Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Good Clean Fun

"This is a laid-back Sunday," the dealer said during a recent poker outing.  "If you have any dirty jokes to tell...."

Trouble is, he made that invitation to the wrong person.  "No," we admitted.  "I only know the clean ones."

Whether you're at the poker table or in a workplace, this advice from the Bible could come in handy:
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient; but rather giving thanks. - Ephesians 5:3-4 (KJV)

Some people look at verses like this and conclude God hates any kind of fun - far beyond a poker game, maybe even joke-telling.  But this is another case where a change in Bible translation makes a big difference....
Nor should there be any obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. - Ephesians 5:4 (NIV)

We're led to think the emphasis of this warning is against "X-rated" language and humor.  After all, the Bible shows God sometimes laughs.  Really.
...But the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. - Psalm 37:13

Some of the things which make God laugh might surprise you.  We did a Bible study about that several years ago, when we wrote comedy to make a living.  Well, we tried to write comedy.  These days, we feel more likely to make money with a straight than a punch line -- but we'll throw in a one-liner at the table from time to time.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Poker Day 405: Winning the Race

Our first trip inside a casino for poker occurred on a Memorial Day weekend five years ago.  This Memorial Day weekend, the World Poker Tour Amateur League Sunday stop was closed - so instead of staying home and watching car races, we went to our first poker room in Wichita.

Arrowhead Poker has weekday high-noon Texas Hold 'em games, which are advertised as free.  Sunday tournaments begin one hour later, and require a "chair rental" (which sounds suspiciously like a stunt to avoid the vice squad).  The rental is advertised online as $10, but we had to pay $20 because the prize pool increased a few weeks ago.

We were rewarded with 20,000 chips, and a cooler filled with complimentary drinks.  Would a small turnout on a holiday weekend lead to a big day in our favor?

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: 4 of spades-4 of clubs

The dealer has not been our friend so far.  Hopeful mid-range cards have missed the flop, and we haven't come close to winning a pot.  We would have started this hand with a lowly 7,000 chips, but we received a "gift" of 10,000 more moments before this hand (we're under orders not to explain).  With the dealer's button in front of us, we hopefully call.  No one at the table of six (one of only two tables in the tournament) raises.

ON THE FLOP: 2-4-10

Jackpot!  And we can wait to see what other players do.  A man to our left bets 3,000.  A big bettor to our right calls.  But we can't settle for that.

"I'm all-in," we declare -- offering a total of 15,000.  The man to the left concedes.  The big bettor can't resist, and calls.

"Reggie Jackson," we say (remembering the baseball player's number).  Our 4-4 for three of a kind has our opponent dominated; he shows 5-5.


Gulp - now our opponent has an open-ended straight draw.


We dodge elimination, and avoid a split of the pot because we have the only spade in play.  The first hand at every blind level was played under "High Chicago" rules - with the highest spade hole card automatically winning half the pot.

We had the Ace of Spades later in the High Chicago hand, and wound up getting the bulk of a pot which had a straight on the board.  But that 4-4 started a big comeback for us where we won several pots and reached the final table.  Then with careful play and helpful cards on the board (such as 8-7 turning into triple-8's), we stayed in the running while other players dropped out.

Eventually the field fell to three players, which put us in the money.  Then we eliminated an older man with A-8 (we think), giving us a big chip lead for heads-up play.  But with first place paying $100 and second place $80, we offered our remaining foe a split-the-money settlement.  We wound up winning $90 - and feeling very thankful!

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took a small battery for our card protector again, which prompted that runner-up to ask about it with a full table listening.

"I bring this to remind me," we explained, "that I receive power from God's Holy Spirit."

That man then started saying quietly how he believed in the Holy Spirit and God's power.  He went on to explain to other players how he's been sober almost one year, and once faced 15 years in prison -- apparently for using methamphetamines.

"It's at moments like that when you realize you need help," the man said.  Thankfully, he turned to God.  Now he prays everyday, and tries to avoid becoming addicted to other things (poker among them).

Is there an area of your life where you need serious help?  Maybe you think you can win the battle on your own.  But even famous Bible names realized they needed assistance from above....
What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25
Paul wrote these words after explaining he wanted to do good things, but found himself fighting the tempting pulls of sin and evil (verses 15-23).  Does this sound like you?  If so, follow the advice of another Biblical apostle....

