Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Real Story: 2015 in Review

Some people may be ready for 2015 to end.  But when it comes to poker, we're really not.

We entered the year having won money in live tournaments 25 times over eight years - with no cash for ten prior months.  But 2015 turned out to be our most successful year.... ever!

LIVE TOURNAMENTS: 18 final tables in 22 games (81.8%), 6 cashes.

That percentage is ridiculously high, because a lot of the tournaments we played only had enough people for one table. But our records show in multi-table tournaments, we still reached the final table seven out of 12 times (58.3%).

The cashes included two streaks.  One in late July and early August found us winning $1,000 in three consecutive events across Kansas. And we ended the year with back-to-back cash wins between Thanksgiving and "Christmas Eve."

LIVE CASH GAMES: One - loss of C$85.

We realize this is not our strong suit, so we don't do it much anymore - only during our Canadian "church convention" vacation.

OTHER CASINO GAMES: Ultimate Texas Hold 'em - Up $12.50.  Computer machine heads-up - Down $17.  Blackjack - Up $62.50.

Considering we lost $280 at Ultimate in 2014, this was a nice reversal. Blackjack had a small increase from the year before. The Texas Hold 'em "heads up" machine at Hollywood Casino may have been removed after we visited there in March; we couldn't find it in August.

NATIONAL LEAGUE OF POKER: Regular - none.  No-River Hold 'em - 1 final table in 4 games, one cash win.

That $10 win came in February. We had a tenth-place tournament at another tournament in mid-December, but that's not a final table because NLOP has gone to a "six-per-table" format there.

POKER STARS: Play money cash games - Up $20,183.

That huge boost came in only 24 sessions, primarily because of two huge hands. One in late July at a 50/100 table led to a $20,700 profit (our live table streak started the next day) - and another in late August at a 25/50 table earned up close to $7,000.

So to sum up, 2015 was the best poker-playing year we've had - and it happened even though we didn't play often, compared with recent years. Could there be a lesson in that for you? We'll leave that question open. In the meantime, we realize....
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth... - Deuteronomy 8:18

Some people "produce wealth" through hard labor, or smart investing. But we think God can help you make money in a variety of ways - as long as your focus and thanks is aimed toward Him.
The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. - Proverbs 10:22

May God's blessing be upon you, as you play poker. But we think that blessing is much more likely to come to if God is in the center of your life.
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. - Isaiah 26:3

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Poker Day 460: Double Your Pleasure?

So if we could win money playing poker on "Christmas Eve," could we sweep the weekend and win on "Christmas Day"? We decided to find out by driving to Kansas Star Casino. It's had a "High Noon" Friday tournament all year. But in a potentially troubling sign, it's being phased out - and the poker room has moved to a place with only eight tables, instead of 13.

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-10 of diamonds

We won an early pot with pocket 6's, but haven't done much beyond that. Hopeful chances have turned into problematic folds. We've reached the first break, but with only 1,000 chips out of a starting 3,500.

A change of dealers during the break has done us a favor. We were supposed to be in the Big Blind for this hand. Instead, the button was accidentally moved twice so we're in the Small Blind. Either way, this is a pushing hand for us. When one man raises to 300, we go all in. He calls.... and shows A-Q. Uh-oh.

ON THE FLOP: K-9-3 (middle card may not be precise)

No help for anyone - and no diamonds to let us dream of a flush.

ON THE TURN: 3

The board pairs, and actually gives us some hope. If a second pair comes....

ON THE RIVER: K

It does come! Two pair + Ace kicker = split pot. Too bad the other players folded, because our gain is small - from 1,000 to 1,200. But at least we escaped to fight another hand.

And on that next hand, A-10 came again. Again we bet the bundle, and the Small Blind called.

"Second verse, same as the first?!" We borrowed from an old pop song as we showed.

Well, not quite. Our opponent turned over A-J. The board didn't pair for either of us, and he knocked us out. No sweep this weekend, as we finished 27th out of 42 players - but at least we won back $35 of our $50 buy-in playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'em.
 
MINISTRY MOMENT: "Sir, that's a very unusual card protector," a man to our right said as the first hand was dealt. We used a small salt packet.... for that very inquiry.

"I brought it to remind me," we said as we looked at cards and folded them, "that Jesus wants me to be the salt of the earth."

The man simply stared, perhaps chuckling a little. "What do you think of Jesus?" we asked him. "What does he mean to you?"

The man stared a few more seconds, said nothing, then turned back to the poker action. We can only guess what he thought of us. Perhaps he thought we'd pulled a Christianized version of "Punk'd" on him.

But the Bible really does say:
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. - Matthew 5:13


We're simply trying to add some flavor to a poker table that might otherwise be drab and quiet - and we're ready to talk about the things of God at the table. On this day, that man said nothing. But the day is coming when that's going to have to change....
....That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:10-11


We get the feeling this means every tongue - without exception. And if they don't confess? Read Revelation 20 for an idea of the answer. So how do you plan to respond?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 173 final tables in 460 games (37.6%) - 31 cashes. Our next scheduled post will wrap up the final totals from our 2015 poker activity.


Friday, December 25, 2015

Poker Day 459: Nikki's at Night

Unless you're specifically looking for it, you might not find it after dark. Nikki's Poker Room has no lighting, save for a neon "Open" sign. Yet that's where we went tonight for the first time, thanks to an off night from work for.... well, we may bring up that "holiday" another time.

We walked into a room unlike any other in our city - in part because it has a full bar with drink specials. We settled for a $2 diet cola. Nikki's also has the least expensive tournaments in town. We only had a $12 buy-in tonight for 15,000 chips with slowly rising blinds. In other words, this place reminded us of our old Thursday night habit of playing poker in a Georgia bar - but could we play well?

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 3-3

We took a disciplined approach to this tournament, and it worked to our advantage. We didn't win a pot for more than an hour, and that first one actually was a split. Yet we reached the first break after 90 minutes on the "plus side," at 17,000 chips. Now we're in the Small Blind, and no one's raising at a full table.  We call; about half the players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 9-3-8

A perfectly well-disguised three of a kind for us! So we lay low and check. Trouble is, everyone checks.

ON THE TURN: 10

Sitting first in line to act, part of us wants to bet now - but we decide to check again. Sure enough, someone jumps in - as a man across the table who's showing a bit of an attitude bets 2,000. He gets called.

"Raise - 5,000," we say quietly. That man calls; the other players step aside.

ON THE RIVER: 7

That card may smell like trouble (as in a straight), but we're not looking at it that way. We want to make a big move, so we bet 10,000 (about half our remaining stack). Our opponent calls.

"I've got two pair," he says - showing 10-8. (He also was on a flush draw, which he missed.)

"Abdul-Jabbars," we like to say of 3-3. Our opponent looks pained, as we claim a huge pot.

As we recall, that put our chip stack at 72,000 - enough to reach the final table on a night with two full ones. Weak cards hurt after that, until we went all in for 23,000 with A-10. The board displayed two pair, Q's and 7's - and our Ace kicker allowed us to jump to 101,000!

"Bet you didn't expect that to happen," a man across from us said. Indeed, he was right. And we had another low tide in chips later - but playing tightly and carefully allowed us to hang on and reach the money!

Three players were paid on this night - and as better cards came, our chip stack reached a match-high 291,000. At that point, a man across from us proposed splitting the prize money. We had the lead and could have claimed $82 for first place, but we agreed to a three-way split: $53 per player, with $1 extra for a dealer tip.

"You wore me out," one of the finalists said as the night ended. It turned out to be a four-hour contest, and we played with only about three hours of sleep. But caffeine and M&M's can work wonders - along with blessings from God, of course.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Since it was Christmas Eve night, the holiday came up in the discussion. "I can't wait for the 26th, for the carols to end," the dealer admitted.

