Wednesday, April 27, 2016

State of Mind

Some people say big-time poker is in decline in the U.S. But there's at least one place where it's growing - Russia.

An article we read shows Russia is #2 in the number of players on PokerStars, behind the U.S. Even top Russian chess players are crossing over from 64 squares to 52 cards - even though online poker for money is as illegal there as it is in most of the U.S.

There's now a proposal to add poker to the "International Mind Sports Association."  We never knew there was such a thing - a union for everything from chess and checkers to contract bridge.

Whether or not poker joins this union may depend on whether poker is considered a game of skill, or simply chance. You're welcome to debate that classic question in our comments. But in the meantime, may we interest you in a different kind of mind game?
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.... - Philippians 2:5 (KJV)

Well, maybe we shouldn't call this a "game." It's a challenge to keep your thinking as pure and holy as that of Jesus, the Son of God.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. - II Timothy 1:7 (KJV)

The word "sound" here is translated in other Bible versions as "disciplined."  Jesus kept a disciplined mind, so He would not cave in to the sins all around Him. Those same sins remain around us today, albeit in different forms.
....Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.... Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. - Philippians 3:18-20

Keeping your mind on godly, heavenly things admittedly isn't easy. But we think the challenge is worth it. Being a friend of God (as opposed to an enemy) can pay off ultimately in eternal life, and a place in God's Kingdom.  So, if we may ask - what's on your mind these days?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Junk Drawer

The man had a pair of 4's the other night, and went all-in with them on the flop. We had Ace-King of spades, and had a draw for the "nut flush." We called, and found a spade on the river to hit that flush and win a huge pot.

"You played cr*p," the man said as he examined hands around the table. "You played cr*p.... and you (turning to us) played cr*p."

"Actually, I thought Ace-King was pretty high quality." we answered. But that wasn't the answer he wanted. He was out of the tournament, and needed to vent.

An old phrase is as true with poker hands as it is anywhere else: "One person's trash is another person's treasure." But we'd take this line a bit deeper. How do you look at others - or even yourself? As trash, or treasure?

Believe it or not, God doesn't mind working with junk. In fact, He sometimes seems to delight in it:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and he things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. - I Corinthians 1:27-29
God does use famous names to be witnesses for Him - but not many (verse 26). The point is that God raises and improves "junk" people, who realize that's exactly what they were - so they give God the credit and praise for the turnaround.

But "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. - II Corinthians 10:17-18

We are thankful to God for whatever success we have at the poker table - whether we win money, or crash early and merely share comments about Jesus Christ. Remember: even the "self-made man" didn't build himself in the womb.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Coming For You

"What would Jesus think about gambling?" a man asked at the poker table the other day, after we brought up our faith.

We have a quick answer for this question now. "Jesus was the ultimate 'all-in.'"

The man laughed out loud at our comparison - but we hope he got the point:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. - Romans 5:6

We apologize if this steps on any toes, but "the ungodly" means you. And us. And everyone. Jesus Christ died for all of us - and for all of our sins, whether or not you think poker is sinful gambling.  But thankfully....
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. - I Corinthians 15:20

Jesus was resurrected from the grave - and the amazing promise of the Bible is that you can be, too:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Tonight some believers in Jesus will think about all this, by gathering for what some call the "Lord's Supper." Others call it a New Testament Passover, since Jesus marked that occasion with bread and wine so believers would remember Him.
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. - I Corinthians 11:26

We're thankful for both Jesus's death and resurrection, so we plan to remember it tonight. Do you remember?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Poker Night 467: All About Yvie's

"So did the police do something to the poker rooms?" a woman asked at the place where we played tonight.  If you have to ask, you're probably a part-time player.

To be fair, that woman probably is. Tonight we went to the opposite end of the poker spectrum from the Heartland Poker Tour - back to the amateur version of World Poker Tour, where we started playing in Kansas three Aprils ago.  It's now called "WPT League", and it's dropped from several weekly locations in our city to only one.

