Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can We Tempt You? II

We focused recently on a column about temptation in the poker room. We noted temptation can take place anywhere - and even Jesus Christ faced it while on Earth.

Yet Jesus successfully resisted three rounds of temptation from the devil. (You can draw your own comparisons to a flop, turn and river.) Note the words Jesus used to push the tempter away:

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" - Matthew 4:4

The Son of God may have been walking in the flesh, but He knew the Scriptures very well. He quoted from Deuteronomy, to put the "word of God" above physical food (Deuteronomy 8:3). In the same way, there are times when we need to put the Bible ahead of a non-stop poker life.

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" - Matthew 4:7

There actually are verses in the Bible where God allows you to test Him (see Malachi 3:10-11 for an example). But Jesus was responding to a challenge to jump off the top of the temple. As poker players need to discern the right time to take a big risk with a hand, Jesus realized this was not the proper moment for a "leap of faith."

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" - Matthew 4:10

The Son of God refused to worship the devil. Are you doing that - even in hidden ways that might surprise you?

In all of this, Jesus defeated the tempter by referring to Scripture; the other two quotes also come from Deuteronomy (6:13, 16). That can help us when we face temptation in life - even in a big poker hand.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.... - James 4:7-8

From time to time we've offered Bible verses to keep in mind as you play poker. Search for them on this blog, then make them part of you. We don't guarantee final tables or big wins. But by resisting the tempting moments, your outcome may be better than you expected.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Going Strait

In a recent post, we asked for your thoughts about a statement of Jesus. If you read it in some Bible translations, it almost sounds like a poker tip....

Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat. But strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it. - Matthew 7:13-14 (KJV)

Right off the bat, let's make it clear: Jesus is not talking about betting to make a "belly-buster" straight draw. Admittedly, those chances can be "narrow" - but no.

We think Jesus was talking about receiving eternal life. It's a step beyond the physical one you have now. This life will end in death (Romans 6:23). So how do you advance to the next level? Jesus provides an answer:

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." - John 14:6

If you think there's a "highway to heaven" for lots of people living any way they please, this should make you think again. Jesus is "the way." And He coined the cliche, by saying the way to eternal life is on the "strait and narrow." So it starts by knowing Jesus. Then beyond that....

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. - Romans 2:7-8

To make another thing clear: We do not think poker is evil, of and by itself. These verses lead to a deeper question: why do you play? Purely for "self-seeking" reasons? Or is there some "doing good" involved?

May you consider your actions carefully - and yes, even think narrowly. Eternal life certainly is better than facing an angry God.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Poker Night 517: This Is the Big One, Elizabeth

If you follow NASCAR, you know fans at some race tracks wait for "the big one" to happen - a crash that takes out about a dozen drivers at once. That happens once in a while in a poker tournament, too. Check what occurred tonight at Five-Star Billiards....

BLINDS: 300/600


After a slow start, we split a pot with A-4 and won one with pocket Kings. But then our pocket Queens lost to a man with A-K who hit a King on the flop. That was costly to our stack, and now we have 5,300 chips from a starting 10,000.

"Thousand more," we say after no one else at the table of eight raises. We make it 1,600 to go.

"Thirty-six," says the man sitting next to us. Uh-oh. This could be big.... or big trouble.

A woman sitting across the table from us in the Small Blind calls the 3,600. Another woman to our right, who's been hitting big hands all night, also calls! Now it's our turn again - and while we've never read "The Book" poker players talk about a lot, we know it says we should press on.

"I have to go all-in," we say to ooo's from other players. "I've come this far by faith. I might as well."
The man to our left calls, of course.

"I have 54," the Small Blind says. She goes all-in as well, for 100 more!

The woman to the right decides to make it a huge party, by calling. "I have 1,100 left," she reports. The Small Blind adds his missing 100, and we have a monster pot of more than 21,000.

ON THE FLOP: 6d-4d-2h (best memory)

Not to our liking - and we doubt it is for anyone else. Two players can still bet. The woman to the right checks.

"I'm not checking," the man to our left says. He bets 1,600. The other woman calls with her last 1,100. Now it's time to show and tell:

Man to the left: K-K
Small Blind: K-J
Woman to the right: 7-7

Instant analysis: We need an Ace.


But hold on. Now three diamonds are showing. If one more shows up....


We get a pair - but it's the wrong one. The man with Kings wins it all, in an unusual triple takeout.

At a casino, we probably would have simply called the 3,600 pre-flop. But we probably would have been put all-in on the flop, with little choice but to push. It's another explosive "free poker" bust.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Did you spot the Christian song we mentioned during that hand? "We've Come This Far By Faith" has been sung by many people. When we hear it, we think of an Old Testament drama....

Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again." - Exodus 14:13

Moses had led Israel out of Egypt. Now the nation stood at the Red Sea, with Pharaoh's army closing in (verses 9-10). Was Moses corrected by God, when he said to "stand firm"?

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." - Exodus 14:15-16

Moses did as he was told, and the water split in two so Israel could pass through (verses 21-22).

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. - Hebrews 11:29

Sometimes that sort of thing happens to us at a poker room. Several people have been eliminated at once while we were in peril, leading us to a final table or a cash payoff. It doesn't always happen, as we saw tonight - but then, poker isn't a life-or-death matter. Yet it's still inspiring to us when it does.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 188 final tables in 517 games (36.4%) - 38 cashes.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Can We Tempt You?

No, our title does not come from a poker tournament or cash game. It comes from Pizza Hut, which asks that question every time we place an online order.

But it easily could come from poker. A column this weekend by a long-time poker writer in Texas notes temptation at a casino can come in many forms. You could be anxious to win a hand, after being dealt poor starting cards for hours. You could be at a table with new players betting wildly, and think you can join in with a "puncher's chance" of hitting it big.

"Temptation" is the stuff of old game shows and steamy reality television. But its origin goes back much farther than that....

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and are in. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.... - Genesis 3:6-7

Many people consider this the first temptation in history - Eve being lured by a serpent (compared by many to the devil), to eat from a tree that God said was off-limits (verses 1-5). God cursed the first family for breaking His command. As a result of this, many people have prayed....

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.... - Matthew 6:13

That's a proper way to pray, as Jesus suggested it (verse 9). But did you know Jesus at one point walked head-on into a temptation minefield?

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. - Matthew 4:1

Read the first half of this chapter, and you'll see Satan tempted Jesus three times. Yet the Lord resisted three times and prevailed, despite a 40-day fast! How did He do it? And if He can do it in a desert, can you do it as well in a poker room?

As they might say on reality TV, stay tuned....

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Poker Day 516: Beginner's Luck?

Newcomers in a poker room tend to give themselves away. They ask questions when their turn comes, or puzzle over how to match someone's bet. That could make them easy marks for veterans. Unless.... well, check what happened today at Kansas Star Casino:

BLINDS: 25/25


That's a nice sight to see in the early minutes of a tournament. We've only lost 25 of our original 3,500 chips. Sitting early in the order at a table of eight, we limp in and hope for pre-flop raises. As usual for us, there are none. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 10-9-7

Two diamonds are showing, so that's a caution flag for us. Players to our right offer 50. They're nibbling. We want a big bite.

"That's not enough," we say - and we raise to 350. Several players take the hint and fold. But a young man who acts like a "newby" calls. We're heads-up.


