Thursday, January 19, 2017

The End of an Era

Tomorrow will be a historic day in the U.S., as a new President takes office. We wonder how many poker players will be rooting for him to undo what the outgoing one did.

Poker players with long memories will remember Barack Obama's administration for the "black Friday" crackdown on internet games in 2011. Many regular players lost a lot of money. Several famous names even were affected.

Yet at the end of 2011, the Obama Justice Department ruled states can set up their own Internet poker games. So far, hardly any have.

And did you know President Obama probably is the first U.S. leader to have his own poker website? Thus far, you can't play him there. In fact, you can't play at all. But the site explains his personal history of playing poker, his actions concerning online poker, and the claims that President George W. Bush was even more against online poker.

But it's inevitable in our society that leadership changes. It could be good, or....
Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. - Exodus 1:8
Joseph was a Biblical hero, who was given vast power to help several countries through a time of great famine. He helped the Israelites relocate in Egypt - but a change in pharaohs made things worse for them instead of better.
They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. - Exodus 1:14
Any leader in any walk of life has the capability to do this to us. It could be a king, a President, a supervisor on your job - and even a different tournament director at your poker room.

So how should poker players respond? Very few probably will follow this advice, but it's hard to top....

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior... - I Timothy  2:1-3
As we mentioned after the U.S. election, we should pray for all leaders. Even the ones you don't necessarily like. After all, God could turn their hearts around and make them leaders you do like.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A King on the River

Today is a holiday in the U.S., marking the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Do a search for his name and "poker," and you might find "bonus points" offers at casinos or special holiday tournaments.

If you really want to "honor King" by playing poker, you can order a King Memorial deck of playing cards online. For only ten dollars, he can stare at the other players for you. And if you really wanted to have a holiday theme, we suppose you could have a poker game where Kings are wild.

People old enough to remember Dr. King's causes and campaigns probably would find these things tacky at best, and insulting at worst. But some people invoke Dr. King's name in support of poker cash games and similar gambling. One casino website put it this way several years ago:

The Reverend spoke of equality, and the freedom of every American to have choices. Gambling is a choice that Americans should have the right to decide whether they want to take part or not.

If Dr. King made a direct statement on gambling in a speech or sermon, we could not find it. (If you know of one, please let us know in a comment.) But that website strikes us as turning words out of context. In fact, Dr. King's semi-rival of the time Malcolm X gave up gambling because he thought white people had "forced" it on black people to keep them economic slaves.

Yet the website has a valid point about choices. As a minister by trade, Dr. King might have said God gives humans choices. For instance....

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.... - Deuteronomy 30:19

God does more than offer a choice. He tells humans the right answer. For instance, "choose life" - a phrase we're sure would get the late George Michael in some trouble, if he wore it on a T-shirt in a music video today.  But back to our point....

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable for you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. - Joshua 24:15

You can serve "the Lord" - the God of the Bible - or some other god that is fake and false. Joshua chose to follow the Lord which led Israel into a land of promise. We face that same choice today. If you make poker your "god", as in the thing you worship and idolize more than anything else, consider this...

Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold.... - Proverbs  8:10

Will you pay attention to what God instructs, or your desire for money and riches? In reality, living God's way could lead you to all these things. We'll develop that concept in an upcoming post.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Call Me Irresponsible? III

In our series based on a pamphlet waiting at a casino gate, we come to the third and final "warning sign that you might be at risk" of a gambling problem:

3. Have there been periods of two weeks or longer when you spent a lot of time thinking about your gambling experiences, or planning future gambling ventures or bets?

Based on the wording of this question, every player who makes a "November Nine" at the World Series of Poker Main Event could be a "problem gambler." After all, they have three or four months to think about "future bets" - between the preliminary tournament days in July and the final table in the fall.

Beyond that, we doubt many players in the WSOP simply decide on a whim to drive to Las Vegas and try their luck. For one thing, the Main Event normally has a $10,000 buy-in. Doesn't a player have to do some planning, to save up money for that?

But we think the real point here is to see if gambling has become all-consuming for you. Is it "top of mind" all the time? If so, that could indeed be a warning sign. So what should be at the top of our thinking instead? We're glad you asked....
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.... - Philippians 2:5 (KJV)

Having "the mind of Christ" (as I Corinthians 2:16 puts it) sounds a long way from thinking about a poker schedule. But that's OK - and that's a good thing:
....Declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9

The mind and thoughts of God (Father and Jesus Christ) are "higher" because they're greater in size and capability than ours. Only God could have made such a perfectly-timed and positioned solar system for human existence. They're also higher in holiness and righteousness....
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.... Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.... - Philippians  3:18-20

As an outgoing U.S. First Lady might put it: When man's ways go low, God's go high. And he wants us to have high thinking - as in heavenly.

