Sunday, August 31, 2014

When Free Isn't Free

What's the earliest exit you've ever made from a poker tournament?  We may have set a new standard today - by exiting before the tournament even began.

But we should start at the beginning.  For weeks Arrowhead Poker's website offered this event:

Sunday @ 2pm 

August 31st

$500 True Free Roll
Chair Rental $0-0**

You can qualify for this tournament by simply buying into any daily tournament. 

We played in a $20 Friday tournament a couple of weeks ago, so we presumed our spot was secure.  But no - our name didn't come up on today's qualifying list.

"Did you do the ten-dollar buy-in?" the manager asked us -- as in paying $10 extra up-front for bonus chips.  No, we didn't.  And that left an organizer with a look of frustration on his face.

"That ten-dollar buy-in pays for this tournament," the organizer explained.

We invite you to look up and down the website and tell us: where does it define "buying into" as paying the extra $10?  We don't think it does.  In most tournaments we've entered, the "buy in" is the main entry fee - in our case the $20.

But we decided against making an argument about it.  We shook our head, bit our lip a bit, walked across the parking lot to a convenience store for a "consolation prize" soda and drove home.

How many things in life claim to be free -- only to have hidden strings attached?  Yet Jesus Christ makes this offer:
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. - John 8:36
What does Jesus (the Son of God) mean by this?  He explains moments earlier:
Jesus replied. "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever." - John 8:34-35
Jesus wants to set you free from sin, to become a son of God.... not simply for today, but forever.  How?
And from Jesus Christ.... him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.... - Revelation 1:5
As orators like to say on holiday weekends such as this one: The price of freedom isn't free.  In this case, the blood Jesus shed when He sacrificed His life on our behalf frees us from sin.  We don't have to pay for that, because Jesus already did.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. - Galatians 5:1
So how will you respond to that truly free gift?  We've been studying a religious magazine article on how to respond.  The author seemingly doesn't want to use the phrase "go all in," but he could - and it seems we should.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Fear Factor II

Our last post attempted to show the importance of fearing God - and even fearing Jesus Christ, our Savior.  (After all, the first part of John 1 shows Jesus is God.)  We stopped at the importance of overcoming our sinful nature.

Some poker locales sadly can lead to sinful things.  Bars can have alcohol and smoking (at least).  Casinos can fuel gambling addictions.  You can stay away from those places, to wean yourself off bad habits.  But truly overcoming takes something else....
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. - I John 5:5

Sound simple - almost too simple?  Well, let's back up a verse:
...For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. - I John 5:4

Faith in Jesus and being "born again" brings overcoming.  But it comes by living out your faith every day.  Back up a little more....
This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome... - I John 5:3

Yes, God has "commands" for you to carry out.  But He provides help in doing them:
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

Who is that "one.... in you"?  Verse 2 indicates it's the Holy Spirit, which enters believers.

And here's the ironic thing: this section of the Bible indicates that poker player who asked why he should fear his Savior has a point....
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. - I John 4:18

We've heard ministers put it this way: We should fear God and Jesus Christ because they hold the power of ultimate judgment, life and death.  That's the idea of awe and respect. But those who obey God's commands don't need to fear every single move they make. They should love God for setting boundaries for right living and conduct.

It's easy to fear playing poker against a big winner with a championship reputation.  (Maybe you shouldn't - but that's another blog post.)  But the One everyone should fear is God - and we should live our lives accordingly.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Fear Factor

At a recent poker tournament, we talked about how everyone should fear God.  That brought a good question from another player: "Why should I fear my Savior?"

Let's start with the simple answer: the Bible indicates we should....
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.... - II Corinthians 5:11
OK, you may admit, the apostle Paul knew about it.  But why fear the Lord?  Back up one verse:
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
If people are operating an illegal cash game in their home, there's a reason why they don't put a large ad in the newspaper promoting it.  They fear getting caught.  They fear police arriving, breaking up the game, sending people to jail and bringing those people eventually before a judge.  The thought of Jesus's final judgment should be even more concerning:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.... If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown in the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:12, 15
This judgment is a matter of life and death - eternal life and death.

