Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Everyday Gambler

How often do you play poker?  Once a week?  Twice a week?  Every time the casino doors are open? (As if they ever close?)

We're admittedly so busy these days that poker playing has to wait for weekends - and weekends when we don't have major errands to run.  That's true even with online sites.  The positive side to that, we suppose, is that we save money on buy-ins.

So even if you play poker part-time, you're probably playing more than we do.  But perhaps you're "gambling" in another way, which has nothing to do with casino games.

We heard a radio preacher say the other night if you're resisting a call to become a disciple of Jesus Christ (some would say "giving your life to Christ"), you're a gambler -- and gambling daily.  There's a simple reason for that....
What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave? Selah. - Psalm 89:48
The odds of making a royal flush in poker are steep. But the odds of people dying someday are very strong.  Unless Jesus comes back first, they're 100%. Eventually death will "get the checkmark," as they say on TV.  What will happen to you then?

We die only once, and then we are judged. - Hebrews 9:27 (CEV)

That translation is a little misleading - because the Bible talks about a future judgment which could lead to a second death.
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them.... - Revelation 20:6

Read the rest of chapter 20 to see details of the "white throne judgment" -- and how to avoid it. The key is to have your name written in God's "book of life."
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. - Malachi 3:16

Some church-goers debate whether or not this scroll and the "book of life" are the same thing. But the key point is to fear God, honoring Him in all you do. Resisting that can be gambling on something bigger than a "belly-buster" royal flush draw. You're gambling with your eternity.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sodas or Substance?

The day at an Oklahoma lake was very nice - a Bible study and worship service with fellow believers, two rounds of good food, and even a little singing.  But of course, we wanted to make up the costs of the trip.  So without telling anyone there, we stopped at casinos after sunset on the way home.

Some Oklahoma casinos welcome poker players.  Others have nothing to offer.  So in case you're planning a road trip, here's what we found heading north on Interstate 35 from the Perry area:

1. TONKAWA WEST - SODAS.  The cups are free, but the room has nothing but slot machines.  There's a bar in the middle, where we watched hockey on TV for a few minutes.  After the free cup, we moved on.

2. SOUTHWIND CASINO - SODAS.  In Braman, OK, the room had basketball on TV.  But that was about the only difference.  Slot machines were in abundance, but nothing more.  It was one cup and out for us again.

3. KANSAS STAR - SUBSTANCE.  Compared to the first two, this is a full-fledged casino. We knew that, because we'd been there several times before.  But on a busy Saturday night, a quick game of poker wasn't available.  Five players were on a  poker room waiting list, and the Ultimate Texas Hold 'em tables were full.

After pondering it for a few minutes (with a free smaller cup of soda, of course), we found a seat playing $10 blackjack.  It was the perfect time for us - as after an opening-hand push, we hit a couple of doubles and went up $70.  We left after a loss, tipping the dealer and taking $55 profit.

The moral of the story for us is this: some casinos are roadside moneymakers for businesses or tribes.  Let's face it: how many players really hit slot jackpots -- and have some skill required to do it?  But other places give you at least a some chance of succeeding.

It can be that way when it comes to religion, too.  If you're considering a place to worship, ask carefully if the leaders really are doing what the Bible says:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction. - II Timothy 4:1-2

The apostle Paul gave this guidance to a young minister.  But it's good advice for evaluating a place to worship God.  Is "the Word" being taught?  As in....
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

If Jesus is being taught and sin is being corrected and rebuked, you may be on the right track.  But here's another verse that gave us pause in recent days:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. - Revelation 2:2

Some ministers can seem like "substance", but their actions are more like flat soda.  They don't live up to a Biblical standard.
Now the Bereans.... received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

It takes daily reading of the Bible to know if a minister is true, or if he's bluffing you like a poker player who missed a big draw.  May you check it carefully - and look for substance in worship, instead of a bubbly drink.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Who Have Nothing

The pocket cards were OK, but not great - 5-6 of hearts.  Neither of them paired.  But by the river, three diamonds were on the table.  There were three cards to a straight showing as well.  And the other two players in the hand were not betting.