The board pairs, which makes us a bit more uneasy - especially when our opponent bets 200. We suspect he has a 9 for two pair. But our two pair are better, and we want to make sure he knows that.

"400," we say. He calls our raise. Hmmm.


Gulp - a third 10. We now have the best full house. But the newcomer now bets 500. Did the longshot come through for him? We decide not to risk a raise.

"If he has quads, he's got me," we say (stating the obvious). "But I'll call."

Our opponent then turns over.... Q-J! He missed his straight draw, and tried to bluff us away. Our full house means a gain to 4,975.

"Good play," a woman at the table says.

"Be careful - don't inflate his ego," a man in between us jokes. We smile, and offer the opportunity for players to pat our back. No one does.

The newcomer was the first to go bust at our table, while we almost doubled our chip stack to 6,950 at the first break. But then came some explosive hands where several players bet big and topped our A-J and similar hands. We were happy to make it to the second break with 3,600, with 17 players left.

We made six all-in bets from the second hour on. Only one was called - and that was the problem. We forced our way in with Q-10 of clubs and rising blinds. A man to our left called with A-4, and caught an Ace on the flop. While it was another good tournament day, this time we missed the final table by placing 12th out of 50 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "For a moment, I thought you had the world's largest orange chip." A man to our right was commenting on one of our new card protectors - a small tape measure we picked up for attending a college soccer match in Oklahoma.

"I brought it to remind me of something," we said as we extended the tape a bit. "Narrow is the way that leads to life, and few people find it. But wide is the way that leads to destruction."

The man knew right away what we meant. We didn't write down his exact response, but it was along the lines of this verse....

Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. - Psalm 118:19 (2011 NIV)

Thanksgiving Day may be over in the U.S., but we're not sure there's ever a wrong time to give thanks to God for His blessings. And the righteousness described there should not be something we create:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known.... This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference.... - Romans 3:21-22

Our righteousness is worthless (Isaiah 64:6). God's righteousness, through faith in Jesus, is priceless.

But let's back up a second. Did our statement about the tape measure seem familiar? It should....

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. - Matthew 7:13-14

These are words of Jesus Christ. What do you think He meant by them? Offer a comment with your thoughts, and we'll compare notes in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 188 final tables in 516 games (36.4%) - 38 cashes. Experiment cost: up $100.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Poker Night 515: Dealer's Choice

A "Million Dollar Cash Game" was on tonight at Five-Star Billiards. Not at our poker tables, but on the TV screens. "Fury TV" was showing a contest with some of poker's most famous names. We are certainly not famous - but there was one hand which became very expensive....

BLINDS: 500/1,000

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

We've won a few pots, including one with pocket Aces we never showed. Two hands before this one, K-3 led to three Kings at the turn and a Big Blind win. Now we've dealt ourselves more nice cards at a table of seven. A couple of people have called, but no one has raised.

"I'll raise to 3,000," we announce. We're hopeful of a big gain before the one-hour break. But there's trouble across the table - the man who is disabled and confined to a wheelchair.

"I'm all-in," he says in his mumbling voice. His re-raise is for more than 11,000. Our decision is obvious.

"You've got me covered," we say after a count. "I have 10,200.... and I have the lead." Our opponent shows A-J of clubs.

"Jack," the man says quietly.


Aaargh! We gave him exactly what he wanted! An Ace doesn't help us now.

"A 10 would be good," we say as we keep dealing....


Close, but not quite a straight. Now a King or a 10 will save the day.


Ouch! We got all-in with the best hand, but the cards were against us - even though we dealt them. It's a lowly finish of about 23rd place. But if we're going to lose like that, it's better to do it on Monday night when the game is practically free.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We went to the bar after we went bust, and found Chris Ferguson was leading in "profit/loss" at the Million Dollar Cash Game.

"Jesus first," we said to a man next to us. We explained that's the nickname Ferguson has gained over the years, based on his appearance.

"I try to put Jesus first all the time - and I don't mean Ferguson," we added.

Before we could say more, a hand developed on TV where two players had pocket Aces. That changed the discussion. But we would ask you - is Jesus first in your life?

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." - Matthew 22:37-38

Some people say Jesus was talking strictly about His Father God at this point. We agree with that - but think a moment. Jesus is "God" as well....

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.... - John 1:1, 14

Jesus Christ was that "Word." Thus He was, and is, God. And thus we should love Him, as we love the Father.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. - Revelation 22:13

If you have a "red-letter Bible," this should be in red - because the resurrected Jesus said it. He declared Himself "First." So we see no harm in putting Him first in our lives - certainly far above us. Where does He rank with you?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 188 final tables in 515 games (36.5%) - 38 cashes.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Place of Your Own

We introduced you in a recent post to a poker player who called himself a "generic Christian." He doesn't go by a list of beliefs from denominations. Instead, he says he does what the Bible says.

Yet that same man admitted he had only attended a church occasionally in recent weeks. There's a big problem with that - as the Bible indicates you should:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:24-25

Believers in Christ are expected to meet. They do that weekly, and sometimes more often, in groups large and small. It could happen in big buildings or in small homes. But the meetings are supposed to be for encouragement toward "love and good deeds."

If you attend a church group, does it do that? And if you don't attend one, how can you find a place that does?

We think it starts with determining which group really loves God and Jesus Christ. Many say they do, of course. But how many live up to the Bible standard?

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. - John 14:21

Jesus emphasized keeping his "commands." We recommend searching the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to learn what He commanded when He walked the earth. Among other things, you'll find this....

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:34-35

Love indeed matters - toward God in obedience, then toward other people. If you need help in finding a church group truly doing that, leave a comment and we'll help you as we can.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Poker Day 514: Gladly For A's

"Casino Gambling >> You Personally: >> Times last 12 months." That's one of the questions in a large consumer survey we're completing as time permits. Our answer when we filled out the page Tuesday was 22. Today brought another trip to Kansas Star - and this poker tournament had some amazing moments:

BLINDS: 500/1,000


We're in the third hour of play, which means we've survived for a while. One small pot win in the first hour left us with 2,625 chips from a starting 3,500. But gains came in Hour 2, thanks to some big timely bets. We won a large pot at the break (we J-J, as best we remember), to climb to 6,100; the "chip-up" made the total 6,500.

Now we sense a chance for a big score, receiving these big cards early in the order at a table of seven. We limp in, waiting for raisers - but there are none. Yet about four players are in.


Two high cards look like potential trouble. But ours are higher, so we decide to try for maximum benefits. We go all-in for 5,500. Two men fold, but a man in the blinds dares to call us.

"I've got rockets in my pocket," we declare. Our opponent has K-9, and realizes he's been had.


"Yes!" we say. Our three Aces mean our opponent is drawing dead. But for the record....


"Woah!" we declare. Running Aces give us quads! It's a big gain, to around 14,000.

Patient play paid off, as we made more big hands later. An Ace of Spades turned into a nut flush, which advanced us about 20,000 more. We rolled to the final table at 39,000, then made only one small mistake which dropped us to 33,500 at the three-hour mark.

Seven players were left at that point - and a man to our right then hit a flush which knocked out two opponents. A top-five finish put us in the money! Then a Big Blind call with a lowly 7-4 when an opponent was forced to go all-in for less led to a cruel 4 on the river, giving us a winning two pair.