We've become persuaded in recent years that everyone's name originally is in that "book of life" - but then something happens:
The Lord replied to Moses," Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book." - Exodus 32:33
Since we all sin (Romans 3:23), we've all had our name removed.  We need to get back in -- and that takes more than a strong finish in a "qualifier" somewhere.
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge is name before my Father and his angels. - Revelation 3:5
We need to overcome our sinful nature - and we can't do that by ourselves.  Our next post will explain the way to do that.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Slots or Not

Not all "casinos" are created equal.  We learned this on our vacation, when we stopped at a small one along a U.S. highway in western Oklahoma.

The casino consisted of several rows of slot machines -- and little more.  We looked around, walked right back to the car and drove away.

But the next day, we cashed in a "birthday bonus" at a casino near our home.  We were awarded five dollars in free slot play.  We picked a machine somewhat at random -- and in only a couple of minutes, our five-dollar gift went away with winnings of only 95 cents.  That was enough for us.

Maybe we're wrong, but slot machines strike us as pure gambling.  It's all luck, with no skill or thinking involved.  We agree with the preachers who openly mourn the older people who drop dollar after dollar in this way.

Table games such as poker have a degree of luck, to be sure.  But many times, you have to think a little and consider your chances.  Exercising a bit of skill moves slightly toward fulfilling a proverb:
Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but he that gathers by labor shall increase. - Proverbs 13:11 (KJV)

A different Bible translation puts the last part of the verse this way: "Money earned little by little will grow and grow."

That actually happened to us after our slot machine test.  We sat down at an Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em table, won three hands in a row and gained $35.  Then this happened:

BLINDS: $5/$5

IN THE POCKET: 4-6 offsuit

That doesn't look promising.  But as some poker players like to say, any two cards can win.  There's no penalty in checking, so we do.


Not too thrilling for us.  Maybe a longshot straight or full house will come.  But we know better than to bet two times our blind on that.  We check again.


A man to our right suddenly is excited.  Three Aces are on the table.  If we had plunked down five more dollars on the "trips" option, that would have earned us $15 -- enough to break even.  But we don't normally play trips at live tables (only online with pretend money), so we miss out.  We fold.

When that man's turn comes to show his cards, he displays a fourth Ace!  "Quads," the dealer announces to the pit boss.

That man truly has a reason to be excited.  Quads pays 30 to 1 on the "trips" button, and 10 to 1 on the blind.  He wins something in the neighborhood of $500.  We sat one seat away from a jackpot.

At that point, we have to leave to go home and run errands.  "Be sure to tithe on all that money," we tell the big winner.  He nods a bit as he smiles -- leaving us to wonder if he knows what that word means.
You people are robbing me, your God.  And, here you are, asking, "How are we robbing you?"  You are robbing me of the offerings and of the ten percent that belongs to me. - Malachi 3:8 (CEV)

A "tithe" is ten percent.  God has required that of believers since the days of ancient Israel.
I am the Lord All-Powerful, and I challenge you to put me to the test.  Bring the entire ten percent into the storehouse, so there will be food in my house.  Then I will open the windows of heaven and flood you with blessing after blessing. - Malachi 3:10 (CEV)

The "ice bucket challenge" is a fad of the moment.  God dares you to take the "ten percent challenge."  We give God a tenth of our poker winnings, through the church we attend.  Will you do the same, and claim His promise of abundant blessings?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Poker Day 431: Run, Hide or Fight?

Our vacation didn't have poker stops every day.  But it ended today practically where it began - with a Friday midday tournament at Arrowhead Poker offering $400 in guaranteed money.  Only two tables full of players showed up, which increased our chances of success.  But would that make the competition that much tougher?

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-8 of spades

We won an early pot by hitting a flush on the river.  Now we have the Dealer button at a full table, with two promising cars.  Another player raises to 1,200, and we're not afraid to call.  About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 6-7-8 (no spades)

We have top pair and top kicker.  But that combination of cards is loaded with trouble.  A man to our left bets 1,500.  A man across from us raises to 5,000.  Did he hit three of a kind?  Perhaps a straight already?  We think it over for a moment.  It's a big dare to call.

"I'll fold," we reluctantly decide.  Another player calls.


Ugh.  That would have been two pair.  Interestingly, both players in the hand slow down and check.


Ouch!!!  Running Aces would have given us a full house -- but the odds of that happening are huge.

The remaining two players check again, and the man across from us showing 9-9.  He missed a straight draw, but his two pair wins the pot -- and leaves us stinging a bit.

We took a chance later with K-Q when both cards paired on the flop.  But no full house came while four clubs did.  A man to our right had clubs, while we did not -- and that combination cost us about 9,000 chips.

