Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Secret Life of Pots

"I could go play in a casino every day, to try to make a living," the young man said.

That man is trying to find a career path - and he was joking. We simply smiled at his comment, but said nothing in response.

Some would say this was an awkward moment for us - because the comment came during fellowship time at church last Saturday. Yes, one day after we made a final table and top-four finish on a Friday at a casino about 15 minutes away by car.

But we've become used to biting our tongue and saying nothing about our poker games - at least not at church services. We doubt anyone in our congregation even knows we play in tournaments. (Our pastor might, though; he asked once about our blog-writing, but we gave a vague answer because we weren't sure which of our online projects he meant.)

Why do we stay silent? Because our church movement officially preaches against gambling. There's a Biblical principle we follow in cases like this....
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. - I Corinthians 8:9

We all have "boundary lines" in life - areas we refuse to cross and enter, because we might hurt ourselves or other people. For instance, some people in our movement drink beer after a service. Others don't; they might be recovering alcoholics or simply are concerned about what might happen. The point of this verse is to avoid offending others, in the boundaries you cross.
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do to anything else that will cause our brother to fall. - Romans 14:20-21

Playing games or gambling in a casino is one of those areas for us. We've done it for years, but other worshipers around us might consider it a sinful act. So to borrow from a once-popular U.S. military practice, we play "Don't ask, don't tell." We normally only bring up our poker ministry if someone specifically asks if we do it.
When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. - I Corinthians 8:11

There's actually a side benefit of taking this approach. By staying silent in a church setting, we get to practice our "poker face" away from the table.

So please, offer your thoughts on this - anonymously if you wish. Are there places where you dare not bring up poker? And how do you handle situations where the game might come up?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poker Day 479: Final-ly

The first time we entered a poker tournament in our current city, we finished second. The first time we entered a "poker room" in our city (the ones since taken out of business), we were part of a first-place settlement. But success at Kansas Star Casino has been elusive: 11 tournaments entered, no better than two semifinal tables. But then along came Friday....

BLINDS: 1,500/3,000

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

If we're playing with blinds this high, things probably are going well - and they have all day long. We won four of the first five hands (losing to and winning with pocket Aces), and five out of seven. There was a mix of good cards and timely betting, to put us at 6,600 chips at the first break - then building farther to 36,000 at break 2, removing a few opponents along the way.

Now indeed, it's happened - we've made the final table! We arrived with 43,500. Eight players are winning money, and players are betting like they've had enough for one day. Two players on either side of us go all-in. Seeing these big cards, part of us wants to get out of the way and let them fight. But the day's gone so well and we think the opponent are so desperate, we choose to call for 21,500.

The man to our left shows J-J. Oops. The woman to our right has Q-Q. Double oops. We need something big.


"Yes!" we say with happiness. Aces are high. Now if the cards will stay low....


We didn't say it, but yes again....


That's the kind of day it was for us - the best possible day ever at Kansas Star. We knock out two final table foes, and advance to 69,500.

We wound up in the final four, with a big-stacked man across from us refusing to even consider a four-way chop of the money. So we kept playing - and faced another big decision when a woman to our right pushed. We went all-in in response with pocket 10's. But she had pocket Jacks. Even though 10's were good to us often during the tournament, they didn't rescue us this time.

A four-way split could have earned us more than $400. But fourth place still paid $210 - substantially more than the $50 it cost to enter. And that was fourth, out of 86 entries (some of them admittedly players re-buying) - at the place that's become the prime location for top poker in our part of the country. We were thrilled, and thankful to God for a successful breakthrough!

MINISTRY MOMENT: One man folded his hand late in the tournament by lifting his cards high above the table. We sat next to him, and could see one of his cards was the Ace of clubs.

"Now will you accept that I'm not lying?" the man asked.

We've played poker long enough to know better, so we gave a Biblical response. "To borrow from a book I read: 'Put your trust not in mortals, for in them is no help.' From a hymn, actually."

