Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Vision of Success

"Blinds up!" the man down the table from us said as the blinds changed.... and he stood up.

Later on, that same man declared he'd "check in the dark."  And since he started it, we couldn't resist joining in the humor.

"Don't you check 'in the dark' most of the time?" we asked.

"I check in a blur," he explained. Aha.

If you haven't figured it out by now, we played poker recently with a vision-impaired man. He's apparently a regular at the poker room we visited, because the dealer was ready for him -- announcing every card as it came out on the board, while the player held his cards practically against his eyes.

The man isn't 100-percent blind, so he can play -- and he played well enough to reach the final table.  We give Prairie Band casino credit for accommodating him and his situation.  He's an example of why you shouldn't let disabilities or physical obstacles get in the way of playing poker, if it's possible to do so.

A Bible writer had something to say about this sort of thing:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. - II Corinthians 12:7

The Bible doesn't tell us exactly what this "thorn" was. Some have guessed the apostle Paul developed partial blindness, like that man at the table had.  Whatever it was, the apostle wanted it out of his life.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness...." - II Corinthians 12:8-9a
Sometimes God heals; sometimes He does not.  Sometimes He takes us out of difficult situations, even in a poker tournament; other times He does not.  The key is to learn what the apostle learned....

...Therefore I will board 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, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. - II Corinthians 12:9b-10
Are you facing some kind of trial, at the poker table or away from it?  There's nothing wrong with praying about it, as the apostle Paul did. But learn to expect strength from God, even if the trial doesn't end in the way you might like.

NOTE: We'll have more to say about this man in our next post.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Old Stomping Ground

It was the first place where we played in a free in-person poker tournament.  The first place where we reached a final table.  And the first place where we finished in the money.  But we learned today that place has changed.

Lil Kim's Cove was a small corner bar, practically across the street from where we lived in Georgia. Walking there to play on Thursday nights was easy.  Getting home sometimes could be challenging, as we encountered a beggar or two on our path after dark. (And the website for it still stands, although it's several years old.)

But for reasons unexplained to us, that bar now is called Acers. As we understand it, poker-playing stopped there shortly after we moved to Kansas. But Thursday night games have picked up again -- with many of the same tough opponents we used to face.

Life is like that, isn't it?  Poker venues come and go. The owners of a business decide to sell and retire.  Even our lives can be the same way....
Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. - James 4:14 (KJV)
Long before "vaping" became popular, people realized our lives were that temporary. That can seem depressing.  But the Bible offers something better - even eternal:

I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. - Psalm 89:1

Forever?! How?!  This verse was written long before anything thought of vinyl records or .MP3's.

But believers in God have the hope they will live forever. This is the ultimate hope of the Bible:
...Because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. - Psalm 16:10-11

That "Holy One" was Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of all humans but was resurrected by God so that we might have "eternal pleasures" - with eternal life, and who knows what else.

So how are you living - like a vape, or someone walking the path to eternity?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Waiting Game, Part 2

Let's return to that 75-year-old man at the poker table who admitted he's still trying to figure out what to do about God.

Dawdle too long with a big decision in a hand at a tournament, and another player can ask the director to put you "on the clock."  Sooner or later, the choice must be made: call, raise or fold.  In the same way, all humans are on a clock.... God's clock:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. - I Corinthians  15:23
The odds of people dying are as high as a royal flush winning a poker hand - 100 percent.  But the good news from the Bible is that "all" will be made alive after that.  Even you.

But hold on, you might be asking - what if I don't "belong" to Christ?  That's an important question....
And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27 (KJV)
Everyone will be judged.  Who will do that?

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. - II Corinthians 5:10

Jesus Christ will have much more power than those judges on TV shows:
If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:15

Do you see how important it is to "belong" to Christ?  Being part of Him is important for escaping the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14). It's necessary for being part of a "first resurrection" to eternal life (Revelation 20:4-6).