Yvie's Bar and Grill on the west side of town is much more "bar" than "grill." Signs with beer jokes abound. It's a throwback to the places where we played poker in Georgia and Alabama years ago - and police are unlikely to raid it, since the games are totally free to enter (no chair rental) and you can buy as much or little refreshment as you wish.

Two tournaments were going simultaneously at this small bar tonight. One was a "VSC" - Venue Series Championship, with top players from recent weeks competing for a trip to Las Vegas for a high-stakes contest. Then there was ours. The "open division" tournament had some distinct characters, reminding us more of a classic TV sit-com. It also had surprising twists....

BLINDS: 200/400


The open division has only two tables. We're at a table of six, and have won a nice pot followed by a fairly big loss to a flush.  Now we're in the Big Blind, and a player ahead of us has raised to 800. These cards are pretty substantial, so we call. As we recall, four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Kc-Qc-10c

We make two pair, but we see potential trouble with so many clubs showing.  The Small Blind checks, and we offer a large "get lost" bet of 1,500. Our goal is to stop potential chasers, and two of them fold. But the Small Blind calls.


Well, at least that's not a club. But it's potentially more trouble, because now a Jack makes a straight. The Small Blind checks again. If he was waiting for an Ace, our two pair would still top his one - so we repeat the bet of 1,500.  He quietly calls again. Hmmm.


Uh-oh - there's the fourth club.  That's such a big concern that only much later do we realize that card put a straight on the table. The Small Blind checks once more - and we don't dare risk any more. We check as well, and he shows.... the Ace of clubs! 

We led the hand all the way to the river - and then the Small Blind hit a royal flush!  This marks the second time we've lost a hand that way, although the prior case was much more of a bad beat.

But we recovered from that loss by winning more hands, eventually eliminating the royal flush man and another player when A-K of spades turned into a "nut flush" on the river. That led us to the open final table with 43,500 chips - and we gained from there to make the final two, heads-up!

We were behind in chips to a middle-aged woman, but rallied from 10,000 and a forced all-in to 70,000. We finally went all-in with J-J while she called with a measly 4-3 of spades.  You might guess what happened - she paired both her cards, with a 3 on the river giving her the match.

Second place would allow us to play in a couple of WPT League online tournaments for small prizes - but both weekly times don't fit our current schedule. Yet it was nice to "go back in time" for a night. Back to when the games were free, the players were more entertaining than serious and people actually talked about their lives - even if some brought up ex-spouses' divorces.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "You doing good?" a man asked as we waited in line outside the small men's restroom during the one-hour break.

"I try to do good," we told him. "But that's not always easy."

He nodded, and we continued. "It's like a man once said - the good things that I ought to do, I don't always do. And the things that I don't want to do, I wind up doing."

"The apostle Paul," the man responded.

How about that! At that small bar, a customer knew exactly what we were talking about, and where we found that quote....
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.... For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. - Romans 7:15, 19
The way many Bibles phrase this section makes it almost sound like a comedy routine. But we think Paul was very serious. He wanted to do good things....
....But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. - Romans 7:23
Every human has the innate ability to sin.  Some people, of course, are more concerned about that than others. Paul indicated he was quite concerned:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord! - Romans 7:24-25 

If you're becoming aware of your "sin nature," that can bring bad feelings. But God wants to turn those feelings into a good life. It starts by repenting of your sins and accepting Jesus as the sacrifice before God for them. If you need help doing that, leave a comment and we'll be happy to help.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 176 final tables in 467 games (37.7%) - 33 cashes. We've split our "vacation poker" so far, although our financial planner probably would prefer the order had been reversed.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Poker Day 466: Cut Through the Heart

Regular readers might have noticed we hadn't played in a poker tournament in a month. A lack of close poker rooms and a busy spring cleaning season will do that. But we were also focused on a big event which happened to fall during our vacation time: a Heartland Poker Tour tournament in Kansas City.

We traveled today to Ameristar Casino and Hotel - a complex that reminds you of a "grand hotel" and rail station of the 1930s. The HPT is holding a series of events there over 11 days. We did not enter the Main Event tournament, since it started on Saturday; it has more than 300 players, including (reportedly) WSOP Main Event champ Greg Raymer.

