Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Mouth, the Kid and the Finger

Let's say it upfront: We are not taking sides in the U.S. Presidential election. We'll explain why in a moment.

But of course, many other people are taking sides. And this week, there's been a curious combining of poker and politics.

A lawyer and "free speech activist" asked on Twitter if Hillary Clinton was giving signals to the moderator during this week's first debate, by pointing her finger toward her face. He specifically asked for comments from "poker pros like The Mouth Matusow." Mike Matusow has been tweeting against Ms. Clinton a lot, so he was happy to respond:

Wow ive watched the debates 3 times & never noticed!! I felt the whole time she had the questions but after watching that i she def signals

(We'll open the floor for your comments right here: Do you agree with Matusow? Why or why not?)

Considering moderator Lester Holt was found to be a registered Republican and Donald Trump's campaign manager called him "brilliant" before the debate began, we're not sure why he would have suddenly switched sides. But anyway....

We move on to Daniel Negreanu - who declared on Twitter Ms. Clinton won the first debate, while admitting he's biased in her favor. Considering Negreanu is Canadian and can't vote in the U.S. election, his endorsement may hurt in U.S. voting as much as it helps.

Then there's Phil Hellmuth, who's apparently become a political analyst in his spare time. He gave both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump "A" grades for this week's debate - and in other commentaries has compared Mr. Trump to a "loose aggressive" poker player.

So the poker world is watching the election closely - and they're certainly free to comment about it. So why are we not taking sides? Because several months ago, we handed over our vote to a higher authority....

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. - Romans 13:1

These words were written when the Roman Empire was in charge, and voting for leaders was unheard of. The apostle Paul accepted the fact that, like them or not, God had put the Roman authorities in charge - or at least allowed them to be there.

Some people wanted Jesus Christ to overthrow the government during His time on Earth, and become "King of Kings" on the spot. But instead....

"Do you refuse to speak to me," Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above...." - John 19:10-11

The Lord could have called down angels and begun to "fight the powers that be" right then. But He didn't. Jesus came to Earth for a different purpose about 2,000 years ago. But someday soon....

"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." - Acts 1:11

Jesus will come back to Earth in a powerful way, to establish the Kingdom of God upon this planet:

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. - Revelation 19:16

That's the leader we're waiting to see - and Jesus is the One who has our ultimate vote. Can you think of anyone who would do a better job?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Button of Irony

While we waited for a spot to open at our most recent Texas Hold 'em poker tournament, we wandered around the casino and came to a different kind of poker: Pai Gow.

If we understand it correctly (please correct us if we're wrong), players are dealt seven cards. Then they put forward their two best in an attempt to beat the dealer - while the five remaining have their own showdown with the dealer.

But what struck us most about Pai Gow was the "ENVY" button. Players can win a bonus if someone else at the top makes quads or better.

"From what I've read, envy is a bad thing," we said to the dealer. It was a quasi-joke. because....

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. - Proverbs 14:30

No matter what kind of poker you play, envy can creep in. If someone gets on a hot streak and wins several pots in a row, you can envy his or her success and want to get your own big stack of chips. But that can be a dangerous thing. Consider....

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. - Genesis 4:4-5

Cain brought a "fruits of the soil" offering, which he probably presumed God would like. But God didn't. We think Cain's anger grew out of envy - and it led to a warning from God:

"If you do what it right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." - Genesis 4:7

Sadly, these were prophetic words - because verse 8 shows Cain eventually killed his brother in history's first recorded murder case.

So what is the right answer for fighting envy? It may sound incredibly simple - but it's the Bible's advice:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. - I Corinthians 13:4

To borrow from the U.S. political season, we should let love trump envy - and "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). I Corinthians 13 deserves a close look, when it comes to what true love is all about. May godly love show from you in whatever game you play - and leave the "envy" for somebody else's wager.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Double or.... Something

A "double-up" at the poker table, when a player goes all-in and wins, happens often. A double win is another matter - usually referring to the players who capture two or more bracelets at the World Series of Poker.

But consider what a nurse in France did last week. Iwan Roberts won two big online poker tournaments.... at the same time! He defeated nearly 19,000 opponents in a tournament that began at 11:00 a.m. And in a tournament that started at 12:30 p.m., he outlasted nearly 12,000 players. (No, we don't know how many of them were the same people.)

We've marveled over the years at the poker multi-taskers - players who can have four or six games going on computer screens at the same time. Wouldn't it be easy to get your hands confused, and make a bad play? How many hands would you lose by timing out, while staying occupied with another?

