Sunday, March 30, 2014

Whom To Root Against

One interesting twist about the casino trip mentioned in our last post was that it occurred during the opening weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.  The day we went included a shocking upset, as the Mercer Bears beat the Duke Blue Devils.

"I'm a Christian," we told our table, "so I can't root for any team called the Devils."

We recall one high school where we used to live, where the girls' basketball coach actually changed her team's nickname.  Instead of "Devils," they became the Angels.  Why would someone do that?  Because the Bible warns against the devil....
Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. - I Peter 5:8

The devil offers people all sorts of interesting temptations, pretending to be your friend.  But the Bible shows Satan wants to "devour" you -- eating your life away through things such as over-gambling at poker.
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 these words -- and Jesus battled against the devil's temptations several times (Matthew 4:1-11).  Yet the Lord prevailed, and so can we.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering. - I Peter 5:9

Resisting the devil isn't easy.  That's why God offers help, through the Holy Spirit.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. - I John 4:4

With all due respect to graduates of Duke, Arizona State and other schools, the "devil" is not one to support.  God plans to remove Satan eventually.
And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven.... He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. - Revelation 20:2

God created all the "chips" of the universe, and He eventually will hold them all again.  Including you, if you allow it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Time To Lend

A promotional card enticed us to head to a casino this weekend. We had "25 bonus entries" to win $1,000 in slot machine play -- which would have been interesting had we won, because we never play slot machines.

But we took $60 to the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em table.  The $5 table was surprisingly open, as only two players were beside us for awhile.  But one needed our help at one point....

BLINDS: $5 (plus $5 ante)

IN THE POCKET: 4-8 offsuit

Ugh.  This doesn't look promising - but anything can happen on the flop, as the dealer can't raise to drive us away.  So we check.


That highway must be in our state somewhere.  But it's not on our road.  We'll check again -- but first, the player on our right is anxious.

"What do I do?  I don't have the money to bet!" he says.  It looks to us like he has $10 in chips, but he clearly wants to do more than that -- and he apparently doesn't have extra cash.

"Can I borrow $5 from you?" the man finally asks us.  "I'll give it right back.  I've got a 7."

At any other place and occasion, we probably would have said no.  But he's made a promise and he's sitting right next to us.  So we hand over one of our $5 chips, so he can bet 2x the blind.

ON THE TURN/RIVER: 9-6 (as best we recall)

We wisely fold.  But our borrower wins big, as his "trip 7's" top the dealer and get a big payoff.  And yes, the winner then gives us back that $5 chip.

"Always tip the dealer," we joke.  "Or in this case, the lender."

The man did not do that.  And we eventually lost $55 of our $60 at that table (dropping the other $5 in a quick time of blackjack).  But it was an opportunity to practice giving -- something we all really should do.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.... if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously.... - Romans 12:6-8

So far in 2014, we've had an amazing ten encounters with beggars around our area.  We haven't gone looking for them; they've simply crossed our path or come to us.  In fact, we stopped for a street-corner beggar at a traffic light on the way to this casino trip.  We held up traffic and probably infuriated a few drivers, while we hurried around to open our trunk and give a man with a "HOMELESS" sign a small bag of food.

We do these things because we're trying to follow the example of God....
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

The greatest gift God ever provided for you and me was Jesus.  And why did the Father and Son do this?
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10

Our $5 loan at the casino table helped a man win, well, maybe $50.  God's gift is much better and long-lasting -- salvation and eternal life.  Will you accept Jesus, the gift God offers you?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ask Before You Act

Maybe you're not ready to head to a casino or a poker room, to play for the "big bucks."  So you invite your friends to your house for a fun night of penny-ante Texas Hold 'em.  That's OK -- isn't it?

Well, maybe not everywhere.  In the state of Maryland, it's against the law.  There's a bill in the legislature to make it legal.  But one lawmaker says the rules are so strict, even a "Parcheesi game" (younger readers might want to ask their parents what that is) played for prize money in your basement could get you arrested.

There's a case similar to this making news in our state this week.  A member of Congress offered to give away NCAA basketball playoff tickets, in exchange for donations to his campaign.  He had to change the rules after a District Attorney (who we don't think is in his district) declared that giveaway a raffle -- and illegal under state law.