"Three thousand," we said as we tossed chips forward.  A bit hesitantly, we admit.  But we did it, and put our best grim poker face on.

One man across the table thought it over for a moment -- then said, "I'll try" and called.  The other opponent pondered, and folded.

That man who called had a 7, which paired the board.  We showed our lack of anything, realizing our grand stunt had failed.

"That was a good bet," the man who folded told us.  He apparently gave up a pair of Kings.

"No, it wasn't," we said, "because he called."

The table had a laugh over this -- but the point was brought home.  We attempted a flat-out bluff, attempting to grab a pot and hoping to scare all the other players away.  But it didn't work, because we got caught.

There's a word in poker for what we tried to do: "stealing" the pot.  In some sports and games, that sometimes can be a good thing -- from stealing bases in baseball to a "pick-six" in American football.  But in the regular race of life, the warning is clear:
You shall not steal. - Exodus 20:15

This is one of God's basics, the Ten Commandments - and if you think Jesus did away with all of those, consider this:
...Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, to not five false testimony, honor your father and mother, and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" - Matthew 19:18-19

We can't recall ever hearing a preacher condemn base-stealing and football interceptions.  Most ministers probably would call it "part of the game."  We'd like to think that's the case in poker as well - especially in a tournament setting, where everyone has put in the same entry fee and there's nothing more to lose.

But if you play cash games and encounter regular chances to bluff your way to a big payoff, this might be an ethical line worth some reflection.
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands.... - Ephesians 4:28

This verse really seems to be about criminals who refuse to have gainful employment. But what do you think - is there a lesson for poker players here?  Offer a comment, and let's discuss this.  We'll explore this area further in a future post.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Poker Day 444: Great Expectations

Maybe more poker players are night-owls than we thought.  When Winners Cardroom scheduled a "Poker Weekend" which included a Sunday morning 10:00 a.m. tournament, the turnout was scarce.  We were there, hoping a small crowd would work to our advantage.  And since it was a "Men's and Women's Tournament," we were segregated to only face guys -- with a little less distraction.

BLINDS: 200/400

IN THE POCKET: 4-5 of spades

We've taken one pot at this table of six men (the manager started the game, then pulled out to make breakfast for everyone else).  But we're looking for something to break through and get above the starting level of 42,000 chips.  Right now we're at about 35,000. And we're in the Big Blind - but no one raises, so it's simple to check and hope.  Most of the players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Jx-7x-2s

Ugh. That's not much.  We're folding to any bet -- but the table checks.


Whoa -- now wait a minute. Suddenly we have an open-ended straight flush draw!  A man across the table offers a meager "stab" bet of 500.  We certainly can call, in hopes of a big payday on the river.


Ugh.  No straight flush.  No flush.  No straight.  But we do have a pair, so there's a little hope.  As we recall, another 500 bet comes from across the table.  We call it, hoping the opponent only has Ace high.

"I hit the river," we say as we show.  "Not the way I wanted to, but...."

But our opponent turns over 7-9.  His middle pair on the flop survived for a win.

While we won a couple more pots, hopeful cards didn't turn into huge gains for us.  Our stack slowly dwindled (with one big chance failing, which we'll mention another day).  When pocket Jacks showed up in the Big Blind, we went all-in for 11,000 - but a 9 on the flop gave a man with 9-9 three of a kind.  Out of six players, we left in sixth place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We would have been second out, but a man who went bust first stayed in thanks to a re-buy.  He's a man confined to a wheelchair, who seems barely able to function -- yet he plays, and the other players know him well.

"You have a lot of wristbands," we told Jimmy.  He wore at least 15 on both wrists, from our count -- and we noticed one of them appeared to have "Jesus saves" on it.

"Be sure that Jesus band is showing," we advised Jimmy. "That's the most important one."