"What gets me," we admitted to the table, "is how some people demand you say 'Merry Christmas.' I want to tell them: Show me in the Bible where someone says 'Merry Christmas'."

Uh-oh - did that comment surprise you?  Perhaps you expect a blog about a poker-playing Christian to wholeheartedly endorse Christmas.  But the fact that we went to a poker room instead of a "Midnight Mass" should have tipped you off right away that our view is different.

In fact, we'll throw our challenge out to you. Can you find a place in the Bible where someone says, "Merry Christmas" - or even "Happy Holidays"? If you can, please leave a comment and let us know. If you can't, consider these words....
Every word of God is flawless.... Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. - Proverbs 30:5-6

A lot of people have added to the words of God, probably without even realizing it. We think one example of that is the "War on Christmas" - going to great lengths to fight for a holiday which is never specifically mentioned in Scripture.

This admittedly puts us in a camp with atheists - but we'd rather be true to what God says, than add myths and fables which give people wrong ideas. Yes, we're thankful for Jesus Christ and all He does for us. But we try to do that in a way which upholds the Biblical example. After all, that's what Jesus left for us to follow.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 173 final tables in 459 games (37.7%) - 31 cashes. This makes a record six cash wins in live tournaments this year, plus one online at National League of Poker. Our total earnings for 2015 now are above $1,200!


Sunday, December 20, 2015

The All-In Moment

In a perfect poker tournament, the winner might never have to go all-in. That player would slowly build a chip stack into a dominating position, then put others all-in victoriously.

But really now - can you think of any tournaments where that's happened? We'd guess it's a rare occurrence. Part of the drama in poker is that big stacks meet bigger stacks, and small stacks can take down big ones.

Away from the table, though, we'd like to ask: How many times have you gone all-in?  As in risking everything you have on something, with no guarantee of success?

You may have done it without realizing it - such as taking a spouse in marriage or buying a house. Those moments likely can be scary. Yet that's what God wants all of us to do, for Him.
God, whom I serve with my whole heart in Preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness.... Romans 1:9


The apostle Paul declared he was not half-hearted. No minimum bets here. His whole heart was all-in. He went on to write....
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. - I Corinthians 15:58


Note how we're supposed to give ourselves - fully, not holding back anything. Some churches put it this way: Is your "all" on the altar?

To help you, well, more fully understand this, we offer a Bible study called "All-In." If you think the speaker is going to bring up poker right away.... well, listen to it. You might be surprised.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Book on Daniel

How do you know when you've made the poker "big time?" These days, you might not have to win the WSOP Main Event. One modern sign of greatness is having your life story turned into a documentary.

Daniel Negreanu was the subject of a 90-minute film on Canada's TSN a couple of weeks ago, followed by his own Twitter chat. While we haven't seen the movie, KidPoker reportedly is about how Negreanu went from Las Vegas rookie to consistent winner and media star.

In one interview, Negreanu offered some of his advice for poker success:

“It’s trial and error to an extent -- not crying about what happens but getting on with it. So what if I got a pair of aces and lost? It happens. Keep going.”

When some poker players endure a big loss, they go "on tilt."  They bet wildly with an "I don't care" attitude (and sometimes they really don't) - which can be dangerous for everyone else, especially if that approach turns into a comeback.

Yet Negreanu's words speak of a more disciplined approach. We think it's also more Biblically-grounded.
Do not lie in wait like an outlaw against a righteous man's house, do not raid his dwelling place; for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity. - Proverbs 24:15-16

For years we've taken verse 16 as advice for someone who "falls" into sin - and we think the advice is valid. We need to climb out of our sinful hole and return to a righteous walk:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:8-9

Yet after looking at verses 15 and 16 together, we think there's a different point to that part of Proverbs: sinful people shouldn't spend their time trying to ruin the lives of righteous people. If they continue in a righteous walk, God can restore their losses and bless them even more. Consider Job, who was allowed by God to face extreme hardship from the devil:
After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before... The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. - Job 42:10, 12

Compare verse 12 with Job 1:2, and you'll find his livestock "chip stack" doubled.

So the lesson of Daniel (as in Negreanu) as the same as that of Proverbs and Job. Don't get so down in the dumps from a big loss that you surrender everything that matters. "Keep going," Negreanu says - and we'd add: go in a right godly direction.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The One and Only

We don't play poker online very often these days. But on a chilly, rainy December Sunday with things to do, we did. And we did well - tenth places out of 145 players in National League of Poker No-River Hold 'em. (Only first place won money.)

As we played, this happened after we won a big pot....

MikeSiegrist:  vnh
Me:  Thanks
Me:  Needed that - BBS
Dealer:  DasLaz wins Main Pot ($975)
Me:  PTL
MikeSiegrist:  poker god likes you
Me:  The One God does. Thankfu[l]ly.

"BBS" is short for Big Blind Special - as we hit a winning flush.  PTL, of course, stands for "Praise  the Lord." And we give Mike credit for referring to a singular poker "god."  Some players talk like there are many, but....
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. - Deuteronomy 6:4

Jesus Christ quoted this verse when He walked the earth (Mark 12:29). But here's the thing - some people took Jesus's words to mean He was proclaiming Himself to be God.
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" - John 8:58

That "I am" is a reference to the name God gave Himself in an encounter with Moses (Exodus 3:14). Is it possible Jesus really could have been calling Himself God?  The answer is....
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.... - John 1:1, 14

 The "One God" expresses Himself as both a Father and a Son who was named Jesus Christ. As the Son said elsewhere....
I and my Father are one. - John 10:30

Jesus dared to put Himself on the same level as God the Father. Are you ready to accept that - and live according to what Jesus said in the Bible?


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Right or Wrong? Part 5

We're concluding our meditations from a radio ministry's sermon on gambling.

6. Gambling transgresses the principle of work. The minister based this point on a couple of familiar Bible verses....
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. - Ephesians  4:28

It's tempting to joke poker players use "hands" all the time - from the first hand of the tournament on.

But seriously: if you've spent hours in a cash game or lasted deep into a tournament, have you felt a bit drained when it was over? Grinding things out hand-over-hand admittedly has felt like work to us at times. It's a different kind of work compared to road construction, of course. But the stress can be there -- along with the pressure to constantly make alert and proper decisions.

We'd again make a distinction between poker games and other forms of gambling, such as slot machines and dice tables. Poker normally takes more thought and care in making decisions.

7. Gambling transgresses the principle of providence. We turned this point from the preacher into a separate recent study on the Hebrew word "Gad," which means "fortune."  But we're led to ask: cannot one person's "providence" be another person's "luck"?
...Be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Matthew 5:45

To the believer, God can provide blessings (or great cards) at the right time and in the right way. To the non-believer, back-to-back pocket Aces are simply a case of a poker player defying long odds. It all boils down to your perspective - or as some politicians and ministers like to say, your "world view."
The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it. - Proverbs 10:22

If you're blessed with success at a poker tournament, look on it as the "blessing" it is - and give God thanks for it. But keep in mind....
A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. - Proverbs 28:20

8. Gambling places are surrounded by immorality - such as anger, drunkenness and crime.

We can see the preacher's point here. But sadly, the world is filled with immoral conduct - even in places which have no casinos or poker rooms at all.
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. - II Timothy 3:12-13

As we write this, the U.S. is reeling from violent crimes in place where people never expected it would happen - a women's clinic in Colorado Springs and a services center in San Bernardino, California. Let's be honest: sinful and immoral acts can happen anywhere. Some places simply hide it better than others.

Yet the early church flourished in immoral places. The apostle Paul oversaw a group in Corinth - a place known for wickedness and sin. Instead of casting it aside, God planted believers and allowed them to grow. We're just silly (or faith-filled enough) to think God can do that in a poker community as well.