Yet if you think about it, practically all of us "multi-task" every day. We breathe in and out while walking down the street. We might watch TV or listen to radio while eating dinner. If one of those activities doesn't distract you away from the "main thing" you're doing, that's probably no problem. But consider these words:
No man 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

Jesus said this because ultimately, we all must have one goal - one overarching task in our lives. If you put your life's focus on money, you're probably going to end up disappointed. Even if you win enough WSOP bracelets to fill your arms, you won't be able to take the prize money with you when this life is over. That's why Jesus recommended:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. - Matthew 6:33

"His" kingdom, as in the one our "heavenly Father" oversees (verse 32). It's a kingdom that's promised to come from heaven to earth, with Jesus Christ in charge (Revelation 11:15). And it's a kingdom that will never end.

Yet did you notice how verse 33 is worded? Seek God's Kingdom first - and you'll get the other things. The list between verses 24 and 33 includes food, drink and clothing. There's probably much more to go with those.
He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. - Revelation 21:7

We think it all comes down to your focus. If you can focus in multi-game poker on one hand at a time, you're more likely to succeed. And if you focus your life on the goal of God's eternal Kingdom, the chances of being part of that Kingdom go way up.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Poker Day 486: Straight-Way

Does a rainy day keep the poker players away? We found out Friday at Kansas Star Casino it did not. In fact, we arrived ten minutes before the scheduled noon time and found ourselves #2 on a waiting list.

It took more than 30 minutes for two players to be knocked out from five full tables. That meant we had to make up for lost time....

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: 10-J offsuit

These are the cards that greeted us as soon as we sat down. Sitting in the leadoff position, the fact that they were fairly high and connected persuades us to enter small. No one raises, and about six players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 7-8-9

Talk about a friendly dealer! We hit a straight right off the bat! But when our turn comes, we check to see if someone else will jump. Sure enough - a man down the table goes all-in for 1,125! AND....

"Might as well gamble a little," says the Big Blind as he calls. Of course we also call, trying not to smile.


The board pairs, and we don't really mind that. The Big Blind checks, and we remember his words.

"If you want to gamble.... how about 1,000 more?"

Not for that much; he folds. Now the all-in man shows 9-A. He's made three of a kind, and he has a 25-percent chance of topping us.


Thankfully for us, the board doesn't pair. He's out, and we're right in right away with about 6,000 chips.

"Welcome to the table!" a man at the other end says. We give credit to the dealer, of course.

We won a few more pots after that, and approached the 7,000 chip mark. But amazingly, it all started draining away as small probes missed. We still had 5,500 at the first break, but we lost a big pot to a man we thought was bluffing three of a kind (he wasn't). Then when we went all-in for our 1,600 with K-Q, a woman with 9-9 turned it into a 9's-and-Aces full house. What could have been a big day ended for us with a lowly 36th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: One hand which cost us chips found us playing 2-2. Three 7's showed up on the board, yet the betting was small and cautious. We made a full house - but lost to a man with pocket 3's!

"Great minds think alike," we joked. "He thought a little bit bigger." Then we found a reason to go deeper. "But there's Someone whose thoughts are higher than all of our thoughts," we said to no one in particular.

That line got no takers. But as you might guess, it's a line from the Bible:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. - Isaiah 55:8

This can refer to far more than 3's vs. 2's. It can refer to thinking overall - and our thinking tends to focus on physically, earthly things.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:9

God wants us to think bigger. Bigger than the next hand, next round of blinds, or even next tournament. God thinks in an eternal way.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11

The real hope and future for us are beyond this life - as Jesus Christ is preparing a Kingdom which He will bring to this Earth. God wants you to be a part of that, receiving the gift of eternal life. Are you turning away from ungodly, sinful thoughts and ways so you can join in?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 180 final tables in 486 games (37.0%) - 35 cashes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Miracle Man

Our last post included a conversation with a dealer who admitted he sometimes makes mistakes. It ended with the man admitting Jesus did some things that were "miraculous."

Perhaps you've experienced a "miracle" or two at the poker table - getting the single card you need to make a straight flush on the river, or something less than that. While that's certainly a thrilling moment, Jesus Christ had miracles far beyond that:
Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me.... even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." - John 10:25, 38

The Lord admitted He performed miracles - from healing the sick to feeding thousands of people. He faced scoffers and skeptics while walking this earth, but Jesus said they should still believe the miraculous things He did. And yet at another time....
He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. - Mark 6:5-6

Jesus was stymied in His own home town (verse 1) - and a crowd of people there even "took offense" at him (verse 3).