Instead, we settled for the final Sunday tournament - which had our steepest buy-in fee ever: $150. With that much on the line, we wanted to play well.... so did we?

BLINDS: 50/100


We're thrilled to say we won an HPT hand!  It was before this one, as a bet on the flop with King high chased other players away.  Now we find a big pocket pair in the Big Blind, and the second player in line at this table of nine already has raised to 250.

"I want to raise," we say on sight.  Up we go to 750.  Two players call, including the man who raised first.

ON THE FLOP: 3-4-8 (offsuits)

This seems harmless, so we lead off with a continuation bet of 500. Perhaps that was too cautious, as the original raiser goes up to 1,200. The third man steps aside, and we call - wondering as we do. Is he bluffing to test our courage?


We still have an overpair, but now we check to see what our opponent is thinking.  He sets out 2,500.  Everyone started with 12,500 chips, so this would be a substantial call.

We go "into the tank" as deeply as we ever have - trying to figure out what he's doing. Is he slow-rolling Aces?  That's our top suspicion, if he has something at all.  We still conclude he's bluffing, so we finally call.


We still have the overpair, but we're still not comfortable. If our opponent is playing 10-10 or J-J, he's topped us. So we check again, and now his bet is 3,000.

"What's that old song?" we ask aloud. "We've come this far by faith.... leaning on the Lord?"

A couple of players out of the hand get a chuckle out of this. But we decide if we've committed this far, we might as go all the way with it. We call again.

Our opponent quickly turns over.... 4-4! He hit three of a kind on the flop, and led us all the way from there.

"Queens or Kings?" a man out of the hand asks us.  Unless he finds this blog, he'll never know - as we muck the cards without showing them.

That well-played win by the man two seats away was a crippling blow to us. We lost a couple of other hands with good cards as well, then rallied a bit with pocket Jacks to get back above 3,000.

Finally we smelled a comeback with 7-7, when the flop had a 7. We pushed with our last 1,800 or so, as anyone would have done. That brought two callers. But then the turn and river were running hearts, and a man made a flush to top us.

At least we were not the first player out at our table; we were second. But on a day with 84 players, a prize pool in the range of $10,000 and a lot of money invested, it was a disappointing session.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Do you recognize the song we mentioned at the river card?  It's an old gospel tune - and walking a long way by faith is something several people in the Bible did.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. - Hebrews 11:8

God made several promises to Abraham - some of them enormous:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. - Genesis 12:2

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.... - Genesis 22:17

Abraham died in Genesis 25:8 - and while his family grew, it wasn't quite in the millions or billions. Does that mean God lied to him? Was Abraham's faith in vain?
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.... Instead, they were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. - Hebrews 11:13, 16

Abraham and others had enough faith in God that they were willing to wait for a payoff beyond the grave. Their hope was for God to fulfill His promises when they are resurrected.  That might seem to take a lot of faith. But that was the sort of faith Jesus showed when he endured a violent death on our behalf.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. - Revelation 2:10

How much faith do you have? Not in yourself or your poker-playing skills, but in God?  If you're lacking, don't be afraid to ask God for more. After all, Jesus's disciples did (Luke 17:5) - and the Lord was more than willing to help them.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 175 final tables in 466 games (37.6%) - 33 cashes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Ultimate Decision

In the world of illegal drugs, a "pusher" is a bad guy. In the world of poker, a "pusher" could be many things - such as someone who's "on tilt" and ready to leave the game, or someone bluffing a lot to scare opponents.

Our last post referred to how God is willing to provide for us (yes, even for poker players) - but it requires a commitment. We think it takes a pusher's commitment.  Yes, an "all-in" commitment.
He provides food to those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. - Psalm 111:5

God provides if we "fear." What exactly does that mean?
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. - Psalm 37:25

God provides for "righteous" people.  There's a connection with fear there....
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. - Ecclesiastes 12:13

Fearing the Lord means keeping commandments because....
May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. - Psalm 119:172

God's commands are righteous things.  If we fear God and keep them, He'll provide for us - and might even do it in a poker room.  But we must commit to keeping God's commandments (such as Deuteronomy 5:6-21). And some of them might seem tough - especially if you're used to lying or stealing from other people.