If you wait for the clock of this life to run out, we think you take a big risk.  Christ might show mercy in a resurrection, and grant you extra time to learn about His ways and understand Him.  We think some people will receive that -- especially those unable to know about God and Jesus at this time, such as people with mental disabilities.

But if you've heard and read messages and warnings about God and Jesus (maybe even this blog), we think it's also possible that Christ will find you guilty of rejecting Him.  That's an ultimate "showdown" you won't win.

So as we said to the man at the table, don't wait until it's too late to make a decision. After all, you don't really know when the clock of life will run out.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Waiting Game

A man to our left at a recent poker table was shown one of our card protectors, and asked what he thought about Jesus Christ.

 "I'm not really evangelical about it," he answered.  Then he went on to admit, "After 75 years, I'm not really sure."

Some people spend years or careers trying to find answers to big questions -- whether it's a way to win a poker tournament or cure a deadly disease.  And the Bible indicates some answers will elude us all the way to the end:
There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden. - Proverbs 30:18-19

But the question we put to that man at the table needs to be answered sooner or later.

"Don't wait until it's too late to make a decision," we told him quietly.

We realized later that statement could be taken a couple of ways -- and church groups actually do take it in different ways.

Some say people are "on the clock" spiritually as they live.  If they die without accepting Jesus as their Savior (the "evangelical" approach the man mentioned), they're doomed to burn.  Others say the "final showdown" doesn't come until after Jesus returns to earth.  Let's see what the Bible really says.
"Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus said. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." - John 6:43-44

Jesus said God the Father has to draw you to Himself.  The Father's clearly not doing that with everyone right now; how else do we explain some terrorists and their unloving acts?  But for those who have been drawn in....
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. - Philippians 3:8-9

The apostle Paul indicates faith in Jesus Christ ultimately comes from God.  It's one thing to consider the arguments, as that man at the table may be doing. But when all is said and done, a decision for Jesus must be faith-based.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God... - Ephesians 2:8

So what happens to those who die without that faith? Has God already decided they're as doomed as a poker player dealt 2-3 offsuit?  You're welcome to offer comments; we'll dig deeper into that in our next post.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poker's 11

The ultimate goal in a poker tournament is to play "heads-up." If you only have one opponent, it's easier to plan your strategy -- and probably easier to figure out what he/she has.  And if you're heads-up at the end of a tournament, that means you're in the final two. That's likely to mean good money. That happened to us last Sunday at Prairie Band Casino.

But to get there, we had a starter table unlike any we'd faced before.  There were 11 players crowded around one table.  We're used to a maximum of ten.  But apparently this tournament had 31 entries, and the directors decided against having someone waiting in the wings.  (Why they didn't have four tables of seven or eight, we have no idea.)

Ten may seem like the perfect number for a table -- as well as other things.  For instance, the U.S. Bill of Rights had ten original points.  And it's a number that comes up a lot in the Bible....
Moses was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant - the Ten Commandments. - Exodus 34:28

Some religious groups count those ten differently than others -- but the Bible shows there are supposed to be ten.  Jesus also had some "ten counts"....
At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lambs and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. - Matthew 25:1-2

Some believers make a big deal about "Bible numbers." They look for tens and sevens in Scripture more than some poker players look for 10's and 7's to make straights.  But in the end, we think a smaller number matters more...
There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Ephesians 4:4-6

The winning number here is one - believing the one God, one Lord Jesus Christ and one Holy Spirit.  Read the Bible carefully to get in line with those "aces," and you can be united with God for all eternity.

We did our own study into Biblical numbers; we invite you to review it and offer your thoughts. In the meantime, how many players do you prefer to have at your poker table - and why?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Poker Day 452: The Road Home?

After a few days doing other vacation-time things, our BPPT ended today on home ground. We entered the Friday 12:00 noon tournament at Arrowhead Poker, which has a reputation of being the biggest of the week there.  But Kansas Star Casino now has its own Friday noon game, so the turnout today was small.