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

If you need help even starting that process, please let us know via e-mail; we'll be happy to help you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 140 final tables in 405 games (34.6%) - 22 cashes.  Our last cash win in live poker was in mid-March at Lil Kim's Cove in Georgia; sadly, we understand it's suspended all poker tournaments for several months.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Remember As You Play....

Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth. - I Corinthians 10:24 (KJV)
 If ever a Bible verse seemed perfect for poker, it's this one.  After all, isn't the object of the game to seek other people's poker chips -- and make them yours?

Well, hold on - that may not be exactly what this verse means.  Our King James Bibles show the last word as "wealth".  It's in italics - which means it was added by the translators 400 years ago, and not in the original Greek.  Let's see what other translations say:

New King James Version: "....each one the other's well-being."

Revised Standard Version: "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor."

New International Version: "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."

Moffatt: "Each of us must consult his neighbor's interests, not his own."

This tells us two things.  No Bible translation is perfect - and the real intent of this verse is for us to think about other people, more than ourselves.  That's certainly what Paul meant elsewhere in the Bible:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. - Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

Show up at a poker table acting selfishly (beyond trying to win pots), and other players might label you a jerk.  You might be able to think of some poker pros with this reputation.  It's better to show outgoing concern toward the people around you.

So let's open this up for comments.  What are some things you've done in a poker room to care about the good interests of other players?  Or perhaps wished you had done?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Telling It Like It Is

We aren't playing much online poker these days (although an upcoming schedule change could allow more).  But one opponent we've met over the years has the screen name "FloodofSins."  One recent day at National League of Poker, he was eliminated....

Dealer:  mks wins Main Pot ($3,400) with Two pair, aces and fours
Me:  Sins purged. :-)
kingkupkake:  its a confessional
Me:  I confess....
Me:  I have no pair here. :-)

We wrote that final line during the following hand -- and we told the truth; we had no reason staying there long.  But that word "confessional" started an interesting conversation.  We'd ask you first: are you a confessor?

Plenty of people keep their poker hands secret, both when they fold and when they win before a showdown.  The general rule is that you don't have to show your cards unless a showdown requires it.  To have a relationship with God, that won't work at all.  For starters....
"Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?" declares the Lord.  "Do not I fill heaven and earth?" declares the Lord. - Jeremiah 23:24

You can try running from God.  The prophet Jonah did, in the first chapter of the book named after him.  But Jonah quickly realized he can't hide.  God can see everything we do -- even the sins you think you're hiding from everyone on Earth.
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. - Proverbs 28:13

This sort of confessing can work on many levels.  If you do something which upsets another poker player, going to that player with a humble apology can heal a damaged relationship.  That can be true in our dealings with God as well:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9

The "he" in this case refers to God.  There may be times when you need to confess your faults to other people (James 5:16) - but only God can ultimately forgive sins, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. - I Timothy 2:5

Our online chat will continue in a future post.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Looking Like a Winner

If someone walked up to you and said, "Poker Player" - what sort of picture would come to mind?

Would you see someone wearing dark sunglasses, like Phil Hellmuth?  Or someone wearing goofy glasses, like Greg Raymer?

Would he wear a hoodie, a la Phil Laak?  Or a cowboy hat, a la Doyle Brunson?  (Or for that matter, would the "he" be a she?)

Despite the development of crazy-looking "character" players in the television age, there's no real stereotype of how a poker player should look.  He can have any skin color, gender, nationality or age.

We were reminded of that last week when a man in a wheelchair who barely seemed able to speak beat us in a hand.  He didn't wear glasses.  He didn't wear a hat.  He didn't even look like someone who would qualify for a "genius grant."  Yet he won a big pot -- in fact, several.

Players like that remind us of the words of Jesus Christ:
Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment. - John 7:24 (KJV)

The Bible mentions a few strong men.  But Goliath was knocked cold by a stone flung by a young man named David (I Samuel 17).  And Samson succumbed to a persuasive woman, who talked him into revealing his secret of strength (Judges 16).  Instead, the true greatest hero of the Bible is Someone who...
....had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. - Isaiah 53:2

This chapter is a prophetic description of Jesus Christ.  And our Savior, every bit as much as that poker player in a wheelchair, is a reminder of the classic phrase, "Looks can be deceiving."  Come to think of it, they can be every bit as deceiving as someone slow-playing pocket Aces.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.... so that no one may boast before him.... - I Corinthians 1:27, 29

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Quest for the Best

recent post asked you two questions.  One was about your perfect starting hand in poker.

