Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Real Story: 2014 In Review

Our work schedule seems to get busier and busier -- and as a result, our time for playing poker gets smaller and smaller.  But here's how the past year went for us.

LIVE TOURNAMENTS: 11 final tables in 21 games (52.4%), 1 cash.

Critics might call those numbers deceptively high.  Several tournaments wound up having only one table, so we "made the final table" simply by showing up.  And we cooled quite a bit after making our first five finals of the year.


OTHER CASINO GAMES: Ultimate Texas Hold 'em - Down $280.  Computer machine heads-up -
Down $59.  Blackjack - Up $55.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER: Regular - 0 for 4.  No-River Hold 'em - 1 final table in 9 games.

POKER STARS: Play money cash games - Down $2,762.

Our conclusions?  First: much to our surprise, maybe we're playing the wrong game.  We did shockingly better at blackjack than anything else, with three gains in four sessions - especially in terms of making money.  (We also earned 95 cents with "free play" at casino slot machines.)

All those final tables in poker rooms didn't make us money, because most of them had entry fees -- and our single $40 win in February didn't make up for all of that.

So second: unless you're really sharp at playing poker or hit a big jackpot somewhere, you're liable to lose money more often than you win.  If you can afford that in small chunks and not become addicted, that might not be bad; stock traders see ups and downs as well.

But with some people, the dream of "beating the system" can turn into a downward spiral of financial and personal trouble.  We'd recommend those people stay away from poker, and probably any casino gaming.  Find something better to do.  As the Bible recommends....
...Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. - Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

The way this world is going, those standards seem to set a very high bar.  But there's Someone who is a great One to focus on....
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God's throne. - Hebrews 12:2

If you've never considered the life and example of Jesus Christ, there's no better time to start.  Go through the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Take your time - perhaps a chapter or two a day.  Take notes on what you see Jesus saying and doing.  And ask how those points can apply in your life.

We're thankful we had some extra money to spend on poker (and doing poker ministry) during 2014.  We're also thankful for all of you who read this blog and offer comments.  We're planning to continue on in 2015, as our schedule permits -- but perhaps picking our tables and locations more carefully.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Poker Day 438: Hearts On Fire

Our last scheduled poker tournament for 2014 found us plunking down 60 more dollars at Arrowhead Poker, and winning the first hand of the day with K-10 when a King came on the flop.  But then a string of losses -- including a fold on the river when we had a pair of 10's and an opponent with nothing ran us off with a 3,000-chip bet.

We needed a big comeback at some point, and hoped the right cards would provide it....

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET: A-9 of hearts

We start this hand with the Dealer button at a six-handed table, holding 42,000 chips.  No one is raising -- and even though these cards are pretty big, that's fine with us.  We call, and about four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 7h-7c-8h

Talk about a big flush draw.-- not to mention 60 percent of a straight flush.  A man who moved over from the other table in this two-table tournament a few minutes ago puts out 10,000.  Other players ahead of us fold.  This man bet us off a hand with a big wager moments ago, but we can't really afford to move aside now.  We call in hope.


Hope is rewarded!  And our poker face must be working well, because our opponent takes a look at our chip stack before acting.  Now he bets 20,000.

"All-in - 28,000" we announce.

The opponent doesn't really hesitate.  He calls, and the dealer takes a moment to sort out the chips.  Then comes our cliché line, as we show our heart flush:

"You can call me Planters - because I've got the nuts."

Our opponent turns over 7-4.  He has three 7's, but we need to dodge a full house.


We do!  It's a big gain for us, to around 110,000 chips.

Other big hands came for us -- including A-K, which brought another Ace on the board.  That provided enough pad to last through bad blinds, and we reached the final table with 50,000 chips.  Then A-Q brought an Ace on the flop, and we built our stack to a high of 190,000.

But rising blinds eventually did us win, and we were forced to go all-in with Q-3 in the Small Blind.  The board didn't pair for us but did for a woman down the table.  We finished with a strong fifth-place finish, then sat disappointed as the last four players split up the prize money.  They each won $105. We received.... well, a few slices of free pizza and drinks.  But it was still our best finish since late October.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector medallion to a grandfather at the final table. (At least we assume he was, from the Gramps" shirt he wore.) He seemed surprisingly amused by the portrayal of Jesus on the back, which we keep face-down.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked Gramps.

"I think he was the Prince of Peace."

We agreed, because the Bible agrees:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6
You may have heard that verse sung countless times during Handel's Messiah, especially in December.  But you may be asking a question -- where's the peace?  Why didn't Jesus end all wars, violence and hostility?

If you're asking that, maybe you haven't experienced the peace Jesus personally talked about....
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. - John 14:27
The Lord went on to say, " me you may have peace" (John 16:33)  We think it means peace of mind, knowing what follows this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. - Matthew 5:9
Do you consider yourself a "son of God"?  Jesus hints here one way to prove it is to be a peacemaker -- making peace with other people, instead of stirring up difficulties.  That phrase brings up another part of our conversation with Gramps; we'll get to that in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 156 final tables in 438 games (35.6%), 25 cashes.  Our next post will wrap up our 2014 poker activity

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Two-Minute Warning

Kansas Star Casino seemed busier on December 24 this year, compared to last year.

"Wait until tomorrow," we overheard one table game dealer tell his players.  "People will have all the cash they got as presents."

But we were there on Wednesday night, hoping to make money player 1-3 cash game poker.  We went on a waiting list, and received one of those "your seat is ready now" electric plates you might get at restaurants.

We walked around for a long time, stopping to watch table games.  Finally after about 30 minutes, we decided to sit down at Ultimate Texas Hold 'em to bide our time and perhaps make a gain.  And wouldn't you know - during our first hand at the table, the notifier went off.

We had good cards in that one hand, but the dealer beat us and we lost $20.  With $40 in chips left and $40 in our wallet, we went back to the poker room desk.

"Minimum $100," the attendant told us.  That standard hasn't changed, and we came prepared to offer that $100.  But that one hand elsewhere in the casino had changed everything.

"I played one hand over there, lost $20, so I only have $80," we admitted.  We could have walked over to the ATM, withdrew $50 more and been ready to play.  But instead, we handed our electronic gizmo over and said "thanks, but no thanks."

We wound up losing $70 back at the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table.  But we learned quite a lesson without even sitting down.  It was a lesson in patience -- waiting even longer than you might think, to obtain what you really wanted.

"Patience is a virtue," we often hear.  It's a helpful trait to have while playing poker -- folding lesser hands while waiting for good cards to come.  And we think it's valuable in all aspects of life.
A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense. - Proverbs  19:11

Some players bet big right after losing a tough hand, saying they're "trying to win my money back."  Sometimes that works; sometimes they dig themselves an even deeper hole.  That's where patience needs to govern our play -- as it should everything we do.
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm because the Lord's coming is near. - James 5:7-8

We live in an area where "winter wheat" grows. Farmers know better than to harvest it during winter. Seeds lie in the ground, absorbing moisture from rain and snow until plants begin to shoot up in spring.