We conclude our review of Adrian Rogers's message there. But your comments are welcome, if you'd like to keep the conversation going.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Right or Wrong? Part 4

We continue our meditations from a radio ministry's sermon on gambling.

5. Gambling transgresses love. Hoping to win money by causing pain or loss to others is NOT love, the preacher said - because you wind up "victimizing" your neighbor.

The pastor quoted the "two great commands" of Jesus to back this statement (Matthew 22:37-40) - but we thought of a scripture he never quoted, which might apply to his point better:
Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. - Romans 13:10

Perhaps we should learn a lesson from other poker players here. If they have a huge hand (or at least want to pretend they do), they warn their opponents. They might say, "Don't waste your money! You're asking for trouble!" or similar phrases, before the showdown comes. They might be offering a "loving warning" so their opponent doesn't take a big loss.

But wait, you might be saying - doesn't a "loving God" sometimes allow hurt and harm to come to His children?  The answer is yes. And there's a purpose behind it:
...My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. - Hebrews 12:5-6

Yet we think the Bible makes a distinction. God might use other poker players to carry out discipline - but that does NOT mean we should intentionally try to carry it out FOR Him. That can be presumptive.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. - Romans 12:19

That chapter goes on to recommend treating "enemies" with a good and giving spirit (verses 20-21) - waiting for God to do whatever He wants to do, in His good timing.

(NOTE: This is a series of posts; keep checking here for the next part.)





Sunday, December 6, 2015

Right or Wrong? Part 3

We continue our meditations from a radio ministry's sermon on gambling.

3. The vast majority of gamblers lose.

We haven't done research on this, but we suspect it's true. That's how casinos make a profit, after all. We've wondered in recent years why several casinos in Atlantic City have closed. Have more people realized they're losing, so they don't play anymore?  Or are people actually getting better at the games?

But here's our issue with that point. The minister tried to make comparisons with investing in business - yet statistics show most start-up businesses fail as well. They fail at a slower rate than gamblers (ten years vs. a ten-day junket), but 71 percent eventually fail.

But our link had an amazing note about which kind of business has the "best rate of success after [the] fifth year." It's religious organizations. In other words, doing things for God pays off!
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. - I Corinthians 3:6-7
The apostle Paul is referring here to church growth, with new people becoming converted. But there's a principle here that religious organizations should understand better than anyone - that it's only by God's grace and mercy that anything grows. If that's true with church membership, why shouldn't it be true with a business? Or even success at a poker table, for those who believe God?

4. Gambling transgresses honesty. The preacher called it thievery "by mutual consent."

This may be true in back-alley dice-rolling and basement poker nights.  But many poker rooms and casinos take pains to ensure everything is on the up-and-up - like the day we had to take a one-blind penalty for acting too soon in a tournament.
A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. - Proverbs 12:17
This point really comes to your personal ethics. Are you honest with your words and actions at a poker table? Or do you lie (if that's too harsh, "shade the truth" a bit) to get your way?

It's our policy always to be truthful during poker tournaments. Sometimes that means saying nothing, when an opponent asks probing questions about our hand.
Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. - Ecclesiastes 5:2
We think it's better to say nothing and protect your reputation than tell a lie and risk ruining it.

(NOTE: This is a series of posts; keep checking here for the next part.)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Right or Wrong? Part 2

We continue our meditations from a radio ministry's sermon on gambling.

2. Investing and gambling are different things. The preacher argued purchasing stocks is a way for both businesses and shareholders to produce wealth, while the vast majority of gamblers lose.

We agree with the pastor on this, to the extent that there are good and bad investments every bit as much as there are good and bad "gambles." For instance, we know a couple which lost a lot of money after being persuaded to invest in pineapple farming.

We can't think of any poker players who say they've made money from slot machines at casinos. The odds of winning at those things simply are too steep. But wise poker players realize when they have the best chances of winning a hand. They "do the math" in their head, and compute the odds of making a flush draw or filling a full house.

The minister referred in passing to a classic parable of Jesus. It hit us along these lines a couple of years ago, like it never had before....
To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. The he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.- Matthew 25:15-16


The parable doesn't say exactly how that man doubled his money. But what happened when the giver returned from his journey?  Did Mr. Journeyman he call the "double-up" man greedy and covetous?
The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. "Master," he said, "you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more." His master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" - Matthew 25:20-21


The double-up man was praised for his gain - and given an extra reward of being "in charge of many things!" Compare that with another man in the parable, who took a much more "conservative" approach:
But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money... "Master," he said, "I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you."  - Matthew 25:18, 24-25


Mr. One-Talent admittedly was motivated by fear - not only because he might lose everything, but he apparently knew some dark secrets about Mr. Journeyman.
His master replied, "You wicked, lazy servant!... you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest." - Matthew 25:26-27


Mr. Journeyman wanted at least a little something for his talent. Doing nothing with it was not an acceptable option.
"And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." - Matthew 25:30


The fearful man was declared disqualified from the "master's happiness" others received. As a man told us simply during a poker night years ago: "Scared money don't win."

Sitting at a poker table all night without playing a hand eventually will cost you money. You'll be "blinded out" every few hands, and maybe lose antes as well. The object of the game is to make "money" or chips, by handling it properly when the moment comes - a lot like stock investing. That's one big difference we see between playing poker and generic "gambling" on slots or greyhounds.

(NOTE: This will be a series of posts, so keep checking here for the next part.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Right or Wrong?

Several weeks ago we referred to a radio message by a deceased Baptist pastor on whether gambling is right or wrong. (A link at the earlier post may call up that message, so you can listen to it.)

It's really the ultimate question for some people, when it comes to playing poker. If God doesn't gamble, believers should not. If He does.... well, we don't hear that many "religious people" dare to say that.

We've now used that Adrian Rogers message for several days of careful Bible study. He tried to make several points against gambling - and probably by extension, against playing poker in casinos. We invite you to meditate with us on some of them, over the next few posts.

1. Gambling is different from risk-taking.  The pastor noted all things we do in life have risks - and that's true. Even a walk down a flight of stairs can be disastrous, if you're not careful.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. - Ecclesiastes 11:4


The minister referred to farming with this verse. Many a farmer has planted a crop, only to see it ruined by drought or flooding rain.

So where does "risk-taking" end and "gambling" begin? The minister indicated the difference lies in what the effort produces. A farmer can bring in a crop, while "nothing is produced" by gambling and the vast majority of players lose.

We agree that a lot of people lose when they gamble. That's why we say if you're not doing well at it, you should probably cut your losses and stop.  In the Internet age, plenty of free online sites let you test your capability at no charge. (Compare that with, well, maybe Farmville on Facebook.)

But we'd also say the same thing about farming, or any other business career. If you're not succeeding, why keep trying something which will lead to a dead end? Consider....
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. - Acts 5:38-39


This advice was given to the Sanhedrin, which was trying to shut down the first Christian apostles. The group accepted that advice, let the apostles go (verse 40) - and Christianity spread rapidly from there. The Sanhedrin's work seemed proper to them, but God had other ideas.

Like it or not, plenty of poker pros make an income and a living at the game. Whether it's "God's will" for them is not really for us to judge. But whether they realize it or not, they practice a Bible principle:
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. - Ecclesiastes 11:1


Not everyone eventually finds it, but some do. That's every bit as true on farms as in casinos.

(NOTE: This will be a series of posts, so keep checking here for the next part.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Poker Day 458: Down, But Not Out

The original plan was to drive up the turnpike today to see a relative. But the weather seemed too risky for that, with cold rain and a chance of icy precipitation. Instead, we went to Arrowhead Poker - where, of course, danger can lurk around every turn in a tournament as well:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-J of clubs

Early chances have not worked for us, but these are the best starter cards we've had so far today. No one's raising at this full table of ten, so we bump it up to 700. About half the table gets in.

