Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Cross You Carry

A busy schedule prevents us from playing Thursday night poker this week (note also our preceding post). But we still have thoughts about last Thursday, and the man at the table with a cross around his neck.

Do you consider everyone wearing a cross to be a Christian? If you do, be careful. If someone goes all-in at the start of an online poker tournament, should we assume they automatically have pocket Aces? They could be bluffing with 5-8, hoping to scare people out of a pot. Consider these words....

Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. -- John 7:24

Jesus said this as bystanders made all sorts of guesses about who or what He was. If you happened upon one of Jesus's miracles, you might have been stumped as well. Matthew 16:13-17 shows He actually was the Christ -- from the Old Testament word for "Messiah." By comparison....

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. -- Matthew 6:5-6

Jesus's leading critics were Pharisees, who often made a show out of washing themselves (Mark 7:3-4). While the Lord performed public miracles, He cautioned believers against calling too much attention to themselves with their godly acts.

We realize people can wear crosses for all sorts of reasons. (It even was a pop fashion trend several years ago.) So we don't jump to conclusions in either direction about such displays -- not to dismiss them as overly self-righteous, but also not to assume they're believers at all.

Monday, March 28, 2011

If I've Only Half a Heart

We mentioned last Thursday night how our body was at the poker tournament, but our mind and sentiments really were elsewhere. That probably explains why we made an early exit -- but events since then have led to some soul-searching about our approach.

The following day we read about what NASCAR driver Jennifer Jo Cobb did before a race in Tennessee. Her team owner told her to drive a few laps, park the car to save it for another race and take a small paycheck. Instead, Cobb quit -- walking away before the command to fire engines.

Cobb wanted to race for a win, and would settle for nothing less. Even though we primarily play poker these days for ministry more than money, we concluded that should have been our approach as well. Consider....

No one man serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. -- Matthew 6:24 (KJV)

Jesus said God wants all of your service -- not a half-hearted effort. He added to this in a message to a first-century church.

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would that you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spue you out of my mouth. -- Revelation 3:15-16 (KJV)

Warm water might get your permanent press clothing clean, but Jesus prefers you turn up the heat -- or perhaps better put, allow God to turn it up for you.

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. -- Psalm 18:28

If you only drive halfway toward the goal in football, you'll wind up punting the ball away. We should be fully committed to serving God -- and beyond that, fully committed to success in all our endeavors. It's an attitude that's, well, all in.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Poker Night 238: Mr. Big Shot

"I ought to be home cleaning the dishes," we admitted to people around us at Lil Kim's Cove tonight. We had other things to do, too -- but there we were, hoping to do some ministry and possibly win some money.

To show we weren't completely half-hearted, we decided to take a more aggressive approach to the cards. We'd either make a big jump or a big early exit....

BLINDS: 25/50


After modest early losses, we're ready to put down the gas pedal. After pondering a limp (which we did earlier with a losing 8-8), we decide to raise to 250. But a woman to our left doubles that to 500. We call, as does another man.


We check, but the raiser tosses out 600. The man between us calls. We smell a continuation bet after missing the flop, so call with two pair and hope.


This third higher "face card" complicates things. Now the woman bets 1,000 -- and the man in between raises to 3,000. We reach the conclusion someone has a King or Queen, so we fold and take a fairly big loss.


The two remaining players check -- and the woman turns over pocket Aces. It wasn't what we thought, but indeed she had us. (The man said he had two pair, but was topped.)

We were burned again minutes later, when we dared to call a pre-flop raise with K-10 of hearts. The flop had a King, and we felt compelled to call when a man ahead of us bet 1,000 -- and his bet of 2,000 when a small card came on the turn led us to go all-in with 2,950 left.

"Do you have Aces?" we asked skeptically after our opponent called.

"Yup." That man is known for bluffing us off pots, but the rockets burned us again. We were out in less than 30 minutes -- home to clean, after we post this.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We were able to do this before play began, by taking an electric converter plug for a card protector.