Jesus talks in Luke 14:25-33 about the price of being His disciple and a "God-follower." We suggest you consider those verses carefully.  Are you willing to go "all-in" with Jesus, for the hope of eternal life? Even if it means giving up some things? We think it's worth it.... but that's ultimately up to you.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Price Freedom?

The end of this week will mark a major anniversary for some people -- and not because it's the traditional U.S. "Tax Day."

Next Friday will be five years since "Black Friday," when the U.S. Justice Department shut down several leading online poker sites. They were shut down in essence for the same reason several poker rooms in our city closed earlier this year - requiring money to play cash games or tournaments.

Some people are led to greatly exaggerate what happened. We found one columnist who declared:

Tens of thousands of Americans lost a basic freedom that day – while others lost their livelihoods.

We agree that some people lost a lot of money, when their online bankrolls fell into government hands.  But really now -- did people "lose a basic freedom"?  Absolutely not.  There are still plenty of websites where people can play poker.  They can do it for free, and even win money doing it - although admittedly the stakes usually are much smaller.

We're going to guess the lost "freedom" referred to by the writer is the ability to gamble online. While we've entered live tournaments and won some money for nearly nine years, we would ask: do you really need to gamble?
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:19

We believe God created everything, so He ultimately owns it all.  And we believe God is loving enough to supply people's needs. But do you have enough faith to believe God will do that without gambling money on it?
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.... - Isaiah 58:11

Some poker players might interpret this verse to mean a big-money tournament in Las Vegas.  But seriously: God is willing to provide for you. But it may require taking the biggest risk of all - even bigger than going all-in with pocket 3's. It could mean giving God control over all aspects of your life.  We'll dig deeper into that in our next post.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Rage Against the Machine

As we grew up, the "pokie" was the place to avoid. It was a synonym for jail - as in the corner square on a Monopoly board.

But in Australian lingo, a "pokie" is something else. It refers to a poker machine - and a new study shows a lot of Aussies like to play them. One machine in a hotel can make an average A$59,000 per year, while in casinos they make an average A$128,600.

We'd guess pokies are popular because you can play them quickly. and walk away if you lose a lot in a hurry. But while there's a time and place for such things and we've played them online, poker machines strike us as cold and  impersonal. They're a lot like slot machines.

When we play poker, we admittedly do it with multiple motives. One of them is to engage people in conversations, which we try to lead to matters of faith:
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. - Proverbs 27:17

By talking about poker with other players, you can learn things and improve your skills. When we talk about the things of God with others.... well, our NIV Study Bible notes on this verse put it this way: "Develops and molds his character."
Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. - Malachi 3:17

Let's face it, though: you're far more likely to find "those who fear the Lord" at places other than casinos. If you want to talk deeply about the things of God, get involved in a local church congregation - especially one that is true to the Bible. (Believe it or not, many of them aren't.) And be sure to read your Bible often, so you have something to talk about.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

As the Cards Turn

Before the last "river" card comes in a traditional poker hand, there's the "turn" card.

We're not sure how that card received its name. After all, can't every card in a poker hand turn things around - either for or against you?

But in spiritual terms, the creators of poker had things in the right order....
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.... - Acts 3:19

We looked online through 14 different Bible translations - and the word "flop" is nowhere to be found. But if we're honest with ourselves, we're all "flops." We've all fallen short of living perfect lives.
...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

The Bible shows we need to repent of the sins that make us flops. Then "turn to God." What does that mean?
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. - Psalm 34:14

People who aren't close to God may not like reading this, but their ways tend to be evil. In poker, that can mean looking for short cuts and cheating ways to win pots - or perhaps lying in someone else's face about what sort of hand you have. So they need to turn to doing good ways.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. - Isaiah 55:7

We think the best way to know how to turn to God is to read the Bible on a regular basis. Ask God in prayer to help you understand it, and how its words apply to you. Then begin living what you understand. Then, to borrow from a classic song with Biblical lyrics, you'll make the "turn, turn, turn" in your life.