Thursday, November 28, 2013


It's a bit embarrassing to admit this, but we often forget to tip dealers at poker tables after we win hands.  Perhaps it's because the game is built so much on taking -- and we became used to having the players act as dealers in other poker tournaments at other places.

How much should you tip a dealer in a poker room?  While the 15-percent line at restaurants is commonly known, no one ever gave us good advice for poker.  We found one online article which actually recommends a 33-percent tip in some small cash games.  That can feel like a lot, if your chip stack is small.  But it errs on the side of giving.

We bring this up because today marks a day for giving thanks in the U.S.  Some people say "thank you" is one of the hardest things for people to say in our society.  So a tip for your poker dealer is one way to offer thanks in a physical way.

But in reality, Thanksgiving Day should be a time for thanking the One who provides all our blessings -- even the physical strength to sit down at a poker table and win pots.
You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. - II Corinthians 9:11

Many people, groups and businesses use this time of year to perform charitable acts -- but many times they come across as self-promotion.  We think there's a better way to be generous, in a way which will make God happy:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:3-4

Giving thanks, as well as tips, can be every bit as effective in private.

What's that -- you say you see nothing to be thankful about?  We disagree.  We went through the Bible, and found dozens of reasons to be thankful to God.  Read this Bible study article for the list, along with other thoughts about thanksgiving.  And may you be thankful every day, not simply at a table with a turkey.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Meek First

A visitor's comment on one of our recent posts brought up this verse -- one you're admittedly not likely to hear at a poker table:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. - Matthew 5:5

Meek is one of those words that tends to get confined to church discussions.  Yet Jesus said it's a trait believers need to show in their lives.

The New Testament was written primarily in Greek -- and the Greek word for meek can mean "mild" or "humble."  Our home dictionary points out another meaning, which has become too common: "spineless."

Poker players without spines soon will be without chips.  Weakly folding to other players' raises can make sense if you have 2-5 offsuit -- but when you have K-K or Q-Q, it's more logical to take a stand.  After all, your opponent could be testing your spine by raising with nothing.

That's why we think the New Testament rendering for "meek" is better.  You can play solid poker in a mild-mannered, humble way.  For instance, have you ever quietly raised with K-K with a friendly smile on your "poker face?"
The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way. - Psalm 25:9 (KJV)

Arrogant people are far less likely to accept correction and instruction -- whether it's about a misplayed hand or godly living.  Yet meekness can bring improvement and success.
The Lord lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground. - Psalm 147:6 (KJV)

Oh yes -- did you notice what Jesus said the meek will inherit?  It may surprise you to learn it's not a place in heaven:
....With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. - Revelation 5:9-10

God will send Jesus to set up His Kingdom here on earth.  If you can accept that Bible statement with meekness, you'll be well on the way to being able to play with meekness at the table -- and possibly winning as you do.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Tempting Secret

We returned to National League of Poker this week for the first time in months.  It turned out well - recovering from an early all-in moment of desperation with a flopped flush to finish second out of 153 players.  (Sadly, only first place paid off with money again.)

Along the way, we chatted with a man who's also written about poker online.  In fact, he claims he found "the secret to life" from several months of poker.  He sums it up in two words: "overcoming temptation" -- which he defines in several ways in our link.

He points out it's a Biblical secret -- and he's right.  Even though Jesus recommended this prayer....
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. - Matthew 6:13

....the facts of life are that moments of temptation will come, at the poker table or away from it.  Even Jesus faced it while walking the earth:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin. - Hebrews 4:15

The first part of Matthew 4 and Luke 4 detail how Satan the devil tempted Jesus.  Yet the Lord said no through it all -- which is how we need to respond to sinful temptations as well.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. - I Corinthians 10:13

Pray for God to sound alarm bells when temptations happen -- whether it's an all-in moment at the table or something more serious in your life.  Ask Him to show where the escape route is.  Then don't be afraid to take it, even if it makes you look wimpy.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Big Giver

Getting a seat can take some waiting.  But we're finding we like "Ultimate Texas Hold 'em" games in casinos a lot.  This weekend we scored our third cash gain in as many tries.  And on top of that, the atmosphere around the table seems friendlier -- since everyone competes against the dealer, not each other.

"What I'd like," said a man to our left Saturday night at Kansas Star Casino, "is a royal flush or a straight flush.  I'd give everyone at the table $100."

Aha -- sounds good!  But then he added: "The last time I made a straight flush was 1987."