"I brought this to remind me," we said to several players, "that I receive power from God's Holy Spirit. And I need it every day."

"You and me both!" a woman across from us responded. If you're puzzled about what that power can do, your homework assignment is to read the first three chapters of Acts (our reference is from 1:8).

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 94 final tables in 238 nights (39.5%) - 15 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 122 point wins in 613 games (19.9%), 46 final tables, four cashes.

We had time to play in one tournament Monday, and earned points in it. Our latest NLOP check came in the mail today, worth $50. (We have no more coming for now.)

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $41,737, down $300.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poker Night 237: Fives and Some

Due to an unexpected change in plans, we were able to play poker tonight at The Red Barn for the first time since late January. There was a "bonus chip" special on pretzels. We wound up putting a twist on someone's straight....

BLINDS: 25/50


We're content to get in small with this small pocket pair. A player in the big blind makes a pot-builder raise to 150 "in the dark," and several of us join in.


That flop looks nice to us, since someone with pocket Aces probably would have made a bigger pre-flop raise. A man across from us bets 200, as if he has one pair. We raise to 600 with "trip fives." A couple of players call.


Uh-oh -- now anyone stubborn enough to play with a 2 has a straight. The man who bet 200 before now bets 1,000. But he wasn't Mr. Big Blind - he's Mr. UTG (under the gun). We conclude from this that he has no better than two pair, so we call. A man to our immediate right calls as well.


That's the sort of card we wanted to see, because it gives us a well-disguised full house. Our opponent tosses out another 1000. We're tempted to raise, but instead simply call.

"I've got a straight," the man to our right says as he displays a 4.

"But I've got a full house." That annoys the bettor across from us. He shows a 2-4, which means he made a straight on the flop. We read him wrong, but dared to stick around and won a nice pot anyway.

Trouble is, not much came our way after that. We claimed one more pot, then held on for dear life. With ten players left we pushed with A-Q -- but those cards didn't hit the board, and a man who made a pair of sevens took us out. We fell one player away from the final table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed a man our "Lord's Supper" card protector tonight. "Do you believe that happened?" we asked him. "Is Jesus your Savior?"

The man said Jesus is his Savior. We suspected he might, since he wore a metal cross around his neck -- but that could have been a "bad read" on our part. We'll explain why in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 94 final tables in 237 nights (39.7%) - 15 cashes.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Down and Out?

The woman sat at the bar, holding several bonus 1,000 chip pieces for the poker tournament after buying a drink. Then one slipped out of her hand -- falling on the bartender's side of the counter.

"I dropped it there," the woman told the server. Trouble is, it fell in a corner which was blocked by two giant metal freezer units. The server couldn't simply reach down to pluck the chip out -- and she wasn't strong enough to pull out the freezer units on her own.

"I think we'll chalk this up as a loss," the woman said -- and the server was kind enough to give her a substitute poker chip. (For all we know, that 1,000-chip piece still may be sitting in hiding on the barroom floor.)

When we saw this incident the other night, a parable of Jesus came to mind:

Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!" - Luke 15:8-9 (NASB)

Now there's a woman who's concerned about her money. And if the woman at the bar only had that one lost chip at her disposal for the poker tournament, she probably would have been every bit as concerned about getting it back. So what's the point?

In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents. -- Luke 15:10

Jesus wants sinners to accept Him, turn from their sins and follow Him. He may well be looking for you -- especially if you've wandered to "do your own thing," for whatever reason comes to mind.

You could hide in the darkness. Or you could allow the "light of the world" to bring you back to someplace (or Someone) better. Will you allow Jesus to sweep you back into His fold?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Poker Night 236: Luck of the Aces?