ON THE FLOP: 3-7-5 (don't recall suits)

This flop seems fairly innocent, but the Small Blind jumps out with a bet of 600. Other players are folding.

"That seems small enough," we say as we call.  We're now heads-up.

ON THE TURN: J

"I guess I'd better raise the stakes a little," our opponent says. He now bets 1,100 - right into the top pair and top kicker we've made.  We probably could raise, but we decide to trap a bit and call again.

ON THE RIVER: 10

"Looks like it's now safe to bet 5,000," our opponent says - and that's exactly what he does. We're not convinced he has anything.  So, still with top pair and top kicker, we call.

"I've got Jacks and 5's," he says.  Ouch! We both benefited from the turn card - but he did more. He takes the pot, and we take a noticeable loss.

Yet this was a day when the old advice to "never quit" proved true for us more than once. With our chip stack around 40,000 out of a starting 62,000, we were dealt pocket Aces. They held up in an all-in moment against Q.Q.  Pocket Aces came again later, to bring us a double-up against a player with K-K.

But with our stack up to 165,000, a man went all-in for 130,000. We had A-K, and had little choice but to call. He had A-4 - but caught a 4 on the flop and an Ace on the turn! He survived, and we drooped to a lowly 35,000 with rising blinds and six players to go.

But again, we resolved to not quit - and were rewarded for it. A couple of good hands allowed us to push pre-flop and scare other people away. Our stack rebuilt to the 100,000 mark. Then we won an unlikely race against a man by making a straight on the river, to eliminate him and make the money in the top three.

We wound up heads-up against that man who escaped with an A-4. "You want to play it out?" he asked.

"If you want to chop the money, that's fine with me," we said.

"I'm not chopping nothing."  It was all or nothing - and he had a big chip advantage.

With little to lose, we chose to play on - and pushed with K-5 in the very next hand. He had something like Q-7. But he made the Queen to win the contest. He won $100 for first place; we settled for $65 in second - still better than our $35 buy-in.  We praise God for allowing the "second option" of the day to make us money! We're now at five cash wins this year in 20 live tournaments.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I could use a miracle," one man across the table said as he called a big pre-flop bet.

"Miracles can happen," we told him. (We were out of the hand, so it was easy for us to say that.)

But after the flop, that man folded. "Those cards aren't my color," he admitted when his turn came.

"Sometimes they happen," we told him. He smiled at that.

Have you ever wondered why that is? Why do miracles sometimes happen for people - whether it's a physical healing or running cards for a flush - while they sometimes don't?  Is it simply a matter of luck?

We don't claim to know the full answer to this question, but we went to the Bible for some guidance.
You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. - Psalm 77:14


The writer of this psalm wrote words of faith. Asaph knew God can perform miracles. Yet we heard a preacher on Christian radio this weekend point out even many church-going believers don't expect miracles these days. If you're not looking for any, should God even bother providing one?
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those with gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. - I Corinthians 12:28


Did you realize God has put people in His church with the ability to do miraculous works? Not everyone has that gift, as verse 29 points out - but some apparently do. While some people say the "age of miracles" ended when the original apostles died, why should we assume that - especially if the other "spiritual gifts" are still evident today?
God also testified to it [salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. - Hebrews 2:4


So God performs the miracles, as people allow themselves to be used by Him to provide them.
What do you think, when it comes to miracles? We're interested in your comments; please leave one, and we'll return to this topic in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 172 final tables in 458 games (37.6%) - 30 cashes.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remember As You Play....

...Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - I Thessalonians 5:18
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. It's a custom not many other countries have. But it's something we all should do - even if there's no national holiday or big dinner associated with it.

The casino closest to our door is offering a special ten-hour Thanksgiving buffet. But no, we plan to eat elsewhere.  And really now - when was the last time you heard someone openly give thanks for a casino?

This year, we're actually thankful to God for the opportunity to play casino poker - especially after our amazing two-day back-to-back final table combination in August. We've won some money, and had several opportunities to share our faith.

And what if we hadn't won a dime? We still would be thankful for the freedom to speak up about the things of God, and how good He desires to be.
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
You may have the tallest stack of chips known to man. You may have simply "a chip and a chair."  Whatever your situation, at the table or outside it, be thankful to God for any blessing you have - because ultimately He's the one who provides it to you.
...Because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! - II Corinthians 9:14-15


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Funeral for a Poker Friend, Part 2

We return to the funeral we attended this past week for fellow poker player "Bobby."  He died in a car crash 13 November.

The short message by a church deacon (we think Bobby's grandson) included these words to the grieving family: "Robert knows a lot more about giving and taking -- and hoarding! - now than he did last Friday morning."

Was this a reference to Bobby's poker habit?  We didn't ask afterward, so we don't know. But let's face it - the object of the game in poker is to hoard. The tournament is won by the player who takes everyone else's chips. But there are other games that work that way; Monopoly and checkers come to mind.

Hopefully Bobby was able to detach that poker objective from the rest of his life. It's something we all should do:
People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. - Proverbs 11:26


If you're rounding up items for a time of trouble that you know is coming, that seems wise. But will you be willing to share those items when the trouble comes? That shows what kind of a loving heart you have - as Joseph showed when he knew seven years of plenty would be followed by a famine (Genesis 41).

But wait a minute - the deacon claimed Robert knows a lot more about these things now.  We realize this may step on some religious toes, but that's not what the Bible says.
For the living know that they shall died, but the dead know nothing.... for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. - Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10


These words were written by King Solomon, one of the wisest men of his time. These are words of the Bible, the "word of truth" (John 17:17).  He said dead people "know nothing."

But the deacon also claimed we're on a transition "from life to life" - where death perhaps is only instantaneous, and we pass into the next life immediately.  That's also not what the Bible says.
For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said, "The Lord said to my Lord: 'Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet.'" - Acts 2:34-35 (NLT)


King David talked of Jesus's resurrection (verse 32) - not his own. That's coming someday, but hasn't happened yet.
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. - I Thessalonians 4:16


David will go up when Jesus Christ comes down - and not until. If Bobby was judged to be among "the dead in Christ," he'll go up then as well.

In the meantime, we all should walk in a way so that we'll be considered "the dead in Christ." Learn Jesus's ways now, and practice them daily. You may indeed understand them a lot more after you die - but that will be the start of living with Jesus in God's Kingdom forever.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Funeral for a Poker Friend

Our last post mentioned the death of local poker regular "Bobby" in a car crash. We attended his funeral earlier this week at an Eastern Orthodox Church, keeping in mind these words from the Bible:
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure. - Ecclesiastes 7:4


Our only contact with Bobby was through what some might call a "house of pleasure" - the poker room.  Yet when we passed through a receiving line after the funeral to meet several relatives, our mention of poker brought an overall positive response. One person noted with a smile how Bobby loved to play the game.

Perhaps some of our fellow players attended the cemetery interment for Bobby the next day. But it was disappointing to see we were all alone on a Monday night, when it came to the poker community paying respects.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. - Proverbs 17:17
A short message during the funeral service was given by a church deacon, whom we believe is Bobby's grandson.  The things he said revealed quite a bit.  He noted Bobby "didn't go to church every Sunday.... even most Sundays."

A lot of people have drifted away from attending church services in recent decades. Ask ten of those people why, and you'll probably get at least eight different reasons. Perhaps poker players feel more of a connection with fellow players than with people of faith. Yet the Bible tells us:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:23-25
If you have a hope for God's Kingdom, you might find encouragement toward "love and good deeds" at a poker table. Emphasis might. From our experience, we don't think it's very likely. It's far better to have a church connection, to grow in your belief in God and Jesus Christ - and to keep from going off a godly path.

