Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Decade of Decisions

The first decision came ten years ago today. We took a short walk from our home to a corner bar, and joined in a free Thursday night poker tournament.

Ten years later, we're still playing poker - but like many who took up the game in the last decade, the "fad" has faded for us. Our schedule doesn't allow us to enter many live tournaments right now. And even our online play is way down, because other Internet games seem more interesting. (Anyone for Scrabble?)

We could compare our rise and fall to a comment made to an ancient church...

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.... Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. - Revelation 2:2, 4

If you have a "red-letter Bible," this comment probably is in red ink. These are words of a resurrected Jesus Christ. He gave praise to the "church in Ephesus" (verse 1) for several accomplishments and traits. Yet He indicated that interest had faded. In this case, we think the "first love" was for God.

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things your did at first. - Revelation 2:5

If your first love was poker, this is relatively easy to do. You head back online or into a poker room and get reacquainted with the cards. But if your real first love is for God - and we think it should be - it may be time to repent of letting distractions get in the way.

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

OK, we'll admit it - poker is definitely a game "in the world." Some church-going people actually might commend us for losing some passion for it. But if you've used poker to be a light for Jesus Christ, those "deeds" and "hard work" can fade by becoming more introverted and secluded.

When we started playing live poker in 2007, we didn't think much about doing it for ministry. It was a test of game-playing skills we developed online. But as time went on, we saw the opportunity to do more than that. Now we can go home from short tournaments feeling better than a final-table bubble player, because we accomplished a higher purpose:

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." - Mark 16:15

That's what we try to do at the table, and on this blog as well.

We were writing a different blog when we sat down for our first poker night ten years ago. It was a locally-centered humor blog - so here's how we reported on what happened 15 Jun 07.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


The World Series of Poker normally starts a couple of weeks after Mother's Day in the U.S. But this year, one man played with his mom on his mind.

John Racener won the "Dealer's Choice Championship" early this morning, while wearing a "Unibomber" style black hoodie. After he won, he took off the hoodie and showed a "FOR MOM" t-shirt. Racener's mother died from cancer four years ago, and broke the news of her diagnosis to him only after he played in the Main Event final table in 2010.

We can't fault Racener for this tribute at all. He's doing what a classic guidebook recommends....

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. - Exodus 20:12

Honor for parents should begin in our youth:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. - Ephesians 6:1

Of course, we realize some parents do things which are less than honorable. But when their commands fall within the rules of God's instruction, children should follow them:

My son, keep your father's commands and do not forsake your mother's teaching. - Proverbs 6:20

Racener also seems to realize the "honor" for parents can go far beyond this life. We personally wondered for years how to honor a mother who died when we were a young adult. We've tried to do it through respectful words about her - and in recent years by annual graveside trips, as we've lived closer to her grave.

But we respectfully disagree with Racener's comment that his mother is now his "biggest fan.... from up above." That's a view of the afterlife which the Bible does not teach....

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven - the Son of Man. - John 3:13

Jesus said these words. As the Son of God, we think He would know about such things.

But we congratulate Racener not only on his success at the table, but the statement he made in victory. May he enjoy the winnings, the WSOP bracelet - and the hope that he and his parents will be together someday in a resurrection.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Game Within the Game

World Series of Poker season has arrived again in Las Vegas. You can enter dozens of contests and try to win bracelets. Or this year, you can go play somewhere else.

The "Kings Cash Game Lounge" lets players relax between tournaments by playing cash-game poker. Based on what we've seen in other places, this is really no surprise. In what other activity would people take a break from playing poker - by playing more poker?

But what strikes us is how WSOP tries to sell the "luxury" of this lounge. Tables with "cushioned rails" and "automatic shufflers"? That's standard stuff at most casino poker rooms we've visited. "Comfortable sofas and easy chairs" on the side? Plenty of upscale clubs which host weekly "poker nights" have those.

In other words, some poker players back home may have things better than they know. But imagine how much better things could be....

Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. - Proverbs 10:6

The best blessings come from God. And believe it or not, He wants to hand them out - even to you. So how can you obtain them?

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him. - Romans 10:12

So we need to call on God, and be "righteous." How does that work?

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. - Romans 2:13

That "law" can refer to God's commandments (Psalms 119:172). But we've found a "righteousness" that's even better than that....

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

The law (despite what some might tell you) is good. Faith in Jesus is even better. Have you called on Him, to begin receiving the best blessings of all - the spiritual ones?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A League of Their Own

You might think of poker as an individualistic game. But if bowling can have teams and summer leagues, why not poker?

We read today about the new Poker Sports League in India, where teams battled for prize money and had a five-day final showdown. But while bowlers might form their own teams from co-workers or neighborhood buddies, the poker teams were more haphazard:

...12 teams, consisting of a mentor, two local pros, two live qualifiers, two online qualifiers, and two wild card entries, battled it out....

We've heard of local poker leagues in places where we've played. We suppose they can promote friendship and good competition. But we think there's a better "team" to be on....
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 each other... - Hebrews 10:24-25

What sort of "team" is this? The Bible is talking about a group of "brethren" (verse 19, NASB). We think that refers to a church group. Members meet, show love toward each other and encourage each other to do good deeds. But why?
..To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.... - Ephesians 4:12-13

Just as a national congress or parliament is a "legislative body," the church is Jesus Christ's body. One main goal is to grow in the knowledge of God - and as Hebrews shows, it should be expressed in "love and good deeds"....
...and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10:25b

The New International Version has "Day" capitalized. We think this refers to the day when Jesus comes back. The church should go increasingly "all in" - for each other.

Some groups will take time this coming weekend to mark the anniversary of the founding of the New Testament Church. It's known in the Bible as Pentecost. This link explains the day in more detail. We encourage you to take time to mark the anniversary - and go farther, by becoming part of a "league" that's working for a godly purpose.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lest Ye Forget

The casino in our area has held a big Memorial Day poker tournament for several years. This year the buy-in is quite big, at $350. At least the casino will give away free hot dogs for a couple of hours.

But we wonder if the casino will stop for a moment to remember players who have died in the past year, or in recent years. Somehow we doubt it. (If we're wrong, we hope someone will let us know.)

Jack Buck used to say when the St. Louis Cardinals played baseball games on Memorial Day, "I hope you'll take some time to think about the meaning of this day." Some people suggest it should be Christmas in May, with everything shutting down for quiet contemplation. But we think a balance can be struck between tribute and other activities.

We also think if you limit thoughts of Memorial Day to death, you're missing something....

If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. - Job 14:14

Whether someone dies in military combat or after a lengthy ordeal with a disease, this life can be a "hard service." But thankfully, that's not all there is.

..And I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. - Acts 24:15

The Bible speaks of a resurrection of the dead - a "renewal" of life! But did you notice it's divided into two parts?

