Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Right Back At-Ya?

First came the lawsuit. An Atlantic City casino accused poker champ Phil Ivey of cheating at baccarat tables to win millions of dollars - something a British casino also has contended.

Now comes the counter-suit. Ivey and another man are suing the New Jersey casino, claiming it knew about defective baccarat cards but did nothing to stop them.

We could get into the pros and cons of "edge sorting" and "symmetrical card backs" here - but that's admittedly too wonky for us to consider. Instead, let's ask a more basic question. Should Ivey file a counter-suit in the first place?

There are many reasons why people file lawsuits -- and it's not simply poker players. Even "religious" people go to court about all sorts of issues. But the Bible has some surprising advice, that we think many people overlook:
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? - I Corinthians 6:7
The apostle Paul wrote this to a church group which had members suing each other (verse 1). That's not exactly the best example of Christian unity.  But what about lawsuits "outside the family"? Isn't that different?

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth". But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. - Matthew 5:38-39
We've heard even ministers try to spin this advice of Jesus Christ into a different meaning. But if Jesus meant it as simply as He said it, and people really applied it as He said it, the number of "sue-ers" (as the late Paul Harvey called them) would go way down.

Consider it this way: if anyone had cause to file suit and take action against mistreatment, it was Jesus  He was a Lord without sin. And yet when Jesus was arrested, he said....
Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels? But how then would the Scripture be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way? - Matthew 26:53-54

Instead of suing and delaying a trial for years, Jesus was submissive - and sacrificed His life within 24 hours of His arrest, to redeem the rest of us from our sins.  Which example do you think should we follow?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Poker Day 449: The Age of Thor

Today we didn't simply want to play poker.  We felt we had to play. We'll explain why below, but first let's review how the tournament went.

Arrowhead Poker tried a new approach today - a "THOR" tournament: one blind of Texas Hold 'em, then one blind of Pot-Limit Omaha and one blind of Razz. (TH+O+R - get it?) Most of us needed a quick review of the Omaha and Razz rules, and then the adventure began....

BLINDS: 100/200; Texas Hold 'em

IN THE POCKET: A-5 offsuit

We're early in the action, and early feelers haven't worked well.  But now we're in the Big Blind, so we're ready to play some defense. When a player raises to 600, we call. About half the table of nine is in.


There's a pair - but not really our pair.  We check, as do everyone else.


Now there's two pair - one of them ours. The Small Blind checks, so we bet 700. A man across the table calls; everyone else folds.


That seems harmless, so we bet 700 again. Our opponent calls.  But when we show our 5, he folds without showing.  Two pair is good enough to lift our stack above a starting 42,000 to almost 44,000.

We stayed above starting level in the first blind, but then stumbled in other formats.  A man betting enormous sums in Omaha chased us off chances for big gains (such as a 2 in our hand with 2-2 on the board). We lost some more playing "low-ball" Razz, leaving us with about 9,000 chips.

At the one-hour break, we did something we don't recall doing before in a tournament: we took a $10 re-buy for 20,000 more chips. (It only cost $20 to enter, which helped.) That's when things turned around - as an all-in bet with J-J led to a big win and a knockout in Texas Hold 'em. Then A-3 all-in was low enough to win in Razz, and knock out another opponent.

We lasted to the final three, on a day with only one table of nine. That was enough to put us in the money, as we chopped a $140 purse and received a $45 share!  We're thankful for our first live tournament payday since mid-January (two out of 11 in 2015).

MINISTRY MOMENT: We dedicated our play today to Elaine Grubb, a young woman who was a poker regular during our years in Georgia. She dealt with several health issues, including kidney dialysis. Yet she kept playing poker as her health permitted, showing up for some tournaments in a wheelchair - and played with far better results than we had.

Elaine died (obituary link updated) early today at a hospital; based on Facebook comments, she developed a blood clot in her lung over the weekend. If that wasn't sad enough, she was only 30.

We think she would have been happy with our play. And we were happy to talk to her a few times about matters involving God and Jesus Christ. How much of that stuck with her to the end?  God only knows now.  But we have this promise from God's Word:
Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out -- those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:28-29

Jesus said all who have died will come out someday, when a particular voice speaks. Which voice is that?

I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. - John 5:25

We think Jesus is talking about His own voice here, as "the son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16).  That voice can speak to you today, and provide eternal life if you believe and heed it.  We hope you listen, while there's time to do it.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 164 final tables in 449 games (36.5%) - 27 cashes.

Once again, a one-table tourney equals a final table. But we've made 8 out of 11 final tables this year, one way or another.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Free Advice

Are you wondering what the poker buzz is all about - but you'd rather not risk losing your shirt at a casino to find out?

