Wednesday, July 31, 2013


We had a very good day in a National League of Poker tournament Sunday -- finishing in the top 20 out of 950 players. And along the way, we apparently played with someone from another culture.  We say that based on this chat:

Me:  In English that means...?
chipmover:  lol
Dealer:  THAKUR_SAAB wins Main Pot ($5,250)
chipmover:  and that means
sootedone:  Jesus mademeDoit
Me:  Jesus take the wheel :-)

A website which specializes in acronyms didn't give us much help figuring out the real meaning of JMD.  We don't think someone with that name would talk about Jamaican dollars.

But what about the other player's suggestion?  Does Jesus "make us" do things -- such as going all-in with pocket Queens?  The Bible seems to give conflicting answers to that....
When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me."  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. - James 1:13-14

So much for the late Flip Wilson's legendary comic line, "The devil made me do it!"   James goes on to write our own desires lead to sin -- and eventually to death.

Yet there are also times when believers say God inspired them to do or say things.  There are verses supporting that as well:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. - Galatians 5:18, 25

This refers to the Holy Spirit, which God provides to those who repent of their sins before Him (Acts 2:38).  To use Jesus's description....
....The Spirit of truth.... you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. - John 14:17

As a general rule, we'd say God and the Holy Spirit should get the glory and credit for any good things we do and decisions we make.  Let God "take the wheel" of your life.  But when we choose a sinful evil way, don't point fingers toward heaven -- blame your own human nature and repent of what you've done.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Come-Out-of-Your-Shell Game

Poker "can be excruciatingly boring when nothing is happening."  So writes a columnist at ESPN's poker site. And yes, we can understand that.  It's a lot like baseball in that regard.

But the writer also says player with interesting personalities can make the game interesting and entertaining for viewers -- and also are more likely to gain endorsement deals.  We can understand that, too.  It's one of the ways we try to liven up a table, and get people talking about topics of faith.

Jesus offered this advice to those who would follow Him:
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5:16

We once had a Pastor who emphasized: "You're a light, not a loudspeaker."  In other words, we were urged to keep quiet about our faith until someone asked about it.  But over the years, we've concluded "being a light" only gets you so far.  You may set a great Christian example for others, but that doesn't necessarily mean others will "get it" and grasp what you're doing.

Besides, Jesus called Himself the light of the world (John 8:12) -- but He didn't simply stop with performing miracles and good deeds.  He spoke a message, also:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. - Mark 1:14

The challenge is to "proclaim" in a way that attracts people to God, instead of turning them away.  So when we're at poker rooms, we often try to start conversations during quiet moments.  Or we can wait for other people to bring up God (it happens more often than you might think) -- or we take a "one-on-one" approach with a player alongside us.
A man that has friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. - Proverbs 18:24 (KJV)

....and that's our goal: to be friendly with the gospel message, more than preachy.

So if you've become a "friend" of this blog by reading it often, we ask: do you believe the good news Jesus brought?  Have you acted on it, to turn your life to Him?  A "clock" is running on you, whether you realize it or not -- the clock of your life.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Table Non-Talk

The player to our left had a good hand, but lost the pot to something better.

"There are some words in my mind, that I could say," he muttered.  But he didn't, holding them in.

A few hands later, that same man won a big pot.  "Are your words better now?" he asked.

"Naw," he admitted.  "I'm a degenerate...."

That's too bad for him.  But it's a helpful lesson for the rest of us -- about what we're thinking and saying:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things. - Philippians 4:8
These thoughts certainly beat the alternative -- thinking about things which are false, wrong, impure or ugly.

But we give this man credit for keeping those bad words inside him, and not letting them out.  That kind of self-control is hard for some people to do.
....For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. - Matthew 12:34b

We think it takes help from "above" to keep your mouth in line, especially when poker pressures mount or a bad beat happens.  That help can come from God, through the Holy Spirit.  Have you repented of your degenerate ways before God, to allow that Spirit to work in you?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poker Day 408: Tight and Tighter

It doesn't take long for a poker player to develop a reputation - even if you only play on a part-time basis.  That came through Sunday, on our first visit to Arrowhead Poker in three weeks.  It was only our fourth tournament there, and yet....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-3 offsuit

One thing which makes us easy to remember is that there's a late-arriving crowd -- only enough players for one crowded table at this point.  But it's early and we haven't offered at much so far.  We call with the dealer button, and no one raises.  About half the players are in.