We went all-in at last with another K-Q combo -- but that didn't work, either.  Cards on the board were mid-range, and a 6-to-10 straight from another all-in player eliminated us in 16th place.  We wind up the week 0-for-3 in tournaments, and honestly not faring well in any of them.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "That's a God-fearing man, there," a man two seats to our right said to someone else.  He was gesturing in our direction.  And he's the man we talked with a couple of weeks ago about our towelette at the table.

There's one part of that discussion we haven't mentioned yet - how he responded to our question about Jesus as his Savior.  "I've been sober for a couple of years."  Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a medallion for Cocaine Anonymous.

That recovery program for drug addicts openly admits it follows the 12-step recovery method made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous.  Five of those 12 steps refer to "God" or a "Power greater than ourselves".  An ancient promise from the God of the Bible remains available today:
He said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you." - Exodus 15:26

Pray for God to heal your difficulties -- whether gambling addiction, drug addiction or physical illnesses.  Look to Him in faith, as you walk in obedience to His commands each day.  You may find amazing change occurs, as it did with that man at the poker table.

So how did we answer the comment about being "God-fearing"?  We responded by saying, "Everyone should fear God."

That man seemed surprised by that statement.  "Why should I fear my Savior?" he asked.

How would you answer him?  Offer a comment if you'd like, and we'll reveal our answer in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 151 final tables in 431 games (35.0%) - 25 cashes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Poker Day 430: Give Me Five

Our calendar doesn't show this to be a week with a Monday holiday.  But it apparently was for a lot of people in the Kansas City area.  Either that, or we aren't the only ones taking vacation this week.

We traveled to Hollywood Casino for its big weekly Monday noon tournament, showed up 20 minutes early -- and found ourselves the seventh alternate in a 70-player field.  A large group of players waited outside the poker room as the tournament began, waiting apparently for an extra dealer to arrive.

We were ready to withdraw our name after one round of blinds, and try making money elsewhere in the casino.  But at two minutes left in the first round, ten names flashed and our table opened.  Would a little patience be a good thing?

BLINDS: 100/200


Well, it looks like it could be!  It's our fifth hand at the table.  We folded the first three and got nowhere with the Big Blind in the fourth.  Now we have the Small Blind -- but long before our turn comes, the pot starts boiling.  The leadoff man raises to 600.  A player to our right re-raises to 2,200.  Then we look at our big pocket pair and choose to "smooth call," as the pros like to say.

But no -- the leadoff man goes chunky, and makes a "four bet" of 9,000.  We started with 7,500 (admittedly not taking 2,500 extra chips by giving the dealer a five-dollar "appreciation" chip).  So we face an all-in decision in the first real hand we play!

The man to our right ponders, then folds.  Now we ponder, only out loud.  "I can't in good conscience get rid of these cards," we say to the leadoff man.  "So I'll call."

We show our Queens.  He shows "big slick" A-K.  We feared something like A-A or K-K, so we feel good about this.  But he has six outs...


....and he hits one right away.  Our opponent now has top pair.  Other players at the table say "ouch" in our behalf.  The man who re-raised and folded curses.  We'll get back to him.  Right now, we need serious help.


Could this be it?  Suddenly there's an open-ended straight draw -- but the dealer isn't waiting around for us to speculate.


For the second day in a row, a big pocket pair is our undoing.  And the re-raiser is more upset than we are -- because he admits folding J-J!  He would have made three of a kind, winning everything.

Our $65 buy-in fee gets us five hands of poker, and a lowly finish in around 80th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We won back a little of our money in a short blackjack session.  And as we did, we showed a young man our Lord's Supper card protector (something you don't really need to use at a blackjack table).

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked him.  "Is He your Savior?"

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure," he answered thoughtfully.

"What would it take for you to be sure?"

"Some miracles, maybe."

Are you like this man -- looking for something spectacular or unusual to prove God and Jesus are legitimate?  If so, you're not alone....
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom. - I Corinthians 1:22
Yet Jesus showed great wisdom in many of His statements and actions while on Earth.  For an example, read on your own how Christ responded to demands about a woman supposedly caught in adultery (John 8:3-11).  And as for signs....
And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive our demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. - Mark 16:17-18
We happen to know of church groups where the "signs" mentioned above have occurred.  They're not necessarily big megachurch groups with multiple weekend telecasts.  But demons have fled and amazing healing has happened.