An old phrase comes to mind when we think about these cases: look before you leap.  Things and actions which may seem right to you may not be right at all.  A Bible verse puts it this way:
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)

The problem with that approach in our day is that calling something "evil" sometimes is considered, well, evil.  The moral code in the U.S. is much looser than it was even at the start of this century.  Yet laws are in place about things such as poker and gambling -- and where they are in place, the best course is to follow them.
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. - I Peter 2:13-14

You might see a great opportunity to make money playing poker.  But if it would violate man's law, you need to turn away from it "for the Lord's sake."  The apostle Peter goes on to show the importance of that....
Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. - I Peter 2:17

Note the order -- with honoring the king coming after fearing God.  If the king (or other leader in government) wants you to violate God's ultimate law, that's a different matter.
Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!" - Acts 5:29

Their issue in this case was teaching about Jesus -- something clearly far more important than poker games.  But the principle should be obvious and lasting.

We've never played the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons -- but we've been around enough players to know when you go into someplace new, you always "check for traps."  That's a good idea in every aspect of our lives.  The traps could be a hidden full house on the flop, or a local law which prevents you from playing poker at all.  Double-checking now can prevent embarrassment later.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gut's Shot

We like to say poker hands sometimes teach life lessons.  Other poker players apparently agree - because one-time WSOP Main Event champion Joe Hachem is offering "eight poker tips" for "all walks of life."

His third point makes us squirm a little bit, because Hachem advises: "Trust your gut."

Sometimes the numbers lead in one direction but your gut is telling you something else. Personally, I find that if I listen to my gut – whether it’s in business, poker or life — I’m usually on the money.

Yet later at point seven, Hachem warns: "Emotions are the enemy"....

In poker, it’s important to stick with your principles and not let your emotions take over.

We're left to wonder what the difference is between the gut and the emotions.  In any case, our Bible advises this....
The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it? - Jeremiah 17:9 (KJV)

The Bible doesn't have the word "gut" in it.  But we think the heart is about on that level -- and following it can lead you into bad situations.
The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. - Ecclesiastes 9:3b

These are tough words.  But the Bible also says there's hope for our hearts, if we ask for it:
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. - Psalm 51:10

A pure heart is one guided by God's Holy Spirit.  It's a voice you can hear (Psalm 95:7) - but it starts by "listening" to God by receiving guidance from His word, the Bible.  Remember it, and heed it.  Then you'll be following another of Joe Hachem's points for success - to "know your game plan."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On the Clock

Basketball has them.  Football has them.  Even chess tournaments have them.  But should poker have them?

We're talking about "play clocks" -- with a deadline to make a play, or face a penalty.  The issue has come up in recent days on the World Poker Tour, and a wide majority of players think a "shot clock" is a good idea.  The question is in how to do it, and when it would be appropriate.

Most of the tournaments we've played over the years don't have this problem.  Players seldom go "into the tank" for minutes at a time to make a big decision.  But then again, the stakes in our tournaments are relatively small -- and many players are in it simply for fun, not a bankroll or championship points.

We'd like to know what you think about adding clocks to poker; please leave a comment.  We can see the benefits of it, especially to move televised tournaments along.  But we'd like to ask a deeper question -- aren't we all "on the clock?"  The clock of life?
The length of our days is 70 years - or 80, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. - Psalm 90:10

Yes, we know -- this verse seems awfully depressing.  In the words of an old Bonnie Raitt song, we're all "scared we'll run out of time."  And the truth of life is that we all do run out of time.  But the Bible offers hope of an overtime period:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Jesus makes it possible for you to have "eternal life."  As they say on basketball broadcasts, the shot clock would be turned off -- and you can emerge from "the tank" of death victorious.
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. - I Thessalonians 4:14

Verses 16-17 of this chapter show Jesus will come down from heaven, with believers rising to meet Him in the air.

But did you notice the key phrase in all this?  You have to be "in Christ Jesus" - "in him."  Are you living in Jesus, having made Him your Savior and following His godly example?  If you aren't, we strongly recommend it -- before Someone greater than your fellow poker player calls for "the clock" on you.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Friends With Better Lives

If you're going to have a poker night at your house, who would you invite?  Probably people you know well, such as friends from work or the neighborhood.  A poker game at your neighborhood club might work the same way -- but we've seen nights where things can get a bit testy.