Having the button helps here, as everyone acts ahead of us.  In this case, they all check -- so maybe our little pair is worth something.  We bet 500.

"From the tightest player at the table," the dealer announces.  Thanks for the instant analysis, Sir.

A man down the table from us calls.  "Called by the second-tightest player at the table," the dealer says.  The others apparently take the hint, and bail out.


We're about to loosen the purse strings with that card.  We now have three of a kind.  The man to our left checks, and we increase the bet to 1,000.  Our opponent calls.  We don't recall the dealer's commentary on this.


We don't see anything threatening on the board.  So when that other man checks again, we move things up to 1,500 -- hopefully not too much to scare him off.  Sure enough, he calls again.  Then he shows Q-J, giving him two pair.

"Tres a las tres," we say in Spanish -- borrowing from an old afternoon program on a Spanish-language radio station in Atlanta.  On this "casual Sunday," there's no penalty for us not chatting in English.  "Three times three" equals a nice pot.

We took one more pot in the first hour -- then threw away a disappointing one, when we had J-J and the board showed Q-J-10-9.  A man's big river bet scared us away, only to find he had a third 9 instead of a straight.

Our holdings evaporated with rising blinds, but an all-in split pot allowed us to make the final table on a day with only about 16 players.  Once there, we went all-in with A-10 in the Big Blind -- but the best we could do was miss a straight draw after a J-K-K flop.  A man with a third King eliminated us in ninth place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Before the tables merged, a man to our right hit it big on the river after going all-in.

"There is a God!" he declared as he stood to celebrate.

"There certainly is," we agreed -- then repeated our agreement several times, as he continued to make statements along those lines.

Could you make that statement, even if you didn't win an all-in bet?  Do you agree that there's a God?  Of course, some people in this world do not....
The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."  They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. - Psalm 53:1
This verse can be taken a couple of ways.  On the one hand, it's the Bible's tough-talking answer to the atheist.  But on the other hand, what sort of "ways" do you practice?  Are they so vile and evil that you live as if there's no God?
In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. - Psalm 10:4
Yet Jesus Christ made a promise, which applies to everyone -- whether you believe in God or not:
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out -- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:29
What sort of things are you doing today?  Do your poker nights and days lead to evil acts, which you know you'd regret if they received as much media attention as a British royal baby?  Or are you striving to do good things, which benefit yourself and other people?
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. - Psalm 34:14
That means peace with other people -- and perhaps ultimately with God as well.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 142 final tables in 408 tournaments (34.8%) - 23 cashes.  We're now at four out of six final tables, since moving to Kansas.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - 283 point wins in 1,417 games (20.0%), 93 final tables, 10 wins, 13 cashes.  No-River Hold 'em - 32 point wins in 120 games (26.7%), 26 final tables, 2 wins, 3 cashes.

We haven't updated NLOP since right before our move in early April -- and we haven't had a lot of time for online play since that move.  The score is 0-for-8 in Sunday afternoon turbo tournaments, although a couple might have made the money at a casino as a top-ten percent finish.  And the last time we played No-River Hold 'em, we won it!

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $86,997, up $2,497.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Bigger They Are....

With all the attention being paid on the "November Nine" and the upcoming Main Event final table, you may have missed the fascinating story of a man who fell short.

Germany's Anton Morganstern was in the chip lead with 24 players remaining.  Yet he lost it all in a hurry and finished 20th -- as another man doubled up through him, not once but twice.

We don't know if Morganstern was overconfident about his chance; that would require mind-reading on our part.  But it's not the first time that a big leader has been humbled and brought down.  It happens in poker on a regular basis -- and it happened in the Bible:
Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel.... "This day I defy the ranks of Israel!  Give me a man and let us fight each other." - I Samuel 17:8, 10

The story of David and Goliath is so classic and simple, you probably heard about it from childhood.  But you may have forgotten some key points of the story.  For instance, David says....
Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. - I Samuel 17:36 (see also verse 26)

David didn't take on the giant to promote himself.  He did it because Goliath was insulting God's armies.  In a way, David stood up for God:
This day the Lord will have you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head.  Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. - I Samuel 17:46

God could have intervened to shut up Goliath; He did that with other blowhards in the Bible.  But in this case, God waited to see with the people of Israel would do -- and David did something.
All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give all of you into our hands. - I Samuel 17:47

David only fought after someone threw down a challenge.  He didn't fight with much.  But God took David's "little" and knocked out someone big.  That can happen in poker, too.  We know, because we've been on both sides of the fight.

