Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bends, Pokes and Other Things

The talk at the table turned to one of the biggest poker events of the year in our area.  One woman was troubled by something she saw after the tournament was over.

As the decks of cards were collected, she said several Aces had bent corners - especially the Ace of spades.  The woman was especially irked because it was a charity poker tournament. The prize pool was big, but the focus was supposed to be on giving to a non-profit organization.

Then another player mentioned visiting a poker room where he saw needles on the ground outside.  He indicated the needles may have been used to poke tiny holes in the cards, so people could know what was dealt where. (We're keeping the name of the room anonymous, because we have not proven or disproven that claim.)

Like it or not, some people try to win at poker "by hook or by crook."  If they can gain a sneaky advantage through cheating, they will.  But of course, that doesn't mean they should.
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. - I Corinthians 6:8
These words from the Bible were written to a Christian church -- yes, to a church with cheaters! Members were taking each other to court over disputed matters or wrongs. The apostle Paul was especially annoyed because church members were taking their issues before judges who might not believe in God at all (verse 6).

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither.... thieves nor the greedy... nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. - I Corinthians 6:9-10

Paul mentions a lot of other offenses in these verses; we're only highlighting the sins which relate to our topic.  His main point is that people who are cheating to "get ahead" need to stop it. Otherwise, God will stop them from entering His Kingdom.

Paul was tough when it came to punishment -- writing wicked people should be expelled from a church group (5:13).  But he also had a message for people who think they've been the victim of cheating.
...Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? - I Corinthians 6:7b

In other words, follow the example given by Jesus....
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. - Matthew 5:39-40

Sometimes you can set a better example in poker by taking a loss gracefully, than by winning a huge pot or tournament.  This approach admittedly is not easy; our society promotes "getting even" a lot.  But if you do it the right way (perhaps by eliminating the cheating player with a big hand), you'll honor God more.

So feel free to spill to us here - what's the worst case of poker cheating you've ever seen, and how did it happen?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Poker Day 440: Two for the Money?

We could have rested on last Sunday's big win.  But the only way to make more money is to invest some of those winnings.  So we went back to Arrowhead Poker today, hoping to go two-for-two in 2015....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-10 offsuit

It's the very first hand of the day -- and after Saturday's big state poker tournament, only seven players have shown up.  That potentially is better for us.  So sitting in the Small Blind, we call with little at stake.  No one raises.

ON THE FLOP: 2-4-6

Well, what do you know -- top pair!  We're first to act, so we offer 700 in hopes of claiming the pot inexpensively.  A few players fold; as best we recall, three stay in.


Now we don't have top pair, and we wonder what other players have.  So we check.  So do the others.


A second pair looks very good to us!  So we raise our bet accordingly, to 1,500.  One player folds -- but a man across from us raises to 3,000.  We think that's a one pair "I dare you" bet.  So we're not really concerned, and we call.  What could go wrong?

"Straight," the opponent says.

Ohhhh.  That could go wrong - as he turns over 8-9.  He had an open-ended straight draw and made it.  We lose a bunch, and wonder why that didn't cross our minds.

Looking back, we really wouldn't change how we handled that hand.  It's hard to bet the turn when top pair is gone - unless you're making a bluff bet to scare other people away.  What would you have done?

We fought back form that setback to win several hands -- including two big ones in the row in the second hour, when J-10 turned into a straight which allowed us to double-up.  Our high chip count was 96,000, from a starting 40,000.  But then we lost a lot when we challenged an all-in bet with A-Q, and ran into A-K.

With blinds getting very high, we felt forced to go all-in with 40,000 chips and A-4.  Opponents called with Q-Q (as best we recall) and A-K.  The board didn't help us at all, and the man with a pair scored a double-takeout.  We finished tied for fifth, out of ten total players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: After that double-up straight, we said, "Thank you, Lord."

"Thank you, Lord," another man repeated -- perhaps a bit surprised.