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. - John 5:28-29

Jesus Christ said those words - and the Bible shows He is the one who will pass final judgment on humankind (Hebrews 10:30). What can you do now to be part of that first resurrection?

...And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. - Revelation 20:4

In short, these people lived for God and his word, the Bible - enough to resist the forces of this world, even unto death. These are people worthy of remembering. In fact, they might be alive today all around you.

So taking time for a "memorial" over this U.S holiday weekend is a good idea. But please learn some lessons in the process - and live in a way that will lead to eternal life with Jesus.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poker Day 501: All Jacked Up

"What are you doing?" the woman sitting to our right asked during a hand today at Kansas Star Casino.

"I'm raising," we explained - from her 150 to 450. She didn't like that explanation, and folded. But the action for us began before that....

BLINDS: 75/150


We got a late start again today - officially the 14th alternate. The formation of an extra table moved us up to fourth, and we finally gained a seat after about 50 minutes. After a couple of misses, we start this hand with about 9,600 of a starting 10,000 chips - and we choose to sandbag. We make a limping call, and about three players jump in.


Three Jacks could be a jackpot! The table checks to us, and we offer 325. A man on the opposite side of the table doubles that to 650, and we show we're serious by calling. Everyone else folds.


Even better - now it's a full house! We check to the raiser, as they say. We're a bit disappointed when he checks.


We're not concerned about this over-card at all. If our opponent somehow had pocket Aces, we think he would have bet them on the turn. So we tempt him with a bet of 1,000.... and he folds, without showing what he has.

A couple more nice pots came our way after that, including one with 4-4 when a third 4 came on the flop. We reached the first break at 15,200. Then in the second term, we hit a Broadway straight and used 10-10 to take that woman to our right out of the game. At the second break, we stood at 25,600.

But at the start of the third term, we had a terrible round in the blinds. A man to our left went all-in for 7,000, and we thought he was desperately betting with little. But he top pair, and smacked us down hard. Few good cards came after that, and we finally pushed for 5,500 with Q-2 and a 2 on the flop. But an opponent's 9 also paired the board, and it held on to win. Big gains led to a disappointing exit - 26th out of 69 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Our card protector of the day was an electric converter plug. We explained to a dealer during the first break that it reminds us of the need to receive power from God's Holy Spirit.

"Did you see this?" the dealer said to a Tournament Director stopping by. "You could use a little of the Holy Spirit."

The woman walked away - and the dealer noted she not only didn't seem very interested, she seemed puzzled by the reference. We can understand that, because the things of God can be like that to some people....

.....But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. - I Corinthians 1:23-24

Some people are blind to their need for God, and His ways to develop a relationship with Him. They don't get it. But here's the thing - God gets that they don't get it.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,,,, - I Corinthians 1:26-27

God calls whomever He pleases to be a part of His family at this time. We believe when the right time comes, God will invite the rest - and that moment may not come until after those people are resurrected to face the judgment of Jesus Christ.

If the things we write about here interest you, please dig deeper into them. Open a Bible and see what it says about Jesus, salvation and eternal life. The change in your life could be downright powerful.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 183 final tables in 501 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

He Works Hard for the Money

It's a classic debate in the poker world, and even in government buildings: is poker a game of luck, skill - or both?

A recent book by a successful player and coach seems to have a surprising answer: both. While we have not read The Myth of Poker Talent by Alex Fitzgerald, the review we read today indicates he accepts the "luck" notion more than a lot of people.

But Fitzgerald goes on to argue that "talent" in poker is a myth because success is due to hard work and practice. Our response to that would be: is that a false choice? Can't practice and hard work on your game make someone talented?

Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. - Proverbs 10:4

We're reminded of the story of Kobe Bryant, who would take hundreds of extra basketball shots after practice. No doubt he had the basic skills. But he kept working on them diligently, to become one of the best athletes of his era.

Extra diligence in poker can teach things to apply in a tournament. That diligence can be as simple as watching weekly telecasts or playing pretend cash games online. But keep something else in mind....

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. - Psalm 127:1

Why would that work be "in vain?" We think it's because God has the final say over everything people do. You might think you have the greatest poker idea ever - but if God says no, He can stop it whether you like it or not.

Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. - II Timothy 2:15 (KJV)

Study what others are doing, in poker or other aspects of life - but make sure God approves of your conclusions. Away from the table, that can mean studying the Bible to make sure your will matches God's.

We welcome your comments and thoughts on this. How much of poker success is work? How much is simple and plain lucky cards? Whatever your view, may you take time to study what matter most - a proper walk with God, both in and out of poker rooms.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Wait Is (Almost) Over

It must have been nice to be in the "November Nine" - but also a little thought-provoking as well.

For ten years, the World Series of Poker's Main Event stopped when the final table of nine players was reached. After weeks of play in July, the top contestants had to wait until late October or early November to play the dramatic final hands on ESPN.

But not this year. There's word from Las Vegas today that the final table will be played in mid-July, with only a two-day break. ESPN will be "almost-live" for 40 hours during the Main Event (casino rules require a 30-minute delay, to guard against cheating).

On the one hand, more "live" coverage could be good for poker. On the other hand, the storytelling format of weekly ESPN hours will be missed - not to mention the extra time Norman Chad has to work on his jokes.

But put yourself in a Niner's chair. Would you want to wait four months to claim your million-dollar-plus payoff? Could you be that patient?

We actually know some people who have been waiting even longer for a "payday." They're described in the last book of the Bible:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who have been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge their blood?" - Revelation 6:9-10

This view is "almost-live" as well. The apostle John saw this amazing sight in a vision (Revelation 9:17) - but people have been "slain because of the word of God" for thousands of years. Jesus even took it back to the dawn of recorded time....

Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.... - Luke 11:50-51

Jesus even considered the son of Adam a prophet! We'll let you think about that one - but more to our point, Abel and all succeeding him have been waiting a long time for God's judgment and vengeance. What was the Lord's response to their plea?

Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as hey had been was completed. - Revelation 6:11

Those martyrs of the faith must "wait a little longer." How much longer? We don't know. And since they're waiting in the grave, they're not counting the days anyway (Ecclesiastes 9:5). But their hope was, and ours is, in a resurrection....

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. - I Corinthians 15:51-52

The believer has faith that the wait will be worth it - with a change to a new immortal body when Jesus Christ returns. It makes two days in Las Vegas (or even four months in your hometown) seem short by comparison. But the payoff in eternal life will be far superior.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

After 500: Counting the Cost

In a recent post, we mentioned we've won more than $3,000 in prizes playing 500 live poker tournaments. That's admittedly small change, compared to big-time poker pros - but we don't claim to be one.

Yet there's one thing we've always wondered about the "career earnings" of top poker players: how much did they lose along the way? After all, no one wins every tournament they enter - and buy-ins at big events can be huge.