We're not sure if he agreed with that -- but it led us to think about our busy lives.  If we're not careful, we can get overwhelmed in a world of work and family and bills and commutes.  It can take effort to make time for a poker day.  But even more importantly, it can take effort to make time for God.
He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and be becomes unfruitful. - Matthew 13:22 (KJV)

Jesus is explaining a parable about a sower who sows "seeds of the gospel," as some ministries call it (verses 3).  When "the word of the kingdom" (verse 19) lands on thorns, the things of this world can choke it away.

If your life is filled with thorns, it might be good to take some time and list your life's priorities.  But we'd dare say if poker is at the top of the list, your priorities are off-track.
But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. - Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

Jesus plans to bring that kingdom to Earth someday.  Are you willing to make that "priority one," to receive the ultimate payoff?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 161 final tables in 444 games (36.3%) - 26 cashes. It almost seems like cheating to call this a "final table" finish, when barely enough players showed up for a tournament and we finished last - but that's what happened.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Light on the Subject

Our last poker tournament had a full table of players.  But only after we were eliminated did someone notice something missing.

Electric lights were on throughout the room. But a special group had not been turned on over our table - lights to make sure players see the cards properly.

To be honest, we never noticed a difference.  But for some, good lighting matters.  And we think that should be true away from the poker room as well....
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. - John 3:19

Have you ever played cards in a dimly-lit room?  The lighting may have been that way to prevent being noticed - by law officers, sleeping relatives or whomever.  In many places, the Bible equates darkness with evil acts.
Everyone who does evil hares the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. - John 3:20

But verse 19 suggests "light" can refer to more than an electrical bulb made possible by Thomas Edison. Indeed, the One who said those words also declared....
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." - John 8:12

It's a "light of life," as opposed to the darkness of death which awaits those who reject Jesus:
These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. - II Peter 2:17

Accepting the "light of life" can lead to eternal life, in the Kingdom of God which Jesus someday will bring.
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.... there will be no night there. - Revelation 21:23, 25

If a few extra lights over a poker table can help people play better, why can't the light of Jesus Christ help you live better - and even live forever?  Isn't it (and He) worth a try?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Poker Day 443: Just Hanging Around

The schedule has been so busy for us in recent weeks that today marked our first trip to a poker tournament in almost two months.  The format at Arrowhead Poker hasn't changed, which for our city is a bit surprising.  But would the success rate change?

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: King of clubs-King of diamonds

A full table of ten players has shown up today.  Some early feelers have fallen short for us, so we have about 58,000 of a generous 60,000 starting chips.  When we see this high pocket pair late in the betting order and no one has raised, we obviously should.  We go up to 1,000; about half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: 3h-5d-7h

Unless someone jumped in with a small pocket pair, this flop seems harmless.  So when the table checks, we put out 1,200.  Most players get the message and surrender, but one man at the opposite corner from us calls.


Hmmm - now three hearts are showing, and we don't have one.  But we don't want to back off with an "overpair," so the bet goes up only a little.  Our opponent checks, we offer 1,500 and he calls.


It's not a heart, but it's practically the last card we want to see.  Yet our opponent seems delighted, because he now bets 6,500 instead of checking.  Even if he was laying low with a flush, any Ace has us beaten.  We mumble a little and fold.  Then he turns over.... sure enough, an Ace.

"He let you hang around," another player tells our opponent.  Indeed.  But a big bet on the turn with three hearts showing could have been risky.

We rallied after several losses to win a big pot with Q-Q, to get above 63,000 chips.  But we never won another pot after that.  A pre-flop push for 31,000 with A-K found us heads-up against K-Q, but a Queen on the flop doomed us.  Not even a King later allowed us to beat his two pair.  Out of 11 total players, we finished middle-of-the-pack in sixth.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our handling of pocket Queens with big bets frustrated a man sitting next to us at the table.  "Jesus Christ," he said on the turn.

"He's my redeemer," we said confidently.