Maybe you have to develop patience by telling yourself to be patient -- over and over again, if necessary.  That would have made all the difference for us this week.  We might have won big in the poker room -- but then again, we might have lost our entire $100. We'll never know in this life. May you develop the patience that brings a good harvest, in poker or elsewhere.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Poker Day 437: Bounty Picker-Uppers

The "freeroll period" at local poker rooms seems to have passed.  It cost the managers too much money.  Instead, we're now in a  "bounty period" on Sunday afternoons at Arrowhead Poker.  The tournament has a bounty section attached: $25 chair rental + $25 bounty chip + $10 extras = $60 entry fee.  But if you eliminate a player, his/her bounty chip is worth $25 at the end of the day.

Our game today didn't offer any moments to take players out.  But we won a few nice pots, and hoped to win one more here....

BLINDS: 5,000/10,000


It's a two-table tournament, and seven players remain at ours.  We start the hand with 35,000, but we're in the Big Blind.  So we're substantially committed, and see no reason to hold back when our turn comes.

"All in, 35,000" we say - putting the white bounty chip in, along with everything else.

Only two others were interested in this hand.  One man folds.  The other, a manager at another card room, thinks it over out loud.

"I'm probably going to chip you up," he says -- but he goes ahead and calls.

"Al-Qaeda," we say as we show.  He shows a meager 4-5 of hearts.  This looks very promising.

ON THE FLOP: 5-8-Q (8 is a heart)

Wow - we both pair the board.  But our Queen leads.


Uh-oh - now this is potential trouble.  He has four hearts, for a flush draw -- in fact a straight flush draw, and a straight flush was hit at this table only a couple of hands before.  By our count, he has 13 outs.


....and he hits the more unlikely one!  Two pair stun him, and leave us shaking both our head and his hand.  We leave the contest in 13th place, and he gets our $25 bounty chip.

MINISTRY MOMENT: There was no "Christmas music" playing in the poker room; they call up classic hits from the late 20th century during the afternoon games.  One of them was George Harrison's My Sweet Lord.

"That's a curious song," we said to several people (none of whom responded).  "Jesus is my Lord - but he turns it into a song about something else."

We've mentioned this song here before.  Have you noticed the last part of the song refers to "hare krishna" - as in Hinduism?  Harrison apparently wanted to cut through religious divisions.  But there's a problem with that:
...Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.... Salvation is found in no one else, for there s no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:10, 12
The Bible never mentions Buddha once.  It mentions Jesus often -- and it dares to say Jesus is the only name by which you can receive salvation.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.... - I Timothy 2:5
Perhaps it's little wonder that some people call Bible-believing Christians intolerant.  It's because the God who inspired the Bible demands a choice: accept Jesus as your Savior or else.  What choice will you make?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 37 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

All the Wrong Reasons

One reason why some people condemn poker is because other people do strange things when they play.  In fact, they sometimes do illegal and disgusting things.

One case currently in a British court is a sad example of this. A couple is accused of persuading schoolchildren to play "strip poker" after getting them drunk.  The charges grow worse from there.

We've never played strip poker, and don't really want to do it. (That's OK - you don't need to e-mail us the rules.) It takes a good card game and turns it into a perversion.  So we can understand why there's a law in Britain against enticing children to play it.  And an old "law book" tells us....
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious.... for adulterers and perverts.... - I Timothy 1:9-10
The accused couple is innocent until proven guilty in court.  But it's easy to point fingers at them for what they might have done -- until we stop and think a second.  Who has not broken the law at some point?  Especially the holy law of God?

....For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

The author of I Timothy realized that in his own life:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. - I Timothy 1:15
So is Paul the author a lost cause?  Not at all.  Jesus staged a dramatic intervention in his life (Acts 9), and Paul became a preacher and teacher of the ways of God.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. - I Timothy 1:16
Do you feel like the worst sinner ever -- perhaps of something you've done at a poker night?  Jesus helped Paul, and He can help you.  Turn to God, begin walking in law-abiding ways based on what His "law book" (the Bible) shows you, and amazing things can happen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Wild Life

So what has Martin Jacobson done since winning the World Series of Poker Main Event?  What - you don't know?  To be honest, we're not sure, either.

But another "poker pro" has made a lot of headlines - for the wrong reasons.  Dan Bilzerian was arrested this past week on charges of having materials to make a bomb.  That follows a case where he reportedly threw a naked actress into a swimming pool.

We don't follow the social media of poker players very much, but a news article on Bilzerian's arrest said this:

Bilzerian's popular Instagram account is consistently filled with photos of a playboy lifestyle: private jets, scantily clad women, piles of cash, guns, and Bilzerian shooting those guns in the desert.

And oh yes -- he does movie roles, too.

He sounds like every poker player stereotype come to life.  Yet check his poker record, and Bilzerian shows only one time when he placed in the money at a World Series of Poker event.

We don't know if Bilzerian is guilty of the bomb-making charge or not. But we think he's guilty of one thing -- a lifestyle that emphasizes material possessions.  And yes, we think that's something worth the title "guilty."
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. - Ecclesiastes 1:2 (KJV)

This "Preacher" was King Solomon of Israel.  He had more possessions and money than even modern-day millionaires (see I Kings 10 for a partial list).  Yet at the end of his life, he realized how vain it all was.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner.... - Ecclesiastes 5:13

Solomon admits being able to enjoy wealth and possessions is a "gift of God" (verse 19).  But how many people realize that, and give God thanks for it?  Even Solomon eventually caved in to sinful actions (I Kings 11).  That's why he concluded:
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. - Ecclesiastes 12:13
 May we all learn to do that "whole duty" better.  Better to fear God than be a playboy fearing arrest by the long arm of the law.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Czech or Bet

It's one of the classic poker questions. Is it a game of skill? Or simple luck? Or a combination of both?

This question has gone to courts of law more often than you might think. The latest ruling comes from a court in the Czech Republic. It ruled even poker tournaments (as opposed to cash games) are gambling, so organizers have to obtain state licenses:

The court argued that chance was a crucial factor in poker, making it gambling rather than a game.

We really can't deny that point -- and we don't think most experienced poker players would, either.  When tournaments get late, blinds are high and players are scarce, the cards you're dealt matter a lot.

But we'd add life is full of chances and big decisions. The biggest risk you'll ever make does not involve the choice of a spouse, or even whether to go all-in with pocket Kings.  It's this....
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 5:28-29

Jesus is talking about an upcoming time of judgment. How will He determine good from evil?  He answered that....
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me will not be condemned.... the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. -- John 5:24-25

You can "hear" the words the Jesus said, by studying the Bible - especially the first four books of the New Testament, including John. Then believe them by putting them into practice.

We believe Jesus advised doing good things, not bad things. We have an article which attempts to sort them out. Which bet in life will you make?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Push Or Be Pushed?

Some poker players can come across as bullies.  They'll raise early.  They'll bet often.  They'll try to force opponents into tough decisions which test their backbones.  When you come across that sort of player, how should you respond?

We found an article from California on one of the 2013 World Series of Poker tournaments.  Chad Holloway responded to an all-in bet by calling, scored a big win and went on to capture a bracelet.

Holloway offers this noteworthy advice:

Amateur poker players have a tendency to put opponents on stronger hands than they actually have, but it's important not to be a pushover.... don't back down in the face of adversity.

Start talking about the things of God at a poker table, and other players might conclude you are a pushover.  They might conclude that based on some verse they might vaguely recall Jesus once saying....
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:39
Our NIV Study Bible notes indicate this "strike" is "more of an insult than an act of violence."  But it's easy to overlook something else Jesus said in this same chapter....

