Thursday, March 31, 2016

River Without Rats

The last card that's dealt in a Texas Hold 'em poker hand has a name with more symbolism than you might think.

Why is it called "the river"? One theory we found online says that card actually was a cheater's card long ago - and gamblers would throw it over the side of a riverboat if they got caught. Into the river, you see.

But big things happened at rivers long before poker came along. Consider a few examples....
So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them... as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.... So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. - Joshua 3:14-16

The nation of Israel entered God's "promised land" by crossing the Jordan River. Decades of wandering ended, and a payoff was achieved.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John... As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." - Matthew 3:13-17

The Son of God agreed to be baptized in a river, and God used that moment to make a major statement about Him.
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. - Acts 16:13

The apostle Paul went to the riverside to pray - and more baptisms followed (verse 15).

So historic events can happen at rivers. Perhaps you can think of more from the Bible. But we've been reminded of this lately by a big song on Christian radio - ironically, by a singer with "Jordan" in his name. It talks about a "river" offering something far more valuable than poker pots.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Adventures of Narco-Cop

We've documented here over the last three month how police have cracked down on poker rooms in our city, putting practically all public games out of business.  But not all law officers are killjoys, when it comes to poker.

This weekend's Heartland Poker Tour telecast featured Michael Younan -- or, as he asked the announcers to call him, "Narco-Cop." Younan really spends his work days with a police department narcotics division. (No, we won't spoil the outcome.)

Would you be afraid to play against someone you know works in law enforcement? If so, that probably says more about you than it does "Narco-Cop."  Maybe what you need is a change of thinking, to become more law-abiding:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as man who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden.... - Hebrews 13:17

We realize big-time poker gained a lot of fame from people walking on the edges of breaking the law. But the modern-day game offers plenty of opportunities to play legally for fun - and, under the right circumstances, you can enter tournaments to win money.
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful.... - I Timothy  1:8-9

The apostle Paul goes on to list many more people for whom the "law is made." While "gamblers" is not there, it's not a pretty list.

So as basic as this may sound, the law is good. Why some poker players and rooms wanted to cut corners with it, we don't know.  But isn't it better to play games that are legal and above board - so "Narco-Cop" doesn't send his co-workers after you?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You Want a Piece of Me?

Careful, now - please don't jump to conclusions about our title.  We're not talking about fighting or cyber-bullying. We're talking about what one radio report calls "diversifying your poker portfolio."

NPR reported this week that one of the players at a World Series of Poker Main Event final table didn't really win millions of dollars after all. The radio story didn't explain when it happened, but Jake Balsiger finished third in 2012. His listed winnings are $3.799,073. But his real take-home check was much less than one million.

Why? Because other players "invested" in Balsiger - buying a percentage of his winnings, in exchange for helping to pay his buy-in fee. At the Main Event, that's a steep $10,000.  It's a bit like an actor or performer hiring a talent agent to handle bookings and negotiations.

One of Balsiger's "investors" bought shares in several other WSOP players as well.  But what strikes us about this arrangement is that it goes against one of the basic concepts of poker. When a player goes "all in," he puts all his chips in the middle. Not anyone else's, unless they choose to push as well. And not 75 percent of his chips, unless he's called by someone with less.

If you think God works in the "portfolio" mode, we think you're mistaken. Jesus made clear God doesn't want simply a 10 or 15-percent commitment on your part....
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. - Matthew 6:24

Straddling is the stuff of blackjack or roulette. It should not be the stuff of believers....
And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only...." - I Samuel 7:3

It's ultimately about commitment - a whole-hearted commitment. Do you have enough faith in God to invest everything you have in Him and His Son?  To borrow from a classic hymn: are you surrendering "all in?"

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Real Life-Changer

This weekend's Heartland Poker Tour telecast had the final table at a casino in metro Kansas City - a casino we haven't tried yet, but might consider since we're about four hours away from it.

The winner took home more than $100,000. The HPT host likes to call that first-place money "life-changing cash" - and for some people, it certainly would be.

But what if you could change your life, without any cash at all? It's possible, you know....
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:2-3

Jesus Christ's lesson is here is quite the opposite from what males are usually told.  The dressing-down moment often includes the phase, "Grow up!"  So why would Jesus seemingly say the opposite?  Keep reading....
"Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 18:4

Win a $100,000-plus first prize in a poker tournament, and it certainly would be tempting to brag about it to the world. But Jesus's point is that we need to be humble, instead of arrogant and boastful.  That's a true change - and life-thinking.  And consider why He said that....
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" - Matthew 18:1

Other parts of the New Testament indicate several disciples wanted that title for themselves (Luke 22:24). We think a better approach is to acknowledge Jesus as the greatest of all - even in the character trait of humility.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! - Philippians 2:8

Jesus's example has changed many lives down through the centuries. Have you examined it closely, to see if it might change yours?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust

Suddenly it seems like 2016 is the year when poker options are disappearing before our very eyes. The latest is the "place" where poker-playing began for us.