Yes, we said it.  And we meant it.  We believe in being thankful to God for every blessing which comes our way.  Why?
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. - Colossians 2:6-7

Believers in Jesus should "overflow" with thankfulness.  That may remind you of a classic Bible passage:
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. - Psalm 23:5

Some Bible commentaries indicate the "cup" overflowing here refers to the "table" God prepares for us.  God can bless believers, even as skeptics and "enemies" watch.  In fact, that can be a sign of Who ultimately is in charge of things.

But let's go back to Colossians for a moment.  That "overflowing" is the final step in a process that starts with receiving Jesus as Lord.  If you haven't done that, why wait?
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.... - John 1:12

You may think you're a "child of God" now, but the Bible indicates it depends on receiving and believing in Jesus.  If you need help with that, leave a comment - we'll be glad to assist you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 158 final tables in 440 games (35.9%) - 26 cashes. .Yes, it was another one-table game. But if people want to deny us final tables, they need to show up to stop us.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living Large

The biggest poker tournament of the year in our state occurs this weekend.  But as usual, we will stay away -- because it's happening on a day when we avoid playing poker.  We've explained that reason here before.

But we'd like to focus on one of the side events - a "High-Roller Poker Tournament."  It has a $10,000 top prize, but a seat (along with free food and drinks) costs you $500.  (The entry fee goes to charity, which is a kind gesture.)

Lots of big poker events have tournaments like this.  The WSOP added a contest with a million-dollar buy-in a few years ago.  If you have a lot of money to spend, it's a chance to make a lot more.

The concept reminds us of something Jesus said....
...When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. - Luke 12:48 (NLT)
If you've earned a lot of money playing poker, what are you doing with it?  If you're only padding a bank account, we'd ask if that's really the right priority.  Consider what else Jesus said in this section:

And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. - Luke 12:47 (NLT)
Have you stopped to ponder what God wants you to do with your winnings?  We should note this principle goes far beyond money -- it could refer to an important job, or skills and talents in other areas.

Poker high-rollers should realize they'd better have a lot of money not merely to spend, but to lose.  Because in truth, most players in a tournament go home empty-handed.  We think it's a good idea to think about other ways to invest big winnings.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21
Only a relatively few players will make the list of WSOP bracelet winners -- and unless you win a main event, that bracelet is likely to be forgotten years after you're gone.  What things are you doing which will last for eternity?  How are you being "rich toward God" (Luke 12:21) - doing things God is much more likely to reward? 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Poker Day 439: Planting Small Seeds

"Speak softly and carry a big stick," President Theodore Roosevelt once said.  That advice can be applied to the poker room at times.  Watch how he tried it at Arrowhead Poker today....

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: King of hearts - King of spades

On a holiday weekend, the turnout is small -- nine players total.  We lost a modest pot early when our pair of 9's lost to a pair of Queens.  Now we have cards even better than that -- but we're first to act pre-flop, so we take the "soft" step and call.  Sure enough, a player across from us raises to 1,200.

"Raise," we say when our turn comes again; "5,200."

This approach keeps three other big spenders in; the rest get out of the way.

ON THE FLOP: 6s-Qs-5s

We have an overpair - but even better, a big spade draw.  We know we should follow up strongly, so we offer a continuation bet of 5,000. A big bettor across from us raises to 10,000.  We call; the rest step aside.


Jackpot!  We clinch the nut flush, and have an opponent in a mood to gamble.  So we check.  But he checks, too.  Bummer.

ON THE RIVER: 8h (not a spade; suit may not be exact)

Since there's no pair on the board, there's no chance for a full house.  Give us the check mark - and now how about a bonus?  We bet 12,000, and our opponent shoves one of his two big stacks of chips at us. (We didn't ask for a count, to see how it is.)  We don't hesitate to go all-in, and he calls.

Then our opponent throws down.... a Jack of clubs?!?!  Seriously?!?!

"I've got the nuts," we say as we show.  Whatever else that man has, it's not winning.  We get a marvelous double-up, to about 147,000 chips.

"That Ace was the perfect card for you," another player says.  We agree - as it left the outcome practically beyond doubt in our favor.

Our pot kept building from there, as good cards came our way.  A-K of clubs eliminated one player who had A-Q, and lost a race.  Even J-9 won a race when two Jacks came on the board!  In this "bounty" tournament, we eliminated four players at $25 each - the first time we can recall ever claiming a bounty at a poker table.