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." - Matthew 5:38

This quote recalls a principle established by God way back in the Old Testament:
If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.  As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured. - Leviticus 24:19-20

This is "fair and balanced" justice. It's leveling the amount of damage.  If someone "pushes" you in a poker hand, you can push back in kind -- as long as you don't go overboard and take vengeance.

Sometimes in poker, that "second cheek" might be a trap you set to get your chips back -- even with interest.  That's the nature of the game.  But away from the table, it shouldn't be that way.
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8
 Play humbly, for that matter -- but be ready when the moment is right to show you have a "strong hand" at your disposal:

The Lord gives strength to his people.... - Psalm 29:11

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Talking a Good Game

The player seemed to need one card to make his hand.  He called for something (let's say a club to make a flush) - and the dealer dropped a club on the river.

"Ask and you shall receive," a player next to us at the table said.

"I read that in a book once," we told him.

Do you know which book?  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you can probably guess....
Hitherto have you asked nothing in my name: ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full. - John 16:24 (KJV)

Jesus said these words to His disciples shortly before He died.  They indicate disciples are to ask for things "in my name."  That's not the name of the "poker gods" - but the God who became man.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.... - John 1:14 (KJV)

So what things should be on our "wish list" for God?  Should it be a club at exactly the right moment?  Should it be for opposing players to make bad decisions?  Not necessarily....
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

If you ask God for breaks at the poker table simply because you'll win beer money -- well, we have the feeling God will turn that down.  Here's a better approach:
As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. - I Samuel 12:23

We can't recall ever hearing a player asking the "poker gods" to intervene with another person's all-in bet.  Yet in our lives, it's good to ask God to bless other people - as well as ourselves.  That way, everyone can benefit.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Poker Day 436: Ace is Enough?

Life can become very busy at times.  For us, it's been so busy that we hadn't played in a poker tournament in five weeks.  So we went to Arrowhead Poker this afternoon, after practicing a bit in an  online cash game.  Would absence make our play better or worse?

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-8 offsuit

Only 11 players have shown up for Sunday action on a holiday weekend, giving us hope for "small table" success.  We're at the table of five, but have yet to win a hand.  With nearly our full chip stack, we take this cautiously and limp in.  Most of the players are in.


Top pair is nice -- and when the table checks, we get the feeling we're leading.  We bet 500 to see how serious the opposition is.  One man calls; the others fold.


That seems harmless - and something tells us our opponent is chasing something, perhaps with a Queen.  We bet 1,000.  He doesn't hesitate, and calls.


That complicates things a bit.  Now there are three cards for a straight.  We check with caution - but our opponent offers 1,900.  This strikes us as a "get lost" bet.  But with top pair, we really can't.  So we call -- and he shows A-9!  His kicker card topped ours to take the pot.  And our read on that man turned out to be very wrong.

It was that sort of day for us -- betting on promising hands, only to lose to better ones.  Our stack of chips drained rather quickly.  An all-in moment with 9-9 brought a third 9 on the flop to allow a triple-up to 8,200 chips.  But it didn't last -- and a final push with J-9 when a Jack came on the flop led to an opponent making two pair, while we did not.

We finished 11th out of 11, which is technically in last place.  But if the tournament had not allowed re-buys, we would have been a couple of spots off the bottom.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man at our left -- the one with a depiction of a long-haired Jesus on the other side, when he turned it over.

"That's awesome," he said.

"I think Jesus is awesome.  Do you think Jesus is awesome?"

"Yes, he sure is," the man said quietly as he refocused on the game and his smartphone.

We think the word awesome gets overused today.  We've even heard church pastors say it to describe young people playing music a bit less than perfect.  The ministers may be trying to encourage young talent.  But consider how that word is used in the Bible....
Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? - Exodus 15:11

This verse comes from a song celebrating God's miracle for the Israelites at the Red Sea (verse 4). We think God showed a bit of that glory in providing a "pillar of fire" for Israel to keep moving away from the Egyptians (Exodus 13:21).
The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land. - Zephaniah 2:11

This moment of "awesome-sauce" (to borrow from that credit card commercial) is written for the future.  The "Lord God" plans to destroy all other gods. How will that happen?
Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter." He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: "King of Kings and Lord of Lords." - Revelation  19:15-16

To borrow from a carol at this time of year, the return of the "Lord of Lords" Jesus Christ will not be "tender and mild."  Jesus will strike down all opposition - and we suspect that will include the gods of those opponents as well.  Now that's one awesome Lord.  Agree?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 436 games (35.6%) - 25 cashes.  We missed a final table for the first time since mid-August (five tournaments ago).

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Poker Thanksgiving

One of our most curious Thanksgiving Day memories comes from the last decade, in the city where we used to live. After working in the morning, we took advantage of a discount coupon at a shopping mall restaurant. It was open at 1:00 p.m. - but with no trace of Thanksgiving at all.

There was no special turkey dinner on the menu.  So we dined on steak and broccoli with cheese -- and we looked up at the TV screens in the restaurant to see poker players, instead of football games.  It was an ESPN World Series of Poker marathon.

Over the years. the usual Thursday night poker spots in our cities have closed for Thanksgiving.  But this year is different; one poker room plans to open in the late afternoon (although it doesn't mention any tournament play).

So to borrow from our last post: are you a thankful poker player? Perhaps you've had a lousy year, and see no reason to be thankful. But the Bible reminds us....
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - I Thessalonians 5:16-18

We can talk about joy and prayer another time - but our focus here is about giving thanks. We think it should go beyond wishing friends a holiday greeting and serving food.  It should be about expressing thanks to the One who makes all things possible, including our lives.
For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. - I Corinthians 11:12

As radio host Michael Baisden used to say: "Everything is everything."  God provided the ingredients for everything at a poker table -- from trees for wooden tables to a brain for you to read opponents and make winning moves.

We're thankful for a year where we haven't played many live tournaments, but we've gone 10 for 17 in making final tables.  One of them brought a third-place cash win.  But all of them have brought opportunities to share the things of Jesus Christ with fellow players and others who may be listening.

If you need reasons to give thanks, check our Biblical list.  Then tell us - what one thing are you most thankful for this year?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Favorites or Longshots?

Since we've been talking about numbers lately here, try this one: 2,598,960.

That's reportedly the total number of five-card combinations possible in a 52-card deck.  We learned this from a Business Insider article on poker odds.  It's an article that's pretty clunky to us, with lots of photos -- and we're not sure it's helpful for players, because it doesn't figure in two-card combinations you might be dealt.

But here's another number to ponder: the odds of a single card turning into a straight flush are 0.00154%.  That statistically is a longshot.

And to be honest, the odds of you reading this may be even higher.  You have to be alive.  You have to be at a computer, tablet or smartphone.  You have to have this blog called up, out of millions of websites.

We thank you for defying those odds and reading this entry.  But how about even bigger odds than that?  You're on a planet that isn't too close to the Sun, so you melt - or too far away, so you die from extreme cold.  In fact, you may be on a part of the planet that has a range of seasons and temperature changes.