So this week, we sat down and did some complex math - trying to figure how much all the live games have cost us. In the early years of "free poker" nights at bars, the price was cheap: sodas only cost $1.50-$2. In poker rooms, of course, the cost goes up; our highest buy=in was $150 for a Heartland Poker Tour event last year.

By our rough estimation, our total entry fees in 500 tournaments has been $3,800. So over the long haul, we've lost about $700 in ten years. It's not a big loss, when you figure it year-over-year - about the price of 1 1/2 buy-ins at Kansas Star Casino.

(We're not counting cash game wins and losses in this; we realize poker pros go to cash games and grind out an income when tournament play falls flat.)

This is something we think poker players should do often, to see exactly how well they're doing. And a famous "man" recommended such a thing long ago....

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. will he not first sit down and estimate the cost [KJV "counteth the cost"] to see if he has enough money to complete it? - Luke 14:28

Jesus Christ is getting very practical here. The Lord was a carpenter by trade before going into full-time ministry (Mark 6:3), so He probably had first-hand knowledge of how this worked. It's only logical to want to make money from a business project.

For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, "This fellow began to build and was not able to finish." - Luke 14:29-30

We've had some projects away from poker over the years which began with good intentions and dreams, but collapsed in a hurry. When we saw the downward trend, we tried to minimize our losses and get out quickly. This approach is good in poker hands as well.

But Jesus doesn't stop there:

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. - Luke 14:33

Whoa - the Lord pushes His disciples all-in! Jesus wants "complete surrender," as one commentary puts it. Yes, that's a big commitment. But disciples in the Bible thought it was worth it:

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

Our financial losses in ten years of poker don't matter much to us, because we have a different motive for our tournaments. We do ministry and share the things of God. If you're losing a lot at the table, maybe God is showing you it's time to go "all-in" in a different direction - toward Him. If you need help with that, leave a comment and let us know.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

After 500: Before and After

Our tournament poker resume can be divided into two phases. We played for six years in the Southeast U.S., mostly in bars with "free" entries (buying a drink is only courteous). The last four years have been spent largely in Kansas, with more buy-ins than freerolls.

As we break down the numbers to mark 500 tournaments, here's what we found:

SOUTHEAST: 138 final tables in 402 games (34.3%) - 21 cashes.

MIDWEST: 45 final tables in 98 games (45.9%) - 15 cashes.

Wow - talk about a difference! But what made the difference? We think there are several explanations:

1) In the Southeast, we played every week (sometimes twice a week). Our style may have become familiar to the regulars.

2) Cashing in the Southeast was harder, since only the top two places (and sometimes only first) won a prize. Had the top ten percent been paid as casinos do it, tournaments with 30 or more entries might have increased our cash total - but probably not by a lot.

3) At least six of our tournaments in Kansas were one-table games on Sunday afternoons, when few people showed up at the poker room. Merely showing up meant a "final."

Even with all these factors, our success rate clearly has improved in Kansas. Perhaps it's because we're playing less often, so opponents don't know us as well. Or perhaps we've actually improved our skill level over the years.

Are you improving in your poker playing? Even more importantly, are you improving in your life? It's something we all should be doing....

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. - II Peter 3:18

Perhaps you've been scared away from accepting Jesus Christ because you fear you'll have to be perfect right away. If that's your thinking, we have good news for you. You don't have to be 100-percent flawless immediately. It's a growth process.

And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God. - Colossians 1:10

Fruit trees don't jump out with fruit in a day. Big poker stacks seldom get huge in one hand. In the same way, we become more like God by growing in our knowledge of Him. That comes through Bible study and good teaching from ministers. And this may surprise you....

During the days of Jesus' life on earth.... Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.... - Hebrews 5:7-9

Jesus was born as a baby, yet as the Son of God. He never sinned. Yet He had to learn obedience - and be "made perfect."

If you'd like to take a closer look at that concept, we wrote an article about it several years ago. In the meantime, we're thankful that our success rate has grown in recent years - and we hope you grow in the things which really matter.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

After 500: All About the Money?

June will mark ten years since we played in our first live poker tournament. We won for the first time in our 13th game, four months later - and took either first place or a "divided first" in four of our first 22.

In the wake of Sunday's 500th live tournament, we took a count of our winnings today. We keep accurate records for tax purposes, and found we've won $3,138 in money and gift certificates from live events. We're not counting money from cash games, which is quite small. And we're not counting the small pieces of candy thrown our way at Yvie's Bar and Grill.

Before we moved to Kansas, we played primarily in bars where the prizes were small - no more than $50 for first place. Thanks to two strong nights at a Florida poker room, the total winnings in the South were $906. But since coming to Kansas and regular poker room trips four years ago, the winnings have jumped to more than $2,200.

But to be honest, we've probably lost money overall in ten years at poker tables. While bar nights in Georgia might cost you no more than a two-dollar can of soda, big-time poker rooms have buy-ins of $30 or higher. We'll figure that actual cost when time permits.

So if making money is our ultimate goal, we've probably failed. But we remember what the Bible says about such things....
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. - Ecclesiastes 5:10
These words were written by arguably the wealthiest person in the world at his time. King Solomon of Israel had ridiculous luxuries; read I Kings 10 for a list of his possessions. But he came to realize something:
As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?.... Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. - Ecclesiastes 5:11, 15
An old stage play and movie put it correctly: You can't take it with you. What should you do instead?
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. - Matthew 6:20
It's better to prepare for eternity with God. We'll talk more about doing that as this commemorative series of posts continues.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Poker Day 500: The Greatest Race of Them All

Today was a milestone day for us - our 500th live poker tournament! We're only a few weeks away from the tenth anniversary of our first one. But today we gave ourselves a challenge - heading to Kansas Star Casino to play in the pricey $85 "deep stack" buy-in Sunday game. At times, amazing things happened....

BLINDS: 400/800


If we're this far along in the blinds, things must be going well - and after a slow start, they have. Q-8 gave us a breakthrough straight in the first period. Then we 2d-9d into a diamond flush in the second, to triple our stack. Now we have at least 30,000 chips, from a starting 10,000. When a man across the table raises to 2,500, we see these cards and decide to do the "smooth call." No one else is in.


We're definitely "hooked" on this! Our opponent checks for some reason instead of continuation betting. We're pleased to check along.


Now we have a full house, and we're wondering how patient our opponent is going to be. He bets 2,500. OK, fine; we'll call again.


Wow - we made quads! Now with two pair showing, how confident is our opponent?  Confident enough to bring out 3,000.

But now we pause. Under casino rules, since we have the superior hand and are last to act, we are required to raise. How much do we think our opponent will dare to go?

"I'm all in," we decide - and it's about 30,000.

Nope, that's too much; our opponent folds.

"You made a very wise decision," we say as we show our Jacks. We probably should have simply doubled there, to maximize our gains. But still, it's a big pot win.

Our stack reached 55,500 by the end of the second period, and a high in the third period of 74,000. This provided us time to wait through some poor cards, and pick up a couple of timely modest pots along the way. At the third break, we moved to the final table at 55,000!