"You're not wearing green?" The tournament director noticed our outfit as play began at Lil Kim's Cove tonight. Yes, it's Saint Patrick's Day -- but it's a day we don't participate in. The green we wanted was money in the wallet. But on this night, that would prove to be a major challenge....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit

We haven't played many hands, because we haven't had much in the way of good cards. But an Ace gives us promise, so we call -- as do several players.


Here's the moment we've been waiting for! A player ahead of us checks, and we bet 400 with top pair. Three other people call.


That's even better! But now we decide to switch gears and show caution, by checking. The table checks, perhaps giving us some cover.


"Check the turn, bet the river," we've heard. So we do -- offering 800.

"Two-thousand," announces a man to our immediate left. Others in the hand bail out -- but what's that about? We conclude he's either bluffing, or has the one remaining Ace. Since we've committed so much, we really can't turn back. We call with 1,200 more.

"Do you have an Ace?" we ask.

"No, I don't."

"Because I do." We show with confidence.

"I have a straight." Ouch!!!! Our opponent shows K-Q, hitting "Broadway" on the river.

The pot-winner admits later if we had bet on the turn, he probably would have folded. But we tried to make a finesse move, and it exploded in our face.

That's the way the night went for us -- as we never recovered from that big loss, and only won one pot when we were forced to go all-in with Q-9 in the big blind. Three Kings and a Queen on the board gave us a full house. When we pushed again with pocket Jacks, the move was right but the timing was wrong -- as another man had pocket Aces, and burned us. Final score: 15th place, and a final table percentage dropping below 40 percent.

MINISTRY MOMENT: When that all-in full house came, we didn't look at our cards right away. "I'm all-in in the dark," we announced.

"You'd better not be in the dark," a man across from us said. "You should be looking for the light."

The man knows about our faith, so we both knew what he meant. Christians should be focused on light, and be examples of it.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.... But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. -- I John 1:5, 7

In fact, Jesus declared He was "the light of the world" (John 8:12) - and encouraged believers to be as well (Matthew 5:14). How are you doing in reflecting Jesus Christ, at the poker table and otherwise?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 94 final tables in 236 nights (39.8%) - 15 cashes. We've missed the final table five nights in a row.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 121 point wins in 612 games (19.8%), 46 final tables, 4 cashes.

We haven't played at NLOP lately because of a busy schedule -- and with spring cleaning underway leading to the annual Lord's Supper service in our local congregation, online poker is in an "off-season" of sorts for us right now.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $42,037, down $300.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In Living Color

Our last post mentioned a discussion at the poker table with a man named Steve about Jesus and the Sabbath. When we mentioned Jesus was Jewish, Steve offered further thoughts.

"And He was black." Steve admittedly is African-American.

"How do you know that?" We asked curiously, not angrily (read on and you'll see why).

"The scriptures describe Him that way."

The Bible descriptions of the Lord actually can be interpreted in many ways. For instance....

My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. -- Song of Solomon 5:10 (KJV)

These words from a poetry-laden book are taken by some scholars to describe God. But the New International Version uses the word "radiant" instead of "white" -- and other verses indicate when Jesus comes back, that radiance will dominate:

In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. -- Revelation 1:16

This can be a complex subject, with obvious emotional undertones which can be potentially divisive. It's such a big deal for some people that we did a complete Bible study about it. You're invited to offer comments on our conclusions here.

But at the table the other night, we saw the potential divisiveness and searched for common ground about Christ. "What matters most is the color of His blood."

Steve is Catholic, and he agreed with that. He declared Jesus is His Savior -- and ultimately, the skin color is not what makes the difference.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.... -- Ephesians 1:7

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Poker Night 235: Present Tens

The book of Joshua describes how the Israelites marched silently for days around Jericho, then made a shout when the moment of capture came (6:10-20). You can do the same kind of thing in poker, without saying much at all. Look at what happened tonight at Lil Kim's Cove....

BLINDS: 200/400


We're in the big blind, having won a few nice hands and losing a big one or two. We start the hand with 7,675 chips. Before we look at our cards, a man across the table raises to 1,400. We offer a reluctant look, but believe it's the right decision to call. Only one other players joins in.

