Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Drinking Game?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gad or God? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Gad or God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poker Day 455: Eight is Enough?

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

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: 5-6 of clubs

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

The young man laughed a bit and nodded a little at that, but said nothing.  We checked later, and found a General Education degree at his college requires taking at least one theology course -- not necessarily the New Testament. That's where our "beast" reference is found:
This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. - Revelation 13:18

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Save the Date?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Poker Day 454: The Straight Edge

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

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-7 offsuit

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Canadian Cash Game: The River Rat

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

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

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

BLINDS: 2/5 (Limit Hold 'em)

IN THE POCKET: K-J offsuit

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


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

ON THE TURN: 6 (as best we recall)

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


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

"Three pair," we say with good humor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Getting on the Winning Side

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

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

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

One website we consulted says Buddhism has a devil character named "Mara" - one considered wicked, evil, "the Murderer, the Tempter." That's not far away from what Christians think about Satan.
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. - John 8:44

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

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

But how can you tell whether you're following God and Jesus, as opposed to Satan and demonism? We recommend taking time each day reading carefully through the book of truth (John 17:17), the Bible.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. - Acts 17:11

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