We reached a chip-stack high of 440,000, and made it to heads-up action. At that point, we agreed to a settlement with our opponent.  With first place paying $90 and second place $54, we each accepted a $72 payout.

That plus four bounties plus our own "bounty chip" which we never lost meant our $60 investment wound up earning $197.  Our records show that's our second-best poker day financially ever - topped only by a Monday night in Florida in 2011. We're praising the Lord for a successful day!

MINISTRY MOMENT: On the way home from the poker room, we passed a regular spot for panhandlers - and two men were there, one with a sign declaring himself "homeless" and seeking help.

We stopped to talk with the men, and found both are staying in a shelter -- but saying things aren't going well there. One claimed he lost his medications to theft. That one also said about $200 was coming in a couple of days, so they could get a motel room for a short time while looking for work.

We admittedly were torn about how to help these men, and openly told them so.  They had a place to stay, but wanted someplace better.  They'd stayed with a friend the night before, and the temperature this night was going to stay above freezing.  So what would you do in such a case?

Against our better judgment (which was simply to walk away, concluding they really didn't need anything we could provide), we let them into our car and drove them to a nearby small motel for overnight lodging.  It was a place where we put a truly homeless man on a January weekend last year, when the temperature was much colder.

Why did we do this?  In part because....
...Freely you have received; freely give. - Matthew 10:8

God blessed us at the poker table, so it only seems right to share a blessing with others - especially people who seem much worse off than us.
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? - James 2:15-16
Without even looking for them, we encountered more than 40 beggars last year -- in part because we live in a neighborhood with homeless shelters nearby.  We realize we easily could be in their shoes, if only a few things change in our life.  So we try to provide help where we can, especially meeting needs more than handing out cash.  Do you have a different suggestion?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 157 final tables in 439 games (35.8%), 26 cashes. Today was our first cash in a live tournament since February 2014.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

From One Sport to Another

It looks like the poker debate is over -- well, at least one of them.  Poker is not simply a table game. It's a sport.

We say that because of the former sports stars playing it, and succeeding.  Former Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo (left) finished deep in the money this week, on a PokerStars Caribbean cruise.  In fact, notice the logo on his shirt-sleeve.  He's apparently joined "Team Poker Stars," which includes tennis champion Rafael Nadal.

He's not the only former athlete who's made the transition.  Former big-league baseball players had their own poker tournament in Las Vegas this week.  And who can forget Orel Hershiser asking defeated poker pros to sign his baseball on TV several years ago, at the National Heads-Up Championship?

We don't know the complete motive for this movement.  But perhaps current and former sports stars play poker for the competitive thrill of it -- providing them another opportunity to be a big winner.

But you might not need to play poker to enjoy such a thrill.  Consider what one Biblical leader wrote:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. - I Corinthians 9:24
The apostle Paul called for a "race" -- and not between A-10 and K-J.  He urged believers to run for some other kind of "prize."  What's he talking about?

No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. - I Corinthians 9:27
Paul wanted that "prize" so much that put himself under discipline.  He finally explains what that prize is later in this letter:

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, his Scripture will be fulfilled: "Death is swallowed up in victory...."  But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 15:54, 57 (NLT)

The ultimate prize is a body "that will never die" - a body with eternal life.  That's offered to you through Jesus, if you run a disciplined race in this life.  And here's the best part: you're not really competing against other people to get it.
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. - Matthew 24:13 (NLT)

We think that means everyone who stands firm. Are you willing to make the transition to this sort of endurance contest -- a race with the greatest prize of all at stake?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Self-Taught Life

When it comes to poker, do you think you've seen it all?  Do you dare to think you know it all?

There's a computer in Canada which programmers say knows more than you.  And here's the more amazing thing - they say the computer taught itself how to play Texas Hold 'em.

This announcement, for some reason, is not in CardPlayer magazine.  It's in ScienceAn online summary indicates this ultimate poker "bot" called Cepheus went through "24 trillion simulated poker hands per second for two months" to develop a winning strategy.  By comparison, some human players do well in a tournament to see 10 hands in a 20-minute blind period.