The odds of that happening are so ridiculously high that we think there's only one sound conclusion for it:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - Genesis 1:1
The odds of everything evolving into the position you're in probably are even higher -- because there's no guiding hand to put everything in a proper place.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree than will never pass away. - Psalm 148:5-6

So far as we know, the Earth and other planets have kept the same orbit around the Sun for thousands of years.  Can any evolutionary theory really explain that?  Consider what "wisdom" poetically proclaims:
"I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep...." - Proverbs 8:27-28

This is Thanksgiving week in the U.S.  We hope you take time not only this week, but every week, to thank God for all he's provided you -- whether it be a big win at the poker table, a living body for playing poker, or a world where it's physically possible.  Make God your favorite, and show it in living a life that's pleasing to Him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Future Tens

As the poker world moves past the "perfect 10's" of this year's World Series of Poker Main Event champion, we asked about the number ten in the Bible.  We noted there are the Ten Commandments - and we asked where other combinations might be found.

Jesus mentioned one group of ten in a parable -- then He divided them in two:
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lambs and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not have any oil in them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. - Matthew 25:1-4

What's Jesus driving at here?  Is this a message to "preppers" about a coming apocalypse?  Well, in a way it is. Keep reading....
But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. - Matthew 25:10
Let's apply this moment to the poker room.  We don't think it's good to show up "fashionably late" to a tournament.  You'll probably have to start with higher blinds, which means less room to maneuver - and you'll probably have to square off against players with larger chip stacks from earlier action.

But Jesus really was talking about something else - His own return to Earth. Check what happened to the five people had to go buy oil for their lamps:
..."Sir! Sir!" they said. "Open the door for us!" But he replied, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. - Matthew 25:11-13

If you're not ready for the return of Jesus, you might miss out on something - the greatest wedding in history:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. - Revelation 19:7

The Bible shows believers (God's church) will be wed to Jesus, and be joined with Him forever.  It pays to be ready for that moment.  Stay close to God in prayer and Bible study to keep your "oil supply" well stocked.

We did some more Bible number-crunching, and put the results in one of our newest articles.  We welcome your thoughts about it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Can I Get a Witness?

The moment admittedly felt awkward.  After a wonderful Sabbath day with good food and Biblical preaching, we sat at sunset in a car in the parking lot of a casino.

It's closer from our church hall to the casino than to our home.  So we decided for one Saturday evening to go there from church -- hoping to win some money and do a little ministry.

A dealer saw us standing near his table wearing a suit and "Praise Jesus" lapel pin, and gave a respectful (perhaps stunned) nod.  Then he went on with the game, because his table was full.

We finally found a Ultimate Texas Hold 'em seat, next to a man in a very verbal mood.  He asked us not to say "Boom shaka-laka" ("Boom goes the dynamite" was acceptable) - and we proceeded:


IN THE POCKET: Q-7 offsuit

Nothing worth shouting a boom about here.  We check.

ON THE FLOP: 7-10-K (last two cards not precise)

As best we recall, we have bottom pair.  Our practice at the online Ultimate game has taught us to be wary about betting bottom pair.  It's tempting, but we check.


The house is full, and we're quietly happy.  We bet the $5 to stay in.

The dealer turns over his cards, to show a flush - but we have him topped.  A player to our left has a better hand, and his full house pays well.

"I have a boat," we say as we quietly turn over our cards.

Except the dealer doesn't recognize that - and he starts to take or cards and chips away!

"He's got a full house," a man next to us says before we can speak up.  He saw it, too -- and the dealer apologized.  He points to the empty "trips" diamond, where an extra $5 bet would have paid us 8:1.  But instead, we get a $25 payout (blind paying 3:1).

We didn't tip the dealer - but probably should have tipped the player to our left, for speaking up in our behalf.  In legal terms, he was our "advocate."  And whether or not you play poker, we all need one.
Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. - Job 16:19

Job said this in the midst of a difficult trial.  Without his knowing it, God had allowed the devil to take away practically all his belongings in life.  It was a test -- and at this point, Job was passing it by stating his faith in God.
My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God.... - Job  16:20

Who is Job talking about?  We're led to think he knew something about a Savior who would come to Earth much later, then go back to heaven:
Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. - Romans 8:34

There he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  - Hebrews 7:25

Jesus can intercede and be an advocate at the throne of God in your behalf, too.  But you have to believe in Christ, and His ability to do that.  Are you willing to do that -- so God the Father doesn't declare you an ultimate loser?

P.S. We wound up losing $50 at the table, after having a modest gain for a moment.  The chances of us repeating the "church-casino" double are slim, at best.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Perfect Tens

Congratulations to Martin Jacobson of Sweden, this year's winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event.  And the way he won the bracelet Tuesday night was quite noteworthy.

Martin Jacobson"Tens for ten!" Jacobson's supporters chanted when he turned over 10-10 in response to Felix Stephensen of Sweden's all-in bet.  Stephensen had A-9, but a third 10 on the flop did him in.  So talk about numerology - three 10's earned Jacobson ten million U.S. dollars.

The number 10 is important for believers in God as well.  Why?
Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire.... He declared to you his covenant, the Ten Commandments, which he commanded you to follow and then wrote them on two stone tablets. - Deuteronomy 4:12-13

God summarized the basic rules for righteous living in ten points.  Have you looked at those points lately, and considered whether you're following them?  For instance....
You shall have no other gods before me. - Deuteronomy 5:7

If you decide to take a "week off" from worship because of a big poker tournament, or if you're too busy with online games to spend time reading the Bible, you might have a false god.

The "gods of poker," as some players call them, can't come close to the God of the Bible.  Can poker gods do this?
...Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. - Psalm 103:3-4

What does "redeeming your life" mean?  The poker gods also can't resurrect you to eternal life....
...In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. - I Corinthians 15:52

That's why it's important to keep the first commandment. We encourage you to look through the rest of God's "winning ten" and see where you stand compared to them.

In the meantime, let's have a little fun with that winning number. What other 10's can you find in the Bible? Leave a comment with your answer, and we'll compare notes in an upcoming post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


The World Series of Poker website is calling it "one of the great feats in poker history."  And it does NOT involve one of the game's big-name celebrities.

mark newhouseMark Newhouse sits down at the Main Event final table Monday night for the second year in a row.  Rising to the top from among 6,000 or more players once is outstanding.  Doing it twice ought to get Newhouse considered one of the best poker players in the world.

But in an interview with, Newhouse wasn't ready for that sort of title:

I don’t want to say that about myself. Yeah, I know it’s amazing, but I’m never going to say "greatest" about anything with my name in it.

Compared with the Hellmuths and Iveys of the world, this sounds different - a poker player showing a measure of humility.  Perhaps it comes from Newhouse finishing ninth out of the "November Nine" last year.  But it ought to come from a proper understanding of our own humanness.  Consider one famous example of this:
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.... - I Corinthians 15:9-10

Who wrote these words? The apostle Paul, whose name is on at least 13 books of the New Testament. (The authorship of Hebrews is open to debate.)  He realized what sort of man he'd been, under a different name....
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples.... - Acts 9:1

But later in that chapter, Saul was struck down and made blind.  Jesus Christ could have killed him, to defend His church.  Instead, Jesus humbled Saul to walk in a different direction:
But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go!  This man is my chose instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."  - Acts 9:15-16

As the apostle Paul, he went through a lot - including several floggings (Acts 16:23).  Yet he kept humbly doing what God had directed him to do.

