Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Tip Play

The final tournament at the World Series of Poker is easily the best known.  It's the "Main Event," crowning an unofficial world champ who wins millions of dollars.

But which tournament comes first at the WSOP?  It's underway right now as we write this - an event for casino employees.

We've never worked in a casino.  But we imagine veteran poker dealers have some fascinating stories to tell -- about watching people on tilt, facing accusations of cheating and seeing the emotional changes that come with the right (or wrong) river card.

But while some poker players become rich and famous, poker dealers usually don't.  C'mon now - how many can you name?  They're a bit like referees and umpires at sports events, yet traditionally they aren't paid a lot of money.  That's why players who win money are urged to tip the dealer before they leave.

There's a famous Bible phrase which could apply to your poker dealer:
...The laborer is worthy of his hire... - Luke 10:7 (KJV)

Jesus's context here is about ministers going out to spread the gospel.  But it's used elsewhere in the Bible to apply to good servants:
Church leaders who do their job well deserve to be paid twice as much.... You also know the saying, "Workers are worth their pay." - I Timothy 5:17-18 (CEV)

Why limit this to church leaders?

If a poker dealer does well - making the table fun and sorting out problems with skill - don't forget to thank them for it.  (We admittedly have been lax about that at times.)  And may the employees competing in Las Vegas be rewarded, whether they make the final table or not.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Poker Day 422: And the Rockets, Read....

It's a big day for car racing fans -- with famous events in Monaco, Indianapolis and Charlotte.  Poker is known for "races" as well.  And we knew we'd have to win some to succeed at River City Poker Room.  It always helps to have a good engine....

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000


It looked like we were doomed to an early exit, as several promising hands fell short.  But then things started to turn around, with K-Q turning into a winning Queens-8's two pair.  Now we've survived to the final table on a two-table day, with eight players remaining.  And believe it or not, we've been dealt pocket Aces for the second hand in a row!

We went all in for 22,000 on the prior hand in middle position, and had no takers (never showing what we had).  Now we have 36,000 in rather early position, so we change the strategy a bit.  We raise only to 14,000.  Most of the table bails out, but two players call.

ON THE FLOP: Q-J-7 (third card may not be precise)

With no flush risk, it's a green-light flop for us.  So we go all in again -- as it happens, for 22,000 once more.  One man folds.  A young man across the table gives it a great deal of thought.

"I'll call," he finally says -- and shows K-Q.

'You can call me Houston, because I've got Rockets," we say as we turn the Aces over.  Our opponent has 6 outs to beat us -- only about a 13% chance.


The dealer clearly doesn't watch poker on television, because she doesn't even give us time to say Nooooooo....


Our opponent caught a third Queen on the turn, and our "rockets" crash like North Korean missiles in the sea.  We're eliminated in eighth place -- and as we leave, we hear our opponent saying he thought we might have a King.  It turns out we had better, but not enough to win the race.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The dealer at our table was female. while all the players were male.  At one point for some reason, one of them referred to her as a "heifer."

"I'm insulted," she said.

"There are places where a heifer is a good thing," we pointed out.  "In Israel, a red heifer is a very good thing."

This seemed to stump the table, as we figured it would.  A man at our left asked about it.  "Check it in your Bible," we suggested.

We're not sure if he will.  So let's show it to you....
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: "This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke." - Numbers 19:1-2
Not just any ol' heifer - but a red one.  It was slaughtered and burned (verses 3, 5).  And then....
"A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp.  They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin." - Numbers 19:9
So this heifer's ashes had a special specific use: cleaning ancient Israel's sins.

Some religious people in our day still consider a red heifer a big deal.  We've heard stories of U.S. ministries sending them to Israel -- dropping a hint that it's time to rebuild a temple in Jerusalem and hurry the second coming of Jesus.  So let's ask: what do you think of all this?  Offer a comment, and we'll offer our thoughts in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 150 final tables in 422 games (35.5%) - 25 cashes.  We are a perfect five-for-five in making final tables so far this year!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What's Your Identity?

It's almost "World Series" season in the poker world - but today, some players may have been thrown a curve.

The World Series of Poker announced via Twitter people coming from outside the U.S. will need two forms of identification.  A passport will not be enough.  The second ID with a current address is supposed to guard against "money laundering."

That explanation is a little scary to consider.  Money laundering?! Are some top poker players dealing with drug cartels, and not telling anyone?

But we're more interested in the identity part of this.  How do you identify yourself to others at a poker table?  Are you a professional poker player?  An "amateur," who works five days a week somewhere else and hits the table merely for fun?