"So you're due," we told him hopefully.

"Overdue," a woman to his left added.

Straight flushes don't happen very often, of course.  And for that matter, neither does the attitude of that man -- especially when it comes to poker.  It's an attitude of giving, and it's downright Biblical.
Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. - Luke 6:38

In a typical poker room, giving is the last thing on people's minds.  A gain in a cash game normally means taking money from other players.  Winning in a tournament requires getting all the chips in play from the competition.  Sadly, many people live their lives with the same mindset.
What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don't get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God. - James 4:1-2

God is ready to provide your needs -- if you ask Him.  Oh, and don't forget....
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:3

Maybe we should all try asking God in prayer for blessings that we can share with other people -- especially with people in more difficult situations than our own.  That approach can fulfill something we hinted at in our last post....
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. - Ecclesiastes 11:1
On this night, the royal flush and straight flush didn't come.  But a good example of Christianity did -- at least in word.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remember As You Play....

Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. - Ecclesiastes 11:4

Some poker players get reputations as "rocks" or "tight," because they only get involved where they have a strong chance of winning.  Sometimes that approach gets results; sometimes it doesn't.

We were reminded the other night through Christian radio of an interesting section of Ecclesiastes.  It includes our verse above, which sounds like it relates to farming -- but one poker players might summarize this way: "Scared money doesn't win."

Wait for the perfect moment to make a move at the poker table, and you might run out of moments.  The odds of being dealt pocket Aces (or, for that matter, any card combination without regard to suit) are 220 to 1.  Since most tournaments have quick-rising blinds, the patient approach ultimately hits a wall of time and reality.  So what's a poker player to do?
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.... Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. - Ecclesiastes 11:1, 6

Despite the commonly-used phrase "Christian conservative," God inspires these words to encourage a certain amount of risk-taking.

Where do you draw the line with that?  Ahhhh - that's the hard part.  Different people set different lines which they don't cross.  Those lines about when to stay in and when to get out get drawn through years of experience.

So let's open this up for discussion.  Where do you draw lines in what poker hands you play -- either pre-flop or beyond?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Poker Day 414: O-No-Maha

If the game is nothing but Texas Hold 'em, we probably can hold our own.  But add other games, and things could be different.  The current Sunday format at River City Poker Room has alternating blinds: first Texas Hold 'em, then high-hand Omaha.  That meant things started well for us today.  And then....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: J-J-3-2 (Omaha)

We own an early pot with A-3, when the Ace paired.  But in the last hand, we lost several thousand chips with Q-J-9-8.  Even though the board showed J-10-A-8 to give us a well-hidden straight (you can only use two of your four cards to make a hand in Omaha), an Ace on the river gave a man to our left quad Aces.

Surely that can't happen again, so we raise to 1,000 with a good pocket pair.  About half the players at our table of six calls.

ON THE FLOP: K-10-6 (third card may not be precise)

The flop is a rainbow, which works to our advantage.  But without top pair, we decide to play carefully instead of making a continuation bet.  We check; so do everyone else.


The board pairs -- but we suspect someone with a King would have bet by now.  So sitting first in the order, we bet 700.  A player in the middle of the table folds, but a man on the other side calls.


A third King gives us a full house, and we see no need to hesitate.  We bet 3,000.

"I'll raise," our opponent says -- a double to 6,000.  This is a bit puzzling.  He probably has a pocket pair for his own full house, but ours is too high to let go.  We have to call.

And then.... the man shows a King.  Quads again!  We lose to a huge hand for the second time in a row.  He gets a $50 cash bonus, while we reach the conclusion this is not our day.

It turned out a third person at our table hit quads during the same Omaha blind -- but it wasn't us.  Our stack weakened to the point where we went all-in for our next 1,000 minutes later playing Texas Hold 'em with A-3 of hearts.  The blind was A-4-4 -- but of course, that gave another player three of a kind.  His 4's made us hit the door, with a badly-wounded 12th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "This is GOD'S day, sir!" the dealer at another table exclaimed at one point.  "Don't use language like that on God's day."

This dealer has a habit of being very irreverent -- throwing out comic insults (at least in his mind) without regard to race, gender or religion.  But we used that moment to comment to the players at our table, out of his earshot.

"Some of us went to church yesterday.  That's why we're here on Sunday."

We've mentioned here before that we keep a seventh-day Sabbath because that's what God instructed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11), and it's the example Jesus set ....
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.  And he stood up to read. - Luke 4:16

Our study Bible says Jesus set an example of "regular worship."  That's true -- but the Bible specifies he kept Sabbaths in the synagogue, which many Jews do to this day.