(NOTE: We'll have more to say about the funeral in our next post.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Poker Day 457: The Honeycomb Hideout

"It's a perfect day to play poker," a man said before today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker.  "Cold and windy."

The cloud cover and breeze were a bit deceiving, as the temperature actually was in the mid-50's F. at game time. But since poker sometimes is a game of deceit, that would be OK - as in this hand.

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A of clubs - 8 of spades

We made an early flush to move ahead in chips.  Now we're one off the Big Blind at this one-table eight-player tournament, and these cards seem worth the trouble. We call. No one raises.  Three players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 3c-5c-7c

We're one card away from something very nice. But we don't have it yet, so we check. As we recall, everyone checks.

ON THE TURN: Qc

The very nice "nut flush" is ours! But we decide to be deceitful polite about it in lead position, and check. A man to our left bets 2,000.  A man across from us calls. Now Hollywood is calling.

"Two-thousand?!?" we ask with a bit of uncertainty in our voice. We shake our head a bit, then seem to reluctantly say, "I'll call."

ON THE RIVER: 10d (as best we remember)

This card doesn't matter. We keep playing our part and check again. The man to our left checks.  But the man across from us bets 10,000 - exactly as we hoped.

"Double," we now say with no trepidation; "20,000."

This causes a hubbub for some at the table, who clearly didn't see this coming.

"He really slow-played that Ace," the man to our left says as he folds. Our poker face is on, and we're not commenting.

"I have to call," the man across from us says. He matches the 20,000, and shows why. He has the King of clubs.

"You thought I slow-played that," we say to the man at our left. "You're absolutely right." We show the Ace and score a big chip gain of more than 24,000.

This was a classic case of what poker players call "letting others bet into you." We let our opponents do all the work, until we sprang the trap with a check-raise at the river.

Those big hands gave us the chip lead for awhile, with a high of 104,000. That helped us through a period of dry cards and habitual folds.

But then with six players left, we over-reached. In the Small Blind with 8-8, we doubled our opponent who turned out to have Q-10. When 7-9-10 came on the flop, he went all-in for 60,000 and we instant-called. Our open-ended straight draw missed (we had ten outs, if two remaining 8's are counted), and we dropped to a lowly 5,000.  A desperation push with A-2 failed, and we ended the day tied for fifth (officially sixth).

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Before we begin, I have some sad news," a regular player who manages another poker room said at the top of the tournament. "One of our everyday players, Bobby, died."

The newspaper obituary for Bobby Kallail was posted on the poker room bulletin board. There we learned things he'd never revealed at poker games - about how he operated a once-popular downtown-area nightclub, and was a part of high school and college wrestling teams.

The man who announced Bobby's passing thinks he might have been heading for the poker room when he died in a car crash. Several players were comforted to know that at least he'd played poker the day before, and was doing what he wanted to do.

"I have hope of seeing Bobby again someday, beyond this life," we said. Only one other player at the table seemed to acknowledge that - and that one barely did. We would ask: do you have such a hope?
If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. - Job 14:14


The ancient Job expressed hope of a resurrection. And the New Testament indicates it will happen for everyone.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the 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. - Revelation 20:12


Were not sure if Bobby ever expressed faith in Jesus as his Savior. All we know for sure is that his funeral will take place at an Orthodox Christian Church. But the Bible shows a time of resurrection and judgment is coming - for him and for you. Are you prepared for that moment? Have you prepared, by giving your life to Christ?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 171 final tables in 457 games (37.4%) - 29 cashes.

We have cashed in four out of 19 in-person tournaments this year. Our next event (probably not until mid-December) will determine whether our percentage hits 20 or 25 percent.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Evening Joe

Embedded image permalink

It's the biggest win for Philadelphia since the Phillies won the 2008 World Series over Tampa Bay. Joe McKeehen from the suburbs wore Eagles and 76'ers gear, as he rolled to victory Tuesday in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

One report on the "November Nine" indicated McKeehen was able to dominate because he never lost a pot which cost him a lot of chips. But not everything went perfectly for McKeehen in Las Vegas. Last Saturday he tweeted:





McKeehen later tweeted he "instantly felt 10 times better" after leaving that hotel.  And hopefully a champion's prize of $7.5 million will improve on that.

But isn't it interesting how small things can become big annoyances -- with social media around to make them seem even bigger? Here's what the Bible recommends instead:
He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. - Proverbs 17:9


Hotel showers will fail.  Customer service teams will let you down. But how you handle those moments reveals the sort of person you are.  You can start a Twitter or Facebook rant and bring the weight of your friends down on someone. Or....
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. - Matthew 18:15


Jesus gave this advice about personal relationships. We think it can work with fellow poker players, and even with businesses hosting poker tournaments.

So best wishes to what one news report called the "soft-spoken" Joe. And may we all learn to communicate softly at all times - promoting love that pours out better than any shower head.



Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nine to Go

The long wait is over. The "November Nine" gather around poker's ultimate final table tonight in Las Vegas, competing for the World Series of Poker Main Event bracelet.

Pierre Neuville of Belgium makes history as the oldest player ever at a Main Event final table. He's 72, and talked with WSOP.com about what he likes most about the international poker circuit: "To meet the world, and to meet them friendly, even if we are fighting so hard at the table."

To meet the world in a friendly way is one thing. To become friends with the world.... well, according to the Bible, that can be trouble:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. - James 4:4


Why would God hate the world? After all, didn't He create it? Yes, God did -- but the people of this world have made it a sin-filled place.
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned... - Romans 5:12


So in God's eyes, if you choose to be friends with this world, you become friends with sin. Our sinless God would much prefer you become friends with Him  -- and with Jesus Christ, who said:
You are my friends, if you do what I command. - John 15:14


Wherever you play poker, do it the way Neuville recommends. "Meet them friendly" - but develop an even better friendship with Jesus. Go through the New Testament to see what He commands of us. Then be daring enough to do it.

OK, enough of the preaching. Who's your pick to win the Main Event - and why?


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Making the Saints

We asked a question in our last post about saints. Who is one? How do you define one? Is it as easy as bringing drinks for a poker home game?

Let's see what a New Testament apostle wrote about this:
To all in Rome who ae loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. - Romans 1:7


Being a saint is a calling from God.
Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greeting. - Philippians 4:21


Saints are "in Christ Jesus." We're led to think that means they've accepted Jesus as their Savior and Lord - and the commitment doesn't stop there:
Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. - Revelation 8:3


Based on verse 2, saints offer prayers toward God in heaven.
...(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) - Revelation 19:8b


Saints also perform acts of righteousness. We think that goes beyond buying two-liter bottles of soda for the poker group. It means living a righteous life, in obedience to God.

Our last post quoted I Corinthians 1:2, about being "called to be holy." Here's how another Bible translation has that verse:
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.... - I Corinthians 1:2 (KJV)


So saints should believe in God and Jesus Christ. They should pray. And they should live holy, righteous lives.

Can you do all that and still play poker? We think so - if what you do at the table reflects a saintly conduct in the rest of your life.
.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Poker Day 456: Small Blind Ordinary

Many poker players dream of hitting the "Big Blind Special" - strong cards in the Big Blind that bring a huge pot.  Today at Arrowhead Poker, we had that once.  But could history repeat itself, to keep us alive in a tournament?

BLINDS: 2,000/4,000

IN THE POCKET: Ac-5s (suits may not be precise)

We've had an up-and-down day at this one-table 10-player tournament.  We scored a big gain when 9-10 in the Big Blind turned into a King-high straight, and we topped a man with three Jacks.  But then we lost about half our stack when we made three Jacks on the river, and lost to a straight.