If you consider yourself God's gift to the poker table, we have a few suggestions.  1) Go to Las Vegas and prove it at the WSOP level.  2) If you don't (and odds are you won't), admit you're not -- then find ways to serve others in a humble way.  As Jesus put it:
For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest. - Luke 9:48b

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More Than the Money

It's November. The U.S. election is over. So it's safe for poker's biggest final table to gather in Las Vegas - the "November Nine" of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

You can read about the entries on the WSOP website.  We were struck by how the contenders plan to spend their winnings, which at worst will be about $730,000.

"It's going to be for travel and partying," one finalist said.

"Try to divide some to people close that need it and stuff like that," another said.

At least the second player is thinking outside himself, considering needs of other people.  But how many poker players would be willing to follow this famous advice?
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:21

Jesus Christ gave this advice to what many Bible headings call a "rich young ruler."  That ruler found that suggestion to be a personally tough one - an "all-in moment" that could change his life.
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 19:22-23

Why is it hard?  Because many people turn money into a god.  They become so consumed with making more that they forget something - they can't put the cash in a plastic bag and spend it beyond the grave.
No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. - Matthew 6:24

Jesus calls for a choice - and eventually God will call for "the clock."  We're all destined to die, unless Jesus comes back right away.  The Lord gives more advice about the right decision to make:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:33

A reward is promised to those who stay faithful to God and Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:27).  It starts with eternal life - and then potentially much more.  Will it be riches?  Cities? Planets? We're left to speculate about that. But that reward certainly will be better than a $10 million payday - because it will last for eternity.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Surprise Raise

We check the poker room websites before we go to tournaments, because the schedule can change practically by the week.  Arrowhead Poker showed nothing unusual today, so we grabbed $20 and made the drive.

"That'll be $70," the manager told us.  "Or 50 without the buy-in."

We should've known.  The first Sunday of every month traditionally is the big tournament at Arrowhead - with a bigger buy-in and prize pool.  But the "freeroll fad" of earlier this year came and went at local poker rooms, so we went on the theory the monthly event had disappeared as well.

"I checked the website before I came," we admitted before we left.  (We didn't carry an ATM card which would have let us obtain the difference on the spot.)

But perhaps we didn't check online hard enough.  While the main website didn't mention the monthly big tournament, Arrowhead's Facebook page did - a couple of times.  It was a page we don't think we've ever checked before.

Moral of the story for us: it pays to "dig deeper" and investigate, even if one source indicates things will happen a certain way.  That's true in poker games as well as poker websites; sometimes a leading question or two will draw out opponents, so you can read them better.

And guess what -- that approach is also a good idea when it comes to the things of God.  We were reminded of this by a couple of Christian speakers this weekend:
Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

Studying the Bible can help you see if you're really living the way God wants you to live, or doing what He wants you to do.  One way to do this is by reading through the Bible - perhaps in a year, or faster.

But we recommend doing more than skimming through it.  Take notes on noteworthy verses you find - and take time to compare your approach to life with the Bible's instruction.  "Rightly dividing" it means sorting out Scriptural fact from the fiction some speakers (or even ministers) might tell you.
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen. - II Peter 3:18  (KJV)

The better you know Jesus, the more you'll understand how He lived -- and the better you'll be able to copy that example, at the poker table and other locations.  That example might actually surprise other people, and get them into digging deeper.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Right Track, Wrong Track

Our last post mentioned how we stepped out of the way of a "train" - a player with three 6's which topped our two pair.  We told the man who had us beat: "I don't go riding on that long black train."

Some people at the table recognized that reference.  Unless you're into country music, you might not understand it.  Long Black Train was a hit song for Josh Turner several years ago -- and it talks about the "rails of sin," with an "engineer" willing to let you climb aboard.  What's all this about?
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44

Jesus said all this about "the devil," known by some as Satan.  Not exactly a five-star "player of the night" review.  But go farther....
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.... - I John 3:8

Ouch.  Now we're the ones getting bad reviews, because....
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

You may be on Satan's train without even realizing it - by doing things or living a lifestyle God opposes.  We're entering a weekend where people will do or promote demonic "dark side" things.  They might make such things look tempting or fun - but God considers them evil.

(Of course, we realize some people consider poker evil - but we have posts about that issue elsewhere.)

But Josh Turner's song includes a reminder that you don't have to ride that "long black train."  God offers us redemption - an escape door, if you will:
For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. - Colossians 1:13-14

God can forgive your sins if you repent of them, and accept Jesus as your Savior.  That can put you on a better route....
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. - Matthew 7:14

Are you willing to be one of the few - and walk a road that leads to eternal life?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poker Day 435: Running Down Chicago's Line

The crowds have been sparse at the Sunday poker games we've attended lately  Then again, we've been sparse at those games.  Today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker was our first in four weeks, due to vacation and things surrounding it.  But only seven players were at the table when it started - so anyone could come in late, sit right down and do what they pleased....

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: 3-9 offsuit

The day has been going very well, thanks to big gains from a full house on the river and a surprise win with pocket 5's.  We're near our high of 50,000 chips.  But there's only one reason we'd play these cards -- and we're in that reason: the Big Blind.  The table of seven checks to us, and we get in for free against three other players.

ON THE FLOP: 9-4-6

Top pair and early position gives us a chance to seize the pot right now.  We offer 6,000.

Two players fold -- but a young man who showed up late wearing a big "Chicago" hat (White Sox colors) says, "I'll look at one more card."  He calls.


Now we have two pair, and have the feeling our opponent is looking for something bigger than this.  We try 10,000.

"Raise it to 30,000," Mr. Chicago says.  "Do you think a train's coming?"

At most tournaments in our area, this would qualify as a major-league tell.  But if he's going to be talkative, we might as well try for more details.  "Is a train coming?"

"Yup, a train's coming.  You want to get out of the way."

"What's the engine number on this train?" we ask.

"Number 6-6-6."

"Oh - that's one beast of a train, if you've got that."

"I know.  And I don't like the devil."

"I don't like the devil, either," we admit.  "So I'd better get out of the way."

We turn over our two pair and fold.  Mr. Chicago them slams down a 6.

"I don't go riding on that long black train," we tell him.  This draws a laugh from two people around us, including the poker room manager.

"Did I tell the truth?" Mr. Chicago asks.  Yup, he sure did -- to our loss.

This ranks our most humorous and fun poker moments since moving to our current location - if only because most of the players don't have this man's boisterous personality.  But we never recovered from that loss, as our stack slowly diminished from poor cards and rising blinds.

Finally forced to go all-in with the Big Blind and 10-7, a 10 came on the flop -- but a Queen on the river gave the Small Blind a better pair.  He won the race, and we finished fifth; only the top two players were paid money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Let's go back and analyze that conversation.  We've noted the "beast" number here before....
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. - Revelation 13:18
 Why should we avoid the beast's number?  This chapter of the Bible explains....

The beast.... opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. - Revelation 13:6

Verse 8 adds in the future, "all inhabitants of the earth" will worship this beast -- unless your name is "written in the book of life."  That book belongs to "the Lamb," as in Jesus....
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" - John 1:29

This is way believers consider Jesus "the lamb of God".  He gave His life like a sacrifice, paying the death penalty of sin in our behalf.
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth".... The Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. - Acts 8:32, 35

Have you accepted this "lamb's offering", by repenting of your sins and asking Jesus to take them away?

(There's more to analyze from this conversation; we'll do that in a future post.)