That's a line from a hymn in our church movement. And it comes from a psalm:
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. - Psalm 146:3
Poker players should know this principle better than most. After all, part of the game involves bluffing - to get your opponent to think you're weak so they raise, or to run your opponent away by pretending to be strong. But the reminder about "mortals" doesn't stop there....
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. - Psalm 146:4
Many national leaders have had dreams of great conquest - but when they die, they can't take territorial gains with them. In fact, an old church line is that hearses don't tend to have U-Hauls attached. So where should our trust be?
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them - the Lord, who remains faithful forever. - Psalm 146:5-6

The rest of the psalm describes some of the things God can do for you - benefits both physical and spiritual. Our point is that God ultimately is trustworthy. Humans are not - whether they play poker or not. So where are you putting your long-term trust?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 178 final tables in 479 games (37.2%) - 34 cashes. It's our third cash of 2016, and the first since the end of January (as the poker rooms were going out of business.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

One Task Only

They'll return to the table October 30, but the World Series of Poker "November Nine" are now settled. The Main Event final table has players from several countries, no real superstars - and one man who's already guaranteed himself a record payoff.

Fernando Pons is a native of Spain who works in retail sales. The WSOP website indicates his grand total winnings in live poker tournaments are $10,589. But what intrigues us about Pons is that the Main Event is the only tournament he went to Las Vegas to play. That probably makes him like a lot of poker players, who consider the Main Event a "bucket list" item with nothing else mattering.

What matters most in your life? If it's poker, we have some news that might surprise you or even upset you. Believe it or not, there's more to life than poker.
Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see... - Ecclesiastes 11:9a

 Sounds great so far, doesn't it? But that Bible verse isn't finished yet....
...But know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment. - Ecclesiastes 11:9b

Yeah, we went there. We believe there is a God, and He's appointed Jesus Christ to judge all that we do in our lives.

The U.S. political campaigns have reminded us that lots of people judge others. If you vote, you might pick one candidate over another based on how they've conducted themselves, or what "sins" they've committed. But have we forgotten....
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4:12

Jesus will have the final word on which people are saved and which will be destruction (Revelation 20:12-15). So how can you get to the saved side? That's where we come back to the example of Fernando Pons:
But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. - Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

Our lives need to have one main goal - seeking God's Kingdom by developing His righteousness. If you focus on that, bonus blessings will come. Maybe not a seat at the WSOP Main Event final table, but blessings of different kinds.

So again we ask: what matters most in your life - and should?

Monday, July 18, 2016


As we start writing this late on Sunday night Las Vegas time (even though we're not in Las Vegas), the World Series of Poker Main Event has 30 players remaining. And there's one "breakout star" who could be in line for Player of the Year honors.

Paul Volpe is still in the running for the final table, after making the money in not two, not four.... but seven earlier WSOP events! That includes two final tables and one first-place bracelet, with total winnings so far in the $400,000 range.

We had to put "breakout star" in quotes because Volpe actually is down a bit from last year's WSOP. All he did there was cash six times, but he made four final tables and finished second twice. Total winnings: around $560,000. And in 2014, Volpe cashed five times with one win at the WSOP.

He's easily a WSOP millionaire. Yet to be honest, we didn't know about Volpe until we prepared this post. The "star power" doesn't seem to be there in the poker world these days, unless you hit it big in the Main Event - and we doubt a place in poker's Hall of Fame can be yours, either.

You may be a big name in your local poker community. You may be an also-ran. But there's One who ultimately is the most famous of all....

"We are your servants," they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, "Who are you and where did you come from?" They answered, "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God."... - Joshua 9:8-9

Joshua was talking to a group of Hivites. Even though Joshua is a big name for Bible students, the Hivites didn't come to marvel at him. The things God had done made Him famous - as in God.
Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known....  - Habakkuk 3:2

Many people today don't think God exists - much less performs any deeds. But here's the thing: the Bible expected those people to show up.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.... But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. - II Peter  3:3, 5

The perfection in creation, such as Earth's rotation around the sun, stands as evidence of God's great work. So are the small blessings that may come every day to a believer.

As we finish this post (it didn't take that long), Paul Volpe has just been eliminated from the WSOP''s biggest tournament. He finished 29th, and will add about $216,000 more to his bank account. The fame of a Main Event bracelet eluded Volpe. But are you giving thanks to the most famous One of all?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Director's Cut

No, poker and blogging about it is not our full-time job. We do something else to make a living - and our work schedule has changed for the second time this year. A schedule that opened the door for us to play Monday night poker now has closed.

We miss Yvie's for the characters who tend to show up at its tournaments - from good players dealing with serious disabilities to eccentric men wearing hats that look borrowed from a costume shop.