Now we're in the Big Blind with 37,000 chips, looking for a big moment.  No one raises in front of us, so we call and hope.

ON THE FLOP: 8-8-5

Two pair and top kicker looks very good!  The Small Blind checks.  We could push right now, but instead we bet 10,000 and try to finesse as much out of the table as possible. A man to our left calls, as do two others.

ON THE TURN: 8

Now we have a full house -- and we really have little choice.  "All of it," we say after the Small Blind checks. We commit our last 23,000.

"I'll call," the man to our left says. Uh-oh - that's not exactly what we wanted to hear. What if he has an 8, for a higher full house?

A man across the table folds. The Small Blind thinks it over, then calls. Huh?!  Could they both be trying to outbluff each other?

ON THE RIVER: J

The only way this seems to change anything is if someone has pocket Jacks.  The two remaining players who can bet check each other.

"I've got an Ace," the Small Blind says. (Actually A-9.) Good.

"I've got a full house," we say hopefully as we show.

Then the man to our left turns over.... 8-5!!! It was what we feared, and in abundance! He hit his full house on the flop, and we never had any real hope.  We shake his head, shake our head and leave the table in seventh place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: On one hand, the flop was 6-6-6.

"A beast flop," we declared. "And on All Saints Day!"

A man across the table recognized what we were talking about - and as we left the table after finishing seventh, we repeated it. "May you all be saints, on this All Saints Day."

Let's make one thing clear right away: we are not Roman Catholic. All Saints Day is a traditionally Catholic event. It's not a day we personally celebrate (short of buying Halloween candy at half-price). But we realize several of our fellow players are Catholic - and we tried to offer a thought-provoking comment about it as we left.

We didn't grasp until we reviewed the link that All Saints Day is supposed to be a "solemn holy day." The Bible lists several "holy days" of God (see Leviticus 23), and this is NOT one of them. But our question to the table would be what we're asking you: Are you a saint?  Now - even before you die?
Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise his holy name. - Psalm 30:4


Could this command really be given to dead people?  We think living saints are supposed to sing praise. But how do we define a saint - or better put, how does the Bible define one?
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? - I Corinthians 6:2


Note the distinction: "the saints" and "you" are the same things to the apostle Paul. This letter was written to....
To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - their Lord and ours. - I Corinthians 1:2


So saints appear to be church members, sanctified believers and people who call on Jesus's name. The fact that saints were mentioned in Psalms indicates they existed in Old Testament times, as well as New.

How else would you identify a saint?  Offer comments if you wish; we'll share more about this in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 170 final tables in 456 games (37.3%) - 29 cashes.



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Drinking Game?

An unusual invitation sat on one of the poker room dining tables. The two-page, neatly-printed offer asked for ten players to join in a tournament.... after getting drunk.

We know plenty of casual poker players who would jump at the chance to join this offer. In fact, they'd probably be stunned to see someone printing out the idea -- because they do it in bars and clubs all the time.

Yet as you might guess, this proposal was different. It's a "scientific" research study being done by a university in our town, to see if alcohol really affects someone's poker-playing skills.

The academic behind this offer sat down with us for an alcohol-free tournament, and asked the table for their general opinions about the idea.  Most people guessed the addition of liquor would hurt someone's poker skills. But we recalled several times when people clearly went past their alcohol limit, yet succeeded - sometimes hitting more "lucky cards" than normal.

So are we going to join in this experiment? No. That's not what we do - or what we've done throughout our life:
Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness.... Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. - Romans 13:13-14


The Bible clearly opposes getting drunk. But admittedly, some Christian groups have taken this to the other side of the road and declared any alcohol consumption is wrong. That's not really Scriptural.
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and he master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.... "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." - John 2:7-10


If drinking wine is wrong, why would Jesus turn a lot of water into wine? As "the first of his miraculous signs," at that (verse 11)?

The proper middle ground seems to be that alcohol is OK to drink, as long as you don't drink too much:
Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)


In other words, don't go over the edge and drink yourself "under the table." Playing poker under a table probably would get you removed from the tournament, anyway.

So what do you think of this experiment?  Have you seen alcohol make a poker-player's performance better? Worse? Or is there no difference? Your comments are welcome.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gad or God? Part 2

Our last post focused on a three-letter Hebrew word: gad.  It looks like "God," but it's very different. It refers to luck or fortune - and the book of Isaiah shows if you put all your hope in those things, in a poker room or elsewhere, you're going to be disappointed.

So where should we put our hope? God challenges you to believe the Bible - and put it in Him.
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. - Psalm 62:5


But how do we do that?  Simply by saying a prayer?  Well, that's a good way to start....
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. - Romans 12:12


God needs to fill us with a proper hope:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. - I Timothy 6:17


God can provide you with many blessings if you put your hope in Him. But again.... how?
Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. - I John 3:3


God wants the people who believe in Him to be pure. That means getting the sin out of our lives.
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. - II Corinthians 7:1


The goal is to be holy, and that's done by holy living....
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. - Romans  7:12


Is this how you're living?  Have you gone all-in for God, instead of "gad?"  If not, go back to that first step. Admit to God in prayer you've gone in the wrong way, and ask for His help in turning toward holiness. Then examine your life, put out the things which are impure -- and have hope God will help you with the rest.
.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gad or God?

There probably aren't many poker players who watch or listen to religious programs. That's one reason why we do what we do.

It's almost inevitable that those programs sooner or later bring up the topic of gambling. We heard one recently on radio from a deceased Southern Baptist pastor, that admittedly made us do some serious thinking. We've linked to it for you to hear and consider, and we may analyze it here in a future post.

But here's one point from that message that was eye-opening for us:
But as for you who forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny.... - Isaiah 65:11


Some people go to the poker table or casino hoping for the perfect cards to make a big gain. They hope to have "good fortune."  Or as the Contemporary English Version translates verse 11, they offer food and wine "to the gods you call 'Good Luck' and 'Fate'".

The Hebrew word for "fortune" in that verse is gad.  Veteran Bible students know that's also the name of one of Israel's 12 tribes....
Leah's servant Zilpah bore Jacob a son. Then Leah said, "What good fortune!" So she named him Gad. - Genesis 30:10-11


The problem with this child was that Jacob should have been receiving children from his wife.  (In fact, Leah was one of his two wives, but that's not our issue here.)  What Leah considered "really lucky" (CEV) actually was outside the will of God (Genesis 2:24).

So if you're putting your hopes simply on having good luck in a poker room, you're leaning on "gad" -- when you really should put your hope in God.  Because God says this of "gad"....
Your luck will end! I will see to it that you are slaughtered with swords. You refused to answer when I called out; you paid no attention to my instructions. Instead, you did what I hated, knowing it was wrong. - Isaiah 65:12 (CEV)


Does this verse describe you? Are you hoping for a lucky streak to turn around your life? God warns from the Bible that's the wrong approach - and he can punish it severely. It's better to lean on God. We'll explain how to do that in our next post.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poker Day 455: Eight is Enough?

On some days, the dealer in a poker tournament is your friend. On other days.... well, you have to get a bit creative.  Today's tournament at Arrowhead Poker definitely was the latter.

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 5-6 of clubs

Two rounds are down, and we haven't won a pot yet. Promising starter hands such as K-10 have brought no success, especially after the flop.  Our starting stack of 62,000 chips is still not bad, starting at 55,500. And now we're in the Big Blind, with a chance to represent anything. But a player ahead of us raises to 2,500. We choose to defend, and about half the table of 10 is in.

ON THE FLOP: 7s-9c-3c

We're first in line to bet, and check.  A man on the other end of the table tosses out 16,000. Another man alongside him calls -- and we add up the score. There are nine cards that could give us a flush, plus three other 8's that could bring us a straight. That's 12/47 outs, a bit better than 25 percent. Based on that, we dare to call.  All other players are out.