That cut the table to three players with fairly even chip stacks, and everyone agreed to chop the remaining prize money. We officially placed second out of 52 players, and were rewarded with $360 for a $50 buy-in - our second cash win of 2017, in 14 trips to Kansas Star.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving," a woman to our right suddenly realized before the tournament began.

"What are you thankful for this year?" we asked her.

"For my family." Relatives live close to her. "What about you?"

"I'm thankful that God has given me peace, as I've dealt with a recent trial," we answered. Then we corrected ourselves; we're officially calling it a "transition" between jobs, not a trial. But either way, that peace is important....
The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. - Psalm 29:11

This psalm was written by King David, who faced all kinds of trials during his life. He went toe-to-toe with a giant named Goliath. Then King Saul tried to kill him, so he wouldn't take the throne of Israel. He even lost a child, due to his own sinful scheming. Yet David could write about the blessing of peace. A future "King" mentioned it as well....
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. - John 14:27

This Jesus, the "prince of peace," did not talk about it around Christmas. This statement came in the early spring, on the evening before He was executed. How can you have that peace? Here's one Biblical suggestion....
There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. - Romans 2:9-10

We've actually heard some church members scoff at "do-gooders". Yet doing good has rewards. You may not get all of them now, but believers will when Jesus returns to set up the Kingdom of God on Earth.

In this Thanksgiving season, we're thankful for God's blessings - financial today, and spiritual in the future. What about you?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 188 final tables in 514 games (36.6%) - 38 cashes. (We've been forgetting to count our big day in June in the "cashes" column.) Experiment cost: Up $150!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Producers

We blog about poker. Other people "vlog" about it.

One of the newest players to post vlogs (video blogs) is someone we know well. Nicolas Wahl, who goes by "Nicname" on YouTube, worked with us at a TV station. We both produced newscasts. He left several months ago to pursue a poker career, and now grinds at cash game tables on a regular basis.

Wahl still is "producing", but in a different way. Not only is he making videos about his poker life, but he's making hundreds of dollars a day at the table. In fact, we ran into him at Kansas Star Casino once. But we went to the other side of the poker room, sticking to tournaments. Cash games are not our strong suit - and we don't to deprive Wahl of a living (especially at our expense).

Wahl has read our blog, so he knows what this is about. Yet what Wahl is doing is an example of why many preachers oppose gambling. We heard a radio message on this recently - with the minister pointing out gamblers who win take money from losers. He turned to this verse....

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment. - Proverbs 12:11

Another verse in Proverbs is similar, but note the different ending:

He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. - Proverbs 28:19

The radio preacher talked primarily about Powerball and similar lottery games. But we can see how this can apply to a cash game. Not everyone who sits down at the table leaves with a profit; the format simply doesn't work that way.

(We've made a distinction here from the beginning between tournament poker and cash games. Tournaments have a set entry fee, like golf or tennis. Our current experiment is reminding us even that can be a losing venture.)

If you know what you're doing and you're making money playing poker, good for you. Be thankful to God for whatever blessings He gives. But if you're losing money - often - it may be time to end that habit and start a new one. It starts by asking God to cleanse you of your sins (perhaps including covetousness for money). The minister went on to quote this:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. - John 8:36

....maybe even to play "free" poker.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Poker Day 513: From a Jack to a King?

Our title borrows from an old country music song. But it relates to a key hand we faced Wednesday at Kansas Star Casino - a decision that could have led to an early exit:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: A-J of spades

We won an early pot with J-9. Now our Jack has a powerful partner, and we're first to play at a full table. We follow our usual approach and limp early, waiting for raisers. None come. As best we recall, four players get in.


The spades are not an issue here. But we have top pair and a pretty good kicker - yet someone else bets 150 before our turn comes. That's OK; we'll call.


Every extra card increases the chances of someone hitting a second pair. So when the player ahead of us bets 150 again, we try to close the deal with a raise to 300. A man across the table calls; the others fold.


We now have two pair and a pretty good kicker. We think another bet will clinch it, so we bet 300 again. But now, our opponent raises to 1,000.

This forces us to pause for a moment. We can't imagine the other man stuck around with a pair of 2's to make three of a kind on the river. On the other hand, our Jack isn't strong enough to top A-K or A-Q.

Finally we decide to take the big risk. We call.... and the opponent shows A-10! Our Jack indeed was better, and we take a big pot of more than 3,000 chips.

The first hour had a couple of setbacks, and we reached the first break with 2,675 from a starting 3,500 chips. But hour two brought some big gains. An all-in bet with Q-10 led to a winning Queen, and a jump to 4,200. Then A-J brought a jump to 8,000. Another A-J increased our stack to 9,500. Thanks to a couple more good wins, we wound up at the second break with 8,500.

But as the final table approached, our streak ran out. We went all-in with A-9, but lost to a King when a King came on the flop. On a day with 64 players, sixth place would have earned money - but this time, we slipped to 12th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: When the second hour started, we were in the Big Blind for 200. Mr. Small Blind arrived a little late, so the dealer asked us to put out his 100. When Mr. Small Blind saw, he pretended to cause a fuss.

"I just did what the dealer told me to do," we confessed.

"You're not trying to start a fight...." a man to our left joked.

"I come in peace," we replied. "'Blessed are the peacemakers.' I read that in a book once."

We're not sure if that man knew which book we meant. But if you're a regular reader, you probably do....

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. - Matthew 5:9

Jesus put peacemaking on His famous list of Biblical "beatitudes" - a list of nine traits which are blessed by God. It isn't always easy to make peace; the news headlines are filled with people and groups in conflict (if not outright war) with each other. But here's one way to do it....

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath.... - Romans 12:17-19

In the poker room, "revenge" can happen naturally with the turn of cards. You might get a straight this hand, while we hit a full house in the next hand. But peacemaking can be done in other areas, both large and small. We think the primary way is with the mouth - not "raising" when someone taunts or teases you. Even better....

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. - Romans 12:14

But we need to learn to respond that way not simply because we have to do it - but because we want to do it:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. - Romans 12:9

As we said, this isn't easy. It starts with repenting before God of moments when you've chosen the side of conflict, instead of peace. Then ask for His Holy Spirit to help clean up your life - starting with the heart and mouth, then far beyond.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 187 final tables in 513 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $160.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Poker Night 512: Brave Hearts

Some poker hands are considered better than others before the flop. But any two cards have a chance of succeeding, once the flop comes. If only some hands ended there. You'll see what we mean, in this review of tonight's freeroll tournament at Five Star Billiards.

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-3 of hearts

It's the very first hand of the night, at a table of six players. We're in the Small Blind, and no one has raised. Of course we'll play suited cards. About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 2h-Jh-8h

A perfect flop for us! But then the humility moment strikes. Our hearts to make the flush are small. Someone might be sitting on bigger ones. So in lead position, we bet 500 to take the temperature of the table. Several players fold, but the dealer does not. He calls.


A fourth heart makes our cards suddenly look a whole lot smaller. Is this what the dealer was waiting for? We check to see.

"I'll bet 1,000," he says. Yup, that's what we feared.

"I liked these cards for awhile," we respond - but we fold, expecting the worst. Sure enough, the dealer shows us the Ace of hearts. He had a draw for the "nut flush," and received it.

That loss was relatively small, but we won a few pots which were modestly big. From a starting 10,000, we reached 11,200 at the first break. We won a few more in the second hour, helped at one point by pocket Aces. Despite a  big loss with A-J at the end, we reached the final table at the two-hour break with 12,000.