We won a couple of small pots early, but then hopeful pre-flop bets failed miserably.  We survived to the final table on a two-table day, but things came down to this:

BLINDS: 10,000/20,000

IN THE POCKET: K-7 of clubs

We've stayed alive with a couple of pushes so far -- but in both cases, no one called to allow us a big double-up.  Now we have 30,000 chips left, with Big Blind and Small Blind coming in the next two hands.  Bottom line: we're out of time, and have to play anything reasonable.  Like this one -- reminding us of K-7 highway, leading to some of our relatives.

"It's now or never," we say as we push.  Eight players remain.  A man at the opposite corner of the table from us, who's acted like a poker newcomer at times (such as trying to fold the Big Blind when he could check) goes all-in for 40,000.  He has A-2.  The man in the Big Blind simply can't resist, and calls. He has something less than the others (which we don't recall).  We have a horse race.


None of these are clubs.  That hurts, but no one's hit a pair yet.


Still no matches.  Still two live cards for us.


The only pair is on the board.  The newcomer's Ace is high, so he takes us out and triples his stack.  We leave with another "earned" final table (as opposed to a one-table tournament) -- and we realize if eighth place is our worst showing in a tournament during this "poker tour" week, we've actually had a very good week.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We used a bottle of hand sanitizer as our card protector, explaining to the man next to us we wanted to clean up some of the hands in the tournament.  And oh yes....

"I use this to remind me I need Jesus to clean up my life."

"I like that second part," the man next to us said.  He went on to say he believes in Jesus as his Savior.

"What's Jesus been doing for you lately?" we asked.

The man seemed thrown by this question. "Everything," he said quietly.

Would this kind of question stump you?  We try to thank Jesus in prayer for all the significant events of each day....
...Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - I Thessalonians 5:18

But what if the events don't always turn out the way we hoped -- like missing the money, after making it three times in a row?  We still look for the positive in it:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. - James 1:2-3

If you need to learn lessons from a poker loss, go ahead and learn them -- and thank God that you're still able to learn lessons and go forward from there.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 166 final tables in 452 games (36.7%) - 29 cashes.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Poker Day 451: Hooray for Hollywood

The second day of our BPPT (see below) took us to a familiar place where we've had some problems.

Hollywood Casino in Kansas City has moved its Monday midday poker tournament time up 45 minutes, to 11:15 a.m. This time we made sure we arrived plenty early, to register without dealing with a waiting list. We watched every move carefully, to avoid "one-lap penalties" next door to a NASCAR track.  And with some very helpful cards, we started well....

BLINDS: 150/300 (as best we recall)

IN THE POCKET: 5-7 offsuit

We've won a couple of early pots at a full table, including a diamond flush where we had Ad-Kd.  Our stack is a good bit above the starting 10,000.  But let's face it: these cards only look attractive to drivers of classic Chevrolets.  Yet we're in the Big Blind, and practically the entire table has folded. Only the Small Blind called, so we get a free check.

ON THE FLOP: 4-6-8

Aw, c'mon!! This should have been a sign to us of how good our day would be.  And if that's not enough, the Small Blind playing first goes all in!  Of course we call, and the Small Blind turns over what he considers a comfortable 6-8 for two pair.  Now comes the big announcement.

"And our Big Blind Special today is the Steak Sauce Straight."

Our opponent understandably is stunned to see this, as are a few others at the table. (Others aren't really paying attention.)  Who could have possibly expected us to hit that jackpot?


Now our opponent has better hopes of surviving with a full house - if a 6, 7 or 8 come.


Not quite.  He's out; we gain several hundred more chips.

We were above 33,000 chips at the first break - but this tournament had a record 121 entries, so there was a long way to go.  Good cards dried up in the second term, and we took a big loss when pocket Queens lost to an all-in opponent with a King who matched that card on the flop.  By the second break, we were in a danger zone -- about 13,000 chips with rising blinds and antes.

We said to ourselves during the break God would have to provide a third-hour comeback.  But we've seen it happen before -- and it did again!  Timely A-A gave us a big gain. Then A-10 beat A-8.  And A-K beat A-J. Our stack went back above 40,000 as the field whittled down.