There are several websites which let you play poker for free. We stop by a couple of them, as our schedule permits. But now the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is going beyond that - with an eight-session free online course.

But because this is a scholarly institution, the course goes beyond simple rules. There's at least one video which offers a history of poker, and includes this noteworthy statement: "Casinos hate poker... somebody in the building was losing money and the casino wasn't getting it."

This explains why it's good to tip your dealer - and why casinos have high-dollar tournaments, so they can collect a profit from buy-ins. It's a business to the managers, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But winning "free money"from poker is a wonderful thing - and sometimes the best things in this life truly are free:
For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23-24

All of us have broken God's commands, in some way or other. But Jesus came to redeem us from the penalty of our sins:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23
This amazing opportunity is free for you - but not merely to keep it to yourself.

Freely you have received, freely give. - Matthew 10:8b

Jesus said this concerning disciples who went out doing miracles - but it also applies to preaching the message that God's Kingdom is near (verse 7). It's the message we offer here. For free. Maybe someday we'll get to the video part.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Slience

Something was telling us, "Go to Arrowhead at 1:00."  But no, this time we were doing due diligence. Today we checked the Facebook page for Winners Cardroom - not once, but several times. There were no posts since Saturday morning, so we felt comfortable driving there for the 4:00 p.m. tournament promised on the Winners website.

And when we arrived.... the doors were locked. No one else even showed up, as we waited until 4:15. The poker room, without any explanation, was closed.  But Arrowhead Poker apparently had its 1:00 p.m. game as usual, with cash games going hours later.

Once again we fell victim to a shifting schedule -- only this time, silence meant no game. The good news is we didn't lose any money. But we lost a bit of time making the drive, and missed out on an opportunity to share the things of God around the table.

Do you have times when it seems God is silent? When you ask for answers or guidance in life, and there doesn't seem to be a response?  We can relate to that, having gone through a couple of long searches for employment in an area where playing poker for a living wasn't an option.  At those times, we're reminded....
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

King David wrote those words, showing even "Bible All-Stars" faced times of waiting.  It even happened in New Testament times:
When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. - Acts 16:7

We're not told how this happened; there could have been everything from a vision to a hang-up with government paperwork.  But the apostle Paul went somewhere else, and then received instructions:
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. - Acts 16:9-10

Wait in faith for an answer, praying to God for guidance, and we believe you'll eventually get it.  It could take awhile, but it will come.  In the meantime, we're enjoying s 73-cent "consolation cola" from a convenience store on a hot July day - a big cup we bought on the way home from the poker room.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Star Search

This year's "November Nine" was set early today in Las Vegas - the final table for the World Series of Poker Main Event.  And it came tantalizingly close to including one of poker's most famous names.

Daniel Negreanu was walking a tightrope toward the final table, sitting low on the leaderboard.  Then his pair of Aces on the flop crashed out against a straight.  Negreanu finished in 11th place, and apparently in a bit of anguish.

Negreanu wins more than $500,000 - but was the game of poker a loser?  After all, "Kid Poker" has one of the most familiar faces in promotions.  And he wrote on Twitter during the Main Event it's "good for poker" when Phil Hellmuth makes a deep run - even though Negreanu eliminated him.

Ultimately, we think poker is bigger than that. At least, it should be.  Just as spiritual matters should be.
What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; another, "I follow Christ." - I Corinthians 1:12

The apostle Paul wrote these words - not because he was trying to win a church popularity contest, but to point a church group toward the right choice. Which of these four options would you choose?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. - I Corinthians 3:5

His title may have been "apostle," yet Paul took a humble approach to himself.
So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future - all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. - I Corinthians 3:21-23

For him, it all boiled down to God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.

You might have a favorite poker player or TV preacher - but don't make them the focal point of everything you do and believe, When it comes to walking with God, put the focus on the Father and Jesus His Son. And when it comes to poker, develop your own tactics and strategy. After all, Negreanu admits he folded A-K pre-flop during this tournament. Could you do that?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

All-American Game?

We glanced at the World Series of Poker Main Event leaderboard moments ago, and marveled at what we saw. With 183 players remaining, the top eight chip leaders are all U.S. residents - with a Canadian in ninth. None of them are exactly poker "household names," but they're leading.

This is unusual, because Main Event final tables have featured players from a lot of different countries in Europe and Latin America.  But then again, they're playing Texas Hold 'em, aren't they? After some people competed in Pot Limit Omaha - which we don't think refers to the beach stormed on D-Day?