For several years, we've taken a "poker identity" which seems strange to many people.  But it's the identity we truly try to have -- as a Christian.
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. - Colossians 3:3
Sound strange?  The apostle Paul explains elsewhere what he means.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.... - Colossians 2:20
This world's "principles" often aren't really rooted in ethical principle.  Take poker -- a game about getting and grabbing all the chips you can, as opposed to giving and sharing them with others.
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.... - Romans 6:3-4
Jesus died - and baptism is part of the process for accepting Him as your Savior.  But the good news is that Jesus rose again:
....Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. - Romans 6:4b
It's supposed to be a godly life, walking as Jesus walked.
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. - Colossians 3:4
The "new life" for a believer should actually be Christ's life, being lived in us.  We have the same human name - but a new way of living.

May your "ID badge" be that of a Christian - shown not with a passport, but with a new outlook on life:
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:35

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Is Anything Else Better?

The website that lets us practice Ultimate Texas Hold 'em for free also allows you to try out other casino poker-like games.  This weekend we did -- and here's what we found:

Caribbean Stud deals you five cards, then shows you one of the dealer's five.  You make one bet based on that -- and if you don't have much, we found you're likely to lose a good bit.

Let It Ride deals you three cards.  Then you bet on letting those three ride, or "pulling" bets on a fourth "community" card and a fifth similar one. The online game pays for a pair of 10's or better -- and in our brief play, we lost about 85 percent of the time (especially if our three didn't amount to much).

Three-Card Poker deals you three cards.  Then you make one bet about whether you can beat the dealer's face-down three cards.  We won a bit more there, but not much.

Mississippi Stud provides you two cards.  Then you bet on "community cards" one at a time, trying to make at least a pair of 6's.  Our winning record there was about the same as Let It Ride.... but with one notable exception:

We were dealt pocket 9's, bet the maximum three-times on every "street" -- and wound up with quad 9's!  It meant a big pretend payoff of $6,000.  We didn't come close to that in following hands.

There's a little skill involved in these games - but not a lot.  Perhaps that's why we win more often in Ultimate Texas Hold 'em.  And it's all about winning money - right?

Well, "hold 'em" a minute.  We've been reminded in our Bible study over the last few days that winning a big stack can be deceptive:
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.... Then he said, 'This is what I'll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods'.... But God said to him, 'You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then will who get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." - Luke 12:16-21
You can build a small fortune playing poker, or other casino games.  But you can't take that chip stack with you beyond the grave.
Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. - Psalm 39:6
Not even a well-written will can guarantee your wealth will go where you want it to go after you die.  So we think it's best to be "rich toward God" now -- giving to your church or worthy charitable causes.

The most common question of big winners on TV game shows is: "What are you going to do with all that money?"  Do you have a good answer ready - a godly one?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seeking an Edge

If you're looking for ways to cheat at poker and win - sorry, you've come to the wrong website.  But it's noteworthy to us when even top-level poker players are accused of cheating.

That's what an Atlantic City casino is accusing Phil Ivey of doing.  Not at poker, but another card game.  He's accused of closely watching the edges of playing cards in baccarat for flaws, and using that knowledge to win millions of dollars.

We admit we've never played baccarat; we might have confused that word with a legendary composer of music.  We'd also never heard of "edge sorting" - but we're amazed at the things some people might use to gain, well, an edge at a card table.

Some people think they need to cheat to get an edge in life.  They might cut corners on their job, or even do deceptive things at church to "get ahead" with God at the expense of other members.  But God is too smart to be fooled by that....
The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. - Proverbs 15:3
That "knows if you've been bad or good" stuff.... well, God was doing that long before anyone thought of a Santa Claus.  And beyond that....
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.... This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. - Romans 2:12, 16
When judgment day comes, Jesus could remember things about you that you've forgotten (or maybe wished you had).  But there's a way to escape that "true confessions" moment:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9
God already has seen your cheating -- whether it's at the poker table, or other places in your life. Isn't it better to admit it to Him now, receive forgiveness and turn to a more ethical way of life?  Or would you rather dare to go "all in" against Jesus, and lose?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Poker Day 421: Ladies' Day?

"Happy Mother's Day to all you...."  Well, we'd better stop the quote there.  The manager of River City Poker Room was talking to a room full of men.  One young woman showed up later, but otherwise the Mother's Day crowd for Sunday poker was all-male.

Since our mother died years ago and we have no children, we were not neglectful as we went to the table.  But perhaps we should have asked if our parents would have been pleased with our decisions....

BLINDS: 100/200


We're in the Small Blind at a table of six, on a two-table day.  We've claimed one small pot already.  The blinds go up next hand.  No one has raised ahead of us.  These are cards worth exploiting - so we raise to 700.  A couple of players call.


We have an "overpair," so a continuation bet clearly is in order.  We bet 1,200, and get one player to fold.  But a man two seats to our right doubles to 2,400.  This gets our internal alarm bells ringing, but we call.