A couple of wins and splits there lifted us to a high of 25,000 - but at that point, the blinds had reached 5,000/10,000. A desperation push with A-9 led to a 9 on the board, but a man to our left had Q-Q to eliminate us. We wound up matching Friday's tournament in Tulsa, with a sixth-place finish out of about 25 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I'm a generic Christian," a man across the table told us before the night began. No, we didn't bring up religion; a talkative older man next to him did.

But what did he mean by generic? "I go by what Jesus did, not by what some religion says." That may sound strange, but it actually follows the Bible's advice....

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. - I Corinthians 11:1

The apostle Paul wrote this to a church group that was showing signs of division:

What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ". - I Corinthians 1:12

The Christian movement has had a lot of splits over the years. Protestants marked a major one a couple of weeks ago, with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's action sparking the Reformation. Yet what did the apostle say long ago about this?

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? - I Corinthians 1:13

His point in this letter and others was that every believer ultimately should follow Jesus Christ.

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. - Ephesians 5:23

So the man across the table was perceptive. But we had a question for him. "Didn't Jesus say He came to build a church?" Indeed He did....

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. - Matthew 16:18

The man admitted he'd only attended a church service a few times in recent months. Yet as divided as Christianity is, we're expected to attend one as we're able. We'll go deeper into that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 187 final tables in 512 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. Since crossing the 500-game mark, we've made four final tables in 12 tries.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Poker Day 511: The Best Defense....

When a poker player takes a seat at the table, he or she can take on a wide range of personalities. When someone from outside the area takes a seat, the options can leave even more people guessing. That's what happened when we traveled to Tulsa Friday for a morning game at River Spirit Casino, as we started a special church weekend....

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: A-K of hearts

The morning game costs $50, plus $10 "dealer appreciation" to double our chip stack from 4,000 to 8,000. That stack has eroded a little since the start, so it would be nice to win a hand. Holding the button with no one raising, we decide to go on the offensive. We raise to 350.

"I just won these chips," a man across the table who won the last hand says. "Be gentle with these."

"Get them nice and shiny," we answer - borrowing a line we've heard contending pro wrestlers say about title belts. As best we recall, three players out of ten are in.


No hearts come, but we remember two spades being here. The other players check, so we decide the heat must be turned up. Our continuation bet is 400. The man who joked about his chips calls, and we're now heads-up.

ON THE TURN: 3 (not a spade)

We wanted something higher than that, because any stray card could increase our opponent's chances of hitting a pair. He checks again, and we kick it up a notch to 500.

"That card didn't help me," he admits. "I'm one card away." (Hmmm - 6-9?! Something suited?!)

Then he folds. Exactly what we wanted. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Lord. We make a nice gain, without showing why we were being so aggressive.

A first hour of ups and downs left us 9,250 chips. We slowly gained in the second hour, reaching 10,100. Then a couple of all-in bets paid off in a big way, allowing us to reach the final table with 25,000. At one point, we knocked out an opponent with Q-10 after a Queen came on the flop.

We stood at 17,000 after three hours of play, with four players making money on a 39-player day. But weak cards and rising blinds did us in. We finally dared to roll the dice in the Small Blind with 4-3 of clubs for our last 4,000. But a Big Blind with higher cards won the race.

We played for a long time, but missed the money. Yet we finished sixth out of 39, for our second final table in three tournaments at River Spirit.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "If it wasn't for veterans, we probably wouldn't be here playing poker," a man at our table said. It was the Friday leading to Veterans Day - and you may have heard a form of that phrase over the weekend as well.

But after thinking about it a moment, we offered a response which might have surprised him. "I think a lot of those veterans had some help. They looked to God to guide them to success."

At least one person at the table seemed to agree with that statement. We hope you do as well - because while military veterans have fought a lot of battles over the years, the victory ultimately is not theirs.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with them. - II Chronicles 32:7

These are the words of King Hezekiah of Judah (29:1), when his territory was under siege (32:1). That "greater power" was not the United States or any allies....

"With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. - II Chronicles 32:8

But as they say at times in the poker room, talk is cheap. The king didn't stop simply with a motivational speech:

King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this. And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and the officers in the camp of the Assyrian king.... - II Chronicles 32:20-21

They humbly sought God's help - and God delivered. We can only guess how many U.S. and Allied veterans did the same thing during modern combat. But if God gave the victory, we think God should get at least some of the credit:

Who is this king of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. - Psalm 24:8

It's noteworthy to us that Veterans Day in the U.S. falls within about two weeks of Thanksgiving Day. We recommend taking time to thank God for the battles he's helped you win, or at least endure - whether at a poker table or a real battlefield.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 186 final tables in 511 games (36.4%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $110 (we failed to mention last time that Five Star Billiards is a freeroll).

Monday, November 6, 2017

Poker Night 510: Five-Star Service

Today was National Nachos Day - so, of course, we went looking for the chips.

Not simply in the family-size Walmart bag, but at a poker tournament. Our current situation gives us more time to play locally. So tonight we went to Five Star Billiards - a clean place with plenty of pool tables and $1.50 soda cups. It's replaced Yvie's on the WPT Poker League Monday night schedule, and sits only a few blocks away.

"Don't forget to tip your servers," the Tournament Director reminded four full tables. Then it was on with the show....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: 6-10 offsuit

The WPT League circuit requires everyone to deal their own cards. We've dealt ourselves this ordinary hand. We haven't won a hand yet, and lost about 1,000 chips to a player with a pair of Jacks. So we'll fold this. About four players at the table of seven are in.

ON THE FLOP: 8-7-7

"Toll-free flop," we say. Either no one got the joke or it was really lousy. But those cards bring a bet of 600 from a woman sitting in the Small Blind to our immediate left. A man across the table calls.


"Jackpot!" we declare with three 7's side by side. The Small Blind now bets 1,200, and the opponent calls her.


Did this make anyone a better full house? The Small Blind now checks. So does her opponent.

"I've got quads," the woman says quietly. She flips over 7-10! That earns her a big pot, and a 5,000- chip bonus for the best hand of the night.

The woman explains she didn't bet on the river because she thought there was a house rule against that.

"You played 7-10?!" another player at the table asks.

"I like playing 7-10," she answers. And since this was the first round of blinds, she could afford to play them.

"You heard what he said about tipping," we say to the big winner to drop a hint. No, she didn't reward us for dealing so well. Nor did she do it when we dealt her two more winning hands.

We won one pot with a semi-bluff, but nothing more than that. (The woman even topped our A-5 straight with a 2-6 straight.) Finally we went all-in for 1,500 with K-J, but a man with 8-8 prevailed when the board didn't pair for us. We were one chair from glory, but wound up first out at our table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: A man to our right won a pot with Kings, then proceeded to declare himself the "King Master."

"At least he didn't call himself the King of Kings," we said in response. "There's only One with that title."

The man nodded and seemed to chuckle, as if he got our point. Do you get it?

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

Our New International Version Bible goes so far as to put those titles in all-caps. But who would have such impressive names?

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.... He is dressed in a robe dripped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. - Revelation 19:11, 13

Yet another impressive title! Who could these verses be describing?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:1, 14

If there's still any doubt about the identity of "the Word," this should settle it....