One thing we may not miss so much is the Tournament Director. We've mentioned before how he can lay down the law before games begin. One recent Monday night, it happened again - with tough words to stop people apparently arguing too much over his rulings.

"I could be completely wrong," he admitted loudly to the room. But complaining too much about it, he warned, could get you shown the door.

We've never done it, but it's probably not easy being a Tournament Director. There are dozens of people to check in, point standings to manage, and sometimes new poker locations to negotiate. Add to that the job of referee over disputed hands, and you have a potentially challenging job.

So how do you treat the people in charge, at the places where you play? One very helpful guidebook suggests this:
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority... Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage for you. - Hebrews 13:17

Some people look at this Bible verse and think of Presidents or royalty. But think a bit more deeply about it. "Leaders" can be found in all walks of life - on your job, at the church you attend, on a sports team, and even at a poker tournament. Don't make things difficult for them. After all, they could turn around and make things more difficult for you.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. - Titus 3:1-2

Yes, Directors' decisions can be wrong at times. But humbling yourself, being in subjection to those decisions and having a peaceful spirit sets the right example. It makes the game go better for everyone. And besides, the "poker brat" nickname already has been taken.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. - Romans 13:3

We throw in this last verse for those of you who might be tempted to cheat at the table. You're far less likely to get punished if you follow the house rules. In fact, if you follow all of our Bible-based advice, a strange thing might happen -- the Tournament Director might even become your friend.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Poker Day 478: Saved By the Felt

"South-Central Kansas's Premier Poker Room" is how Kansas Star Casino now promotes itself inside the building. Well, OK.... but it's practically the only poker room now. Yet we went there Friday, and had an afternoon of drama:

BLINDS: 50/100


We won an early pot with a "Big Blind Special" (more on that later), but have had some serious losses since then. We come to this hand with 1,475 chips out of a starting 3,500. So should we play the smallest of pocket pairs? We're second to act, with little margin for error. We decide to call, hoping no one will raise. But two seats to our left, a man reaches for a purple 500 chip.

"Raise," he says. But wait....

"That hit the felt," the dealer rules. She says the chip landed across the red commitment line before the man said "raise." Thus it is a 100-chip call.

"What do I do?" the man asks.

"I'll give you change," the dealer says.

No one else raises. Four players are in. And our mind goes back to the night before, when a Seattle Mariners pitcher may have given away a win over the Kansas City Royals by taking an out at first base instead of starting a double play. Could a small slip work that well for us?


Oh yes, it can! We stumble into three of a kind - but of course, we check to the raiser. The man two seats over now can bet 500, and he does. A man across the table calls.

"All of it," we say - dropping down the remaining 1,375 chips.

The man who committed illegal procedure probably regrets it now. He folds. But that man across the table calls us.

"You did me a favor, by what you did," we say to the raiser before turning over our cards. "I probably would have folded." The remaining opponent has 9-9, so we're in a comfortable lead.


No harm with that....


...Or with that! The man's little slip turns into a big double-up for us, as we move above 3,500 chips.

But more trouble came after that - and at the first break, we sat with a lowly 450 chips. Yet after the break, an amazing comeback happened. All-in with A-9 won a pot, to restore us to 2,200. Calling another man's all-in bet with A-10 paid off with Aces on the flop and turn.  Our stack advanced to a high of 6,100 - and that was despite folding 8-10 in the Small Blind, before a 10-10-10 flop showed up!

With three tables left, another crossroads moment came. We played K-10 of spades, and a Qs-Jx-7s flop gave us a big flush draw. Then we hit the flush with Js on the turn - and a man across the table went all-in!

"Did you hit it?" we asked aloud - realizing he might have the Ace of spades and a higher flush.

"I wouldn't push if I didn't," the opponent said - suggesting he doesn't lie.

"I have little choice," we said as we called for our last 3,400.

The opponent turned over.... 7-7!  He hit something we didn't expect: a full house! We had an open-ended straight flush draw, if As or 9s came on the river - but no, it was a 5. Our big risk failed, and we finished 26th our of 69 entries.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Back to that early pot we won in the Big Blind. We described to other players as a "BBS."

"Does that stand for basic bulls***?" one man asked us.

"No, I meant Big Blind Special."

Then a man between surprisingly suggested something else. "I thought he said VBS - as in Vacation Bible School."