So if you're planning a poker junket of some kind for 2017, do so carefully - but don't make the only thing on your mind between now and then. If you haven't done it yet, ask God in prayer to work with you on your thinking:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.... - Romans 12:2

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Call Me Irresponsble? II

Let's return to a pamphlet we mentioned in our last post, which we picked up at our last casino poker day. It offered three "warning signs that you might be at risk" of a gambling problem. We called the first question unfair. Now let's continue....

2. Have you ever lied to family members, friends or others about how much you gamble or how much money you lost gambling?

We agree that this is a warning sign - especially when it comes to your family. While bluffing and "Hollywooding" are accepted parts of a poker tournament, outright lying should not be a part of a believer's game.
A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering tongue works ruin. - Proverbs 26:28

Let's apply this verse away from the table, to our question. You might think that lying "hate" is really love - that you don't want to hurt the feelings of people close to you, by revealing how big your losses really are. But the opposite is true,,,,
Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. - Ephesians 4:15-16 (CEV)

Yes, the truth can hurt. But it's always better than lying about what you're doing, and adding layers of distrust to a relationship. The Bible warns it can also ruin a relationship with God:
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. - Revelation 21:8

Believe it or not, the Bible speaks of two deaths. The first involves our physical flesh (Hebrews 9:27), while the potential second death follows judgment at the throne of Jesus Christ:
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. - Revelation 22:15

These people are placed outside the "holy city" known as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10). It's a truth so important that the end of the Bible mentions it twice - the liars get fire.

If you're lying to other people about gambling, it's ultimately about more than their friendship. Eternal life in God's Kingdom is at stake. So stop it. Tell the truth about what you're doing, as difficult as it may be. It ultimately will benefit you - and hopefully others around you.

(We'll address the third warning sign in a future post.)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Call Me Irresponsible?

Poker rooms usually are surrounded by noisy distractions. If they're inside casinos, slot machines are all around them. But quietly tucked away at the entryway could be a pamphlet which makes players stop and think.

We picked up a "Know Your Limits" pamphlet on our last tournament day. A "Responsible Gambling Alliance" publishes it, as well as other literature. It includes three warning signs that you could be at risk of a possible "gambling problem"....

1. Have you ever tried to stop, cut down or control your gambling?

As much as we oppose gambling addiction, this strikes us as an unfair question. Aren't people who never darken the doors of a poker room or casino trying to "control" their gambling, by not doing it at all? In fact....
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

The apostle Paul wrote a good bit about "self-control". Yet there's a catch - he also called it s "fruit of the Spirit." In other words, it comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. So self-control isn't ultimately self-based at all.

The King James Version may word it better: "temperance." Some Bible commentaries explain that word as meaning "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites."

People with eating disorders don't "master the desire" by not eating. In fact, that's a disorder in itself. It's all about doing things in a balanced way:
Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)
The Greek word for "moderation" can also mean being patient or gentle. Those also are fruits of the Holy Spirit, as listed above.

To be clear: we're against poker players becoming addictive or "problem gamblers." But we also do not think trying to "control" the interest is a sign of a disorder. It could be a sign of the Holy Spirit at work in a believer's life. We'll address the pamphlet's other "warning signs" in upcoming posts.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Our Real Story: 2016 Review

The "year in review" reports aren't quite over yet. Since we last played live poker, we'll summarize 2016 for us now.

In live tournaments, we made the final table eight times in 33 games in the last year - not far from 25 percent. We earned money in five of those tournaments (more than $650 total), and would have earned cash in a sixth if Yvie's Bar and Grill paid money for second place instead of league points. That sixth would have matched our money-win count for 2015.

But 2016 was a difficult year for poker players in our area, as police moved to shut down all "card rooms" for not operating legally. Due to our work schedule, practically the only place where we can play tournaments now is a casino south of town, and the competition there admittedly is stiff.

Yet we made two final tables (winning money at both) in 17 tournaments at Kansas Star, coming close to a third this past Friday. It was a breakthrough year for us there.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER: One "top-ten percent" finish in 17 tournaments. Grand total: 285 point wins (top 10%) in 1438 games, 93 final tables, 10 wins, 13 cashes.