We told the man miracles happen all the time, if we have eyes to see them.    We pray God brings him to see those things.  In the meantime, consider one other sign Jesus mentioned:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. - Matthew 12:40
The Bible declares after three days, Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by many people (Acts 10:40-41).  Will you accept these signs - and the God who makes them possible?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 151 final tables in 430 games (35.1%) - 25 cashes.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Poker Day 429: Bama Jammed

What does an occasional poker player do on his vacation?  He plays a little poker, of course - so this afternoon found us at Winners Cardroom.

That place now has a Sunday freeroll for $500.  But it starts at 4:00 p.m., and our all-night work schedule has made us hesitant for us to play since we didn't know how long the tournament would last.  Vacation week means no work concern, no money to play -- so would everything else go right for us?

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: A-J of spades

We scored an early big gain with pocket Aces, when a third Ace landed on the turn.  Then we gave a big chunk of it back.  It's been that kind of up-and-down day.  Now we've just been knocked down again, with 8,500 chips out of a starting 10,000.

The man sitting to our right is wearing a University of Alabama cap, reminding us of where we used to live.  He raises to 1,000, and gives us a challenge.

"I'm probably asking for it," we say, "but I'll call."  A couple of other players at the table of 8 call as well.

ON THE FLOP: 6-4-8 (third card may not be precise, but it didn't pair)

Was anyone really looking for that flop?  Apparently not, because the table checks.  We check as well, with no flush draw.


Is there a jackpot card now?  Perhaps not, because the table checks again.  Suddenly we wonder about the value of our Ace.


Too bad - our Ace missed.  The man who raised pre-flop finally takes a plunge, tossing in 5,000.  Only at that moment do we realize something - we still have a Jack!  We have top pair and top kicker!  And even though we only have 7,500 left, we have to give it a try.  We call; the other players fold.

"I hit the river," we admit.

"With an Ace?!?" Our opponent sees our cards, barely flips over his (we think he had Q-J) - and he leaves.  Only then do we realize something else: he was all-in.  He never said so.  But our kicker card kicks that Alabama fan packing like a last-second kick return by Auburn - and we regain to nearly 20,000 chips.

We reached the second hour of play with 18,000 chips.  Then a few minutes into hour 2, we saw J-J with 14,000 chips and pushed.  That pair had brought us one of those big gains earlier.  But this time a man called and showed K-K.  The board didn't come to our rescue, and our not-so-big pair sent us to the rail.  We finished in about 90 minutes, in 30th place on a day with four-plus tables.

MINISTRY MOMENT: For the first time since moving to our new home, we pulled out the "Lord's Supper" card protector with a depiction of Jesus on the flip side.

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked a man to our left.  "Is he your Savior and Lord?"

The man gave a very indirect answer.  "I haven't been to church in a couple of years.  My mom keeps trying to get me to go."

We think Mom is on the right track - because that's what the early New Testament church did:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.... All the believers were together and had everything in common... Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. - Acts 2:42, 44, 46
We heard a church message this weekend along those lines.  The theme was community -- people joined together by a common interest and belief.  But we think you have to be careful about which church community you join.

"It's important," we told the man, "to attend a church which really preaches the word of God."

The man agreed: "It's not about a man, but about the word of God."  But how will you know if a man is really preaching Bible truth?
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
The people in Berea double-checked what the apostle Paul preached, against the Old Testament Scriptures they had -- and scrolls of the Old Testament were valuable items in those days.  In our day, you can read the Bible online or on a smartphone.

However you do it, it's important that you do it.  Make sure church pastors, radio preachers and even poker bloggers are accurately presenting truth from the Bible.  If they are, be thankful and learn from them.  If not.... well, if we're off-base in something, please let us know.  We don't claim to know everything about the Bible, much less victorious poker.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 151 final tables in 429 games (35.2%) - 25 cashes.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Playing Loose

"Is He my Savior?!?" a man asked aloud at our last poker outing.  We'd asked the player to our right about Jesus, of course.  But as he pondered how to answer, he realized something.

"I left my keys in my truck," he said after patting his pockets a couple of times.  That's potential trouble - that actually might it more imperative to win the tournament.  If he locked himself out, he'd need to pay for a locksmith to come to his rescue.