Then came another slump -- but A-K brought us another big win as the field dropped to 12 players. That put us in the money, and minutes later we were at the final table with more than 100,000 chips!

We won another couple of pots at the final table, thinking about the first-place prize of nearly $1,900. But the casino's poker scoreboard also showed a "Chop Value" -- and with seven players left after more than five hours of play, there was talk of taking the chop. All the players voted for it, and we wound up with a record payday of $749!  (Seventh place would have paid $208.)

Considering several players in the tournament talked openly about entering a Heartland Poker Tour stop in the Kansas City area a few days later (which our work schedule did not allow), our finish felt especially gratifying. We were paid in casino chips -- and as we stacked them at the cashier's window, we said: "I've had a very, very, very good day!" Thanks to God for that!

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to a man next to us during a break.  He told us he considered Jesus "a great man, a great teacher.... He certainly changed the world."

If that's your answer when it comes to Jesus, it sounds like a safe answer....
You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and rightly so, for that is what I am. - John 13:13
But Jesus went on to show that's also a very incomplete answer. This section of the book of John is a "communion night" conversation between the Lord and his disciples -- and the Lord revealed much more about Himself.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6

It might sound intolerant in 2015, but Jesus declared you cannot come to God the Father except through Him, the "Son of Man" (John 13:31).
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. - John 14:10

God was in Jesus as Jesus walked the earth - and somehow, Jesus was "in the Father." We think that means they were both God.

There's much more we could quote here. But we challenge you to read it for yourself. Go through John 13-17 and note carefully what Jesus says about Himself, and His relationship with God the Father. Your simple view of the Lord may become a lot deeper.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 166 final tables in 451 games (36.8%) - 29 cashes.  That's three cashes in a row at poker tournaments, with total winnings a bit above $1,000!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Poker Day 450: Leader of the Band

We've been on the road for the last few days. Call it the BPPT - Blogger's Personal Poker Tour.

Our first stop Sunday afternoon was a tournament at Prairie Band Casino, north of Topeka.  The weekend buy-in was $45.  The atmosphere was relaxed, with three full tables of players.  And the challenge for us was to stay focused on the action - especially since we had a medical emergency a couple of nights before, which put us in the hospital.

BLINDS: 10/20

IN THE POCKET: K-Q offsuit

Even though it's early in the contest, several players have been in a pushing mood.  We've held off and taken things patiently, with our starting 1,000 chips down only a bit.  This time, no one raises and we're content to call.


We have top pair and a nice kicker, so we put out a probing bet of 50.  Several players concede, but one man across from us calls.


Top trips now!  But does our opponent want to jump into potential trouble? We check to see. He doesn't, checking as well.


This card opens a door for potential trouble, if our opponent is sitting on a straight draw. But that doesn't occur to us at this moment.  When he bets 100, we think our three Kings are still best.  We raise to 250, and he calls.

"We three Kings," we announce as we show.  The Queen apparently makes a difference, as he also shows a King.... but not his other card.  The kicker gives us a nice pot and a strong gain.

Our holdings gained well, thanks to good cards. Then we held on during a segment when the hands were lousy.  Yet we reached the final table, walking a bit of a chip tightrope -- and we survived to the final seven players, to make money!

Then the good cards started coming back, and we eliminated at least one opponent.  We made it all the way to a heads-up showdown.  But our opponent had about a 2:1 chip advantage at that point; when we dared to go all-in pre-flop with 8-4 of clubs, we were outgunned and lost.

But it was still a very good day -- with a $209 second-place payoff for about three hours of play. (We didn't ask the winner how much he won.)  That's our second-biggest poker payday ever, topped only by a night in the Florida panhandle during a 2011 church convention.  And we won a $5 bonus in "after-hours trading," playing Ultimate Texas Hold 'em elsewhere at the casino,

MINISTRY MOMENT: For the first time that we can recall, we spotted a player wearing a Bible verse on his T-shirt.  Below a patriotic message was a reference to this:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. - Psalm 33:12

The man told us during a break he's the son of a minister.  He mumbled some of the rest of his story, about how he wound up in a casino on a Sunday afternoon.  We told him about our efforts to discuss the things of God in poker rooms; he didn't offer much of a reaction to it.