Yet as we think about it, the dealer could in one sense be right.  That's because of another Bible verse....
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

We've heard some preachers mention this on the Sabbath, and try to confine this verse to one day of the week.  Our study Bible notes it also could be "a reference to Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles."

But hold on -- didn't God create every day of the week?  Genesis 1-2 shows He created all seven of them.  So we think the point of the verse in Psalm is to give God thanks for every day, rejoicing that He's given us one more day to live.  In this season of U.S. Thanksgiving Day, it's something to consider -- being thankful on more than one Thursday in November.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 145 final tables in 414 games (35.0%) - 24 cashes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ryan's Hope

The Detroit Lions haven't won a pro football title in almost 60 years.  Could it be that someone wearing a Lions jersey will break some kind of curse?

 Michigan native Ryan Riess won the World Series of Poker Main Event this week.  He went to the final table in fifth, and overcame a chip disadvantage at the start of heads-up play -- all to win more than $8.3 million.

Riess's Twitter feed includes some X-rated language about his anticipation of the final table.  But today he wrote this:

Well that was a profitable trip to Vegas. Thanks again to everybody who helped make this possible

Riess uses that hashtag often -- and we hope he means what it says.  We should all realize our blessings, and give thanks to the One who provides them:
The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. - Proverbs 10:22

A traditional church song says, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow."  But there's another verse in Proverbs which might cause a quandary for poker players:
A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 28:20

At its core, poker is all about "getting rich."  Riess couldn't claim the WSOP bracelet until he possessed all the chips on the table.  So what gives here?

Perhaps the key word in the verse is eager.  The Contemporary English Version translates it as "get rich quick."  While building a big stack of chips early can be helpful, the Main Event isn't a one-day tournament.  It took hours of table grinding over several months to decide a champion.  Get overanxious to win big in a hurry and you may wind up making mistakes which cost you everything.

The first part of that verse actually is the key part for us.  God promises to bless a person who is faithful.  Are you faithful to God in the way you live - including how you conduct yourself in a poker room?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Survivor: Las Vegas

Perhaps the World Series of Poker Main Event should have that title above.  Out of 6,352 players, only nine will sit down at the final table in Las Vegas Monday evening.

The biographies of the finalists show a range of backgrounds -- players from Israel and the Netherlands, along with the U.S.; players who like to surf and play table tennis on their free time.  But we're struck by the fact that at least two of the "November Nine" are not full-time poker pros.  One is called simply a "hobbyist" -- which in a way describes us as well.

People who do something only on a part-time basis can have a little bit of success.  (Check our final table numbers on the days we play.)  Full-time poker players probably do better in the long run, because they utilize their skills on a regular basis.  And God requires a similar commitment from us:
So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. - I Peter 4:19

Sometimes you can spot the difference between a halfway-committed follower of God and one who's, well, all-in.  Their words or actions give them away.  If you can see it, imagine how quickly God can spot it.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you. Always give ourselves fully to the  work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - I Corinthians 15:58

Work for God will be rewarded in the end -- especially if you work for Him until the end:
....Because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. - Ephesians 6:8

So who will be rewarded in Las Vegas this week?  We think JC Tran will utilize his experience and chip lead, to take it all.  What's your prediction?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Keeping Your Balance

We asked in a recent post what might be holding you back from taking up poker -- even if only at a free "just for fun" event.  After thinking that over, we think an important P.S. needs to be added.

Some people might be wary of poker because it can lead to a gambling addiction.  Perhaps they've had other bad habits (smoking, alcohol, etc.), and they realize the risk of trading one addiction for another.

That's a legitimate concern.  An important principle, in both poker and life in general, is that of moderation:
Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)

We've heard ministers say things are not necessarily wrong -- but how you use them can make them wrong.  Notice what else the apostle Paul (who wrote Philippians) advised along this line....
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. - I Timothy 5:23

Yes, a Biblical apostle endorsed wine-drinking -- but not to an extreme.  He wrote "a little," not a lot.  And everyone has a different threshold with alcohol: some can tolerate more than others, without getting into serious trouble.  That can be true with poker as well.

So it's OK to start playing poker with a cautious approach.  That can be true with handling your cards and chips -- and even with playing the game at all.  If you find yourself feeling drawn to an addiction, pull away for awhile.  Walk with care -- and handle your play that way, too.