But then the big drama came, as only seven players would win money on this 70-player day. We missed a flop with pocket 8's. Then with nine to go, we were dealt A-J. The biggest stack at the table raised pre-flop, and bet on the flop to put us all-in. We felt compelled to call.... and he had Q-Q. An Ace did not rescue us, and we finished in ninth place.

We missed the money by two, but left feeling somewhat satisfied. Our standard all along has been making final tables, and we did - doing it at one of the premier tournaments of the week in our city. The "500" was a good showing, and we thank God for it.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "First player to lie...." someone at the table muttered between hands. "All you Sunday morning go-to-church folks...."

We had to interrupt that. "I was in church yesterday," we told the man sitting nearby. That prompted another man at the table to start a guessing game.

"Seventh-Day Adventist?!"




"I don't know what's left," the man admitted. So we told him.

"The United Church of God," we explained. If you haven't heard of it, that's understandable. It's a small Sabbath-keeping denomination that broke away from a larger group in the mid-1990s. (That larger group now is also much smaller than it used to be.)

In fact, the day of worship was a main reason behind the split. The larger group moved away from decades of teaching about God's Sabbath....
By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. - Genesis 2:2-3
God "created" (for lack of a better word) a day of rest. Not that God needed one; He's God, after all. But He set an example for us to follow....

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.... - Deuteronomy 5:12-13

The Sabbath was included in God's Ten Commandments, every bit as much as the commands not to lie (the NIV has "give false testimony" in verse 20) or murder. And Jesus Christ never said anything about doing away with it. In fact....
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.... - Luke 4:16
Jesus went to the synagogue on Sabbath because He was Jewish (Luke 2:23, 33). Go into many  synagogues today and try talking about Jesus, and it might not end well for you. So early believers gathered in groups, which became known as "the church."

If you don't have a regular church to attend, we suggest giving UCG a try. Hopefully you'll find a group which puts Jesus first in all they do, and really tries to live by all Ten Commandments. It probably won't be a perfect group of people; we're all sinners, after all (Romans 3:23). But it might satisfy something deep within you - a desire to worship God.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 183 final tables in 500 games (36.6%) - 36 cashes. As time permits in coming days, we'll analyze those numbers to see whether or not we're really good at poker - and how much this effort has cost us.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Deals and Dads

People who have followed the World Poker Tour on TV probably know the top players travel a lot. Big prestigious tournaments can happen in places as diverse as Las Vegas, Monaco and Australia.

But one successful poker player admits he's probably going to slow down his schedule this year. Jason Mercier will take a break because his wife will have their first child in October. His plan is to play a lot until the World Series of Poker contests, then potentially shut things down for a few months.

"I would imagine I'll be training him from a young age," Mercier said in an interview. Trouble is, he was talking about teaching his son about "gambling and poker." It seems to us he should also teach other things....
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. - Ephesians 6:4

How can you "exasperate" a child? That big word can mean to "make very angry or irritated; tax the patience of; provoke...."

Whether they realize it or not, we fear some parents are doing that by spending too much time on their careers. Even Mercier admits in the interview, "You can't really be on the road seven or eight months our of the year for your entire life."
A greedy man brings trouble to his family.... - Proverbs 15:27
For instance, by pursuing big poker paydays non-stop and not paying attention to your spouse or children. (In Mercier's case, it may help that his wife plays poker as well.)
Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. - Colossians  3:21
Disclaimer: we write from the perspective of being single, with no children. We don't claim any parenting prowess. We're simply passing along the guidance that God's Word provides. But we think an unbalanced life can make children bitter and discouraged - feeling like their parents really don't care about them.

Balance in these things is good. We think the healthiest balance is to err on the side of being with your family too much. Take the necessary time for godly "training and instruction." That's the most satisfying win any poker player could have - even if it's at a kitchen table more than a poker table.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Redeeming Moment

A man at the poker table took a big loss. His stack of chips was quite low. But a few hands later, he went all-in and won. He more than doubled up.

"Redemption," he said with a sigh and a smile.

"Jesus Christ is my redemption," we said quietly in response.

We're not sure if anyone caught what we said. But do you catch it? What sort of redemption are we talking about?

"Redemption" is a big religious-sounding word. But it's an important word, that's all over the Bible in various forms....

Therefore, say to the Israelites: "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." - Exodus 6:6

The classic movie The Ten Commandments isn't 100-percent Biblical, but it told an ancient story of Israel coming out of Egypt. The nation was "redeemed" from slavery, with the goal of becoming servants of God. And yet the Bible also says....

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. - Psalm 130:7-8

Huh - redemption again? Yes, because this isn't from physical bondage. This is spiritual - about being redeemed from sin. And it's not only Israel that needs it:

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23-24

We all need to be redeemed from sin. If we aren't, we're doomed to eternal death (Hosea 13:14). But Jesus came to Earth to change all that....

When Jesus came.... he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. - Hebrews 9:11-12

If we might go deeper for a moment: we heard a preacher say recently that God the Father is "the redeemer", with Jesus the Son being "the redemption." And yet....

...Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. - Isaiah 60:16

Both "God" and Jesus Christ are described as "Savior" in the New Testament. So why can't they both be considered "Redeemer" as well? (Remember, Jesus was God who became flesh.)

Parsing of words aside, you can be redeemed from the death penalty through Jesus Christ. Will you accept Him, and take Him up on that great offer?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Biggest Loser

When you hear about big-name poker players, the news is usually impressive and positive. Player A made a final table. Player B walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But then there's Player C - and we offer Dan Cates as an example of that. He calls himself on Twitter "one of the most successful online poker players of all time." Yet he made a poker news website this week because of how much money he's lost - nearly $500,000 since the start of the year on PokerStars. (He clearly plays for money on that site; we only use play money, and don't even buy extra chips.)

Perhaps more surprisingly, Cates seemed to call attention to his own losing streak by writing on Twitter:

for someone who has played games all over the world and on many stakes, I have to say has the WORST games by FAR (toughest)

The fate of Cates is a reminder of why some people warn against playing poker. in the first place. When someone when money, especially in a cash game, someone has to lose money. But believe it or not, sometimes losing a lot can be a good thing:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7

The Biblical apostle Paul's resume didn't have poker tournaments on it. But for his day and his religious circle, it was impressive....

If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.... as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.... - Philippians 3:4-6

In other words, he was a Jew's Jew. But there's one item on the resume we left out: for zeal, persecuting the church... - Philippians 3:6

And that was the problem. Paul (originally called Saul) thought he knew what God was doing, and thought the new "church" movement after the resurrection of Jesus Christ couldn't possibly be it. But God proved him wrong by striking him down.

