thing. At a human level, that can take a lot of work and resolve - but that's what God's love is, and that's the example we're supposed to follow.

(In a few days, some Christians will recall that giving sacrifice by taking part in "Lord's Supper" services. Some call them Passover or communion services. This article may help you understand that better.)

Giving isn't something players at a poker table are supposed to do. Tournaments are won by collecting the most chips. But to show love in a marriage, somebody's got to give. It's even better if both do. May all married couples learn to do that - even to have a "love Shak."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Quiet Time?

They're holding the U.S. Chess Championships in St. Louis right now. People who have played the game know it is not a place for cheerleaders and marching bands. Some legendary players have been known to demand absolute silence in the room, so they can think through their moves.

Should poker be the same way? Some people think so - even online. Consider this exchange from our last National League of Poker tournament, where we took on a player with a dog picture for his avatar:

Dealer:  boatbrat wins Main Pot ($1,040) with Straight, ten to ace
Me:  Very good - couldn't run you off
boatbrat:   blah blah blah
Me:  Happy National Puppy Day, by the way.
Dealer:  Emma168 wins Main Pot ($975)
boatbrat:  gsus u tak too *** much
boatbrat:  tak
Me:  :-(

Some folks are talkative at poker tables. Some clearly are not. But for us to do one of our main purposes, we feel we have to chat at least a little. Here's why...

Therefore go and make disciples in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus told His disciples to go make more disciples. There are many ways to do this. You could stand silently outside a poker room or train station handing out tracts. Or you can talk about the things of God as you go through your game or your day.

We prefer to chat as the opportunity presents itself, because we've found from decades of experience that merely setting a silent example is not enough. Many people won't get that.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? - Romans 10:14

As we mentioned in a recent post, we realize there are proper times to be quiet in a poker room. That's true in all walks of life, of course....

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

But when it's time to speak, whether about the game or your beliefs, you shouldn't be afraid to do it. To borrow from our last post:

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanies it. - Mark 16:20

May your words at the poker table be timely, proper and uplifting. Not necessarily "preachy." Set an example that properly reflects.... well, let's correct that misspelling by "Boatbrat." May it properly reflect Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Losing the Lead

We've suspected it for a year or two in our part of the U.S. And now a national news report seemingly has confirmed it - poker is losing chips, in terms of interest.

When Las Vegas casinos are shutting down their poker rooms, you know the game is in a decline. The number of tables across Nevada has dropped by more than 25 percent in the last ten years, and the casino income from poker has dropped 30 percent - even years after the "Black Friday" crackdown on online games.

Translation: the game is in a slump. It's very unlikely to drop to "push or die" status, but the adrenaline rush of new players isn't what it used to be. So what can be done to turn things around?

As strange as it sounds, maybe poker players and casinos should learn a lesson in promotion from the Bible - even from Jesus Christ:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. - Matthew 28:19

Jesus said this to His disciples (verse 16). But like a crafty poker player waiting to make a move with big cards, they waited to act until the right moment. That's because Jesus also said...

On one occasion, as he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about." - Acts 1:4

Jesus promised "power from on high" was coming (Luke 24:49) - and days after He returned to heaven, it came in the form of the Holy Spirit which inspired dynamic messages.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. - Acts 2:41

With that sort of a jumpstart....

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word by the signs that accompanied it. - Mark 16:20

In the church world, this movement is called evangelism. As a radio series we've been hearing puts it, you "tell someone" about the gospel and Jesus. People have been following Jesus's command and doing that for nearly 2,000 years.

But to be honest, even that effort has had peaks and valleys. Some say the Christian church is in its own slump right now, in terms of dedicated members. We think interest can come back, if believers are willing to spread their message - perhaps even in new and creative ways.

If that can happen in a church, why not in the poker world? When was the last time you told someone new that you play poker - and even told them where and how they can take part in a tournament? (We're talking legal games here, not the other kind.)

"Word of mouth" worked with the gospel message long before Texas Hold 'em became popular. It can still work, if you wait for the right moment and make a powerful action when it comes.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Put Your Hands Together

We've been so busy with other tasks that we hadn't played any poker in a month. But we had time to enter a National League of Poker tournament Thursday night. It turned out very well - 23rd place out of 1,190 entries! (Of course, only the top five earned money.)

Late in the evening, the chat went this way when two players split a big pot:

Dealer:  sloso splits Main Pot ($3,273) with Full house, aces full of deuces
Dealer:  hornytoad splits Main Pot ($3,273) with Full house, aces full of deuces
Me:  (church clap)
hornytoad:  Is that a socil disease you catch in church?
Me:  No.
Me:  :-O
Mr_BarnYard:  really
Me:  Polite applause for something
Mr_BarnYard:  church clap all day
Me:  I'll be in church this weeekend, though.
hornytoad:  OK dont need a shot for that*** lol

People who attend certain churches should know what we mean by "church clap." It's applause that agrees with a speaker's point or some member's success - but not as wild as the celebration for winning a ballgame.

With some poker players as well as some churches, even polite applause is discouraged. We personally think that's a shame, and here's why....

Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. - Psalm 47:1-2  (NLT)

In this psalm, noise-making is encouraged - as long as the focus of the noise is on God.

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! - Isaiah 55:12 (NLT)

We mention this verse whenever someone suggests noise-making in a church service is a bad idea. If trees can "clap their hands" - and they don't have hands - why can't I?

But we realize there should be a balance here. There's a time to be quiet at a poker table - especially if a player asks for it, so he can think about a big decision. The same is true for worshipping God....

But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him. - Habakkuk 2:20 (NLT)

Some poker players and church groups go to one extreme or the other - either overly silent or excessively noisy. We suggest praying for God to provide the wisdom to know when to react in either direction, so you don't cause offense.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.... - James 3:17 (NLT)

Have fun at the table, and even at the church you attend. (Yes, we recommend that.) And don't be afraid to make some noise - as long as you keep things under control.