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. - John 1:17

Now walk those verses back. Jesus brought "grace and truth" because He was full of them. Thus He was "the Word," and Revelation 19 indicates that Word is coming down from heaven again as "King of Kings."

But you don't have for that return to give Him that glorious title. God wants you to honor Jesus now, as disciples did long ago:

Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." - John 1:49

Jesus wants to be not merely a "King Master" - but King and Master. Will you acknowledge Him?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 185 final tables in 510 games (36.3%) - 36 cashes.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Human Element

We've played a computer in heads-up Texas Hold 'em at a casino a few times. Sometimes we've won. Sometimes we've lost. But imagine having to take on three computers at once.

The Texas Hold 'em table at the family-friendly game site is set up that way. Unless you're a member, you sit down to play for free against "Computer 2", "Computer 3" and "Computer 4." If you fold, the computers take on each other like an old Japanese monster movie - and they're programmed to be aggressive at times, with pre-flop raises and bluffing pushes.

It took us four tries to figure out a winning formula against these guys.... uh, machines.... and Saturday night it worked. By ignoring the prodding voice who says, "Let's play some poker!" we were able to knock out #2 and #4 at the same time with an all-in bet - then eliminate #3 on the fifth round of blinds with a full house.

For doing all that, we won.... 60 tokens, which we could use if we had a paid membership. That's not exactly what we're looking for online these days.

For one thing, how can you talk about the things of Christ with a computer? Even God realized this long ago....
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil.... - Hebrews 2:14
Verse 11 makes clear this is talking about Jesus - the God-Being who created humanity:
He is the image of the invisible God.... For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. - Colossians 1:15-16
Jesus created human beings. Then He came to Earth to "share in their humanity." Why would a God-Being lower Himself and do such a thing?
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
Jesus the Son lived a perfect, sin-free life to defeat Satan the devil, and open the way for us to have eternal life with Him. You don't have to become a mechanized "bot" to do that, either. It starts with confessing how human you are, repenting of your sins and turning to God's way of living.

Jesus shared Himself and went "all in" for you. Are you willing to respond to that love, and do the same thing toward Him?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Poker Day 509: Jack for the Pot

Today marked the start of a poker experiment for us. We'll explain what we mean in a moment - but first, let's get to the action on our first-ever Wednesday midday tournament at Kansas Star Casino:

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: J-9 of spades

The midweek tournament moves a little faster than the others, with 15-minute blinds. Not many good cards came our way in the first hour - but we won a couple of pots, including a desperation all-in chop at the first break with A-Q. That put us at a high for the day of 4,300 chips.

Now we're in our second hand at a new table, in the Small Blind with 3,300. No one has raised. It seems safe to speculate here, with relatively high suited cards. We call. The Big Blind checks, and about five players are in.


Ughhh.... this smells like trouble. We have a pair, but it's bottom pair. We have a straight draw, but it's a very risky straight draw. We're first to go, and we check. Much to our surprise, the entire table checks.


A third Jack for us looks like a jackpot card! It's a potential big winner - but we decide now is the time to strike.

"I'm all in," we say for 3,100. Trouble is, the woman in the Big Blind calls. Everyone else bails out, and we wonder - did she have a straight all along?

She flips over.... A-J! She has three Jacks as well, and her kicker has us topped. Our only real hope is for the river card to be a King or Queen, to chop another pot.


The very risky straight happens instead. Ours is K-9; hers is A-10. Hers is the pot; ours is the door. On a day with 63 players, we wind up 39th - but we don't think we would change our tactics, if we had a second chance at it.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "How are you today?" a man asked as we sat down next to him.

"Recovering," we said. Then, of course, he asked for an explanation.

"I was let go from my job Monday," we admitted. That's why this tournament was the start of an experiment. Can we make money playing poker, while we're between jobs?

A former co-worker happened to be in the poker room, at a cash game table. Based on his chip stack, he seemed to be doing well. But he's a self-described "grinder," ready to spend hours at tables. That's not what we've historically done.

Yet whether we strike it rich at poker or take a more regular job, we're trying to be optimistic. The Bible offers these words....

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. - Psalm 37:25

Yes, we know - some don't consider playing poker in casinos something "righteous" people would do. But the tournament format allows us to win a good bit of money for a relatively small entry fee. Midweek games will permit us to avoid the pricier Sunday tournaments for a while. And we always tithe on our winnings.

The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He provides food for those who fear him.... - Psalm 111:4-5

Longtime blog readers will recall we were in a similar job predicament several years ago, in an area with no casinos at all. We could only play free tournaments at bars and online - yet we won money 12 times during a year-long layoff. We thanked God for each small win (and each prize was indeed small).

So we'll see what happens this time - although we admittedly tried to win back some of our entry fee at a blackjack table, and wound up losing a little more. We plan to follow this guideline:

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. - Philippians 4:5 (KJV)

We're not "betting the farm." Maybe a few bushels at a time. We'll see if God allows them to turn into a bumper crop.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 185 final tables in 509 games (36.3%) - 36 cashes. Experiment cost: Down $50.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Worst of Times

"I had trip Kings," the man told us about a recent poker night. "He made an inside straight on the flop." And thus the man lost a hand he thought sure he'd win.

If you've played poker for any length of time, you probably have a story like that. Bad beats happen. And when they happen to us, they sting - perhaps for a long time. They might even be enough to drive you away from ever playing poker again.

Yet we heard a minister say on radio the other night that if you fail once, that does not mean you're an absolute failure. A lot depends on how you respond to that failed moment - and that moment of setback could be a springboard to future success. Take this historic moment....

So about three thousand men went up, but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about 36 of them.... At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water. - Joshua 7:4-5

This defeat in battle brought the leader of Israel to his knees (verse 6). Then God bluntly told him what was the problem:

Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. - Joshua 7:11

God refused to support Israel anymore until the sin and sinner were removed (verses 12-13). Once that happened, God was back on Israel's side:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land." - Joshua 8:1

The rest of the chapter shows Israel gaining victory there. But can it really be that easy for us? Well, at least it's a good place to start....

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

As much as we don't want to admit it, sometimes we're the problem - in the poker room and in life. It takes some courage to ask God to show you where you're wrong. But if you ask Him to do so in a loving way, He can do that - and He can put you back on the road to success, if you'll do what He says.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Solving the Puzzle

If you're a newcomer to poker, the rules can seem puzzling. No, you don't have to bet every time a card comes out. Yes, ugly cards can win pots in "Omaha Hi-Lo."

Even if you're a poker pro, certain hands can be puzzling. Why would your opponent raise pre-flop, then check the flop and turn?

We sometimes wonder if this blog is also puzzling to people who discover it. In fact, as we mentioned in a recent post, you may be confused by some things we write. We start with poker, then turn to a book which many consider diametrically opposite to it?!?

To be honest, the Bible baffles a lot of readers. It has so many books and chapters about seemingly long-lost people and people groups. One promotion has declared it "the world's best-selling mystery book." And believe it or not, that was the original intent:

He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn - and I would heal them. - John 12:40

Jesus came to fulfill these words of the Old Testament Isaiah - and some of those who heard Him "could not believe" (verses 38-39). They were under the biggest of "big blinds," as they've been blinded from grasping the Word of God. Why?