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." - Acts 9:5-6

Saul left that moment temporarily blind, and had to be led to Damascus. But once there, he was healed and began preaching Jesus "is the son of God" (Acts 9:18, 20). The success he had doing that led him to write later:

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 might gain Christ.... - Philippians 3:8

Maybe you're like Paul, or like poker's "Jungleman Dan.". You've lost a lot, at the table or in life. Maybe God is trying to tell you something. Ask Him in prayer to show you what that message is. Ask for His wisdom, which - pardon any offense - is far better than yours (I Corinthians 1:25). Serving God is the real path to victory, in this life and beyond.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poker Day 499: Good or Bad?

"As far as I'm concerned, they're all good." We borrowed a "Good Friday" line we heard years ago on an Atlanta radio station as we sat down to play poker at Kansas Star Casino. It was our first live poker tournament in about two months, due to a busy schedule. But three recent top-100 finishes in online events with more than 1,000 players gave us some hope....

BLINDS: 100/200


The game got off to a good start for us, as A-K allowed us to win a big pot with a pair of Kings over a couple of chasers. We were above 5,300 at that point. But then the cards went dry, and hopeful pairs hit bad flops.

We now come back from the first break with 3,400 chips. Sitting two seats from the button at a table of nine, we see these cards and raise to 600. The man in the dealer's seat calls. So does one of the blinds. Everyone else says no.


The man in the blind checks, so we can have a bit of fun. "I'm making a classic continuation bet," we say. It's 700.

"I'm all-in," the button man says in response.

The blind folds. Yet we don't feel very worried. We bluff-bet this opponent out of a hand to win a modest pot when we had the button two hands earlier. And this is a table where some people have been betting big with relatively little all day. So we quickly conclude this man hit Jack-something - maybe Jack-Ace. And we have him topped.

"I have to call," we say. After all, 1,300 of our 3,400 already is committed.

Then it happens. Our "dealer" turns over J-J! He hit the Jack-pot on the flop. "I need some help," we admit.


"A 10 would be good," we say hopefully. A straight would be quite an escape.


No escape. Only a trip to the rail, finishing 54th out of 89 players. Perhaps we were overconfident?!

MINISTRY MOMENT: Noting what day it was, we took our "Lord's Supper" card protector and showed it to a man who called himself a poker rookie. (He lasted longer than we did.)

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked him. He clearly did not expect that sort of question in a poker room.

"You mean Chris Ferguson?!" he answered, straining for some humor.

No.... not the poker champ who's been given the nickname "Jesus" because some people think he looks like the Savior (at least the way He's been depicted since the Renaissance). The real Jesus.

"I grew up in a town full of Catholics," the man admitted. In fact, we checked and found that small town of around 600 people was founded by a Catholic priest. But the man at the table said little more than that about our question.

Here's the good news for him, and even for you. You don't have to be Roman Catholic to be a Christian. In fact, the word "Catholic" isn't in the Bible at all. Here's a bit of how it really works....

Peter and the other apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men!.... We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." - Acts 5:29, 32

There's obedience involved in being a Christian - and some simply some nebulous "god."

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.... - John 14:15-17

These are words of Jesus Christ. While countless churches might give you differing set of rules about how to serve God, the real Jesus said you should obey what He commands. That means reading the Bible carefully, beginning with the four "gospels" which begin the New Testament. Among them....

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." - Mark 16:15

That's what we try to do in poker rooms. We start small, simply by bringing up Jesus and God the Father. Where it goes from there is up to God. Just as big things can happen in a poker tournament, we believe God can make big things happen in your life. Will you obey the real Jesus, to open the door for it?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 499 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. We're not sure yet when tournament #500 will happen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

High hand, or high-handed?

Today we reach a milestone - 1,500 posts on this blog! That's something to celebrate, much like winning a big poker tournament.

If you want to win the tournament, you'll probably need to have the highest hand most of the time. If you win a pot with a royal flush, that's the highest hand of all.

But there's another kind of "high hand" that we're thinking about right now - and so are observing Christians and Jews. It's this one....

And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the 15th day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. - Numbers 33:3 (KJV)

It's easy to crack poker jokes about what this "high hand" might have been. A full house? Nope; the Israelites left their homes empty. A straight? Well, maybe - but they wandered around to get to the Red Sea.

But to be serious, we're in a season picturing the time when Israel was allowed to leave Egypt and head for the promised land. Other Bible translations say they went out "with boldness" or "defiantly." The English Standard Version says "triumphantly" - but the victory was only partially their doing.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. - Exodus  12:13

These were instructions from God. The Israelites did their part, marking homes with blood from sacrificed animals. Then God did His - striking dead the firstborn of all Egypt, and causing such anguish that the Egyptians were happy to get rid of a people which had been slaves.

Yet in our time, a third definition of "high hand" has developed. "Arrogant or arbitrary in manner" is how our hardbound dictionary defined someone who is "high-handed." That is something God does not want to see - even if you have a high hand at the table:

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the forward mouth, do I hate. - Proverbs 8:13 (KJV)

Arrogance is linked here to pride. God wants your attitude to be exactly the opposite, when you play poker and live your life....

But he gives us more grace. This is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - James 4:6

Some believers go so far as to eat unleavened bread (such as matzo or crackers) for seven days - what some call the "bread of humility."

So we're really celebrating a seven-day Biblical feast, more than we are 1,500 blog posts. But we're trying to do so with the right kind of "high hand" - thankful for God providing triumphs in our lives, from poker pots to victory over stubborn sins. We humbly thank all of you who take time to read these posts, and invite you to comment on where you're reading and what we can do better.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

King-Queen Winners?

Can someone play poker and have a happy marriage at the same time? Some of the stories that make the news can make you wonder.

The latest comes from New York, where poker pro Beth Shak has filed for divorce. She's been married to cable TV news reporter Rick Leventhal only ten months. But an attorney says "irreconcilable differences" have developed.

We're struck by what Shak said about meeting Leventhal:

"I’ve never been lucky in love, but meeting in him proved that my luck has changed...."

Disclaimer: We've never been married, so we won't pretend to be experts at this. But we'll go to a great guidebook on the topic, and ask: is love a matter of "luck" - or something more?

He who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord. - Proverbs 18:22 (NLT)

Both Shak and Leventhal will be ending their second marriages. Assuming "she who finds a husband" also receives favor from God, both of them found it twice. But we think finding it is one thing, while maintaining it is something else....

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.... - Ephesians 5:25

We don't know what sort of "differences" Leventhal and Shak have. But this verse says love is about giving - in this case, a husband going "all in" for his wife. How far did God and Jesus Christ go with that?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

It's about going all in, even if the other party is sinning and doesn't deserve a thing. At a human level, that can take a lot of work and resolve - but that's what God's love is, and that's the example we're supposed to follow.

(In a few days, some Christians will recall that giving sacrifice by taking part in "Lord's Supper" services. Some call them Passover or communion services. This article may help you understand that better.)