So what about that Bible verse?  Some evangelical Christians might see that as applying to the U.S. In fact, some have declared the U.S. is descended from one of the "lost tribes" of Israel.  But we'd point out something else about God's blessings....
Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." - Acts 10:34-35

The apostle Peter was focused on ministering to Jews - but Acts 10 shows how a Gentile man named Cornelius changed his thinking. In the same way, we think God will bless and honor people who fear and obey Him in any country on Earth.

We did a detailed study into the concept of the U.S. being of the "lost tribes."  We welcome your thoughts about it -- but be warned: it's SO detailed that you might have to give up some poker-playing time to get through both parts.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 165 final tables in 450 games (36.7%) - 28 cashes.

It's our second tournament cash win in a row, and our fourth this year (one online).  But the BPPT Tour only started here; wait until you see our next post!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Beyond the Table

You may have a favorite place to play poker. But why is that your favorite?

During our years at poker tables, we've been driven primarily by two things: cost and convenience. We'd rather not pay a steep buy-in (even though that can mean limited payoffs at the end of a tournament) -- and we'd rather not drive a long way to play.  (Our main poker place in Georgia was walking distance from home.)

Now a writer has listed his top ten desires in a poker room. A couple of them were things we hadn't considered before - such as USB plug-ins for charging devices.  But there's one we're really not sure about: TV's showing sports channels.

Following a pro or college game is OK, when you're out of a hand and the drama between players gets lengthy.  But big plays on-screen when you're trying to make a big move with chips can be downright distracting.

We think the best poker players focus on the table, their opponents and what they're doing.  And if you want to have success away from the poker room, the right focus matters as well.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2

Our NIV Study Bible notes with this verse it's all about "concentration." (And we don't mean that old TV game show.)  Get distracted by other things in life, and you might wander away from the best things - the things of God.
But my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge - do not give me over to death. - Psalm 141:8

Other people can lead you astray -- especially if their thoughts and minds are fixed on this world. It's a world that the Bible says is "passing away" (I Corinthians 7:31), while the things of God can last forever.

So let's discuss this in the comments section. What's the main reason for your choice of a poker room?  And what do you think the perfect room should include?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jesus with the Crosses

This weekend's Heartland Poker Tour telecast has a final table from a tournament in Mississippi -- and a player which brought an obvious, yet ridiculous punch line from an announcer.

Jesus Cabrera of Atlanta made a deep run (click on our link only if you want to know the outcome), which prompted Jaymz Larson to say at one point the question for other players had become: "What Would Jesus Do?" (Thankfully, Maria Ho had enough class to avoid commenting.)

We've worn WWJD bracelets in poker rooms for years -- but NOT because of Mr. Cabrera. To be honest, we never heard of him before the HPT telecast.  For us, there's only one "Jesus" whose actions ultimately matter.
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. - I Peter 2:21

We're not sure if it's by design or not, but Cabrera wore a shirt to the final table with crosses on it. The Biblical Jesus had His own cross - and that's where the suffering took place.
And being made in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:8

Did you notice how the apostle Peter put it? Jesus left an example for us through suffering.  That's probably not the example that even most believing Christians want to follow.  Hardly anyone wants to suffer -- whether it's a long poker losing streak or a family tragedy. But that's the example the Lord set. And yet....
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:2

Poker players sometimes face a long grind at outer tournament tables - but the final table often brings a cash prize. In a similar way, the Biblical Jesus saw beyond His hours of suffering to the reward beyond -- and a reward is awaiting Jesus's followers as well.
...But he who stands firm to the end shall be saved. - Matthew 24:13
You can be "saved" to share eternal life with Jesus Christ.  So with all due respect to Mr. Cabrera and respect for his final table appearance - what would that other Jesus have you do?