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved....  - Romans 11:25-26

God hardened the heart of an Egyptian Pharaoh long ago, to do miracles leading to the removal of Israel (Exodus 4:21). He still can do that now. To borrow from a speaker we heard recently, God does this to produce the maximum possible yield - in terms of people ultimately being saved.

So if our posts don't make sense to some of you - that's OK. Really. We understand, and we leave that in God's hands. But if some of this seems to make sense, that's even better. We encourage you to act on the parts that do.

He [Jesus] replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." - Luke 11:28

Obey what you know to do, and you'll grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18). You may find the puzzles of life make sense more than you ever realized.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Right Direction

"Are you doing good?" the young man behind the casino cashier's window asked.

We have a stock answer for that, when we're playing poker. "I'm trying to do good." After all, isn't that what a poker ministry should be about? As Jesus put it....

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.... - Luke 6:27

Then we did something we don't recall ever doing before. We pulled out our card protector of the day and showed it to a cashier. In this case, it was "Lord's Supper" protector from our recent church convention. But his response to that was an amazing surprise:


That's the best way we can recreate with a keyboard what the young man had on one of his wrists - symbols that looked like a tattoo.

"God is greater than my ups and downs," he explained.

Aha! Such clever symbolism - since math buffs know ">" is the "greater than" symbol.

Does that short formula sum up your view of God? Anyone who plays poker regularly will learn there are times of success and times of setbacks. But a Biblical apostle realized something....

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.... - Philippians 3:8

Knowing Jesus is greater than any poker win, since we'll all eventually have to make a final trip to the "cashier's window" of life. We can't take our chip stacks beyond the grave. But a relationship with Jesus can last for eternity, since God can resurrect you to eternal life.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. - I John 4:4

That one "in you" can be Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

If your life seems to lack purpose beyond regular routine trips to poker rooms, maybe it's time to borrow from modern politics. It's time to "Alt-Right" - alter your course, and get right with God. The winning formula of that cashier can work for you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

From Bad to Worse

The game is called "Texas Hold 'em". But you may be surprised to learn there are few places in Texas where you can play that kind of poker legally for money.

That's why we drove from a church convention in north Texas to a casino in southeast Oklahoma for our most recent tournaments. And at one of them, we heard about a recent poker game in north Texas where robbers broke in and stole money from players.

"Was this a casino?" we asked.

"An underground game," the man to our right said.

That man went on to say while the room had security cameras set up, police had not been called about the robbery. The reason seemed obvious enough - because that poker room is illegal, and the players would have been locked up along with the thieves.

The Bible is clear about cases like this. We'll consider both parts of it....

You shall not steal. - Deuteronomy 5:19

Simple enough. It's one of the most basic and easily-remembered of the Ten Commandments. Jesus indicated His coming did not do away with it:

"...If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.... Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal...." - Matthew 19:17-18

So the robbers are wrong. But the underground gamblers also are wrong, if their games are not sanctioned....

Remind the people to be subject to rules and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.... - Titus 3:1

In 2017, there are plenty of ways to play poker legally - from bar circuits to websites to apps. You might not make a living doing it. But look at it this way: you won't risk losing your shirt or spending time in jail, either.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Poker Night 508: The Old Man and the Shove

On our last night before leaving a church convention, we decided there was time to try one more tournament at Casino Choctaw-Durant. The finish was better - and also more memorable:

BLINDS: 1,000/2,000

IN THE POCKET: A-Q offsuit

We won the first three hands of the tournament, then claimed several more after that. That's led us to the final table, after more than three hours of play. But with seven players remaining, we're now desperate. With only 2,000 chips left, good cards may have come for us in the nick of time.

"I'm all-in, and I call," we tell the table. But an older man across from us (we'd guess at least 75) is distracted by what happened a few hands ago. A woman won a big pot from him, by staying in a hand he thought she should have avoided. After accusing her of "not knowing how to play," he seems to be on tilt. Yet he doesn't raise, and five players get in for the minimum.

ON THE FLOP: K-9-4 (third card may not be precise)

This doesn't look promising for us - and even less so when players start betting. The woman to our left offers (as best we recall) 3,000. The older man responds by going all-in.

"What are you going to do?" he asks us. Answer: sit and watch.

"I'm all-in," we remind Mr. Accuser. Other players have folded, except for the woman who has him bothered. She takes a moment to think about this.

"Hurry up. I've got to go home and feed the dog," the older man says. We can't resist laughing out loud at that line. The woman finally calls, and it's time to show our cards.

The woman at our left has J-9. The older man shoved with 9-2. She's in the lead thanks to her kicker, but we have two very live cards.


This card helps no one - and leaves us at the brink.


Aw, c'mon! We get knocked out, but the older man gets an amazing escape by hitting a second pair. So he starts singing the chorus of "Old Man River" - and we almost join him on the final notes, as we shake his hand!

We leave in seventh place, on a night with only 16 players. But at least we can say we made a final table at a casino where big tournaments happen - and we leave with the funniest poker story we've had in a long time.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We carried our "Lord's Supper" card protector again, and showed it to a woman sitting next to us. "What do you think of Jesus?" we asked her. She seemed surprised by the question.

"I'm not sure what you mean," she said. "He did everything He came to do.... He came to save the world."

It turned out that woman and two others at our table admitted to having Jesus as their Savior. That's good. But is that saving work finished yet?

...God our Savior.... wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. - I Timothy 2:3-4

That's what God wants. But we fear that's one place where skeptics point fingers of doubt. If God is all-powerful, can't He achieve what He wants? Why have some notorious people died, seemingly without coming close to being saved?

The answer may sound strange, but it's this: God is not trying to save everyone now. It would be great if that happened, but it's not the plan....

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.... - Romans 11:25-26

By "Israel," we think the apostle Paul refers to members of the "12 tribes" descended from Old Testament Israel (Romans 9:4/11:1). God has opened a way at this time for people outside those tribes to enter His family, while....

...The others were hardened, as it is written: "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day." - Romans 11:7-8

If some of our posts about the Bible leave you puzzled or confused.... well, believe it or not, we understand your confusion. In fact, it may be part of God's grand plan. We'll explain more about that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 185 final tables in 508 nights (36.4%) - 37 cashes. This was our first final table since June; we'd missed five in a row.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Poker Night 507: The Price of Courage

At the church convention we're attending, the most personal impact has come from men's morning meetings. One of the topics Monday was "courageous leadership." We reviewed the story of David slaying Goliath (I Samuel 17) - then went to a casino Monday night and tried to apply the lesson.

Choctaw Casino-Durant in southeast Oklahoma has become a place with an international poker reputation. Its nice enclosed upstairs room has been used for WPT events, and the WSOP circuit arrives there in late October. But on a federal holiday, our $70 total buy-in gave us only about 16 opponents plus a couple who did a re-buy. Would we have enough courage (and wisdom) to get a big finish?

BLINDS: 50/100


Small early efforts have missed flops. An aggressive player at the opposite end of the table has chased us off a couple of pots. But now we've hit a big moment: the best possible pre-flop hand and lead position at a table of seven. With about 5,600 chips, we limp in and hope for raisers - but there are none. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Jc-9h-7c (second suit may not be precise)

So far, so good - except two of these cards are clubs. We want to stop potential flush-chasing. So when the blinds check, we try to show we mean business by betting 250. Two men call; the two blinds fold.


Uh-oh.... potential trouble. The board pairs. Is someone sitting on a Jack, for three of a kind? Since we're back in the leadoff seat, this is a perplexing moment.

