Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sterling Speech

Two players had very early exits in the poker tournament we played Sunday.  As it happened, both of them were African-American men.

"Black folks were the first to donate," one joked after he went bust.

"You'll never own the Los Angeles Clippers with words like that," we said in response -- only half-jokingly.

Like it or not, the big sports story in recent days has been the firestorm over pro basketball team owner Donald Sterling -- now perhaps better called an "owner in limbo."  He's been banned from his team's games and may have to sell his franchise, for race-related comments he said in a phone call.

Why bring up this incident here?  Because we've known plenty of players over the years who like to talk about race at the poker table.  They might use the "N-word" to their friends, and justify it by noting they're African-American.  Others might use race-related "humor" in putdowns, a bit like Don Rickles without a censor.

Some people seem to get away with such language now, while others do not.  Yet mark these words, from Someone who was very careful with them:
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. - Matthew 12:36-37
We admittedly have stumbled with our own words at times (spoken and written), with costly results.  Jesus warns here wrong "careless" language will face an answer -- perhaps not now, but eventually.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - II Corinthians 5:10
They don't have to be words or actions done in public, either.  Some say Donald Sterling was "set up" because a girlfriend recorded what he probably thought was a private phone conversation made in his own home.  Yet Jesus warns:
So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. - Matthew 10:26
.... your Father, who sees what it done in secret, will reward you. - Matthew 6:18b
The Biblical evidence seems clear: there's no such thing as a "right to privacy" when it comes to God.  He can see all, and Jesus ultimately will judge all.  Given that knowledge, what are you saying about other people (or about God) - even when no one is watching or listening?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Poker Day 420: Information, Please?

We had to check our blog archives for the last time we played a live tournament.  It was 16 February - ten weeks ago.  Yet a few people remembered us at River City Poker today.  And we had several memorable hands which told us we were rested, not rusty....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-K of diamonds

We're on the dealer button at a table with six players (only nine showed up at the table all day).  The blinds will go up with the next hand.  We've won a few pots, but haven't done any pre-flop raising all day.  So "Big Red" is a great time to do it.  We raise to 1,100.  A couple of players at the other end of the table from us call.


Top pair and top kicker looks nice.  But would someone have called us with low cards, hoping now for a straight draw.  The opponents ahead of us check, and we test them by betting 1,500.  One player folds; one does not.


This looks nicer.  Our opponent checks again, and we bet 1,500 more.  Our opponent calls again.  He seems skeptical of us -- or is he holding two pair?


Now we're in the Auto Club (AAA, you know) and feeling very good about this.  Our opponent checks again, and we measure out a "dare you to call" bet of 3,500.  Our opponent now starts thinking out loud.

"Your betting on that Ace almost makes me think you don't have an Ace."  We say nothing, and wear a serious-looking poker face.

"But then, I don't know you to bluff."  Same reaction.

"You never bluff!"  Same reaction.

Our opponent thinks for another moment, then folds.  "You're looking so serious, you probably have the Ace."

We say nothing, except to smile a little.  If he wants to know what we had, he'll have to read this post.

We won enough pots to reach a high of 70,000 chips -- but then came a critical loss.  We had two pair with K-10, but an 8 on the river gave a man with 10-8 a full house.  We never restored full power after that, even though we survived to the Final Four.

We finally went all-in with 10-10, rising blinds and the button.  But the Small Blind called with Q-Q, and won the race over us.  It was a good day, but a fourth-place finish missed the money as only the top two were paid.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our card protector of the day was a big C-cell battery.  A couple of players noticed it.

"I brought this to remind me," we explained, "that I receive power from the Holy Spirit of God."

At one point, the big talker of the table openly wished for the battery.  We rolled it down the table to him, and he bet in the dark.  It turned out he had 4-4 -- but he lost to an opponent with 7-7.

"I wish I had the power of Jesus Christ," the big talker said moments before that hand.

Well, here's the thing -- he can have it.  So can everyone at the table.  And so can you.  But are you willing to do what the Bible says, to acquire it?
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

The first key word in the apostle's statement is a big one - repent.  What does that really mean?
I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. - Acts 20:21

Repentance means a turning -- in this case, to God.  But away from what?
For, "Whoever would love life and see good days.... must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it." - I Peter 3:10-11

Are you doing good things or evil things?  Are you saying good words or bad ones?  Perhaps your life is a mix of the two.  That's true with many of us.  God wants you to turn to Him, have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins, then walk in a good way as much as possible -- with the Holy Spirit in you, providing the power to help (Acts 1:8).  If you'd like help obtaining that power, please let us know.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 148 final tables in 420 games (35.2%), 25 cashes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What to Dump

It had been a long time since we watched poker on television. But a short road trip this week allowed us to catch a bit of the World Poker Tour "Ladies' Night" tournament on cable.

Vanessa Rousso was the biggest name at the all-female table, and she had the biggest chip stack throughout the time we watched. (We'll let you go elsewhere online, to look up whether she won.)  But what struck us was how many times players gave up what seemed to be very playable pre-flop hands.  A couple of players folded A-10, even when the raises ahead of them were relatively small.