We recall a group of pros being asked this question in the NBC National Heads-Up Championship -- and most of them gave the most obvious answer: pocket Aces.  After all, it's in the lead before every flop.

But anyone who's played poker can tell you Aces get "cracked".  In fact, some tournaments offer bonus prizes if you crack them -- even if a lowly 2-3 in the Big Blind is followed by a 3-3-2 flop, for a full house.

Our second question was a bit more thought-provoking.  We noted God's creation is never called "perfect" in Genesis 1.  The best praise it receives is "very good" in verse 31.  So why didn't a perfect God form a perfect creation?

After thinking it over, we think the answer involves the creation of humans.  They proved they were imperfect when they disobeyed God....
"....But God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die'".... When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband. - Genesis 3:3, 6

Disobedience was considered a sin, which led to Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden (verse 23) -- much as a poker player can be removed from a table for breaking house rules.

We conclude from this that perfection involves obedience.  Obey the rules of poker, and you can win a big pot.  Obey God's instructions, and you can gain salvation and eternal life.  Even Jesus had to do that:
During the days of Jesus's life on earth.... Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he came the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.... - Hebrews 5:7-9

Did you notice that?  Jesus had to be "made perfect"! He was the sinless Son of God - yet He had to become perfect, just as Matthew 5:48 shows we must.

A tough task?  Absolutely.  Yet it's what believers in God are supposed to do....
Finally, brothers, good-by.  Aim for perfection.... And the God of love and peace will be with you. - II Corinthians 13:11

Falling short of that goal can be frustrating, and even depressing.  We know, because it's happened to us.  If it's a problem for you, please review the Bible study we wrote on perfection years ago.  Oh, and if you see something imperfect about it, please let us know.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poker Night 404: One Step or Two

We're getting settled down in our new city, but find the schedule for local poker room tournaments doesn't fit with our current work schedule.  So on Mother's Day, we returned to Betty's Runway for an afternoon game -- and were surprised by how many women (even moms) showed up.  But it wasn't a mother who corrected our ways....

BLINDS: 400/800

IN THE POCKET: Ace of spades - 9 of spades

We won a couple of early pots with timely bets, but not the best of cards.  Now we're in the Big Blind with about 7,500 chips.  No one at the table of seven raises ahead of us.  It's tempting to raise right now with these fairly big cards and scare players away.  But we opt for caution and check.  About half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: J-9-5 (no spades)

There's no Small Blind, because that player was eliminated on the prior hand.  So we're up first, with middle pair -- and we try to seize on it with a position bet of 1,000.

To our left sits a younger man in a wheelchair, who seems to have some sort of developmental disability.  He could call -- but instead he goes all-in!  The table folds, leaving it up to us.

"I have a feeling I jumped offside here," we say while hoping for a sign from our opponent.  He smiles a bit, but says nothing.

If that man has a Jack, he's ahead of us -- and he's already taken one pot from us with a better kicker on a pair of Kings.  After a moment, we opt for caution again.  "I'm going to fold."

He's then nice enough to turn over his cards: J-9.  He had us dominated, and we made the right decision.

Good cards didn't come for us after that until we were in the Big Blind with A-J.  A man doubled the blind ahead of us.  We responded by going all-in, and getting called.  That man had a pair of 7's.  Only low cards came on the board, giving him the win.

We had a short day, finishing in 20th place.  But at least we took home a piece of butterscotch candy as a consolation prize -- certainly the most unusual "pot sweetener" we've ever seen.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We defer on this day to the Tournament Director, who noted it was a special day.  He gave every women at the tables small boxes of chocolate, whether they were mothers or not.

"I plan to be here on Father's Day," we joked -- hoping to receive a matching gift.  But seriously, it's proper to do such things for the parents who give us life:
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. - Exodus 20:12

Our study Bible lists four ways you can show honor: "Prize highly.... care for.... show respect for.... obey." If your mother is old and inform, the care can come in meeting her physical needs -- even when events in life intervene.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother."  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. - John 19:26-27

Jesus said these words while He was crucified (verse 18).  The Son of God was giving His life for the sins of all mankind -- and yet He took a moment to think about His mother nearby.  (The disciple who took her in probably was John, who wrote this account.)

If Jesus cared this much for his human parent, even at such a momentous and excruciating time, how much should you care for your mother and father while they're still alive?  What act of honor and love could you show -- large or small?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 139 final tables in 404 games (34.4%) - 21 cashes.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

You've Got a Boat?

In poker lingo, that means you have a full house.