ON THE TURN: 8s

Yes! We make a straight, but we check to the big bettors again -- and now the pushing comes.  Both opponents go for it, one holding around 55,000 chips.

"I don't have that much" but I'll call," we say - committing our last 37,000.

"I've got two pair," the man in the middle admits. He shows 8-9.

"I've got a straight," we say as we show.  The man in the middle exclaims an expletive at this sight.  The third man turns over A-J of clubs.  In a way, that's good; we feared someone might have J-10.  But now we're rooting against a flush, because the third man would have us topped.  One card to come....

ON THE RIVER: 10s

He still makes a higher straight, thanks to his Jack! He had 10/44 outs, and made his odds much as we had ours.  Two players had gone bust but took re-buys; we don't re-buy and wind up leaving the table first -- tenth out of 10 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The player to our left was a young man who's a member of a local Catholic college baseball team.  So when another man won a pot with three 6's, we said, "He's got a beast!"  Then we quietly said to out left, "As a.... student, I figure you'd understand that."

The young man laughed a bit and nodded a little at that, but said nothing.  We checked later, and found a General Education degree at his college requires taking at least one theology course -- not necessarily the New Testament. That's where our "beast" reference is found:
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


The problem with this verse is that many people claiming to have "wisdom" have interpreted that number in various ways.  In fact, some ministers consider the "beast' to be the Roman Catholic Church.  We'll leave that identity for you to study and examine. But we'd ask you to keep this in mind....
...There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name. - Revelation 14:11


The "mark" is forced on everyone who wants to buy or sell (13:16-17). What should we do instead?
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. - Revelation 14:12


Two things are critical: obey God's commands and being faithful toward Jesus. Check yourself against the Bible on a regular basis, to see if that's what you're really doing.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 169 final tables in 455 games (37.1%) - 29 cashes.

It admittedly seems unfair to score this as making a final table. But only one table of tournament players showed up (a separate table went directly into a cash game) -- and if not for the two re-buys before us, we would have finished eighth.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Save the Date?

One topic at the table in our last poker tournament was running. We played on the day of the city's biggest marathon - and we even had to allow extra time to reach the poker room, because of detours set up for the runners.

One player indicated some downtown churches don't support the marathon, because the course goes past their buildings and makes it hard for worshipers to attend. He noted those churches have "Sunday services."

This led us to openly suggest an alternative. "They could try having services on other days of the week."

Some large Christian churches actually do that. They've added meetings on Saturday afternoons and evenings. We've attended some of them, and a few draw a good crowd. But regular readers know we recommend that for another reason....
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. - Deuteronomy 5:12


Which day is meant here as the "Sabbath"? If you think it's Sunday, think again.
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. - Genesis 2:3


The "seventh day" on most calendars actually is Saturday. In fact, that day of the week in Spanish is Sabado - with a "Sab-" in front, like Sabbath.

If Sunday-keeping churches had to make a change for whatever reason, Saturday would be a perfect alternative. In fact, it would be God's.... well, not alternative, but His first choice all along. It was Jesus's first choice as well.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. - Luke 4:16


Jesus kept the Saturday Sabbath. Trouble is, people who go into synagogues on the Sabbath and try to promote Jesus today might be asked to leave in a hurry. So both mainstream Christians and Jews have issues with God here.

We don't play poker on the Sabbath, because we use the time to focus on God and Jesus through Bible study, worship and prayer. We also use the time to rest -- and our life is so busy these days we need all the extra rest we can get.

So think it over. Is it time to change your worship habit, the way some poker players change their approach to hands to avoid becoming too predictable?  If you do, you might get closer to what God envisioned in the first place.



Sunday, October 11, 2015

Poker Day 454: The Straight Edge

Since cash-game poker didn't work for us in Canada, we were back home today playing in a tournament at Arrowhead Poker.  Except this was "no-limit" Texas Hold 'em, where the betting can get wild -- sometimes to your advantage:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-7 offsuit

We won the first hand of the day with A-Q, so we're a bit above our starting level of 52,000 chips.  These cards aren't much, but the blinds don't cost that much right now and no one raises. We're in for the minimum, as is most of the table.

ON THE FLOP: 4-5-J

Hopeful cards for us, as we have an open-ended straight draw. Someone across the full 10-player table from us puts out a feeler bet of 600, and we call it. About four players remain in the hand.

ON THE TURN: 8

Exactly!  The well-disguised straight comes, and now it's our turn to feel the pulse of the table. We bet 1,600, matching what a man did on the hand we won earlier.  A man across the way calls, but then someone else raises to 5,000.  Yeah, right.

"Re-raise - 15,000," we say.  The player in the middle of this folds, but the man who bet 5,000 goes all-in for around 50,000.  It looks like bad timing for him. Another man folds.

"I'll call," we say. "Do you have the straight?"

"The flush!" a man out of the hand speculates.  What flush? we wonder.  Only two hearts are showing.  We turn over our cards anyway, and show our straight.

"Nahh.  I've just got two pair."  He shows 4-5!  We have six potential full house cards to dodge....

ON THE RIVER: 7

...and we do!  That other man calls for a re-buy, while we make a huge gain to more than 130,000 chips.

Our take-home lesson here is that when other players want to throw around chips early in a tournament, let them do it - especially if you have a big hand.  You may wind up better for it.

That big win allowed us to try some marginal cards, but none of them paid off.  Our stack drooped until pocket Aces came, which allowed us to win a big sidepot while someone who was all-in stayed alive with three Queens.

But the blinds got bigger and our stack grew smaller.  Finally with six players left and three earning money, we went all-in for 50,000 with K-Q of hearts.  A caller with A-9 picked up an Ace on the flop, while no hearts came for us.  We finished sixth, which for a total 11-player day was only middle of the road.

MINISTRY MOMENT: One man at the table asked another how he kept getting good cards.  "Clean living," he said - with his tongue in his cheek, we presumed.

"Clean living is a good thing," we told the table.  "It sure beats dirty living."

Do you agree with that statement?  Some people think any card-playing constitutes "dirty living," as in sin.  We don't find any verse in the Bible to support that. But we do see this:
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? 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. - Psalm 24:3-4
When it comes to "clean hands," we do NOT think that means cleaning off the potato chip grease before touching your cards.  One study Bible indicates that refers to "guiltless actions." Based on the rest of the verse, it means not worshipping false gods or supporting lies.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. - James 4:8
Countless children are taught to wash their hands before eating dinner.  But we really should keep ourselves clean from sin all the time.  But what if you've blown it -- and your life really is dirty in God's sight?
And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name. - Acts 22:16
If you've never confessed your sins to God before, you need to do that. Repent of them, and ask for God's forgiveness. Then be baptized to symbolize the washing away of sin, in the name of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19) -- and God can grant you the gift of His Holy Spirit, to help you live a clean life (Acts 2:38).

We do NOT guarantee your poker hands will improve once you turn to God. But many other things in your life will -- and they'll be worth it.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 168 final tables in 454 games (37.0%) - 29 cashes.  Our final table percentage hits its highest point since November 2011, but we admit we've been helped a lot by one or two-table weekend tournaments.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Canadian Cash Game: The River Rat

The World Series of Poker had a Main Event champion from Canada a few years ago. But that doesn't mean it's easy to find a poker room in that country.

We searched online before going to a church convention in Ontario, and found only a couple of casinos with anything more than slot machines. The only open poker room in Toronto exists only during the Canadian National Exhibition, that country's version of a national summer fair.  The other options require driving and commitment.