To look courageous and test the mettle of the opponents, we raise the bet to 500. A man to our left calls. But the other man raises to 1,200. Deep inside, we sense big trouble - but there's been a little bluffing at the table, so we dare to call. But now, the man to our left re-raises to 2,500! And he gets called!

We conclude both men are serious. "I don't think so," we say as we fold. Are we right?


This card doesn't seem to matter. The man to our left goes all-in - and gets called again!

So what do they have? The man to our left shows J-9! The man to our right has J-7! It's "boat over boat," and the J-9 wins a huge pot.

"I'm glad I got out of that," we say.

"What did you have?" a man to our right asks.

"I had them topped before the flop," is all we reveal. We'll save the deeper lesson in courage for another day - but we fell behind on the flop, and an attempt at an even larger "go-away" bet would have only hurt our cause.

That was the sort of night we had. We split one pot with K-10, then won an all-in Big Blind bet right before the one-hour break. But we only had 2,325 chips from a starting 7,000 at that break. And when we pushed with A-Q early in Hour 2 and were called by A-J, an Ace on the flop was followed by a Jack on the river. We missed the final table by finishing in 13th place.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We showed our "Lord's Supper" card protector to an older man seated to our right. He recognized the image on it, then asked, "Is that a precious metal?"

We tried to steer things in a more godly direction. "Jesus's blood was precious, wasn't it?"

At that point, a new hand started. We're not sure if he grasped what we said. But perhaps you've wondered about that. Why do people consider the blood of Jesus "precious"? It comes from this verse:

It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless lamb of God. - I Peter 1:19 (NLT)

An online dictionary defines "precious" as "of high price or great value.... highly esteemed for some spiritual, nonmaterial or moral quality...." Here's why the blood of Jesus fits that description....

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver.... - I Peter 1:18  (NLT)

No, the ransom paid to save us was Christ's blood. While we are all sinners, Jesus was not (I John 3:5). He was a perfect sacrificial lamb (John 1:29), whose blood can remove your sins in God's eyes (I John 1:7). Have you turned your sins to God, to have Jesus remove them from your record?.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 507 games (36.3%) - 37 cashes. We're now two-for-three in making final tables and the money, in games during church conventions.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Home and Away

Playing at home with friends and neighbors can be comfortable and enjoyable. But we've found some of our most satisfying poker results have occurred during road trips.

We think of this because we're about to start another trip, and hope to play in at least one tournament at our destination. We're not saying where we're going yet - but we'll have one overriding goal in mind:

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation".... Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanies it. - Mark 16:15, 20

These words of Jesus and other verses have inspired what's known as the Christian "missionary" movement. It could be a school in Haiti or a hospital in west Africa. Sometimes it has been the result of difficult trials....

...On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. - Acts 8:1

But we don't think you have to travel that far to fulfill Jesus's command. "Going" can be as simple as heading to the poker room in your neighborhood. We suspect people there need some "good news", too.

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! - I Corinthians 9:16b

And so we hope to do that, in big and small ways. You're reading part of that right now. But we also try to do it when we enter poker tournaments.

We'll post the results of our road trip efforts as they happen. But in the meantime, as we mark our tenth anniversary of live poker, we plan to repost some memorable blog items from past years. If you've seen them before, please be patient - or invite someone new to see them for the first time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Game of Love

We've said it before in various ways: humans cannot live on poker alone. You know a poker channel has learned that lesson when it presents.... a dating show.

Chasing Hearts premieres online this week on PokerGO - six weeks of couples on blind dates, with a poker coach analyzing their "action" for possible "tells." We invite you to watch, then tell us how much of a stretch this is.

We're actually going to try to tie this in with poker, by saying we've seen couples play poker together. It's their idea of a "fun evening out", much like others go bowling or visit museums. We've even seen hints of romance develop at poker nights - but those moments happened in bars, so alcohol might have been a factor.

But is this any way to find real love? We can't speak fully from experience here, as we've never been married. But there's a great guidebook on love that many people tend to overlook....

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. - Ephesians 5:1-2

Love should be more than a romantic mood. It should be a life - or perhaps better put, a way of life. It's a way shown by Jesus Christ when He walked on Earth. And believe it or not, Jesus never said the words, "I love you," to anyone.

...Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. - John 13:1b

Jesus showed His love in many ways. In this chapter, He washed the feet of His disciples - apparently including the one who was about to betray Him (verses 26-27). Then Jesus said this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. - John 13:34-35

These words were spoken primarily to men - but there's no evidence Jesus meant this in a homosexual way. His point was to show compassion toward other people in general. And in addition...

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. - John 15:10

The entire chapter says much more about what Jesus considered real love. We'll leave that for you not only to read, but apply to your own life.

If your idea of "love" is built upon game-playing, we think that's rather shallow. A deep love comes from compassion toward others and obedience toward God - and to borrow from an old song, is there really a greater love than that?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Gut Shot

A short article on basic poker strategy offered this advice: "You should.... never ignore your gut. If your intuition tells you to play a hand, play it! It's usually right."

If we had a dollar for every time that was true.... well, sorry, but we wouldn't have many dollars.

There are many reasons for that. For one thing, your intuition can deceive you. We've played in tournaments where we tried a series of "hunches", and almost all of them failed. That only proves....

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. - Proverbs 16:25

Your "right" move can end with you at the rail. Our most recent post had an example of that.

But look at it another way. Other people at your poker table also have "guts." If they all use their different intuitions and decide to get in a hand, can they all be right? It's somewhat like this....

What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." - I Corinthians 1:12

These were four different ideas about living a Christian life - inside a church group! As logical as each faction probably thought it was, could they really all be correct? Proper logic should tell us the answer is no.

Yet if you've explored religious matters at all, you may have run into this. Lots of different faiths claim they're right - and that they're the only way to ultimate success and happiness. But the man who wrote I Corinthians shook off his own faction. Instead, Paul wrote....

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. - I Corinthians 3:11

Paul declared Jesus is the right starting point for building your life (verse 10). He based that not on "guts," but on a personal encounter he had with Jesus years before (Acts 9).

In a poker game, knowing the odds of success with a particular hand can logically tell you whether or not to get in. In the game of eternal life, many have come to see that God, Jesus Christ and the Bible make the most sense spiritually. It can take some digging and asking tough questions, but it's worth it.

As one man once put it: the feeling in your "gut" may simply be that you had the wrong food for dinner. Take of Jesus, the "bread of life" (John 6:48), for the most satisfaction of all.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hey, Big Spenders

We're not in a place where we can watch the relaunched Poker After Dark. But the show is making news for some big pots - and big blunders.

One hand posted this weekend finds pocket Aces getting crushed on the flop, when a man with A-4 gets trips with a 5-4-4 flop. The man with Aces apparently assumed a raise was a bluff; he re-raised, then went all in on the turn.

This is a classic case of "loose" play versus "cautious" play. A TV series like this tends to encourage looseness; this pot wound up totaling $980,000. But for the cautious player, an opponent raising on the  flop would have set off alarm bells.

So what sort of poker player are you? If you're playing with real money in a cash game, we'd bring up this verse....