We were able to get into a regular Thursday night tournament habit with NLOP this past year. So far, it admittedly hasn't gone well. But NLOP has added "ring games", earning tokens in a cash-game format. In three tries there, we've gained 140 tokens; our best night was playing Omaha.

POKER STARS: 420,871 play money chips - up 84,159 at the table

We have to specify "at the table" because Poker Stars became a much more expensive place to play in 2016. Games with 1/2 blinds are gone; the minimum now is 50/100 with a 10,000-chip stack to start. But the site also became very generous in handing out free chips; we received 225,000 due to special promotions and a "free chips" button you can click simply for logging on.

MINISTRY MOMENT: As we write this summary, we're reminded of a question that sometimes comes up when we play. It came up again Friday: Isn't gambling a sin? Something believers in God shouldn't do?

If you look strictly from the accountant's view, you might say 2016 showed we're a gambling loser. The Kansas Star tournaments cost $850 to enter, and we only won $337. Yet what we're trying to do is more than that....

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." - Mark 16:15-16

In many ways, this is a big world. People have a wide range of interests. Jesus told His disciples to go into that world with a gospel (also known as "good news") message. Even poker players need to be introduced to that message - so we take it there, and talk about it here. We pray God will use what we do to bring people to Himself:

I planted the seed. Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. - I Corinthians  3:6-7

We know what we can afford to do, and we keep a limit on our spending on tournaments at casinos. For instance, you'll notice no live statistics for 2016 cash games - because we didn't play any. We consider the tournament buy-in an "entry fee," much as someone would pay to enter a golf tournament or pie-baking contest. If we win something back, we thank God for it.

By the way, here's one final set of statistics: this blog had more than 700 views in December alone - which computes to perhaps more than 8,000 this past year. People searching for something about poker may be finding more than they expect. We pray it's a spiritual spark in their lives - yet not one person left a comment this past year. You're always welcome to offer some, either positive or negative. If we can bust out early at tournaments, we can take it. Really.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Poker Day 493: If I Only Had a Heart

Christmas ends, and the Valentine's Day stuff goes on sale right away - right? It seemed that way to us Friday, during a tournament at Kansas Star Casino. Follow the cards, and you'll see....

BLINDS: 75/150

IN THE POCKET: 7 of hearts - 7 of clubs

We were only fourth on the waiting list for this tournament, and it had 70 seats. But we still had to wait about 45 minutes before finding a seat. After losing a hand with Q-J and having lousy blinds, we now have about 2,975 chips and sit first to act. We limp in with a pocket pair, and see some hope when no one raises. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 10h-3c-8h

Not the best-looking flop for us. But after we check, so does everyone else. Perhaps they all missed?!


Aha - things now become a whole lot more interesting. We have an open-ended straight flush draw! An opponent bets 225, but we simply have to chase this. We call, and we're heads-up with about a one-in-three chance of hitting something big....


....which means, of course, we also have a two-thirds chance of missing. But after this card, we still have two pair - and we have a hunch our opponent missed as well.

So we take a chance: "300," we bet. Our opponent gives it a good deal of thought - then calls. He could have raised.

"I missed the straight flush," we admit, "but I have two pair."

Thankfully, our hunch is right! The opponent shows A-K (or something similar). He missed it all. We gain a nice pot.

One or two other small pot wins put us at 3,925 chips at the first break, then hit some big cards in the second period such as A-A to take out an opponent. We hit a high of 8,400. But setbacks pushed us back to 5,000 - but at least we reached the second break.

As the blinds climbed, we stayed alive thanks to a couple of walks. Then when we were forced to go all-in for 2,000  the Big Blind, we "checked in the dark" all the way through - then turned over 4-4, which was the only pair anyone had! That started a "miracle" comeback, which included K-K beating A-Q, which pushed us back above 15,000!

But with 13 players left and the final table in view, we made a slip. With a player all-in for 7,000 and with K-J of spades in our pocket, we dared to go all-in for 8,000. One of three players in the race had 7-7, and it prevailed when the board didn't pair for the other two. We finished 12th out of 83 - pretty good, but short of the final table and the top eight for money.

MINISTRY MOMENT will be posted Sunday, as we wrap up 2016.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 181 final tables in 493 games (36.7%) - 36 cashes.