Our opponent didn't react to that statement - but you may be asking what we mean by that.  The idea of being redeemed goes back to long before Jesus was born:
Therefore, say to the Israelites: "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." - Exodus 6:6

The Lord "redeemed" Israel from slavery -- as in buying their freedom.  In fact, Israel didn't have to pay much for that freedom besides sacrificing lambs at the Passover and putting their blood on doorposts (Exodus 12:1-30).  In the same way, Jesus Christ can redeem you spiritually now:
....We wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. - Titus 2:13-14

The blood of Jesus redeems believers from wicked, sinful ways.  They can become "God's people," and God wants pure sinless people.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - I Peter 2:9

The world of sin can be a very dark place.  Wouldn't it be better to have Jesus redeem you from your sins, so you can follow the One who says He is "the light of world"? (John 8:12)  We'll consider that a bit more in our next post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 160 final tables in 443 games (36.1%) - 26 cashes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Miracle Now and Then

Final tables on the Heartland Poker Tour always seem to be good for a "bad beat."

We saw one case on a telecast today, where a man with 2-2 flopped 2-4-9 on the flop for three of a kind.  His opponent went all-in with 9 high, and appeared doomed.  The turn brought a 4, which paired the board and gave the leader a full house.  But the river was a 9, giving the bad bettor a winning superior full house to stay in the tournament!

Have you ever seen "miracle cards" like that come?  If you'd played poker for any length of time, you probably have.  But have you stopped to consider a larger miracle?
After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, "I thirst."  Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. - John 19:28-29  (KJV)

Jesus was moments away from death -- yet His simple request led to the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah:
They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. - Psalm 69:21 (KJV)

That psalm was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Yet someone in the crowd outside Jerusalem just happened to have vinegar to give the Lord at His dying moment.

C'mon now -- "just happened"?  This is one of many "miraculous" events about the life of Jesus which were foretold in the Old Testament. hundreds of years in advance.  And we think the odds of the vinegar event coming true were a lot higher than catching a 4 or a 9 on the river.

Believers in Jesus are focusing right now on His life, death and resurrection. If you never have, we think you should.  Put the Bible to an accuracy test. The results might beat any strategy you have for your life - and the life beyond this one.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Game of the Weak

When you sit down at a poker table, what's the first thing you do?  Count your chips, to make sure they're accurate?  Say hello to friends you might know?  Or "size up" the other players, looking for an opponent to target? (A polite way of saying "pick on.")

We heard a minister on radio point out the other night that one successful strategy in sports is to go after an opponent's weakness.  It can happen in poker as well; newcomers or seemingly hesitant players who try to enter hands can be tested by veterans right away.

That preacher went on to say in a church situation, members should not pick on or exploit the weaknesses of others.  We understand what he means.  But over the next few days, the Christian world will focus on a Man who looked very weak for a short time -- yet really wasn't at all.
...Since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. - II Corinthians 13:3-4
Before beginning His ministry, Jesus Christ worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3).  We've never worked in such a job, it's apparently not a profession for wimpy-muscled people.  So artwork you might see of Jesus looking weak during His ministry probably are misleading.  But then came the crucifixion:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who.... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:5-8
Jesus was weakened by the torture He endured after being arrested - from flogging (Matthew 27:26) to being beaten with a staff (Mark 15:19) to carrying a wooden cross down a street (John 19:16-17).  He looked like the weakest human in town.  Yet the verse above notes Jesus "lives by God's power" - the power which raised the Lord from the dead.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. - Romans 6:4

You may not consider yourself the weakest poker player in town. In fact, you may consider "Christian poker players" to be the weakest people in the room. But they may have a secret "power" you don't have.
...Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses.... For when I am weak, then I am strong. - II Corinthians 12:9-10

God gives power to seemingly weak believers through His Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

May you not take for granted the apparent weaknesses of other players.  After all, they can catch winning cards every bit as often as you. And may you not be deceived by believers in Jesus who seem weak in some way - because Jesus is now strong, resurrected and at the Father's right hand in heaven.