Giving isn't something players at a poker table are supposed to do. Tournaments are won by collecting the most chips. But to show love in a marriage, somebody's got to give. It's even better if both do. May all married couples learn to do that - even to have a "love Shak."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Quiet Time?

They're holding the U.S. Chess Championships in St. Louis right now. People who have played the game know it is not a place for cheerleaders and marching bands. Some legendary players have been known to demand absolute silence in the room, so they can think through their moves.

Should poker be the same way? Some people think so - even online. Consider this exchange from our last National League of Poker tournament, where we took on a player with a dog picture for his avatar:

Dealer:  boatbrat wins Main Pot ($1,040) with Straight, ten to ace
Me:  Very good - couldn't run you off
boatbrat:   blah blah blah
Me:  Happy National Puppy Day, by the way.
Dealer:  Emma168 wins Main Pot ($975)
boatbrat:  gsus u tak too *** much
boatbrat:  tak
Me:  :-(

Some folks are talkative at poker tables. Some clearly are not. But for us to do one of our main purposes, we feel we have to chat at least a little. Here's why...

Therefore go and make disciples in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus told His disciples to go make more disciples. There are many ways to do this. You could stand silently outside a poker room or train station handing out tracts. Or you can talk about the things of God as you go through your game or your day.

We prefer to chat as the opportunity presents itself, because we've found from decades of experience that merely setting a silent example is not enough. Many people won't get that.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? - Romans 10:14

As we mentioned in a recent post, we realize there are proper times to be quiet in a poker room. That's true in all walks of life, of course....

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

But when it's time to speak, whether about the game or your beliefs, you shouldn't be afraid to do it. To borrow from our last post:

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 16:20

May your words at the poker table be timely, proper and uplifting. Not necessarily "preachy." Set an example that properly reflects.... well, let's correct that misspelling by "Boatbrat." May it properly reflect Jesus Christ.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Losing the Lead

We've suspected it for a year or two in our part of the U.S. And now a national news report seemingly has confirmed it - poker is losing chips, in terms of interest.

When Las Vegas casinos are shutting down their poker rooms, you know the game is in a decline. The number of tables across Nevada has dropped by more than 25 percent in the last ten years, and the casino income from poker has dropped 30 percent - even years after the "Black Friday" crackdown on online games.

Translation: the game is in a slump. It's very unlikely to drop to "push or die" status, but the adrenaline rush of new players isn't what it used to be. So what can be done to turn things around?

As strange as it sounds, maybe poker players and casinos should learn a lesson in promotion from the Bible - even from Jesus Christ:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. - Matthew 28:19

Jesus said this to His disciples (verse 16). But like a crafty poker player waiting to make a move with big cards, they waited to act until the right moment. That's because Jesus also said...

On one occasion, as he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about." - Acts 1:4

Jesus promised "power from on high" was coming (Luke 24:49) - and days after He returned to heaven, it came in the form of the Holy Spirit which inspired dynamic messages.

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. - Acts 2:41

With that sort of a jumpstart....

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word by the signs that accompanied it. - Mark 16:20

In the church world, this movement is called evangelism. As a radio series we've been hearing puts it, you "tell someone" about the gospel and Jesus. People have been following Jesus's command and doing that for nearly 2,000 years.

But to be honest, even that effort has had peaks and valleys. Some say the Christian church is in its own slump right now, in terms of dedicated members. We think interest can come back, if believers are willing to spread their message - perhaps even in new and creative ways.

If that can happen in a church, why not in the poker world? When was the last time you told someone new that you play poker - and even told them where and how they can take part in a tournament? (We're talking legal games here, not the other kind.)

"Word of mouth" worked with the gospel message long before Texas Hold 'em became popular. It can still work, if you wait for the right moment and make a powerful action when it comes.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Put Your Hands Together

We've been so busy with other tasks that we hadn't played any poker in a month. But we had time to enter a National League of Poker tournament Thursday night. It turned out very well - 23rd place out of 1,190 entries! (Of course, only the top five earned money.)

Late in the evening, the chat went this way when two players split a big pot:

Dealer:  sloso splits Main Pot ($3,273) with Full house, aces full of deuces
Dealer:  hornytoad splits Main Pot ($3,273) with Full house, aces full of deuces
Me:  (church clap)
hornytoad:  Is that a socil disease you catch in church?
Me:  No.
Me:  :-O
Mr_BarnYard:  really
Me:  Polite applause for something
Mr_BarnYard:  church clap all day
Me:  I'll be in church this weeekend, though.
hornytoad:  OK dont need a shot for that*** lol

People who attend certain churches should know what we mean by "church clap." It's applause that agrees with a speaker's point or some member's success - but not as wild as the celebration for winning a ballgame.

With some poker players as well as some churches, even polite applause is discouraged. We personally think that's a shame, and here's why....

Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. - Psalm 47:1-2  (NLT)

In this psalm, noise-making is encouraged - as long as the focus of the noise is on God.

You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! - Isaiah 55:12 (NLT)

We mention this verse whenever someone suggests noise-making in a church service is a bad idea. If trees can "clap their hands" - and they don't have hands - why can't I?

But we realize there should be a balance here. There's a time to be quiet at a poker table - especially if a player asks for it, so he can think about a big decision. The same is true for worshipping God....

But the Lord is in his holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before him. - Habakkuk 2:20 (NLT)

Some poker players and church groups go to one extreme or the other - either overly silent or excessively noisy. We suggest praying for God to provide the wisdom to know when to react in either direction, so you don't cause offense.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others.... - James 3:17 (NLT)

Have fun at the table, and even at the church you attend. (Yes, we recommend that.) And don't be afraid to make some noise - as long as you keep things under control.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Luck or Something Like It III

We've been going over an article our church pastor wrote several years ago about whether you should really give "luck" any credit for things going well or badly - in poker or anywhere else.

In our first post on this topic, we noted God provides "blessings" as opposed to luck. Now for a third time, we point to this part of the pastor's article:

When blessings come upon an individual, they typically are linked to physical and/or spiritual obedience and good works. God plainly tells us that blessings are a result of our actions.

But here's a problem with that statement. God not only provides blessings to whomever He pleases - He expects you to provide blessings, too. Here's proof:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. - Romans 12:14

How often do you see that in a poker room? Especially in some tense cash game?

It's easy to trash-talk your opponent when he hits a two-out river card to win a big pot or stay alive in a tournament. Yet the proper approach in God's sight is the approach that isn't natural. It means biting your tongue, if that's what it takes.
But I tell you, Do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool.... - Matthew 5:34-35

Swearing and foul language can happen often at a poker table. God wants your response to borrow from a recent hit country song - be "humble and kind." (Which strangely comes from an album with an old-school "four-letter word" in its title.)
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... - Matthew 5:43-44

Jesus Christ offered this advice. Then He lived it....
When they hurled their threats at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. - I Peter 2:23

Can you do that - not only keeping quiet and calm during a poker tournament, but even offering blessings to opponents along the way? It might not be easy. But with the help of God's Holy Spirit, it can be done.