Yahoo will eliminate its games section in mid-May, as it shrinks down to top-producing and best-loved web offerings. The "Yahoo Poker" option we first used in 2007 already had disappeared a few years ago.

Yahoo Poker is where we first tried the game on a regular basis in April 2007 - playing 1/2 Limit Hold 'em. It's where we first hit quads with Queens (on the flop at that), to win a $119 pretend pot.  A starting allocation of $1,000 grew to more $13,000 in 2009, and an all-time high of $13,969 in late 2010 - admittedly helped by some side trips to Yahoo Blackjack along the way.

Yes, we kept records of all of this. We wanted to see if we "had the stuff" to play poker - and we think time has shown we do, as we moved on from Yahoo to other online and in-person poker venues. But Yahoo was where we had friendly chats about all sorts of topics, including faith topics. We also saw the bad attitudes some people can bring, even to online "lounge" settings.

The lesson of Yahoo Games is the lesson of us all - that in this life, nothing really lasts forever:
...For riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. - Proverbs 27:24

We've heard radio preachers put it this way: You don't see hearses pulling U-Hauls behind them. Even in cyberspace, the principle is true....
All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. - Ecclesiastes 3:20

So what hope do we have beyond this life?  A lot of hope - if we put our hope and faith in the God who created us, and desires to save us.
As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.... But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him.... with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. - Psalm 103:15-18

God loves us enough to offer a path out of death:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. - John 3:16

That eternal life is in Jesus Christ. Would you like to know more about that - a true reason to shout "Yahoo!"? If so, leave a comment and we'll be happy to help you.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Poker Day 465: A Big Gulp

Sunday tournaments at Kansas Star Casino are pricey - an $85 buy-in. But weekday games are more reasonable. We happened to have a three-day weekend, so we drove to the Casino for a 12:00 noon game with a $45 buy-in -- plus $5 "dealer appreciation" for an extra 1,000 chips. We'd soon see how much we appreciate them....

BLINDS: 25/25

IN THE POCKET: Queen-10 offsuit

The cards we've been dealt early were OK, but nothing that won us pots. Our starting stack of 3,500 chips dropped to about 3,000.  But we won a modest pot in the Big Blind, with a timely bet o the turn. Now we're in the Small Blind, at a pretty active table. Someone raises to 75, and we hold our nose (well, not literally) and call. About half the table is in.


We hit top pair, and we're ready to seize on it. Sitting in lead position, we bet 150 to keep potential flush chasers away. Only a man to our right calls.


That seems harmless, so we try again. Now we bet 400. But that opponent calls again, and we fear big trouble. Is he sitting on pocket Kings?


This pairs the board - and it's potentially even more trouble. What if our opponent had a 7 in the first place?  We slow down and check. We're a bit relieved when our opponent thinks it over, then checks as well.

We show Q-10.  He shows - Q-9!  The 10 plays, and we complete a nice round of blinds by gaining several hundred chips.

Our stack reached a high of 5,375 at the end of the first blind period. But then good cards started getting beat by better cards, and we slumped again. We survived one all-in Big Blind moment, to stay at 1,900 chips. But when we were moved to another table, we pushed with A-8 and A-5-2 showing. Amazingly, a man with 5-2 called and topped us. We left in 31st place out of 53 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We tried to recover our buy-in at a blackjack table.  That didn't succeed, either - but we heard a discussion with a table manager about giving.

"It's better to give than to receive," we told him. "I read that in a book once."

"Was that a 'good book'?" the dealer asked.

"A very good book," we agreed.  Moments later we continued, "Do you read that good book?"  The dealer nodded his head.

"I think everyone should read it," we added.

"I concur," the dealer responded.

Do you recognize that initial quote - and the "good book" where it's found?  Regular blog readers probably can guess....
In everything I did, I showed you by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Acts 20:35

People call the Bible a "good book" for many reasons. We think it's good in part because it gives helpful advice on living.  But it's especially good because of the One who gave this advice - Jesus Christ, who desires to be your Savior.
"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me...." - John 10:14

Jesus openly was skeptical when someone called Him "good" (Luke 18:19) - but here He takes that adjective to a different level.
"....Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep." - John 10:15

Jesus Christ came to give up His life, to pay the death penalty for all our sins. We don't think any deal is "more good" than that. Will you accept it, and become one of Jesus's "sheep" - following the Shepherd all the way to the Kingdom of God?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 175 final tables in 465 games (37.6%) - 33 cashes.  In five tournaments at Kansas Star, we've yet to even reach a final table.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Where From Here?