After talking and thinking about his situation for a few minutes, the man left the table for a moment.  He came back with good news.

"It wasn't locked!" he told the table.  Then he looked toward heaven, raised his hands a little and gave thanks.

"Praise the Lord," we said in agreement.  Leaving his keys in an unlocked truck invited something potentially more expensive -- auto theft.

That man topped us a few times at the table during the tournament.  But that's OK.  What happened with his keys is a lesson for all of us.
Indeed, we all make many mistakes.... - James 3:2 (NLT)

If there's ever been a poker tournament in which a player won every single hand, we haven't heard of it.  Bad reads and judgment can happen -- and sometimes the 3-4 you fold pre-flop can become quads by the river.

We all make mistakes in our lives as well -- and some of them can go against God's laws which have been in effect for thousands of years.  Breaking them is called sin.  But thankfully, God provides a way so you're not locked out from Him forever.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ did for us. - Romans 5:8

Jesus Christ came to be our Savior - saving us from the ultimate death penalty for our sins.  We can be loosened from that by repenting of our sins before God.
O Lord, I am your servant; yes, I am your servant, born into your household; you have freed me from my chains. - Psalm 116:16 (NLT)

Are you free -- loosened from chains of guilt over sin?  It's possible.  If you need help with it, leave us a comment; we'll be glad to offer support.

(P.S.  Our conversation with that man at the poker table isn't over yet.  There's more coming in a future post.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Poker Day 428: Nice While It Lasted

The local poker rooms must be doing well these days.  The monthly Sunday special at Arrowhead Poker (which apparently has taken back its old name, after being River City Poker Room for awhile) had a $1,000 guaranteed prize pool today.  That guaranteed some serious action at times....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

We won a couple of early pots, then lost a bundle when a straight we hit on the river ran into someone else's flush.  From a starting stack of 50,000, we're down to about 26,500.

Now we have the Dealer button at a table of seven, and a man two seats ahead of us raises all the way to 12,000.  We look at these strong starting cards and face a big decision.  If we call this big bet, we might as well be committed to going all-in with them.  So we call in hope -- only to find the lead player, a late arrival to the table, raising all-in for more than 40,000!

Other players are folding, but the man who raised ahead of us decides to call.  Realizing we dared to step into a deep swamp in the first place, we can't really fold now.  The cards simply are too strong.  So we call for our last 14,500.

The players who folded talk about their hands as the dealer sorts out the pots.  We hear at least one (maybe two) talk about having Queens.  That's potential trouble.  Then comes turnover time.  The raiser two seats ahead of us has 9-9.  The all-in man across the table shows K-J suited.  The race is on....


"There's a Queen," we declare - as if no one else at the table knows.  We seize the lead, and clap our hands a few times.


That's a King -- and more big trouble.  The man across the table now leads, and we need an Ace or a third Queen to stay alive.


Running Kings give the third-place man a win at the wire -- and he takes two players out in the process.

"I'm surprised he pushed with that," another man at the table says.  It truly was daring -- but it worked.  Come to think, maybe we should have pushed earlier.  An all-in bet before the K-J player's turn might have pulled him off, to our benefit.  But what's done is done -- and we're "done," tied for 21st place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We somehow misplaced the "card protector" we put in our pocket for this game. So we reached into the car, and pulled out a small towelette packet from a restaurant.

"I brought this to remind me," we told a man who asked about it, "that I should stay clean and pure -- just as Jesus did."

"That reminds you of that?!?!" The man apparently thought we were bluffing.  But any little thing can be a good reminder of walking a Christian walk....
....And do not share in the sins of others.  Keep yourself pure. - I Timothy 5:22b
Perhaps you're as skeptical as that man next to us at the table.  What do purity and poker-playing have in common?  They can have a lot -- for instance, if you don't curse or drink alcohol to excess.  The main poker rooms where we play these days have no alcohol.  On the other hand, the WPT Amateur League location where we started in our current city was a bar -- and it's apparently now out of business.
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to a idol or swear by what is false.  He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. - Psalm 24:4-5
That blessing may not always be financial, as in a final table.  Believers should look for the ultimate blessing - eternal life, ruling with Jesus Christ.

So where did our discussion go from here?  It turns out a surprising blessing came minutes later.  We'll get to that in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 151 final tables in 428 games (35.3%) - 25 cashes.  After starting 2014 five-for-five in reaching final tables, we've only reached one of the last six.