Do you have memories of those schools? We remember a week of summer mornings, eating duplex sandwich cream cookies and playing "Red Rover" on the grounds outside the church building. But VBS is supposed to teach something else....
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. - Proverbs 22:6

To be honest, we can't recall a single Bible lesson from our Vacation Bible Schools - although we remember the pre-school play time stopping for a story or two, and thinking Bible references on the walls were clocks. For example:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. - Philippians 3:20

"It's 20 after three in the Philippines," we told grown-ups with our five-year-old reasoning. Right?!

Well, of course it's not right. But we needed to learn - and summer Bible schools and camps are designed to help young people learn about Jesus, and what a Christian life is all about.

If you want to improve your poker skills, you might go to a "boot camp" or watch videos. Young people learning to walk in a godly way have the same kind of option at this time of year. But if you send a child to VBS, don't forget something....
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. - Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Parents should reinforce what children learn about godly living - not only with their words, but their actions. If you're a mom, dad, grandma or grandpa, we hope that's what you're doing all year long.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 177 final tables in 478 games (37.0%) - 33 cashes.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Drought of 2016

We live in a state that's had a weather-related drought in recent years - but certainly not this year. More than seven inches of rain have fallen on our city already in July.

But 2016 is turning into a drought year, in terms of poker opportunities. We chronicled the police shutdown of local poker rooms early in the year. Then we mentioned a tribal casino giving up poker. And now we've learned a state-sanctioned casino has stopped its poker tournaments as well - in Dodge City, of all places.

An operator at Boot Hill Casino told us Wednesday night a "Three-Card Poker" tournament (a very different game) is planned there in August. But otherwise, the poker room with its five tables apparently is only for cash games now. If that's your preference, that's fine. But we tend to do better in tournaments - and they're drying up.

On top of that, our searching found a different tribal casino in northeast Kansas has closed its poker room. So to our knowledge, there are now only three places in our state offering legitimate poker tournaments: Yvie's once a week for free, along with casinos in the Kansas City and Wichita areas.

Could it be that the "poker craze" is waning? Casino tournaments we visit still tend to be full. But some of the neighborhood poker rooms we visited before they closed could be empty places at times.

Could you cope with a lack of in-person poker? We probably could - by playing online when time permits, or even applying this principle:
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water.... It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. - Jeremiah 17:7-8

We existed well for more than 45 years, hardly playing any poker at all. And if all the doors close for playing it again, we still could thank God for the years of opportunity and occasional success.
...The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. - Job 1:21b

It's easy to thank God when your poker games are going well - although ironically, some ministers say that's when we're least likely to be thankful. But when doors are sliding shut and opportunities are few, we should be thankful nonetheless for what God provides.
The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise. - Isaiah 43:20-21

So if the neighborhood poker games are in a drought, or if your personal game is in a dry spell, thank God anyway. After all, showers of blessing may come when you least expect them.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Free to Be

Happy Independence Day, to readers in the U.S. The country marks 240 years of independence from Britain. But how "independent" should we be.... really?

We mentioned in a recent post about how we probably stunned a casino dealer with comments about keeping a seventh-day Sabbath. He may well have wondered why someone inside a casino would care (much less talk) about doing anything religious.

For us, it comes down to a series of key Bible verses....
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.... - Galatians 5:1

Does that verse surprise you? It could, if you think of God as simply a tough disciplinarian. Yet the apostle Paul goes on to write some words even more stunning:
You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. - Galatians 5:4

Some have "fallen from grace" not into sinful living, but into the exact opposite - trying to earn their way into God's Kingdom by keeping laws as perfectly as possible. It's nice to keep those laws if you can. But keep in mind:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

If you know the right people at a poker room, they might give you a discount on buying in to a tournament or cash game. They've shown grace toward you. And the only way humans can achieve salvation and a life beyond this one is through the grace of God. So....
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. - Galatians 5:13

Some might say we're "indulging" that nature by playing poker. We've posted thoughts about that elsewhere on this blog. But we try to be careful enough with our play not to bring it up to people who might consider it a stumbling-block to their faith. That's how we try to show love for them.

So celebrate freedom today - but with care. If you're entering a big holiday poker tournament, don't go overboard in a sinful direction to do it. Keep in mind the often-overlooked words of a patriotic U.S. song: "Thy liberty in law."