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 155 final tables in 435 games (35.6%) - 25 cashes.  Today was our best finish since mid-June and our fourth final table in a row, but the last three were one-table tournaments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Teaching Time

Did anyone teach you how to play poker?  Maybe it was your older brother or sister at the kitchen table.  Maybe it was a buddy in a poker room.  Maybe you went through an instructional book or video.

However it happened, we have a suggestion. Do NOT assume you know it all. Former World Series of Poker Main Event champ Jamie Gold once admitted on TV he still felt he had a lot to learn about the game.  He didn't say exactly what -- maybe strategy, maybe reading an opponent, maybe something else.

One of the nicest things we've heard people say about basketball legend Tim Duncan is that despite his stardom and championship rings, "he's willing to be coached."  We all need to be -- and not only in the fine points of poker:
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. - II Peter 3:18

The Bible suggests we grow in the "knowledge" of Jesus. We think that means not believing everything you've heard about Him, just because someone said it was so.  That even goes for church ministers, because we've found some of them might have personal or denominational agendas.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

This verse comes from the early days of the Christian church, which had roots in the Jewish synagogue (verse 10).  The people in this city listened to what the apostle had to say -- but they went to the Bible (they only had the Old Testament at that time) to verify whether it was accurate.

Read through the Bible carefully, and you may find some surprises.  It's helped change our thinking over the years about going to poker rooms or casinos -- much less playing games there.

So tell us: what's the best piece of poker advice you ever received?  Who gave it, and how did it help you?  The comment box is open.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Just Another Day?

We've been away from this blog for vacation time - and that allowed us to finally watch some of ESPN's World Series of Poker coverage.

Everyone seemed to be struck last week by the player (sorry, we didn't catch his name) who reached Day 5 of the Main Event, yet told the interviewer it was simply another game.  He treated poker's biggest contest like another day at the office.

We can understand having that kind of mental approach -- but at some point, you'd think the "thrill of the moment" would kick in.  We'd guess it's like reaching the 20,000-foot mark in a climb up Mount Everest.  It's a big milestone, even if you don't make it all the way to the top.

How do you approach a poker tournament -- or for that matter, the dawning of a new day?  Has it become ho-hum and "old hat"?  If it has, maybe you need a fresh perspective....
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Believers realize God has made every day.  And one of the background dramas of life is that we don't know how many days He's given us.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. - Psalm 90:12

Have you ever stopped to count how many days old you are, as opposed to years?  We've done the math -- and by the time you reach "age 55," you'll have lived more than 20,000 days.  We should be thankful for each day God gives, and live as if that daily gift is valuable.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man's life is but a breath. Selah. - Psalm 39:5

Our only hope for a breath beyond this life is through God resurrecting us -- and he offers eternal life to those who will believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Is that offer so valuable to you that you'll accept that great prize?  Or is it nothing special?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Coming Clean

"Is there a place around here that has poker during the week?" we asked the motel attendant.  We were on vacation in a resort area that we knew had no casinos or full-fledged poker rooms.  We would have settled for a small game at a bar, to do some surprise poker ministry.

But the woman behind the desk said there was no such place -- not even in a bar.  She named a big tourist attraction in the area, and told us the managers exert a lot of influence to keep any sort of gambling from starting.

That woman at the motel seemed a bit annoyed by that approach.  We accepted it -- and we respect it.  Those managers are trying to keep things "G-rated" and family-friendly for visitors from around the country.

How do you "clean up" an area of things which might be considered sinful?  It starts with people cleaning up themselves....
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior, - Psalm 24:4-5
But the better approach to cleaning is really not to do it ourselves.  We should ask God for help in the clean-up job:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. - Psalm 51:1-2
This step is known in "church-speak" as repentance. Ask God to lovingly show your unclean areas. Confess them.  Seek God's forgiveness.  Then strive to walk a different way, seeking God's help in doing it.  II Peter 1:5-8 outlines several steps in doing that -- leading to this:
But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. - II Peter 1:9
We encourage you to review the steps listed in that chapter.  If certain things are missing, ask God to help you find ways to grow in those areas -- and to be "carried along by the Holy Spirit," as the end of the chapter puts it.

Will there be poker games when God's perfect Kingdom comes to earth?  We're honestly not sure -- but if there are, they'll be cleaned-up ones.  How about taking steps toward that now?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

By Any Means Necessary?

One of professional poker's biggest stars is defending his actions in a British courtroom right now.  Phil Ivey is being denied more than 12 million U.S. dollars by a casino, which claims he played a form of baccarat unfairly.

Ivey, as you might guess, denies he is a cheater.  Instead, he is an "advantage player" -- looking for anything that might give him an advantage over the house.  To quote a statement he made in court: "As a professional gambler, my job is to seek to lawfully reverse or reduce the perceived house edge...."

Isn't playing poker a bit like that -- especially when you're in a bad situation?  You might miss a straight or flush draw.  But you can still win a hand through "lawfully reversing" the situation -- perhaps with a big bluff bet, after everyone else checks.

We also think life is a good bit like that.  Whether you realize it or not, the "house" of this world tries to get an edge on all of us.
In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God., should shine unto them. - II Corinthians 4:4 (KJV)
Who is "the god of this world"?  This verse indicates it is not God the Father or Jesus Christ.  It must be someone or something else.  Note what Jesus said it is:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire.  He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44
Those are tough words -- but they're the words of our Lord.  He came to "lawfully reverse" that edge, by keeping the Law of God perfectly and giving His life for our sins.
.Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.... He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. - Galatians 3:13-14
To borrow from a radio sermon we once heard, God turned the tables.  You get an advantage over Satan by claiming Jesus as your Savior -- especially at the ultimate showdown, which we call death:
"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?'.... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 15:55, 57
Try as you might, you can't defeat Satan and the devil's tactics on your own.  You need Jesus to claim the greatest win of all -- eternal life.  Will you put your faith in Him, to get the win?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Big Stack

Let's go back to the man we mentioned in our last post, who offered a theory about why Jesus possibly could have had long hair.  We asked him if Jesus was his Savior - and after thinking for a moment, he said yes.

"What's Jesus been doing for you?" we asked.

The man thoughtfully began naming several things, starting with good personal health.  Hopefully he's doing that God's way....
Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. - Proverbs 3:7-8

"Giving me a job that I love," the man said next....
Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work - this is a gift of God. - Ecclesiastes 5:19

The man also mentioned his family.  If yours is functional and not dysfunctional, that's also a blessing from the Lord....
God sets the lonely in families.... - Psalm 68:6

Perhaps you can add to this man's list, with how Jesus is working in your life.  It's good to consider these things - and we're entering a great time of year to do it.  Some church groups will mark a fall "harvest festival" beginning next week, and Canada will mark its Thanksgiving Day a few days after that.
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. - Psalm 7:17

If you have the things mentioned by the man next to us, you have a "big stack" of blessings.  May you take time to realize it - and be thankful, to borrow from a familiar song, to the "God from Whom all blessings flow."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poker Day 434: Clash of the Titans

The manager of Arrowhead Poker admits Sunday action starts slowly.  But there still can be plenty of action, even in a one-table tournament.  We faced some big hands today, but we're deferring to one where we simply watched:

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET:  Q-10 offsuit

To be honest, we don't absolutely remember what we had in this hand.  But we know we still had 9,000 chips in the fifth round of blinds, after winning several pots.  And we folded pre-flop, so it must not have been very impressive.  We know Q-10 came up at some point late in the tournament, and it seemed too marginal to play with our chip stack so precarious.