Now this is the card which concerned us more on the flop.  We choose to "check to the raiser," and he now tosses out 4,000.  The logical voice in our head screams that he has two pair -- maybe with J-10, which is why he raised in the first place.

"I think he's got it," we say -- and fold, with cards face down.

Our opponent wins the pot.  And while he doesn't have to do it, he now turns over his cards.  It wasn't two pair -- but a third 2.  He bet big because he had a big hand.  The dealer wonders if the man who folded on the flop might have hit it big.


That certainly would not have helped us.

We won a couple of other moderate-sized pots, and held on to make the final table with 12,000 chips.  Once there, we were dealt an Ace to start with the dealer button - maximizing our chances of staying in the game.

Then with seven players left, we went all-in with A-J.  But another man pushed with much more, telling us we were in trouble.  Sure enough -- he had 8-8.  The higher cards didn't come for us, and we bowed out in seventh place; only the top three won money.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We wore a hat with the words "Panama City Beach," and noted to a dealer we'd played at the main poker room in that area a couple of times.  We did not mention how well we did.  But we made an admission.

"I couldn't tell many people about it, because I was at a church convention."

Most people attending that convention probably would consider us wrong to play in a poker room -- especially during that annual event.  But, we'd point out in response, we do not spend specially set-aside "festival tithe" money in those rooms; we make sure we spend our own.  And we were reminded in Bible study the other day of Jesus's example....
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" - Luke 5:29-30
Some ministers say when you convert to Jesus and Christianity, you have to drop all your old friends because they'll be a "bad influence" and drag you back into worldly sins.  Yet Jesus let His disciples (apparently not yet filled with the Holy Spirit) hang around "sinners."  Why?
Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:31-32
Jesus's mission was to spread the gospel to sinful people, in order that they might repent and accept Him as Savior.  That means going to where the sinful people are.  (And by the way, the Pharisees were every bit as sinful; they were more self-righteous - and may not have even entered the banquet room.)

In more than 400 trips to poker games, we have not been tempted to indulge in drunkenness or carnal lusting.  Why not?  We give God the credit for it, and recall these words about 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
We must add a disclaimer: everyone's tolerance level is different.  What is easy for us to resist might be difficult or impossible for another.  So pray about what God would have you do, before taking steps which might be daring or "tempting God."

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 149 final tables in 421 games (35.4%) - 25 cashes.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Judgment Seat

When you go out for an afternoon or evening of poker, do you take time to meet the players and make some friends?  Or do you use that time to "figure them out"?

Maybe you should be doing the latter -- because a recent Washington Post article revealed the best poker players probably are doing that to you.  Newcomers at the table seem to get special attention.  The attitude they present gets analyzed -- and even what sort of money they bring.

Does that seem fair?  Or, to be honest, does that seem a bit like real life?
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? - James 2:2-4
These Bible verses were written to church-going believers in Jesus.  Yet they could be like us all -- easily jumping to conclusions about the people they meet.

We think Bugs Bunny's classic cartoon line was correct: "Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched?"  We all are to some extent -- whether by poker players looking for angles, or next-door neighbors wondering if we can be trusted with the keys when they go on vacation.

We've found one way to have success in the things we do is not to "tip our hand" early.  And that means more than how we play poker hands.  It means listening carefully to other people, as opposed to taking charge of a conversation....
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. - James 1:19
It's about being patient - with your tongue as well as your poker chips.  You might wind up receiving more clues than you give away, and that can work to your advantage.  And if you're a believer in Jesus, it might reveal better ways to open lines of discussion about your faith.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Up In Arms

Who could have imagined - when you're looking for "tells" in poker, you should not look at someone's face?

That's the claim of Stanford University visiting scholar Michael Slepian.  He recently said the best way to spot a good poker hand is to watch players' arms.  A smooth "push" of chips at the table indicates a good hand -- the smoother, the better.

But we see a problem with this reasoning.  Plenty of players don't simply push their chips.  They toss them in, or pound a big stack on the table like they're dropping a hammer on a nail.  And in some tournaments, simply saying "all in" is enough to constitute a push - so how do you read arms then?

There's only one real occasion when we think someone's arms reveal their intentions....
He took a little child and had him stand among them.  Taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." - Mark 9:36-37

Jesus had open arms, when it came to children.  It's an example He repeated in Mark 10:16.  The common picture of Jesus's death (disputed by some) shows Him with arms extended on a cross -- as if He's reaching out to everyone.
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and outpoured wrath.  I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered - with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. - Ezekiel 20:33-34

God's arm is open -- not to push poker chips in, but to help pull you out of your problems and rule over your life.  No arms are more trustworthy.  Will you accept them?