Every poker player has boundaries, we suppose -- hands they wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole unless they sit in the Big Blind and all they have to do is check.  And as we walk through life, there are some things we should throw away....
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7

This was written by the apostle Paul, who had a lot going for him as a young man.  Verses 4-6 show he had a great religious pedigree -- at least in the established religion of his day.  But when Paul encountered Jesus Christ, his entire perspective changed.
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.... - Philippians 3:8

Some players get a reputation for playing only "quality hands."  Beyond pocket Aces, the definition of that phrase can be subjective.  In a similar way, Paul tossed aside a lot, for the knowledge of Jesus.  What makes that so much better?
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. - Philippians 3:10-11

Paul wanted to be resurrected to "a new life," as he calls it in Romans 6:4 -- an eternal life with Jesus.  Are you willing to throw away things which are "rags" by comparison, to have that new life?

And while we're at it -- what's the biggest hand you ever threw away at a poker table?  And did you wind up making the right decision when you did it?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Ifs, It's Real: One-Year Report

This week marks one year since we moved to a new city.  We moved from a place where we were unemployed to a place where we have full-time work.  We're thankful to God for that.

In fact, it's more than full-time work -- as we're busy so many hours a week that our poker playing has dropped considerably.  So has our blogging about poker, as regular readers may have noticed.  But our poker environment also has changed in Kansas.  Instead of playing a lot of free tournaments in bars hoping to win a little prize money, now we play almost all our games in poker rooms and casinos with entry fees and bigger stakes.

So how have we done?  We added up the score, and found we've only played 17 live tournaments in the past year.  They break down this way:

WPT AMATEUR LEAGUE: One final table in two games.  That "one" was a second-place finish, with first only earning points toward a bigger tournament later.

POKER ROOMS: Eight final tables in 15 games (53.3%), 4 cashes, 1 outright win.

Those stats are rather stunning, considering we aren't playing a lot.  And our poker room performance admittedly dropped in the last six months, to two final tables out of seven.

But have we made any money doing it?  By our figuring, no.  We paid $395 in buy-ins (only a couple were more expensive than $20).  We won $220, so we had a net loss of $175.

As we mentioned in a recent post, this past year also allowed us to play in more casinos than ever before -- and also play more variations of Texas Hold 'em.  We only played one full tournament in a casino, and missed the final table there.  Otherwise, how did those do?

CASH GAME POKER: One session, down $60

ULTIMATE TEXAS HOLD 'EM: Eight sessions, down $217.50 (we were up $77.50 after two)

HEADS-UP MACHINE HOLD 'EM: Three sessions, down $19

BLACKJACK: Two sessions, up $35

Ouch!  What does it say when our most profitable game is the one which arguably has the most luck involved - blackjack?

Our online poker playing hasn't stopped completely, but it's also been reduced by our new situation:

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER TOTAL: Full tournaments - two "cashes" (top ten percent) in 10 games.  No-River Hold 'em - Six point wins (about top ten percent) in eight games; four final tables, one win paying cash.

The No-River success rate is an astonishing 75%!  Perhaps we've found our "niche" specialty game there.

POKER STARS.NET TOTAL: Pretend cash games - $88,531, up $4,031.

So overall, we're winning online a great deal.  We're winning on occasion in person, but losing overall (the total loss is about $436).  But anymore, our poker playing is less about money and more about ministry - sharing the things of God and Jesus Christ wherever we go.  After all....
Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. - Proverbs 11:4

"Lifetime winnings" make for nice statistics and healthy discussion at the table.  But once your lifetime is ended, what will you ultimately gain?  May your goal be the same as the apostle Paul:
I press on toward the goal for of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 3:14 (NASB)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Flushed Out

If you think a "flush" in competitive poker only refers to five cards of the same suit, think again.

National news reports this week tell of a man who's accused of using counterfeit chips during a tournament in Atlantic City.  Police say he tried to hide the evidence of his actions by.... (we should pause for comedic timing here) flushing them down the toilet in his hotel room!

Only one problem: the cover-up didn't work.  The poker chips became stuck in hotel pipes.  They caused a water leak on a lower floor.  And the man accused of doing it now is under arrest.

This certainly isn't the first case of people trying to use water to hide evidence of wrongdoing.  River and lake cleanup projects have found everything from guns to stolen cars -- and in the worst cases, a few human bodies.

Yet here's the thing - the Bible recommends we take this approach.  Only in a very different sense....
A man named Ananias came to see me.... He stood beside me and said.... "And now what are you waiting for?  Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." - Acts 22:12-16

The man Ananias went to see went on to become the apostle Paul, who wrote many New Testament books.  After Paul was struck down and blinded by Jesus Christ (verses 2-11), Ananias told him about the first steps in becoming a witness for God.  One key step involves baptism.