One poker room's Facebook page practically is frozen in time, moments before the police supposedly showed up last month. Another is so resigned to its fate, it posted a "going out of business" sale on Facebook Thursday.

With no more poker rooms in our city, what's a poker fan to do? We're facing that situation right now - a bit like what happened when we moved to our new home three years ago.  After thinking it over, several options remain:

1. Traveling 30 minutes down the road to a casino poker room - but Sunday tournaments there can be expensive.

2. Returning to the "World Poker Tour Amateur League". But it's dropped to one location in our city, and Monday evening tournaments don't work well with our schedule these days.

3. Playing online for chips or small prizes. That's probably our best playing option - but it can be the toughest for getting a response to matters of faith.

4. Deciding the "poker phase" of our life is past, and moving on to other projects.

That last option has been a serious one for us, with work matters taking more time each week while both blogging and poker seem to decline in popularity.

We're not announcing any big decisions yet -- merely saying we're thinking things over. In the meantime, we're asking God to help us make the best choice:
Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. - Psalm 27:11

We're not necessarily feeling oppressed at the moment. But we believe things work out for the best when we let God lead the way.
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

We invite you to put yourself in our poker-playing shoes.  What would you do?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Three Down, One to Go

We were planning a Sunday trip to our most familiar local poker room. We hoped to play for the first time in several weeks.  But after what we learned during the Friday evening news, we didn't bother.

Arrowhead Poker has joined the list of closed rooms in our city. We documented here in recent weeks what it hoped to do: become a private club, hoping to get around the city police crackdown because no liquor was served.

But in a Friday TV interview (full disclosure statement: a TV station where we work), the manager of Arrowhead said he decided to shut down on the advice of his attorney - before police showed up and, well, forced his hand. The Arrowhead website already was unplugged before the interview appeared.

Gary Dorrell struck us as a nice guy. We could talk with him easily about faith topics, and his personality was easy-going. But as he put it: "I've never been arrested in my life. I don't need to find out what it's like now."

Given what's happened in recent weeks, we don't blame him. And it's a good lesson for all of us, extending beyond poker....
If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable - Proverbs 28:9

This statement comes at the end of a section about "law". It most likely refers to the law of God (as in the Ten Commandments) - but if you're breaking laws of the city or state that do not go against the law of God, why should God cut you any slack?
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. - Luke 16:10

In other words: yes, we should "sweat the small stuff" - when it comes to matters of law, as well as other things. They're hints to God about how you'll handle larger responsibilities.

So we'll miss Arrowhead Poker - the place where we started playing buy-in tournaments on a regular basis. We even won a few, from our first trip in May 2013 to our last trip a few weeks ago.  This leaves only one active poker room in our area - and the one inside Kansas Star Casino is very legal, since it's state-run.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Across The Line

It was our turn to act, and we wanted to bet. So we reached for one of our stacks, held it out, dropped a couple of chips on the table - and promptly was scolded for it.

"If you move chips past the line, you have to bet them," a dealer reminded us.

Most casino tables have a "line of commitment" around them. If you put chips beyond that line, it's considered a bet.  If you toss your cards past the line before showdown, you've folded.

The "stack reach-out" correction happened to us at our last casino tournament -- not once, but twice. Normally we don't put chips out that way. But we've seen a lot of other players do it in informal games.

It occurred to us after the game that we've gotten into an unexpected bad habit with our chip-handling - a habit that could prove costly one of these days, and turn a good game into a quick exit.

Do you have any habits like that at the poker table?  Are there "lines" you're crossing that you shouldn't?  These are questions we all should ask from time to time - and not simply when we play poker.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. - Psalm 139:23-24

You might be offending other people - even breaking a rule of the game (poker or life) - and not even know it.  There are several ways to discover if you're doing that:
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed... - James 5:16

Some church groups recommend members have "accountability partners."  We suppose that could mean a spouse, but they often put it in the form of a close friend of the same gender - someone who will ask you tough questions about your life, with you asking back. The goal is to keep each other clean in conduct.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. - Proverbs 27:6

The approach mentioned in Psalm 139 is more introspective - praying for God's help in finding your faults. It's a concept we've mentioned here before:
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves... - II Corinthians 13:5

However you do it, it's a good thing to do it. Never assume you're doing everything right. We've found that's simply a path that leads to correction and trouble.  Carefully explore your life, and see which side of the line you're really on.