The best-known place may be Casino Rama, a secluded place with a lot of tour bus space. We drove to it on a weekday afternoon, and found the poker room doesn't have tournaments very often. The cash games are your only chance to make money. So we withdrew $100 Canadian from our home bank account, to see what we could do.

BLINDS: 2/5 (Limit Hold 'em)

IN THE POCKET: K-J offsuit

This is a limit table, with strict rules about how much you can bet or raise. We won the very first hand after we sat down, with a 6 in our pocket bringing a pair on the flop. We were up $15, but now we're down a bit after some chasing. These cards look promising, so we join most of the table in getting in.

ON THE FLOP: Q-Q-K

Lots of faces look like good graces for us.  We bet the $2 minimum, and several players get out of the way. But a man who's apparently from New York state (based on his St. Francis University hat) calls.

ON THE TURN: 6 (as best we recall)

We know for sure this was not a face card, so it seems harmless. The man across from us now bets the $5 minimum. We call and are wary. If he's sitting on a third Queen....

ON THE RIVER: J

It's not the face we wanted, but we'll take it.  We let our opponent bet again, and call when he offers $5.

"Three pair," we say with good humor.

"I've got a straight," he says.  WHAT?!?!  Yes, he turns over A-10!  The river card was exactly what he wanted, to steal a nice pot.

We're reminded here of the perils of a limit hold 'em game. So-called "river rats" can hang around waiting the right card to come, without having to invest a lot of money. If the table was no-limit, a big bet on our part might have pushed him aside - but it wasn't.

Few other good cards came for us, and we wound up surrendering $85 after about an hour. Casino Rama has no table for Ultimate Texas Hold 'em, and only a couple with low-price blackjack.  It's big on baccarat, but that's a game we don't know. So we took our losses and left - our fourth consecutive loss in a cash game, going back to 2010. You'd think we'd learn.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Hal-le-lu-jah!" a man on our side of the table halfway-sung several times after winning a nice pot. Since we wore a WWJD wristband on the trip, we of course brought up God.

"He's not a gambler," the man who hit that river card said to us.  We responded by pointing out the arrival of Jesus on Earth was God's ultimate all-in moment for us.

Yet during the church convention, we saw some Bible verses which admittedly made us do some deep thinking....
For this reason, and because the angels are watching, a woman should wear a covering on her head to show she is under authority. - I Corinthians 11:10 (NLT)


What does this have to do with gambling and poker? We pondered about the "angels are watching" part of that verse. The Bible shows angels can fall into sin, every bit as much as humans can....
For if God did not spare angels who had sinned, but, committing them to pits of the nether gloom in Tartatus, reserved them under punishment for doom.... II Peter 2:4  (Moffatt)


Most Bible translations show "Tartarus" as "hell". That Greek word only appears in this verse, referring to a place where fallen angels are kept. Some of them apparently are there now, even though a time of final judgment doesn't come until later (Revelation 20).

The Bible indicates Satan led many angels into becoming demons long ago (Revelation 12:8-9). God's Word does not say whether or not angels have sinned and fallen since that time.  But we wonder: could the things "believers" in God and Jesus do set a bad example for them? Could this be what is meant by another verse....
And do not bring sorrow to God's Holy Spirit by the way you live.... - Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)


Fellow church members might not see your trip to a casino. But angels can, while God and the Holy Spirit certainly do. Are we doing things there which might cause them grief (as the KJV puts it)?  We'd welcome your comments on this deep spiritual matter.

UPDATED CASH GAME SCOREBOARD: Three gains in 10 games; total loss $242.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Getting on the Winning Side

You never know who you'll meet playing online poker.  Awhile back "flopblogger" (our web handle) had this chat with a player named "silkNsatan":

Me: I hope you're more silk than Satan. :-)
silkNsatan: hope u more flop than blog [...]
Me: But I'm admittedly more into the things of God than Satan.
icandothis: glad to hear it
silkNsatan: same thing probleyjus differnt name
silkNsatan: buddhist here
silkNsatan: buddhist here
silkNsatan: try anyways
Dealer: LTDUSARET wins Main Pot ($2320)
Me: Aha
Me: I believe many people worship Satan, without realizing it.

It had been a long time since we reviewed exactly what Buddhists believe, especially when it comes to Satan.

One website we consulted says Buddhism has a devil character named "Mara" - one considered wicked, evil, "the Murderer, the Tempter." That's not far away from what Christians think about Satan.
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

In fact, Satan sometimes can appear "silky smooth" to people:
And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. - II Corinthians  11:14

And that's why we think "people worship Satan, without realizing it." They accept lies and deception that they think is a reflection of God, but really is not.  That's why the Bible warns:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm n the faith.... - I Peter 5:8-9

But how can you tell whether you're following God and Jesus, as opposed to Satan and demonism? We recommend taking time each day reading carefully through the book of truth (John 17:17), the Bible.
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

Just as some poker players stage big bluffs to get you away from winning pots, Satan can come up with ideas and reasoning to steer you away from God and Jesus Christ. Check people's thinking against what the Bible says - and let the Bible be your guide, no matter how others might "spin" it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Remember As You Play....

And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. - Ecclesiastes 4:12 (KJV)
An Ace in the pocket is OK -- until the flop comes. As one man told us years ago, eventually it becomes "just another card." Especially if someone else's hole cards connect.  "Ace high" can win pots.... but to be honest, not a lot of them.


A pocket pair is even better. You can use it to make pre-flop raises, scaring that speculating opponent with A-8 (for an example) out of a hand. Two matching cards certainly withstand a lone rocket.

But that "threefold cord" can be a sturdy thing. If your pocket pair turns into three of a kind on the flop, your options become quite wide-open.  You can check and trap, tempt someone into a betting contest, and even bet your bundle if your chip stack is low.

So cards in threes certainly can please -- and the Bible has a lot of powerful threes for you to consider.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. - I Corinthians 13:13


Love is powerful by itself. After all, God is love (I John 4:8, 16). But faith in a loving God is what's necessary for salvation (Ephesians 2:8) - and hope in God's coming Kingdom and reward provide a reason to live out your love and faith every day.

Looking for "trips" at the poker table can be rewarding.  But here's a project for you: how many other "threefold" things can you find in the Bible?  Look through the Word of God, make a list - and you might be surprised how strong three can be.



Sunday, September 20, 2015

Watching Out for You

Set up a game - whether it be poker, football or something else - and someone inevitably will try to cheat at that game to gain an advantage.

The latest case of poker cheating comes from an online security website.  "Odlanor" malware can take a look at your cards at a website such as PokerStars, and instantly let your opponents know what you have.  It can enter your computer through poker helps, such as calculators or player databases.

For those of us who play online primarily, this is irritating but no big deal.  But for those who play online for money, it's a very big deal -- as cheaters could take advantage and rob players of winnings.

You probably can delete the malware programs to solve the problem. But that doesn't solve the core issue: Why do some people cheat at poker? Why do they feel compelled to break the rules, be unethical and attempt to sneak their way to victory?

As odd as it may sound, we think the problem is spiritual. At the root of a malware infection is a sin infection....
I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. - Romans 7:18


The man writing these words was the apostle Paul. Yes, one of Jesus's apostles admitted he had a sinful nature.  If he does, we suspect deep-down all of us do.
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. - Romans 7:19-20


The wording here can seem confusing.  But Paul is saying a sinful nature inside him can lead him to do bad things -- such as cheating.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25


Jesus came in part to provide people a new nature - a nature that is holy, godly and righteous.  In other words, one that doesn't want to cheat.
To them God has chosen to make know among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. - Galatians 1:27


Once Jesus enters a person through the Holy Spirit, everything should start changing. But we need to focus on living a godly way, not the cheating way.  Look for ways to win that are clean and above reproach - not ways that can get you tracked down like a cyber-criminal and put in jail.