This should point out something important about miracles of God: they're a two-way exchange. If you lack the faith that miracles can happen, they probably won't. Occasionally you might beat the odds. But to go back to the earlier quote, we need faith that the Father and Son are at work in our lives.

Some people (and even some ministers) claim the "age of miracles" ended with the completion of the Biblical New Testament. And yet that testament says this:
And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles.... - I Corinthians 12:28

Earlier in this chapter, we're told God gives some believers "miraculous powers" (verse 10). We personally do not think we have that sort of thing - but we also admit we could use more faith that other people have it.

So next time you need a miraculous hand or comeback, remember the source of true miracles. Not some group of "poker gods" that players love to bring up - but a real God who wants you to put your faith and trust in Him.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Poker Day 485: Alphabet Soup

The P.A. system at Kansas Star Casino played the old rock tune Ridin' the Storm Out during our Friday poker tournament. That was fitting, because heavy overnight rain left fields flooded along our drive to the casino. Sometimes poker games can have unsettling stormy moments, too....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: Ace-King of diamonds

We won a nice early pot thanks to pocket 7's. But then we misread an opponent who really had a 9 to go with two of them on the board, and took a big loss. Add a few small losses, and we start this hand with 2,100 chips. We have the Dealer button, and these cards give us hope for making a move.

When no one at the full table raises, we step it up to 500. A woman and a man to our right call.


Not quite perfect letters, but close enough. We have top pair, top kicker and no desire for anyone to chase a flush. When the two opponents check, we jump.

"Sixteen candles," we announce - going all-in for the remaining 1,600. The woman to our right folds. Good. The man doesn't - and calls. Uh-oh.

"Did you hit a straight?" we ask with concern. In response, he shows.... A-Q! Our top pair leads, but we'd split the pot if a 10 makes a straight.


Ouch!!!! He gets a third queen - and now we need either a King or that pot-splitting 10.


Finally a number shows up - and it's the wrong number for us. Our opponent won the race, and we're the second player to leave our starting table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Sometimes I make mistakes," our second dealer of the day admitted as he threw around the cards.

"That's not good," we told him quietly.

"Everybody makes mistakes," he continued. "except John." He jokingly referred to a player across the table from us (not his real name).

"I can think of one person who never made a mistake," we told the dealer moments later. "That was Jesus."

"He was a bit before my time." Well, yeah - ours, too.

"I read about Him in a book, though," we explained.

"You might say He was miraculous," the dealer finally admitted.

Indeed Jesus Christ was - and in many ways He still is. But let's rewind this conversation. If you think about it, a lot of poker gains and losses come from making mistakes. Players might overplay their hands, misread opponents or wait too long to make a move. In the same way, in our lives...
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.... - Romans 3:23

A "sin" can be a mistake on a moral, spiritual level - falling short of God's perfect standard. But Jesus came to live a sin-free, perfect life:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. - Hebrews 4:15

Why would Jesus live in such a way? Was He a "killjoy" who didn't understand how much fun some sin can be? In reality, Jesus knew better....
But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. - James 1:14-16

Sin leads to death. Jesus lived a mistake-free, sin-free life that we could have eternal life:
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! - Romans 5:10

We'll say more about the miracles of Jesus in a future post. But for now, are you willing to admit your mistakes - not simply going all-in as a bluff, but the sins you commit each day? Are you willing to repent of them, and start walking in a way that's closer to Jesus's example?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 180 final tables in 485 games (37.1%) - 35 cashes. We'll need to make final tables in five of the next 15 tournaments to keep a 37-percent result at the 500-game mark.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Change in an Instant

Many people dream of hitting the lottery jackpot, and becoming instant millionaires. For others, it takes a bit more time.... say, six hands of poker.

Courtesy The West Australian
Nigel Williams of Perth, Australia only played six hands at a casino last week. But ohhhh, that sixth one. Williams had the 10 of diamonds. The flop was Ad-Qd-Jd. Then came the turn - the King of diamonds!

Williams hit a royal flush, and won a progressive casino jackpot of $2.7 million. Considering he made a $10 bet on the flop, it was a bit overwhelming. It showed in a TV interview about his success.

First Williams called his wife, who said bluntly: "What are you doing at the casino?" Then he admitted being a "workaholic," and sobbed at the thought of reducing his workload from seven days a week to five to "spend more time with my children."