Read the entire 17th chapter of I Samuel, and ask where you fit.  Are you riding high, and acting too overconfident to have great success -- in poker or otherwise?  Are you a "short stack" ready to be used by God for a big purpose?  Keep in mind the man who chopped down Anton Morgenstern's big stack will sit at the Main Event final table in November -- while Morgenstern will not.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

From Rags to Riches

This year's "November Nine" is now in place for the World Series of Poker Main Event.

The final table has quite a contrast of players.  Chip leader J.C. Tran has two bracelets and a TV poker reputation.  But a couple of finalists are listed with career tournament earnings of under $5,000.  That can be misleading, of course, due to players entering big-money cash games -- but for those two, the final table is a career breakthrough.

If poker playing has put you in a "poor house" financially -- a lot invested but only a little returned -- think carefully about what you're doing.  You might need to stay away from the table, for the good of yourself and your family.  But you could be close to what those two WSOP finalists have done:
Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high.... He raises the poor out of the dust, And lifts the needy out of the ash heap, That he may seat him with princes -- with the princes of his people. - Psalm 113:5-8 (NKJV)

God can lift people up in His timing.  If He's done that in your life, be sure to thank God for it -- and walk in a way fitting of that thankfulness.

If it hasn't happened, ask God in prayer to reveal what kind of message He might be trying to show you.  But keep in mind: the Bible does not guarantee wealth and riches for everyone.  Instead Jesus reminds us....
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:3 (KJV) 

Based on the Bible's description, the coming Kingdom of God promises to be lavish and peaceful beyond compare.  Those are the "true riches" Jesus mentions elsewhere (Luke 16:11) -- and that we all should strive to have.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Remember As You Play....

We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. - James 3:2

The check may be the least sexy move in poker.  It doesn't make for good television, and doesn't advance the plot of a dramatic Western movie.  Yet many times, it is the safe, proper thing to do -- for instance, if four cards are showing for a flush or straight.  (Especially if you don't have the fifth one.)

Checking is the act of not betting anything, once you're already put chips into a hand.  You're still in, but not committing any more unless you have to.

That sort of carefulness is what keeping our bodies "in check" is about.  It means not saying more than you need to say in a situation, and not doing anything which could put your body and reputation at risk.

It's the approach that's "simple and safe" -- and admittedly, that can be boring and dull in some eyes.  But in poker, it can bring modest success while you wait for big moments to come.  So don't be afraid of it, at the table and in your life.  A little chip growth is still growth.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Punched Out

The big one has arrived - the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas.  The tournament entered by all kinds of non-poker celebrities, perhaps only to say they did it once.

Perhaps the biggest noise so far came from a champion of UFC mixed martial arts.  Canada's Georges St. Pierre was sent packing on his first day at the tables -- and he admitted part of his problem is playing with discipline.

Have you played poker with "bullies" like that?  They're people who try to take over a table to prove, in the Spanish words of a TV judge, "quien es mas macho."  Sometimes they succeed.  But many times they fail.  It only proves a Bible reminder:
....Great strength by itself cannot keep a soldier safe.  In war the strength of a horse cannot be trusted to take you to safety. - Psalm 33:16-17 (CEV)

Some of the strongest "tough guys" in the Bible wound up weak, conquered and even killed.  Goliath ran into young David (I Samuel 17).  Samson was humbled by a woman named Delilah (Judges 16).  And let's be honest -- however muscular and strong you may be today, we're all likely to become weak and frail with time and years.

So where should you turn for real discipline?  We recommend a daily dose of reading from God's Word, the Bible.  For instance...
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight.... - Proverbs 1:1-2 (NIV)

The book of Proverbs is a great place to learn the mind of God.  But read it in a disciplined way, because some chapters can be packed with advice.  Ponder over a few verses at a time, and consider how they can apply to your life.  As you do, we pray you'll find....
A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength.... - Proverbs 24:5

Sunday, July 7, 2013

But You Lost

We've been rather successful in live poker since moving to our new city.  But we haven't been perfect -- as in 100-percent final tables.  If anyone really is perfect (especially in professional poker), we'd like to meet them.

In prior posts, we mentioned we pray before going into tournaments -- and among other things, we pray for success at the table.  But what if it doesn't come?  What if we go bust in a couple of hands?  Does that make God a failure?