The Tournament Director might want to run things like a "real tournament" in Las Vegas, with blind random draws for seats.  We've heard players complain over the years they prefer to sit with their friends, because it's the only time of the week when they can get together.

We can understand the desire to be with your buddies.  But doesn't that overlook something?  You might wind up making new friends at a more random table -- friends who can change your way of thinking, or even change your life.

Consider Someone whose "friends" didn't seem logical....
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. - Mark 2:15
Jesus was "followed" by the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day (Matthew 12:38).  But their following was more in skepticism, looking for a flaw or a reason to have the Lord punished (Matthew 12:14).  Jesus likely was aware of that - and so He grew closer to people who were of a different class. 
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and 'sinners.'"  But wisdom is proved right by her actions. - Matthew 11:19

....For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. - Matthew 9:13b
Jesus wants to be your friend, even if you've lived a sin-filled life.  But make no mistake: He wants you to turn from those sins you're in.
You are my friends if you do what I command. - John 15:14
If you need help developing that kind of friendship, leave a comment. We'll be happy to help.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Great Debate

It's an issue probably as old as the game itself.  Is poker a game of simple luck - or is there skill involved?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently had a chance to settle that issue, at least in the eyes of the law.  But it did not.  The court turned down a case where a New York man had been convicted of running a "game of chance" in his business by hosting Texas Hold 'em games.  A federal judge sided with the business owner; an appeals court did not, saying state gambling laws include poker.

After playing poker for years, online and in person, we've concluded the answer to our question is not a simple either/or.  There's a bit of luck, in terms of right cards falling at the right times -- but there's also a measure of skill, in knowing how to play hands and when to make certain key moves.

If you think about it, that also can describe our lives in general.  For instance, a big tree could fall on top of your car while you're driving toward the poker room.  But if you see the tree moving out of the corner of your eye, you might be able to skillfully drive around its fall and escape damage.

In the same way, some people say God doesn't really control anything -- that our lives are simply the result of our own decisions and unexpected events.  They might actually quote a Bible verse to support that view:
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. - Ecclesiastes 9:11

We emphasized the last part of that verse, because that happens in poker on occasion.  Poker rooms  have "bad beat jackpots" for a reason.  It's possible for two players to hit "quads" (four of a kind) in the same hand.  Even the best-looking hands played in the best possible way sometimes can run into something better.

Yet the Bible says God "rules in the kingdoms of men" (Daniel 4:17, KJV).  Perhaps He is the one intervening in certain situations -- perhaps to bless people, or possibly to punish them:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. - Proverbs 16:33

So what's a believer (or even a poker player) to do?  We think the answer lies in doing the best you can with what you have, based on what you know.
...The wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him. - Ecclesiastes 8:5-6

The "wise" way may not always be the winning way.  But the Bible shows in the long run, it's the way that's best -- especially when that wisdom is based on the ways of God:
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright.... - Proverbs 2:6-7

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Paid Off At Last

Almost three years after the poker world's "Black Friday," some people who lost money when online sites were seized by the U.S. government finally are getting repaid.

The first distribution ordered by a judge involves more than 27,000 "customers" (interesting wording) of Full Tilt Poker.  We did the math, and found the average payout to them is about $2,764.  But apparently others who had money in Full Tilt's till still have not received refunds.

This struck us from the beginning as a questionable arrangement, in terms of legality.  The 2011 crackdown came when we were almost tempted to invest some money in it.  But it's always better to remember Biblical advice....
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)

This is why we avoid cash games for real money, outside casinos.  We think most law enforcement agencies would consider them illegal -- and given a choice, we'd rather not go to jail.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. - Matthew 10:16

Jesus went on to warn His disciples some people would plot to punish them, or even have them arrested (verses 17-22).  Arrests happened more than once after Jesus went to heaven -- but not for sinful conduct.

The disciples were punished essentially for preaching Jesus was the Christ (Acts 5:42).  May that be the only blemish on your record.