So we close by borrowing from a late preacher whose voice is still heard on radio. Instead of counting on something lucky to happen, "walk with the King today.... and be a blessing."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Luck, or Something Like It II

We're considering whether your success (or lack of it) in a poker room is the result of "luck." Recalling this segment from a article our Pastor wrote for a national religious publication five years ago....

When blessings come upon an individual, they typically are linked to physical and/or spiritual obedience and good works. God plainly tells us that blessings are a result of our actions.

Clearly smart and careful play can be "actions" which lead to a big stack of chips. But let's face it - there are times when other players simply give their chips away. They go "on tilt," go all in pre-flop and walk right into your pocket Aces.

Our point is that gifts are blessings, too - and God gives even better gifts:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

We mentioned in our last post God sometimes gives blessings to everyone in an area. Salvation is a gift God wants to provide. The question is whether you'll accept it - or think something's fishy about it, and fold.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23

Never dying? Now that's quite a gift! Yet the Bible also shows God doesn't really hand out that blessing to everyone right now....

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts  2:38

Here's another "gift" - but in this case, as the Pastor wrote, it's "a result of our actions." And in this case, folding can be a good thing. We need to....

....Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. - Ezekiel 18:30b

Turn to God, to live a life free of offenses and sins. That action can indeed lead to blessings from Him - and luck truly will have nothing to do with them. We'll have one more thought from this article in a future post.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Luck, or Something Like it?

It's Friday, which will mean another poker tournament at the casino south of our town. We wonder if the crowd will be larger than usual, because of what day of the year it is.

Long before there was a band named "Green Day," there was St. Patrick's Day - when people (if you believe the stereotypes) are expected to wear green, drink green beer, eat corned beef and dance jigs. Some people have even associated the day with "good luck."

We found an article online five years ago that challenged that thinking - and went farther, to challenge the whole idea of "luck." We revisited that article this week at the suggestion of the author. That author now happens to be our church Pastor. Based on his reasoning....

Even giving credit to luck casually in our speech is a slight to God, who is the true source of all blessings.

This is why when others say, "Good luck, all in" during a poker tournament, we don't. And the reasoning about blessings goes back a long way....
The Lord had said to Abram.... "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." - Genesis 12:1-2
God was (and is) the original blesser. But there's a problem here, because our Pastor's article also says:

When blessings come upon an individual, they typically are linked to physical and/or spiritual obedience and good works. God plainly tells us that blessings are a result of our actions.

We can say Abram (eventually renamed Abraham) was blessed for doing what God told him to do (Genesis 12:1, 4). But what did Abram do to be selected by God in the first place? Even that was a blessing from God - but the Bible doesn't provide any explanation.

Perhaps that moment was a-typical. But there's also this reminder:
....He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteousness. - Matthew 5:45

Whether you want a sunny day or need rain to end a drought, God sometimes blesses everybody - whether you're a believer or not. So if an atheist hits the poker jackpot, Christians really don't need to scratch their heads and wonder why. It could be that God has a bigger lesson to teach them.

We'll get back to this in a future post. But for now, we plan to skip the Friday casino tournament this week - not because of what the world calls the day, but because we're too busy to play right now. We hope you're not too busy to go over that article from 2012, and offer comments with your thoughts about it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Marathon Man

It takes some dedication, we suppose, to be a professional poker player. After all, there's no guarantee of a steady income unless you have a sponsor.

But then there's a man in Poland who calls himself "Stafu" online. During February, he went far beyond playing poker every day. He played 500,000 total hands! Considering February is a 28-day month, that's nearly 18,000 hands a day!

Stafu explained he played about ten hours a day, in three "shorter sessions." He even made a video as he did it. And for all that effort in "micro-stakes poker" (which sounds like a polite way of saying penny-ante), Stafu won $1,025 - earning $300 from one poker game (the rest came in sidebets).

Sound impressive? Well, consider this. If Stafu had worked all those hours at a minimum-wage job in the U.S. (figuring time-and-a-half for overtime beyond 40 hours a week), he would have earned $2,465 during February. In other words, he would have made more money flipping burgers at a fast-food restaurant.

We see several "carryout" lessons here. For one thing, poker's not a game where everyone can make a lot of money. For another thing, there are times when taking a break from online poker is good. For instance....
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you.... For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord.... - Exodus 31:14-15

Resting your mind and body is good. Rest that's "holy to the Lord" is even better, because it reminds us that some things are bigger than our jobs and our pastimes.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day.... and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please by speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land.... - Isaiah 58:13-14

An old phrase says, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". We think 280 hours of poker "playing" at some point turns into work. But God wants you to take time out every week on His Sabbath. Do what pleases God, and He may reward you with joy and success like you never expected.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

AI v. A-J

Long before people played poker against each other on computers, people were playing against.... well, computers.

We did it in college (or perhaps it was some other card game) against a primitive 64k computer like a Commodore. We've also done it in recent years at a casino in Kansas City - where a computerized Texas Hold 'em game was programmed so well that it cost us some money.

Now researchers in Canada and the Czech Republic say they've developed the "DeepStack" program - artificial intelligence that can beat the best in a heads-up no-limit poker game. In fact, it won most of the time against 11 poker pros over a total of 12,000 games.

Developers say the program succeeds by "learning" from past games to figure out "intuition" for playing future hands. In other words, DeepStack seems to learn from its mistakes.... very well. How good are you at doing that? Not simply at the poker table, but in other aspects of your life?

If you make the same mistake several times in poker, it could be due to bad reads or a lack of good thinking. If you do it in your everyday actions, you may have a bad habit that needs breaking.

As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. - Proverbs 26:11

Tough words - but Biblical words. It's far better to change your thinking and not make the same mistake twice. If you need help with that, may we make an unusual suggestion?

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. - James 1:5

God wants you to be wise, not foolish. And beyond that, He wants you to ask for His wisdom....

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. - I Corinthians 1:25

You can grow in that wisdom by consulting God's book of wisdom on a regular basis. It can lead to the greatest victory of all....

...From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. - II Timothy 3:15

We're not guaranteeing you'll beat DeepStack. But if you learn from your mistakes and grow in knowledge of how to play the game - in poker or otherwise - you could wind up with a "deep stack" of blessings.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Games Back On?

Did you hear about the recent charity poker tournament in Wichita?

If you didn't, that may have been by design. When we spent a Monday night at Yvie's a couple of weeks ago, the Tournament Director referred to an approaching weekend charity event with a buy-in.
We didn't ask about it further, to avoid the appearance of prying. But we thought that sort of thing had been stopped by the local police a year ago.