There are many lessons we could take from this story. The biggest one for us is how a big payday may change this man's priorities. Williams seemed to admit being detached from his children - which reminds us of this:
Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. - Colossians 3:21 (NLT)

We think one way to cause aggravation is to be "missing in action" - and it can happen by being a poker-holic, every bit as much as a workaholic. A father who's not close to his children risks losing their love - as well as the opportunity to build an even more important loving relationship:
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. - Proverbs 22:6

The best way to go is God's way - following "the way, the truth and the life" otherwise known as Jesus Christ (John 14:6). But then, there's the reaction from Williams's wife to where he was.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. - Colossians 3:19

We've never been married, but we've heard wives appreciate nice surprises. A check for $2.7 million would be one - but to learn your husband is in a casino may not seem like the nicest thing to learn.

If a wife objects to "punting" (as the Aussies say), a loving husband should respond by not doing it. Your family ought to come before your pastimes and hobbies - especially if they could cost your family a lot of money.

 We wish Nigel Williams well, and hope you learn from his example. Why wait for a playing card to motivate you to do what you know you should be doing already? Take time to make your family a success - because a "flop" there probably won't be in your favor.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Break It to Me Gently

"Be gentle, now!" the man across the table from us said as the hand began.

That man was displaying some personality, so we decided to play along with his advice. We looked at our cards, and quietly called 200. When his turn came, he raised to 600. The trouble for him was that our cards were quite good.

"I'm going to try to push as gently as I can," we told him when our turn came again. One by one, we delicately put the chips across the line - 1,400 in all. Then we whispered, "I'm all in."

The opponent didn't show much appreciation for our gesture. He called, anyway.

"How gently can I turn over rockets?!" we then asked. Yup - we had pocket Aces. He didn't.

We won the hand, for a big double-up. But at least we tried to oblige our opponent - and in the process display one of the fruit of God's spirit:
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

You've probably never thought of poker as a gentle game. You might not even consider it a gentle-man's game - since it's been played by tough-talking cowboys in the Old West and Mafia leaders in big cities. But we think there are many ways to play poker. In fact, taking a gentle approach can throw opponents off-guard.
By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you... - II Corinthians 10:1

Some people expected the Messiah to come as a lion, taking vengeance on enemies of the Hebrews. Yet a speaker on Christian radio reminded us the other day that Jesus came as a lamb - and that approach made Him quite a game-changer. So in light of that....
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. - Philippians 4:5

How near? So near that he lives within believers, through the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:27) - and that Spirit is how the fruit of gentleness is developed. So the next time a poker player asks you to "be gentle, now".... how will you react?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Drought Update

TV weather experts will tell you today marks the start of "meteorological fall," at least in terms of record-keeping. We hope it brings a "rainy season" for poker in our area, because a drought we first mentioned here in late July is continuing.

The latest poker room to shut its doors is 7 Clans First Council Casino, a mile or two south of the Kansas-Oklahoma line. We never played there, but several people at Kansas Star Casino told us they did.

The casino even had a visit in July from one-time Main Event champion Greg Raymer. He wrote that he liked the place, and he reportedly even entered a tournament the poker room had. But amazingly, that casino Wednesday night was promoting a "Kings and Queens of Karaoke" contest - with no traditional poker to be found.

What's going on here? Why are so many poker opportunities in our area shutting down? We asked players at one of our tables the other day, and didn't get a very good explanation. It's not like online poker is making a comeback in the Midwest, because it hasn't.

We're led to conclude some poker players have found other things to do, if not other ways to play. Wherever you stand in this situation, we offer this bit of advice:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.... - Ecclesiastes 9:10

Being half-hearted about your pastimes or projects usually isn't the best approach. You're likely to get semi-impressive results. As another Bible writer put it:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. - Colossians 3:23-24

Wait - what?! Should we play poker as if we're doing it for.... God?!?!

Well, why not? We're all going to have to answer to Jesus Christ for it, because....
...For in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning not knowledge nor wisdom. - Ecclesiastes 9:10b

We might as well take an "all-in" approach to life now, because you can't after you die.
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27

Judgment is coming, whether we like it or not. We think you'll do far better when that time comes if you consider yourself the servant of Jesus now, and act accordingly.

While "7 Clans" may operate that Oklahoma casino, God is ultimately building only one:
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. - Luke 6:35

Yes, you have the opportunity to become a son of the "Most High" God. Isn't that worth serving Him with everything you have to offer?