We grew up in a Christian denomination that sprinkled babies on the head, to perform a baptism.  Yet we recall a Pastor in our church admitting one day in a sermon the Baptists had a better argument when it comes to that custom - the method Jesus followed:
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. - Matthew 3:16

Jesus went up and out, because the Greek word for "baptism" means "immersion."  A few drops of water on your head might disinfect your head, but it won't clean the rest of your body.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. - Romans 6:3

The ceremony of baptism pictures your sins becoming dead and buried -- whether you're carrying fake poker chips, or have some other issues.  But be sure you do one thing before the baptism begins....
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ of the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts 2:38

Repentance means turning around and making a real change.  It means not going fishing a few days from now for those fake poker chips, because you're short-stacked in a tournament.  Let them go. Keep them buried. And live the "new life" Paul mentioned, walking away from sinful behavior.

The Atlantic City casino which had this scandal has changed its poker chips, to make them more secure.  That's understandable - but what we all need to "secure" is our minds, to make them honest and upright.  Baptism and the entrance of the Holy Spirit is the only true way to make that possible.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Lonely Old Man at the End of the Bar

The first two parts of our road trip had gone well.  We attended a memorial concert for a college music instructor, then took spring cleaning to one of the very few places in our area which accepts styrofoam for recycling.  But then....

Hollywood Casino was only a few exits up the highway from the recycling point.  So we dreamed of making quick money playing poker there, even on a Wednesday morning.  The casino was a largely-empty place, with only one full-looking table active in the poker room.

So we sat down at the slot-style Texas Hold 'em machine where we'd won money several weeks before.  But alas, not many good cards showed up for us -- and only in one hand did we hit a successful-looking flop.  In this heads-up format, our $50 investment evaporated to nothing in only a few minutes.

As we drank a free consolation soda before leaving, we pondered why we'd done this.  Money to pay for the trip would have been nice.  But there was no engagement with anyone, no moment of interaction about the gospel or the things of Christ.  We'd simply drained our wallet quietly, then walked out as quietly as we walked in.

This isn't really why we started playing poker several years ago.  Instead of using it as a tool for evangelizing, we'd become simply another small-scale gambling junkie.  We only visited casinos on occasion and with a set limit on losses, but we still were not being the sort of light Jesus wants believers to be.
Abstain from all appearance of evil. - I Thessalonians 5:22 (KJV)

We've visited casinos more in the last 12 months than we ever have before.  There have been moments of success - but more often times of loss and defeat.  The lesson for us is clear: resist the urge to stop and play, unless we don't mind throwing money away.
It is true that anyone who desires to be a church official wants to be something worthwhile.  That's why officials must have a good reputation.... They must be self-controlled, sensible, well-behaved.... they must be kind and gentle and not love money. - I Timothy 3:1-3 (CEV)

We do not hold an official title in the church group we attend.  Yet a similar standard should apply to us.  We shouldn't be "greedy of filthy lucre," as the King James puts verse 3. We should realize the chances of losing money in casino games, instead of drifting toward expensive habits.

Our apologies for making this post a confessional.  But as we mark one year in our new home this week, we think it's important to share some of the lessons we've learned from playing poker more often for real stakes.

Not everything has been bad (an upcoming post will get into that).  But as the annual "Lord's Supper" service approaches for us, we see a need to shake ourselves away from the trend we've been on with poker.  What about you?  What is your experience - past or present?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Remember As You Play....

The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more.... The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, "Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more." The master was full of praise. "Well done, my good and faithful. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, s now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!" - Matthew 25:16, 20-21 (NLT)

In many poker tournaments, everyone starts with the same number of chips.  You could be thankful simply to be in the tournament, and have that many chips.  Or you could try to gain more chips, in an attempt to win the tournament.

Which way is the more logical approach for a poker player?  It's clearly the attempt to add to your stack.  And believe it or not, that's the approach Jesus endorses in the parable we've quoted.

We never thought of a poker connection to the "parable of the talents" until we heard a well-known preacher on Christian radio mention the story this week.  He put it this way: we can be satisfied and thankful for the blessings God has given us -- and in reality, we should be grateful.  But God expects more from us than that.  He wants growth in those talents -- looking for the blessings to increase.

Another servant in Jesus's parable chose to settle for the talents he was given. He buried them in the ground (verse 18).  How did the master respond to that approach?
But the master replied, "You wicked and lazy servant!... Why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it... Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:26-30 (NLT)
Time moves along.  The blinds go up.  Inflation (maybe antes) happens.
To paraphrase that radio preacher: it's nice to have $10,000 now - but you don't want to look several years from now, and find you still only have that base $10,000.
So with apologies to the people who see Jesus Christ as a quasi-socialist, "give it all away" preacher, the Lord shows here growth can be a good thing.  God plans to reward it in His kingdom, once Jesus returns to Earth.
For the Son of man is coming in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward everyone for what he has done. - Matthew 16:27 (Moffatt)
Do you play poker defensively - perhaps "playing not to lose"?  Or do you play to advance, grow and hopefully win?  God doesn't object to the growth method - as long as you don't cross a line into being greedy.