ON THE FLOP: 8-K-J (suits don't matter)

We check to the raiser -- and are happy when he checks as well. No one bets.

ON THE TURN: 6 (as best we recall)

We check again, as does the table. Sitting first in line to bet, what should we do on the river?


This card makes the answer obvious -- bet! If our opponent hit a pair on the flop, we've topped it with three of a kind. We decide to do something against our usual nature.

"I'm all-in," we say -- pushing in 6,275. The man who raised pre-flop thinks this over carefully for several seconds. Then he folds, and we score a nice gain.

"Did you have a straight?" he asks.

"No," we say shaking our head. Our opponent somewhat disgustingly drops his cards at that news; we never see what he had.

"I guessed you had two pair," someone else at the table says. We say no more -- simply harvest the pot.

That wound up being our last win of the night. We held on to the semifinal table, but felt compelled to push again with rising blinds and K-J. No face cards came, and a 9 on the flop gave an opponent a winning pair. We survived for a while, but finished 12th.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We had a good discussion tonight with a Catholic man named Steve -- and it started when he asked about big tournaments every few months for top point-scorers.

"I've qualified for a couple of them," we said. "But I don't play because they're on Saturday at noon, and I keep a seventh-day Sabbath."

"Are you Jewish?" Steve asked. No, we're not. But we admitted we follow the example of Jesus, and He was Jewish.

For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. -- Hebrews 7:14

Steve responded to our comment by offering a different viewpoint not only about the Sabbath, but Jesus's ethnic background. We'll get into that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 94 final tables in 235 nights (40.0%) - 15 cashes.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 121 point wins in 612 games (19.8%), 46 final tables, 4 cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $42,337, down $765.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Hands of God

We were in a Bible discussion recently, when the minister/moderator caught our attention with these words: "God wants a full house."

What made him say that? What Jesus said shortly before His crucifixion....

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. -- John 14:1-3

The King James Version has the classic phrase, "In my Father's house are many mansions." But when was the last time you saw a mansion inside a house? It's usually the reverse in our society -- so "rooms in a house" seems more sensible to us.

We don't know the size of this house. But math experts have computed Noah's ark was the size of a modern cargo ship. It was built with plenty of room for people to escape the flood. Sadly, only Noah and his immediate family did (Genesis 7:13) -- and somehow, all kinds of animals turned out to be smarter than the majority of humanity.

Our point is that God probably has plenty of room in His house for all believers. And yes, He has room for you. God's version of a "full house" is guaranteed to be a winner for all eternity. Have you made your reservation yet -- by repenting of your sin, and turning your life to God?

Monday, March 7, 2011

And Now Our Moderator

One of our recent posts brought up a topic you probably don't associate with poker -- moderation.

In "no limit" Texas Hold 'em, the idea admittedly can be laughable. Players bet as much as they want, trying to win every chip on the table. And when free tournaments are played in bars, the "no limit" thinking goes far beyond the table -- with players smoking cigarettes and drinking plenty of alcohol.

But "limit cash games" are more moderate in their structure; bets and raises are a set amount under house rules. Think of it as poker on a budget.

We've found the Bible comes down on the side of moderation, as opposed to going to extremes. That's the case with alcohol, dress (I Timothy 2:9) -- and even promoting your Christian faith. For instance....

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. -- Romans 10:2

Paul knew all about this, because he was a Pharisee who persecuted Christians before he was converted (Philippians 3:6). He was "all in" -- but God showed him it was in a very wrong way (Acts 9).

It takes wisdom to know what "moderation" is and isn't. If you're not sure, ask God for help.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. -- James 3:17

The Greek word for "gentle" in this verse happens to be translated "moderation" in Philippians 4:5. So be gentle and moderate in how you live -- but when you're dealt pocket Aces, we've leaving that up to you.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What's That On Your Shoulder?