But as you sail through each day, how do you keep your "life boat" under control?

This video offers a suggestion.  What do you think of it?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Good Enough For You?

You meet all kinds of people playing poker.  Consider the name of someone we played online recently....

Dealer:  Genesis1 wins Main Pot ($1,770) with Three of a kind, deuces
Me:  Lo it was very good
Me:  (Gen. 1:31)

Our conversation with "Genesis1" didn't get much beyond this.  But his/her name comes from the first book and chapter of the Bible, where we find this:
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning -- the sixth day. - Genesis 1:31

An interesting phrase -- "very good."  Why didn't God make the creation of heaven and earth perfect?  After all, don't we read in other places....
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless.... - Psalm 18:30

Not to mention:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:48

Plenty of poker players dream of getting "the perfect hand."  But of course, the definition of that hand probably varies by player.  So let's ask a couple of questions, open for your comments:

1. What is the "perfect hand" in poker to you - and why?

2. Why do you think God only made the creation "very good"?

Our answers will follow yours, in a future post.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Right Time, Wrong Time

Success in poker is about more than simply being dealt good cards.  It also involves timing -- knowing when to make a move in betting, and when to be cautious.  Weak hands given an aggressive play at the right moment still can win.  But strong hands such as K-K can come up against A-A and be dominated.

For some people, timing matters in when you worship God as well.  So in a recent post, we asked when you worship God -- and why you do it at that time.  We know some local poker circuits which hold big tournaments on Saturday instead of Sunday, because is a worship day for some players.  Others have big events seven days a week, and seemingly don't care.

So what does the Bible say about this?  Let's start with what Israel was told to do, as one of the Ten Commandments:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.... the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work.... - Deuteronomy 5:12-14
 So which day is the "seventh day"?  In our 21st century world, it's easy to conclude that day is Sunday.  But when God said these words, it was Saturday -- a tradition passed down by Israelites (and especially Jews) over thousands of years.  That included the most famous Jew of all....
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.  When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.... - Mark 6:1-2
Jesus Christ taught in a synagogue on the seventh-day Sabbath -- mainly because His church was not founded until after His death and resurrection.  The Lord set us an example to follow (I Peter 2:21), even in the day for teaching God's word.

We've been in Sabbath-keeping groups for decades, and choose not to work on Sabbath.  Some would call poker "play" instead of work.  But if we're trying to win money, that's a "work day" to us.

Yet we fear some Sabbath-keepers go to an extreme, and say you cannot worship God on any other day of the week.  We might have agreed years ago, but then we came across this verse....
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.... Suddenly Jesus met them.  "Greetings," he said.  They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him - Matthew 28:1, 9
 This was worship after a Sabbath -- on a Sunday!  Yet Jesus did not correct the women for worshiping Him, only hours after His resurrection.  So it seems God accepts worship at all times of the week.

This can be a complicated, emotional issue.  So we invite you to review our complete Bible study in when to worship God.  It may change your thinking about which "day you keep."  It might even change your poker schedule.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Opening the Portals

It's an announcement many U.S. poker players have waited to see.  Plans have been announced to bring back "legal" online cash games and tournaments - the kind of games which brought two crackdowns by the Justice Department in recent years.

For now, the website is only accessible to adults living in Nevada.  But the obvious goal is to expand to other states.  For those who play poker well, it's an opportunity to win money without going to a standing casino.  For those who don't....

Well, the news of the week also has included a game player at the other end of the spectrum.  He went to a carnival to win an X-Box for his children, and wound up losing what he called his "life savings" of $2,600.  (At least the carnival promoters gave him a $600 refund.)

Our point?  If you don't know what you're doing, poker can be a money-losing proposition.  We've played enough cash games in poker rooms to experience both nice gains and quick busts.  As the Bible reminds us:
Labor not to be rich.... for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. - Proverbs 23:4-5 (KJV)
The New International Version adds a noteworthy phrase to verse 4: "have the wisdom to show restraint."  The man at the carnival did not; he reportedly lost $300 at his game, then went back home for $2,300 more.
....But a wise man keeps himself under control. - Proverbs 29:11b
Or as one brewery's ads used to advise, "Know when to say when."  That's a wise tip when it comes to money in poker, every bit as much as alcohol.

So if you dare to play online cash games, we suggest having a personal "limit down" (to borrow a commodity market phrase) -- an amount of loss which you never cross.  If you hit it, you quit.  But look on the bright side -- if you win, the sky can be your limit.