No -- it only proves we are a failure.  There could be many explanations for why success doesn't come.  We'll offer a few here; you might be able to scan the Bible and find others:

1) OVERCONFIDENCE IN SELF.  A little success can build a big ego.  Yet we're reminded:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. - Romans 12:3

We can think we faithfully follow God to the best of our ability -- but if we give ourselves too much credit for it, God can deflate our big head in a hurry.

2) A TIME OF TESTING.  The Biblical character Job faced this, probably without his knowledge -- tested by the devil (as allowed by God) to see how loyal he'd be to God.  At one point Job said:
To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.  What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; the man he imprisons cannot be released. - Job 12:13-14

Can we keep honoring and glorifying God, even when Satan throws challenges in our way?

3) THE ANSWER IS NO.  Contrary to what some might preach, God is not Mr. Rubber-Stamp - always giving believers everything they request.  The apostle Paul knew about this:
To keep me from becoming conceited.... there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. - II Corinthians 12:7-8

But read on and you'll see God turned down Paul's plea -- so God's power could become more evident in Paul's life.
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. - II Corinthians 12:10

Delighting in such things admittedly is very hard to do.  But it's what Paul says believers should do -- so when successes come, Jesus and God get the glory and honor for them.

If you're in a losing streak, whether in poker or life, we invite you to consider our Bible study on failure.  We've personally been through it.  Perhaps you can learn from it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Pursuit of Real Happiness

Today is U.S. Independence Day -- a day which can mean many different things to different people.

We've been thinking a lot this week about the concept of freedom.  There's a serious effort right now to start online poker cash games (along with other kinds of gambling) in some states.  You'd be free to play -- but to be honest, the amount of freedom you'd have would depend on how much time you have, and especially how much money you could invest in the games.

Some people seem to have more freedom than others, when it comes to poker.  A car dealer in our new city has become the local poker king.  Brandon Steven won more than $600,000 last week at the World Series of Poker.  His job allows the freedom to compete for weeks in Las Vegas (he's actually cashed twice at the WSOP this year) - and to pay the $111,000 entry fee for the "One Drop" tournament where he made the final table.

For those of us who can only play free tournaments in bars, it can seem like we have hardly any freedom at all compared to Steven.  But perhaps we need a different perspective:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. - II Corinthians 3:17

What kind of freedom is this?  Scoffers might say there's very little -- especially if they think Christianity and church are all about restrictive laws.  Yet consider what Jesus said:
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. - John 8:32

Jesus called Himself "the truth" (14:6), and indicated the Scriptures are truth in writing (17:17).  This combination can give you freedom -- but how?
....Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. - Romans 8:2

The "law" of our lives says we all sin (3:23), and we'll all die as a result (6:23).  But those who accept Jesus Christ and have the Holy Spirit in them have been freed from such discomforting thoughts -- because they have the hope of eternal life in Christ, beyond the grave.

That sort of freedom doesn't depend on your income level, or how high you rise on the WSOP Player of the Year ladder.  It's available to everyone.  Do you have that freedom now?  Are you happily thanking God for it, if you do -- not simply on Independence Day, but every day?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ask, and Ye Shall....

We asked in a recent post if you pray before entering a poker room -- whether for a tournament or cash game.  For some people, this question may sound absurd.  But it's something we do on a regular basis.

So what do we request of God?  Let's use our successful Sunday in a poker room as an example.  We first prayed for wisdom....
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. - James 1:5

We take this verse a couple of ways -- asking for wisdom not only in playing hands well, but in doing the "poker ministry" that we like to do at the tables.  We want to say the right words at the right time, to express our faith and offer guidance if need be.

So along those lines, we also ask for God's help in being a "light":
Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.... - John 12:36

Jesus offered this advice, and the Bible shows He called Himself "the light of the world" (John 8:12).  But Jesus also told His disciples they are "the light of the world" as well (Matthew 5:14).  We take that to mean Jesus wants us to reflect His light in everything we do (verse 16) - even a dimly-lit poker room.

Oh yes -- and lastly, we do ask God in prayer that we might be able to play well, and perhaps win money at the table.  Sometimes it happens.  Sometimes it doesn't.  Either way, we leave it in the Lord's hands....
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. - Job 1:21b (KJV)

So that's a brief summary of how we pray before a tournament.  But it clearly raises a deeper question: why does God sometimes reward us with good days in the poker room, while sometimes we go bust on the first hand?  We'll ponder that one in a future post.