A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. - Proverbs 12:26

"Righteous" people might come across as cautious people. That's because they don't want anything to soil their righteous reputation. But if the righteousness comes from their own standards, there's a potential problem:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. - Isaiah 64:6

Our righteousness, as cautious as we might be, ultimately doesn't amount to much. We need something better.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.... - Romans 3:21-22

People who put their faith in Jesus receive God's version of righteousness. There might still be caution after that, but only because they don't want to bring shame on the name of Jesus in whom they've put their faith.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness.... - I Timothy 6:10-11

Loving God and Jesus Christ leads to the right kind of righteousness. Being loose and "eager for money" does not. In fact, it can lead to costly mistakes. That advice may help you far from a table filled with Aces.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

First Hearing

Our last post mentioned a poker championship in Ohio exclusively for "deaf" people - players with hearing impairments. It's good that those players can be out and active. But we'd like to ask: what if something could be done so they can hear?

Modern science is making it possible for children to hear, where they otherwise might not. But a man once walked on Earth who restored hearing in a more amazing way:

So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." - Luke 7:22

This was the report of Jesus Christ, given to disciples of John the Baptizer (as one well-known minister calls him). John had baptized Jesus (Luke 3:21), yet somehow developed doubts about whether He was the real Messiah. Jesus's answer was that the proof was in the miracles that He did.

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears.... He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. - Mark 7:32-35

Jesus not only healed the man's hearing disability, but allowed him to speak clearly.

Some poker players long for a one-off card on the river to stay in a tournament. Yet Jesus accomplished greater miracles than that. And the Bible shows a time is coming when that will happen again....

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.... - Isaiah 35:5

This will occur when people see "the glory of the Lord" (verse 3). Tonight some believers will enter a season of the year that pictures the future time when that will happen - when Jesus returns to Earth:

...They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:30b

The season begins with what Jews call Rosh Hashanah, and some believers call the "Feast of Trumpets." Read more about it by clicking here. Perhaps God wants you to join the celebration, and look forward to the time when a Deaf Poker Championship is something in the distant past.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

There Are No Words

Poker rooms can be quiet places. Sometimes that's what the players prefer; even writing a few comments in an online game can get you called out for talking too much. But sometimes, the players can't speak at all.

A casino in Ohio held a poker tournament this weekend for hearing-disabled players. We'd never heard of a "Deaf Poker Championship" before. But the one in Toledo had 59 players, a $1,605 top prize - and apparently some intense play, as it took nine hours to determine a winner.

As we thought about this, this idea made a lot of sense. As one dealer said at a recent tournament we entered, "Poker is a visual game." Players might "announce a raise," but in truth they don't really have to say a thing. You tap the table to check. You set chips in front of the line to bet. The dealer can move cards forward and back to show which hand is best.

Believe it or not, we've heard some ministers say hearing-impaired people cannot become real Christians. They might turn to Bible verses like this....

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. - Romans 10:17

Their logic is: if people cannot hear, how can they have faith? But we think this logic is misguided. Here's why....

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. - Psalm 119:18

Thanks to the printing press, and more recently the Internet, "wonderful things" about God can be read as well as heard. People can come to understand God's plan of salvation by carefully studying the Bible.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. - I Timothy 4:1

That's a scary warning, but we'd like to focus on the start of that verse. The Holy Spirit says things?! Yes - not audibly, but through the written word speaking to the hearts of people seeking God.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. - Revelation 2:29

If you're paying attention when you read the Bible, the Holy Spirit of God may be "speaking" to you through its words. That's why it's good to ask God when you read for the Bible's words to be made clear - so you know exactly what God would have you do.

Come to think of it, something might be even better than having hearing-impaired people "hear" God through print. Can you guess what that might be? We'll get to it in our next post.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rage Against the Machine

The word "poker" can mean different things in different places. In our part of the U.S., it usually refers to a table game with cards and chips. But other countries have "poker machines" which are really more like slot machines.

A trial involving those machines is underway this week in Australia. A casino player named Shonica Guy claims a casino and a "poker machine" company misled her about her chances of winning at one particular machine - and she went on to lose a lot of money.

One phrase struck us right away when reading this story. Guy is described as a "gambling addict", who says "poker machines took over my life for.... 14 years." If that's true, that's sad - and it's a reminder that even regular poker players can become addicted to the game. Some timeless advice applies here:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. - I John 2:15

Would anyone be addicted to poker or "pokies" (as the Aussies call them) if there was not a little "love" involved? Many addicts (gambling or otherwise) probably wouldn't put it that way. They might say something inside draws them in - something they think they can't control. But that "love" of the addiction needs to be replaced. And the love of God is the best possible replacement.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - I John 2:17

The hope of eternal life in God's Kingdom is offered to those who, for lack of a better term, become addicted to Him and to Jesus Christ. We think you can still play those games (yes, we realize others would disagree). But as Jesus said, borrowing from a message we heard at church last weekend....

You cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with me unless you love me more than you love your own life. - Luke 14:26 (CEV)

Love Jesus more than anybody. More than anything. More than any game. A good church group can help you with that....

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. - Hebrews 3:13

For more specialized help with addiction, a support group might be the answer you need. But don't blame the machine or a casino for your problem. We don't really think they're holding you hostage. Go to God in prayer, and begin moving toward a better life - even toward eternal life.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hope and Faith

At our last poker tournament, we brought up our hope at one point of making a big hand. That hope fell short. But we have a hope of receiving something much bigger, and more important....

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from the bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. - Romans 8:20-21

There are some big concepts here, so let's simplify things a bit. We're all God's creation, if you're humble enough to accept it (Genesis 1). But we face the frustration of eventual death....

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. - Genesis 3:19

Yet the good news and the hope of believers is that we can be liberated from death's bondage! That takes something beyond mere hope, though. It takes faith in Someone bigger than us, who can make it happen.

Having faith in God making a flush or full house for you is asking for something relatively insignificant. God wants you to have faith for something much bigger....

Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. - Romans 8:17

You can become a child of God by putting your faith in Him (the Father) and His Son, Jesus Christ.

....So that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. - I Corinthians 2:5

If you need help in developing this faith, please leave a comment. We might be able to help. In the meantime, express your faith in God by walking in a godly way (James 2:26) Sometimes the best message you can send is the example you set.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why Words

We asked in a recent post one of the most basic poker questions. It comes up after a lot of crazy hands - the question of why.

There are some standard answers about why poker players take the actions they do. We like to joke that the famous last words of some players is, "They were suited." And we'll confess in a couple of cases at this week's tournament, we chased hands with marginal cards simply because we had a hunch about them paying off. (In every case we recall, they didn't.)

When it comes to our lives, we pointed out previously that "why" matters - especially to God:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts... - I Chronicles 28:9

This is advice from a departing King David to his son and successor. He doesn't stop there....

If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. - I Chronicles 28:9b

So it's better to seek God - and best to serve him in a wholehearted and willing way. That brings us to two critical four-letter words:

He [Jesus] replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." - Luke 11:28

It's important to obey. But let's be honest: you can obey every instruction from a poker dealer and Floor Manager, and still do it with a sour attitude and approach.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. - James 4:3

OK, so what's the right motive? It's that second four-letter word....

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. - John 13:34

If you love me, you will obey what I command. - John 14:15

Jesus said "love" and "obey" are words which go together. They're words we've mentioned often in this blog, as they apply to poker and life. Do a word search for them. Consider the verses we've found about them. And see if the "why" behind your actions becomes less muddled, and more honorable.