We couldn't get the playing part of Cepheus to work on two different computers.  But its "pre-flop strategy" in heads-up Texas Hold 'em strikes us as odd.  For instance, it raises with J-4 unsuited practically every time.  So it's an aggressive bot -- yet the programmers tell us it's liable to win most of the time.

We'd stop here and open the blog for comments. Are you a "self-taught" poker player like this?  If so, has it worked for you?

But we'd go farther -- and ask if you're "self-taught" on the bigger things of life.  Have you learned on your own what's going to happen after your life is over?  Or whether there's a God?
For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. - I Corinthians 2:11

If God is a mystery to you, perhaps God is closing your eyes to it for now.  But if you're reading this and you're ready to know more, we don't think the self-taught approach will work.  You're going to need help.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. - I Corinthians 2:16

The search for the mind of God starts with reading the Bible -- slowly, not being afraid to ask questions along the way. Ask them to God in prayer. And if you know someone who's already a believer in God and Jesus Christ, ask them for guidance in areas which seem puzzling.

Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who seeks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. - Matthew 7:7-8

We're willing to help if you have questions; leave a comment and an e-mail address if you wish.  May God help you learn the deep things, of this life and the next -- even if it doesn't come at a rate of 24 trillion points per second.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mind Over Matters

There's one more comment from "Gramps" at our most recent poker tournament which caught our attention.  As we talked with him about Jesus, he said. "I really don't think much about God."

Does that describe someone you know - or perhaps you?

Maybe you play poker because you're trying to get your mind off the "big things" of life -- or even the bigger things beyond this life.  You might take a break for awhile, but those issues still are likely to be there after the tournament is over.

Contrary to what you might have heard, God is not against human thinking.  In fact, he wants us to think about Him.
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. - Psalm 63:6

Just as a good poker player thinks through his options before making a big call or fold, we should think about our options in how we live our lives.  What direction should that thinking go?
Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. -- II Peter 3:1

The apostle Peter wanted people to think in a "wholesome" way - or as the King James Version puts it, a "pure" way.  Part of our purpose for this blog is to promote that kind of thinking at poker tables.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think on these things. - Philippians 4:8
If you're not sure how to start thinking about God, read a section of the Bible and consider how it might apply to your life.  In church-speak, that's called "meditation" -- not the self-meditating approach some "gurus" take, but in terms of what God wants you to do.

At the risk of writing a corny rhyme: Think it through.  Then do it, too.  And ask God in prayer to reveal His big things to you.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Millions of Sons?

We're going back to our last poker day and a chat we had about Jesus with "Gramps."

The man told us he considered Jesus the "Prince of Peace."  Then he said, "I think we're all sons of God."

Is that an accurate statement?  We can see how he might draw that conclusion, based on a few Bible verses:
The God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:26-27

So we're made in God's image. That means we look to some extent like God.  But does that really make us His children?

Lots of people are poker players.  But only a few are really considered, if we may, Poker Players.  You know - the skillful pros who compete for big money on circuits, winning cash games and tournaments.

God may have called His creation "sons of God" for awhile, giving them the benefit of the doubt. But....
....The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.  Then the Lord said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be 120 years." - Genesis 6:2-3
Bible scholars debate what the phrase "sons of God" means here -- perhaps people, perhaps fallen angels.  But Genesis 6 clearly shows God wasn't happy with what they were doing, so He decided to wipe them out (verses 6-7).  The phrase "sons of God" only appears a few times in the Old Testament after that, clearly referring to angels (see Job 1:6 and 2:1 in KJV).

But in the New Testament something changed -- when Someone special came to this earth:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.... - John 1:12
To all who received whom?  The One John calls "the Word" (verse 1) - then One who "became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (verse 14).  The One we know as Jesus Christ.

The Bible shows that title "children of God" is not as wide-open as you might think.  It's reserved for those who receive Jesus and believe in His name.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. - Romans 8:14 (KJV)

Does this really describe you?  Or does this seem too elitist and far-fetched to be believed?  Please leave a comment with your thoughts about it, and we'll come back to it in a future post.