ON THE FLOP: 6h-5h-4h

We murmur noisily at the sight of this - three suited cards in a row.  Seven players are still in the running, including the manager.  As we recall, he made a bet which chased all but one player (the only woman at the table) away.


The plot thickens further - with four suited cards in a row.  Now both players check.


So there's a straight on the table, but that may be the least of our issues.  The manager now goes all-in.  The woman thinks about it for a moment or two.  Is that a big bluff?  She decides it is, and calls.

The manager turns over.... 8h!  It's not a bluff; he has a straight flush!

The woman shows.... 3h-Ah!  She had the Ace for an old-fashioned "nut flush," and the 3 gave her a straight flush of her own -- but not the winning one.  She's eliminated in seventh place, with a true bad beat.

It was our turn to go all-in a few hands later, as we faced the Big Blind with our last 10,000 chips.  We had K-J, but a man called with A-J.  Two Aces on the board settled the matter, and we were ousted in sixth place -- better, but not in the money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man on our right -- the one with an artist's depiction of Jesus on the flip side.  "I don't really think he looks like that," we said of the depiction showing a long-haired Lord.

"I don't know," the man said.  "Maybe they weren't able to cut hair back then."

We didn't tell the man this, but that theory doesn't match the Bible at all.  Consider one of the most infamous haircuts in recorded history:
So he told her everything. "No razor has ever been used on my head," he said, "because I have been a Nazarite set apart to God since birth.  If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man." - Judges 16:17

These are the words of Samson - a man who had his hair in seven braids.  When Delilah put Samson to sleep and her friend shaved off those braids, indeed "his strength left him" (verse 19).  In fact....
Then she called, "Samson, the Philistines are upon you!"  He awoke from his sleep and thought, "I'll go out as before and shake myself free."  But he did not know that the Lord had left him. - Judges 16:20

Not only did Samson's strength go away -- the Lord went away.  It's curious to us that Samson bluffed (as in lied to) Delilah three times earlier in this chapter about the source of his strength.  When Samson finally told the truth, God responded by leaving him!

What sort of lessons should we learn from this?  In terms of poker, we think there's one obvious lesson -- don't lie in pressure situations.  Samson may not have realized he was in one, with his invincible strength at stake.
Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. - Proverbs  16:13

We think this especially applies to the "King of Kings," Jesus Christ.  Would Samson have kept his strength, had he told the truth to Delilah right away?  We're left to guess -- but in poker, we think it's better to say nothing about your hand before showdown, instead of lying and breaking God's command against offering a "false witness" (Exodus 20:16, KJV).

NOTE: There's more to the conversation with that man at the table; we'll get to it in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 154 final tables in 434 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.  Until more players show up, the final table count will keep piling up.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bitter Bread

You're dealt pocket Queens, but face A-K and lose.  Or you're dealt pocket Aces and push, only to watch someone else make a flush that beats you.

What's a poker player to do?  It's easy to let it affect your play in upcoming games.  If you do that, you might be falling prey to one of the biggest potential perils -- worrying too much.

We heard a sermon on Christian radio this week which claimed (based on scientific research, we suppose) only eight percent of the things people worry about ever come to pass.  Yet if the minister was trying to dissuade people from worrying, he hurt his point when he told the story of a 1940s artist who built a mountain home to protect his children from city traffic - only to run over a toddler in his driveway.

Terrible tragedies in this world can make anyone concerned about the future.  So can a series of bad beats in a poker room.  Yet the Bible advises....
Vain is it to rise early for your work, and keep at work so late, gaining your bread with anxious toil! God's gifts come to his loved ones, as they sleep. - Psalm 127:2 (Moffatt)
People in Western cultures tend to be taught bitter-tasting things are bad, and sweet things are good.  Yet both can have benefits for you -- with bitter moments teaching us to savor sweet moments when they come.

We've attended church groups where a preacher might spend 15 minutes during a service listing examples of how the world grows more sinful and terrible by the day.  Despite it all, Jesus Christ told believers they should not worry about such things:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own. - Matthew 6:34
Why not worry?  Because the Bible promises Jesus will come again and remove this world's bitterness and anxieties.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away - Revelation 21:4
Accomplishing that will take time.  But we're entering a season of the year picturing how that will happen.  People who keep the Biblical "fall holy days" learn about Jesus bringing the Kingdom of God from heaven to this earth.

Those days start tonight, with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah and some Christians call the Feast of Trumpets.  We suggest you consider those days carefully, using the Bible as your guide and praying for understanding of what they mean.  We believe the "King of Kings" can provide the ultimate victory over all our worries and anxieties.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Poker Day 433: Waiting for the Moment

Our tournament performances recently haven't been very strong.  So we went to Arrowhead Poker today thinking this could be the day the odds turn around.  Sooner or later, they have to turn around - right?!?

BLINDS: 100/200

We're trying to play cautiously early in the tournament.  A couple of small attempts have missed the flop.  Now we have good starter cards, and a man at our full table of ten raises to 1,200.  A call is only natural; about four players are in.


We have a "belly-buster" straight draw.  But the raiser is making other people pay for it, with a continuation bet of 2,200.  Holding about 18,000 chips, we dare to call.  So does one other man to our left.


It's hard to believe that helped anyone - but as we recall, three hearts are now on the board.  Mr. Raiser now tosses out 5,000, and we stop to do some math:

Three Aces + Three Kings = top pair.
Four Queens = straight
Nine hearts = flush (a miscount on our part; the Kh and Qh repeat).

In short, we have a lot of outs - 17/46, or about 37%.  We conclude this is worth the risk.  We call.  The man to our left does as well.

ON THE RIVER: K (not a heart)

Knowing the way people tend to play at Arrowhead, top pair gives us some comfort.  The fact that Mr. Raiser checks does as well.  We bet 2,000.  The man to our left folds - but not the better across the table.  He calls.

"I hit the river," we say as we show.  But our opponent quietly turns over K-J!  He made a second pair with that river, and we take a big loss.

That was the way play went in general for us.  A few minutes later, we entered with J-10.  When the flop showed 10-9-5, we pushed for our remaining 3,600.  Two speculative players called.  The turn brought a Jack, making us feel good about two pair.  But after the river, a man to our left pulled out K-Q!

His straight made us the first player out at the table - and since there was only one table, we finish 10th.  We think.  The poker room manager filled our spot and played for awhile, and it looked like someone came in late to join the game.  So technically, it's a "final table" -- but not one which feels very good.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A couple of people seemed edgy at the start of the game.  "Must be a full moon," a man to our right commented.

"Actually, it's a new moon this week," we said quietly.  "The Rosh Hashanah moon."

We're not sure if the man heard us, but that's what the calendar shows for this coming Wednesday night and Thursday:
The Lord said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.'" - Leviticus 23:23-25
For some reason, the start of the seventh month in God's calendar has become known as "Jewish New Year."  But more importantly, the Bible shows it's been kept as a time to remember the Law of God:
So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly.... They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being said. - Nehemiah 8:2, 8
Perhaps we should stop here and ask: do you know what the "Law of God" is?  Just as poker games have rules which must be followed, God set laws over society.  And while some people say that Law is now a thing of the past, society still follows much of that law -- such as commandments against killing and stealing.