If you want to root for an all-U.S. final table, that's your choice. But we'd like to note poker has become an international game. And if U.S. residents aren't careful, they can start thinking everything revolves around their country - even God.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

Long before there was an America or a Great Britain, the message of the gospel began with a Jew in the Middle East.
Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." - Revelation 5:5

The rest of this chapter shows it's referring to Jesus Christ. Some religious groups claim He went to the Americas after He was resurrected. We don't see proof of that in the Bible, but certainly Christ's gospel spread far and wide. Jesus Himself said it would:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. - Matthew 24:14

Just as U.S. poker players ask for trouble by thinking they're better than players in any other country, so U.S. Christians ask for trouble by thinking they're "exceptional" in the sight of God.  That's because God is working with believers and hearts everywhere. He truly is a God of every nation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

One Shining Moment?

Joe Cada. Martin Jacobson. Greg Merson. Jerry Yang.

What do these poker players have in common? They've all won the World Series of Poker Main Event. (Jacobson did it only last year.) Yet they're all out of this year's Main Event, failing to survive their first day of play in Las Vegas.

With more than 6,400 players competing for the 2015 title, the odds of repeating as champion are ridiculously small. That's why it was noteworthy last year when one man reached the final table for the second year in a row.

The players we listed above are still well-known in poker circles. But the worldwide attention that can come from winning the Main Event is fleeting - lasting no more than eight months, from a "November Nine" to the next summer.  Sad as it sounds, our lives are like that as well.
Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. - Job 14:1-2
Trouble even can come to Main Event winners.  One wound up being battered in a home invasion - and only in researching this post did we learn his stolen WSOP bracelet wound up in a waste bin. Given that fact, how should we live?

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, with moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, were moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. - Matthew 6:19-20

Jesus is using poetic language to indicate we should focus on eternal things - things beyond this life. Those treasures will have a payday sometime in the future:
Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. - Revelation 22:12

Play your poker well - but do other things along with it, that might earn you a rich reward from God. He promises the ultimate payoff of all.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Multiple Main Events

For many poker players, today is one of the biggest days of the year. The World Series of Poker's "Main Event" begins in Las Vegas - the most prestigious tournament, with perhaps the biggest top prize at stake.

No, we're not entering the Main Event again this year. Our schedule does not allow us to play - not to mention the $10,000 buy-in, which is a bit over our budget.

Instead, we want to ask a question. What would you say are the biggest "Main Events" in history? Not in poker - but in general?

We don't think they're moments on a military battlefield, or from a court bench. We think they're bigger than that.  For starters....
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. - Genesis 1:1

Now this event was big. Without God creating these things, where could humans live?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. - Genesis 1:27

Without that main event, you would not exist. And while there may be famous portraits of poker-playing dogs, we can't name any animals who actually play - much less write blogs about it.
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife, But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son And he gave him the name Jesus. - Matthew 1:24-25

The birth of Jesus was another main event - because God brought His Son Jesus into the world, that we might have eternal life (John 3:16).
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. - John 19:30

Jesus came, and then He died. Why is that a main event? Because of what happened shortly thereafter:
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10

Jesus was resurrected from the dead (Romans 8:11), giving us hope of being resurrected as well. In fact, that's the next big main event - one that many believers long to see:
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. - I Thessalonians  4:16-17

The return of Jesus is the next "Main Event" of history - and it offers a reward for far more than the "top ten percent" of all players.

If you have doubts about any of these events, we invite you to review them carefully. Then ask yourself: are you looking forward to the main events that really matters?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Handling a Big Stack

It's a news item that could give the phrase "hedging your bets" a completely new meaning. A British hedge fund has hired a new employee who happens to be one of the top professional poker players in Greece.

It would be tempting to ask Alexios Zervos why he'd leave Greece for London. If he's considered good at managing investments, doesn't the Greek government need him right now to avoid bankruptcy?

But the article about this hire points out an interesting connection.  Several investment specialists have become well-known poker stars.  Perhaps it's because they're considered wise at taking risks, and computing the true value of a potential investment.

Whether you play a lot of poker or a little, you need to be careful with whatever "stack" you've been given. It could be chips at a tournament, a job responsibility or something else. Jesus discussed that principle in a famous parable:
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 faith with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" - Matthew 25:20-21

Jesus's story may be what the hedge fund managers are thinking. If someone can handle poker chips with skill and success, why not something larger - like large investment accounts?

But Jesus's deeper point may be that you need to be successful to be rewarded.  There should be growth - and God wants believers to grow spiritually.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. - II Peter 3:18

If you're already a follower of Jesus, ask yourself: are you growing in that relationship?  If you're not, we invite you to consider all of Matthew 25. By using several stories, Jesus reveals there's a great reward waiting for anyone who uses what God has given them to build more.  It's an investment (a "bet", if you will) that's worth taking.