Some readers have wondered whatever happened to the admittedly drunken, downfallen woman we played in heads-up poker last December. She's apparently doing better now, because we understand she has a job. And she's certainly not shy at tournaments.

At one recent game, she was betting big -- and even turned over an Ace pre-flop when someone accused her of playing junk cards. The woman even made a comment that others at the table were playing and talking "like they have P.M.S."

What we have here is what a Christian author once called "Sporting a 'Tude." Some poker players bring an attitude with them which almost matches the size of their chip stacks -- perhaps arrogant, perhaps know-it-all, but (from what we've seen) not often meek and humble. Which of those attitudes is best?

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but msde something nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. -- Philippians 2:5-7

The KJV says "Let this mind be in you...." And let's be honest -- your attitude is largely (some would say completely) created in your mind. Being arrogant or brash is a choice. So is the humble walk like a servant.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. -- I Peter 4:1

Go back one verse to 3:22, and Peter may be referring here to an approach of submission. Jesus certainly showed it, by enduring a painful death to open the way to salvation for us -- including you.

Whether you play poker or not, there are times when we all could use what country singer Hank Williams Jr. calls an "Attitude Adjustment." Not through a bottle, but by following the Bible.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Poker Night 234: I'm an A-7, Bro

Because of plans to attend another event Thursday, we moved this week's poker night up to Monday and returned to The Red Barn in Phenix City. Two tables started, and then kept refilling with late arrivals like a bottomless cup of restaurant coffee. So it would help us to have a big pot early....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-7 offsuit

A man to our right doubles the bet to 100. (That's downright polite of him, because he'd raise in the 1,000 range minutes later.) We call, and several players join in.


Two pair is very good -- and the raiser betting ahead of us makes things potentially even better. He tosses out 100. We raise to 400. A couple of players fold, including that man to the right.


Hmmmm -- this could be trouble. What if our opponent has pocket Kings? He hints in that direction, by betting 1,000. But our two pair still feel strong, so we call. One other player does as well.


Now we have a full house, and can't wait for that man to the right to act. Imagine our displeasure when he folds! Apparently he missed some kind of draw. So we'll bet big -- 1,500, in fact. The remaining player thinks it over, then folds to give us a nice gain.

Another big gain came later, when two hearts turned into a flush (and a man who happened to have stronger hearts was folded for being away from the table when his turn came). But then we lost a two pair vs. three of a kind bet in the second hour, to put us on the ropes. We made it a five-player table with ten to go, but were forced to go all-in in the small blind with A-4. We didn't make a pair, and missed the final table by one hand with a tenth-place finish.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "How are you tonight?" we asked a man sitting down to our left.

"I'm blessed."

Now there's a nice response! And the man agreed with us that we should be grateful for the blessings of every day. The Psalms give several tips about things you can do to receive blessings from God....

Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in time of trouble. - Psalm 41:1

Some translations add "the poor" to this verse. During Monday's game, the winner of a huge pot actually tossed 500 chips to a loser as a "consolation prize." We think it was an indication the winner got a "lucky card" on the river, and gave his opponent a bad beat.

Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law. -- Psalm 94:12

This one may be harder to grasp. How can discipline from God be a blessing? Because God wants to steer you toward a walk that's closer to Him.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline, so be earnest and repent. -- Revelation 3:19

And old hymn talks about counting your blessings. That's a wonderful thing to do. But we'd suggest going farther, and looking through the Bible for the words "Blessed is" -- to see what sort of things lead to God's blessings in the first place.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 94 final tables in 234 nights (40.2%) - 15 cashes. Heads-Up record: 15-25.

We're declaring the Saturday night heads-up season over, as a couple of busy weekends will move us into daylight time, when the tournaments start too early for us to attend.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 121 poker wins in 610 games (19.8%), 46 final tables, 4 cashes.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $43,102, up $1,575.