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are known as "the Books of the Law."  This might be a good time of year to review the instructions in those books.  You might be stunned by some of the things you see.  Then ask God in prayer to show you what He would have you do about them.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 153 final tables in 433 games (35.3%) - 25 cashes.  Yes, we're counting it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Can You Tell?

We asked in a recent post when it's a proper time to speak up during a poker hand, and when it's not.

For us, a lot depends on the mood of the table.  If we're surrounded by quiet workmanlike players, we tend to wait for a good moment to say something to the group.  In a sense, it's like poker strategy -- only in when to be relational, instead of when to make a big chip move.

If the table is more talkative, it's easier for us to join in.  And it's usually easier for us to bring up topics related to faith and God....
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. - Ephesians 4:15

There are two parts to the instruction here.  First, speaking the truth.  We avoid lying -- either about our cards or our faith.
....Better to be poor than a liar. - Proverbs 19:22b

If someone figures out our hand and asks what we have, we have creative truthful non-responses ready.  We might talk about the weather.  We might say we have "something" - which could mean we have anything.

The second part is speaking in love.  Some preachers talk tough about the need for people to repent of their sin, and we can understand that approach.  At the poker table, we tend to define "in love" as easing our way up to a point.  Jesus used both methods at times:
"I have no husband," she replied.  Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband.  The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.  What you have just said is quite true." - John 4:17-18

Jesus "sprung the trap" on this woman's background after making three other comments to her. He didn't walk up with a pointed finger and immediately call a foul on her history.  The Lord waited for the right moment to make the convicting point.

However you communicate with fellow poker players, may you do so in a truthful and loving way.  We think that's the way which best reflects the example of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Poker Day 432: The Return of the King

This time there was no trouble getting a seat at the table.  We offered our $20 today, and sat down to play at Arrowhead Poker.--even showing up an hour early, because the website indicated Sunday tournaments now begin at 12 noon.  (It was fixed after we pointed that out.)  Could we take advantage of players distracted by a room filled with pro football games?

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

We captured a couple of early pots, including two hearts which became a flush that an opponent never saw coming.  But several promising pre-flop hands have missed the flop, so we need to win another hand fairly quickly.  Sitting in the Small Blind at a table of six, no one raises before us - so we dial it up to 2,500.  Only one player dares to call us.

ON THE FLOP: 3-10-5

An ordinary flop at best.  But we're first to act, and see a need to look strong.  So we make a continuation bet of 1,500.  Our opponent calls.


The board pairs, but we doubt that changes anything for our opponent.  We check to make sure.  He checks as well.


Now that's what we needed!  We make a "go-ahead, call me" bet of 3,000.  But after thinking it over, our opponent folds.

"I figured you had a King," he says.  We respond by saying half-jokingly he "had me figured out."  But the river was a fountain of blessing for us, as we gain several thousand chips.

We won another big pot minutes later when two diamonds turned into a flush on the flop.  We checked, and a big better obliged us by wagering 10,000.  We raised all-in to 19,000, and he folded.  From there, we endured to the final table (admittedly on a two-table day) with 35,000 chips.

Once there, a man went all-in across from us.  We saw A-Q, and couldn't resist calling.  But that man had K-K -- and despite the notorious difficulties pocket Kings can bring, we only paired a Queen.  We were eliminated in tenth place.  Out of 12 players, that's not really good -- but a final table is a final table, in our scoring.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The female dealer at our table took a short break, and the poker room manager took her place.  She's "getting the dew off her lily," he said.

"That sounds so Southern," we noted (remember we used to live there).

"More like hillbilly," a man across from us joked.

But we recalled an old Atlanta afternoon newspaper which claimed on the top of Page 1 it "covers Dixie like the dew."  Then we noted: "Now Jesus is the lily of the valley.  The Bible makes that clear."

That comment seemed to stump the table -- and perhaps that's OK, because we couldn't remember exactly where in the Bible that phrase is.  It's in a book you may have never read:
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.  Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens. - Song of Solomon 2:1-2

What does this mean -- and how do we know this refers to Jesus?  After all, it's in a section of the Old Testament.  But by turning to similar-sounding sections of scripture, we can understand this better:
I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.... I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. - Hosea 14:4-5

Who is our ultimate Healer?  None other than God....
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits - who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases. - Psalm 103:2-3

Jesus did numerous miraculous healings when He walked on Earth.  Several Bible translations indicate Song of Solomon is an exchange of poetic language between a "Beloved" one and a "Lover."
I am my lover's and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies. - Song 6:3

Are you browsing in this world for true love - perhaps for physical or emotional healing?  With apologies to Whitney Houston fans, God offers the greatest love of all....
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. - John 3:16

This admittedly is a complex topic.  If you have questions about it, leave a comment and we'll research things further for upcoming posts.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 152 final tables in 432 games (35.2%) - 25 cashes.  Today marked our first final table since mid-June -- but we're still at a 50% final table percentage in 2014 (7/14).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Free To Play

A recent post mentioned our frustration in trying to enter a "true freeroll" poker tournament.  But on this day, we're at least thankful for one thing - we're free to play any kind of poker.  Online or in person.  For fun or for potential prizes.

This is Patriot Day, marking the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks.  Terror groups then (and now) wanted to put the U.S. under serious restrictions.  Not in relatively little things such as playing poker - but in big things such as freedom to speak and worship.

One online version of the Muslim Quran (which we're admittedly not sure we should trust) only includes the word "freedom" once -- and that's in terms of making deals with idol-worshipers.  In contrast, the Christian Bible mentions freedom many times....
Live as free men; but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. - I Peter 2:16

Some people use the word "freedom" to justify all kinds of bad behavior.  But living "as servants of God" means accepting God's standards for proper conduct.
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. - Psalm 119:45

A precept in the original Hebrew refers to a "mandate" -- in this case, something ordered by God such as a commandment.  Walking and living within the boundaries God sets can keep you out of trouble with the law (such as not stealing), and gain respect from other people (such as not lying at a poker table).

Believers in Jesus long for a different kind of freedom.  It has nothing to do with rules set down by tournament directors.  It's for freedom from "bondage" in human bodies....
...That the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. - Romans 8:21

The decay of death will turn into a "godly body" that cannot die.  Read the first half of Revelation 20 to find out more about that -- and be thankful to God that you're free to even read about such things from the Bible, and openly hope for eternal life to come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stuck In Neutral

Can playing poker make you a business success?  We've seen several articles over the years indicating the answer is yes.

The latest one comes from the executive vice president of a high-tech company.  Scott Welch offers five business lessons he's learned from poker rooms.  His top tip is "watching for clues" - checking people's body language or "tone of voice" to determine if they're honest or phony.

In poker, we suspect one of the best approaches to take with a hand is neutrality.  Make yourself as nondescript as possible, in your betting gestures or comments.  We learned to do this long before we entered our first poker tournament -- and sadly, we learned it by listening to church messages which sometimes made outlandish or inaccurate claims.
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. - Proverbs 10:19

There are times when saying nothing during a hand is the best way to stay out of trouble.  You won't be caught lying, and you might leave your opponent guessing.
Even a fool is thought wise is he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue. - Proverbs 17:28

But the wise writer of these proverbs also noted this....
There is a time for everything.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

So we're open for your thoughts on this.  When do you decide to speak during a poker hand, and when do you keep quiet?  Does it depend on the opponent?  The time in the tournament?  Leave a comment, and we'll get back to this in a future post.