On top of that, the old Arrowhead Poker has reopened as a private club. Its Facebook page says:

Winners Game Room is a private social club where patrons can enjoy a variety of games, billiards, and entertainment in an alcohol-free setting. Memberships are $10 per day. You can also buy a 20-visit pass for just $100.

A video clip posted by the owner in February indicates the "games" include poker. It didn't show any billiard tables.

So what happened here? Is a private club format legal, while the old "chair rental" approach was not? We admittedly don't know the law on such things. But we found what the Bible may say about it - and in rather grotesque terms:
As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. - Proverbs 26:11
In other words, some habits can be hard to break. People who want to get drunk or smoke marijuana will find ways to feed their "needs." Some poker players can be the same way - except poker players have other options. They can go to a casino for tournaments and cash games. They can play online for free. Why do something that risks getting in trouble with the law all over again?

Rather than return to questionable practices, the Bible recommends a different "rate of return"....
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! - Hosea  14:1
You may have wandered away from God and not even realized it. Maybe not by playing poker, but by doing other things that violate His laws.
The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Return to me," declares the Lord Almighty, "and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty. - Zechariah 1:2-3
Making that return isn't always easy. It can mean admitting you're wrong, and asking God for mercy. But the good news is....
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9
That process starts by examining yourself and your life carefully. Are there areas where you've wandered off God's course? It's something we're personally doing right now, so you can do it as well. It could be the best move you've ever made - well, this side of going all-in with pocket Aces.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting the Message

We had a good discussion about matters of faith at a recent poker tournament. One topic involved the Holy Spirit. A man admitted he's sometimes not sure if the Spirit is speaking to him, or something else.

We've written before about waiting for the Spirit's guidance when we play. But as at least one preacher has put it, how do you know it's the Spirit talking and not last night's dinner? Let's see what Jesus said about that....

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. - John 14:26

We think the "remind" part means the Holy Spirit's messages are verifiable. They should at least replicate what Jesus said. The Lord continues:

But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.... - John 16:13

Jesus called Himself "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), and also referred to the Scriptures as the "Word of truth" (John 17:17).

..He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. - John 16:13b

So there may be a message about what is ahead. But any tip from the Holy Spirit should be based on what God the Father and Jesus the Son already have revealed.

But maybe we've forgotten a key point here. Just as you can't play in a poker tournament without chips, you can't understand spiritual things without the Holy Spirit being present in you. What can you do so "the Spirit of truth comes" in the first place?

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of the you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." - Acts  2:38

It all starts with repentance - admitting your ways are wrong, seeking God's forgiveness for them and turning to walk in a holy way. Some people will talk about doing this, with the "Lenten season" beginning tomorrow. But you can do it right now, without any human-set partying deadlines.

Turn your life over to God, to start hearing clearly from Him. You may not be told how to play pocket Kings, but the overall quality of your life is bound to improve.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Biggest Blind II

In a recent post, we talked the "blinds" of poker - and how there's a bigger blind over a lot of people. Satan has blinded them to the truth about God and His plan for their lives.

Yet as we think about this, Satan the devil may not be the only "one" blinding you. Believe it or not, the Bible says....

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

This verse is taken largely from Isaiah 6:10 - where the words are attributed to "the voice of the Lord" (Isaiah 6:8). The "He" is not Satan. It's God! Does this sound strange?

Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?... - Isaiah 63:17

The prophet claimed God makes people wander away from Him! Yet the Bible also says....

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

So God wants everyone saved - and yet he puts the "big blind" on the understanding of some?! As weird as it sounds... yes. Why would He do that? Here's one Biblical explanation:

I do not want yo 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

We've been on a waiting list at several poker tournaments lately. We can't play right away, but get into the game when an opening occurs. We think God is working in somewhat the same way. He's only focusing on a certain group of people now. The rest will have their opportunity for salvation later - perhaps not until the main resurrection of the dead, described in Revelation 20.

So if the Biblical things we write about here are baffling to you, that may be OK. But if some of the things of God are starting to make sense, it may not be. We suggest not taking any chances. Ask God in prayer to bring you out of the "big blind," wherever it came from. The ultimate reward is worth it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poker Night 498: Expecting the Unexpected

One phone call truly can change everything. A call we received Monday morning changed our work schedule so much that we spotted an opportunity to play Monday night "free" poker (we paid for a soda) at Yvie's Bar and Grill. We hadn't been there since mid-August. Could God have opened this window to keep alive our chances of making 37-percent final tables at 500 games? We went in faith to find out....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-5 offsuit

We folded the first two hands, then got moved to a fourth outer table away from the main room. We won the draw for dealer with a Queen, and now have dealt ourselves these opening cards. We call, and the entire table of six jumps in.

ON THE FLOP: 6h-7h-4d

Maybe we know how to deal cards after all. We have an open-ended straight draw. A young man to our right bets 600. We call, as does an older man to our left.


Yes sir - that's the jack.... well, wait a second. We've made a straight, all right. But three hearts are showing (we don't have any), and the man to our left wants to bet 1,600. The man to our right wants to call him!

We feel like there's something on the order of two pair to our left, and he's trying to chase people off - while the player to our right may have hit the same straight we have. So we call, thinking a split is coming.


Did that discourage flush-seeking "river rats" away? Not at all. The man to our left tosses out 1,600 more. The man to our right calls. Suddenly we have bad feelings about this - but we've committed so much to the pot, we feel forced to call.

"Do you have a 5?" we ask the man to the left as we show our straight.

"I've got a flush," he answers. Ouch - Q-10 of hearts! Our jackpot card was his as well. The man to the right doesn't even bother showing what he had. We both take a big loss.

It was that sort of night for us.... not a very good one. We won one pot with three 5's, but other attempts to succeed fell flat, such as Q-Q falling to a straight on the river. We finally had to push with A-4, but missed another straight draw. Our "500-game blessing" theory was dead wrong, as we were the first out at our table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: The main poker-playing area at Yvie's is crowded, with three round tables of eight players. The woman who sat down to our left made sure we didn't encroach. "This is my space," she said jokingly.

"Narrow is the way," we responded. "The way that leads to life. I read that in a book once."

The reference seems to go over the woman's head. But regular readers know at least which book we mean....

Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it. - Matthew 7:14 (KJV)

Have you met religious people who come across as "narrow-minded?" They could be acting on these words - and they're the words of Jesus Christ.

Many people think one of Jesus's missions was to put strict-thinking Pharisees in their place. Indeed, He did that. But He also introduced his own narrow path to follow....

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

This is what set Christianity apart from other world religions. You can't have Christianity without "Christ". You also cannot have something else without Him:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12

If you're seeking salvation and a life beyond this one, that's good. But if you think you can achieve that by ignoring "Jesus Christ of Nazareth" (verse 10), the Bible says you're off-target. If you're willing to follow the narrow path that leads to Jesus and eternal life, leave a comment and we'll be happy to help you on that road.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 498 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. Even if we make the next two final tables, our percentage will only climb to 36.8%.