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.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Poker Day 506: Push to Talk

On a day set aside to "pray for Texas," we went to a casino and played Texas Hold 'em. Yes, we prayed first for the people affected by the hurricane. In fact, we put a little Texas lapel pin on our hat - perhaps too small, because no one mentioned it. But would our Sunday tournament have sunshine or clouds?

BLINDS: 75/150


We were originally the 14th alternate on the casino list, even though we arrived 25 minutes early. Thankfully, the top ten were placed in a separate table. Then we sat down about 35 minutes into the tournament.

Some nibbles have failed, mainly due to a man with a huge stack at our immediate left who is raising early and often. We now sit two seats off the button with great cards. We smell a chance to gain, so we check to wait for raisers. Sadly, there are none; about four players are in.


Jackpot! we say to ourselves. It's a "rainbow" flop of three different suits. We hit the top straight, so let's sit back and wait. A man across the table moves first, trying a pre-emptive 675. Fine, we'll call. Then Mr. Big Bettor to our left goes over the top, raising to 4,500. Other players fold.

"He wants me to go all-in," we say - recalling his pushes of minutes before. "So I will." And Mr. Big Bettor insta-calls!

"Did you hit a straight?" we ask him.

"Did you?"

"I'm asking you."

He turns over.... Q-10! That's bottom two pair.

"Because I did hit a straight." We show our cards, and he mutters about his fate. Then he roots for a Queen, to hit a full house.


We actually pair. As if that matters.


We couldn't have dreamed it any better: a big hand, and a big bettor walking right into it. Our push of 8,775 turns into 19,200 chips!

We were quiet from there, taking 19,050 to the first break. But then, attempts to gain ground failed over and over.  We won one pot, only to give back most of it in the very next hand. We staggered to the second break at only 5,700.

A rally started to come in the third term - first when we pushed with A-9 and everyone folded. Another A-9 with diamonds took out a player when we hit a flush. But not enough big cards came - so we finally pushed a third time with A-9. This time, two players had A-K. No one paired the board, so they split our last 5,500 chips. It wasn't a bad day - 21st place out of 84 players. But we left dreaming of what might have been.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Your turn," the man to our left said later when we played a hand he folded pre-flop. Trouble was, our cards missed and we had to fold on the turn. Then he chided us for not pressing on.

"I had hope," we explained to him. Then we quoted part of a Bible verse, whether he realized it or not:

...Hope that is seen is not hope.... - Romans 8:24 (KJV)

We don't think he understood that - but do you understand it?  It's different from that other hand, where we hit the straight on the flop. We don't need to "hope" we hit it. We can see the board and see our cards, and know we did.

Look at the entire verse to understand this better:

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is not seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? - Romans 8:24 (NIV)

Paul is writing here about salvation. Note this version has it in past tense - "we were saved." The King James Version has it in present tense: "we are saved." And the Moffatt paraphrase puts it, "We were saved with this hope ahead." This indicates both a past and a future aspect.

So what are believers hoping for, and has it arrived yet? Read all of Romans 8 if you'd like for a head start, and we'll get back to this in another post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 506 games (36.4%) - 37 cashes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Why Factor

Make a smart read in a poker room, and some people might consider you a genius. Make a bad move that costs you all your chips, and a simple question may come up. Why did you do that?

Why do some players take an aggressive approach to hands? Why do others lay back and wait for the big moment?

An article posted this week gets into the psychology of poker, and what motivates people to do what they do. The author puts it in terms of winning vs. losing - that some hot players are more likely to quit while they're ahead, while losing players want to recoup at least some of their losses.

Perhaps your decisions in poker are more muddled than that. But outside the table, our motivation ultimately matters....

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. - Proverbs 16:2

Or to put it another way, all of our whys seem innocent. At the moment of decision, we may think our decision and logic are wise. But time ultimately shows whether or not we're right. And deep down, God often knows the "why" of our actions better than we do. As one prayer put it:

...Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men).... - II Chronicles 6:30

Does our motivation behind our actions really matter? The Bible indicates ultimately, it will....

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. - I Corinthians 4:5

This speaks of a coming judgment of all humans by Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:11-15). So what should our proper motive be? Ponder your answer, and leave a comment if you wish. We'll get to that in a future post.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Mind Games

We wrote in a recent post about the risk of being a hypocrite. You can do it in many ways. You might play poker privately online, while railing against those who play in public. Or you might be discourteous at the table in one way, while complaining about those are do it in a different way.

An apostle in the Bible realized he could be guilty of that very thing - and perhaps at times felt he actually was. At one point he wrote:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. - Romans 7:21

They're competing thoughts, battling for the same brain.
...But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. - Romans 7:23

Knowing what to do, versus actually doing it. Does that describe you? Truth be told, it describes many of us - and the "law of sin" leads to death (Romans 6:23). But Paul found a solution to that dilemma....
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. - Romans 8:1-2

God provided the solution through His Son, who became a "sin offering" for us (verse 3).
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.... - Romans 8:9

You can have the Holy Spirit of God by repenting of your sins and being baptized (Acts 2:38). The mind games you face at poker tables might not disappear completely. But if you're walking with God and studying His Word, they should become easier to handle.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On Auto-Pilot

Some casinos now have "digital" blackjack (for lack of better wording) - where the table, cards and good-looking dealer appear on giant TV screens. In a world with computer-driven poker websites, perhaps you can guess where live poker might go next....

Jackpot Digital of Canada has developed "poker tables with virtual cards." Players sit around it to take part in hands, but there's no human dealer present. The "cards" and "chips" are moved around by computer. And if you fold a hand before the flop, your part of the table might bring up other games to play.

For people used to online poker, this probably is a great idea. They could get out of the house for a day of action without leaving their "comfort zone" of experience. The chances for rule violations and misdeals go way down - not to mention the fact that cards can't be marked.

But for others, we can see why this approach seems quite impersonal. For them, part of the poker experience is having camaraderie with dealers. And if hands are disputed, they tend to trust human dealers more than impersonal machines where a "fix" might be in.

Yet in reality, both cases have "human" elements. Someone has to program the virtual table to do what it does, whether it's right or wrong. So in both cases, an old phrase can be true....

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

Now hold on here - sin?!?! Why bring that word up in this?

Because in the original Greek of the New Testament, a "sin" can mean making an error - to "miss the mark." And let's be honest: we all make mistakes. Human dealers can fumble and expose a card too soon. Human players can play out of turn, make bad raises - and even spill their drinks on a felt table.

So mistakes and sins still will happen, whether a dealer at the table or a computer under your feet runs the game or not. Our job is to avoid those sins - and that's not easy. But the Bible offers hope along that line:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. - I John 3:9

Is this for real? Can someone actually stop making mistakes? Some Christian ministers might turn this verse that way, but we think that sets an impossibly high standard for believers. After all....

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. - I John 1:8

The notes of the NLT Study Bible explain it this way: "This does not mean that we live perfect lives.... but that we keep ourselves in a good relationship with God." Another study Bible calls it "a life that is not characterized by sin."

To some extent, poker always will be an "imperfect" game. Poor timing with cards can turn pocket Aces into bad-beat losers to a royal flush. But if we're "born of God" and develop a proper humble relationship with Him, sins and mistakes of a larger nature should go down. Search for the phrase "born again" in this blog for a better understanding of what that's about.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Remember As You Play....

The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. - Ecclesiastes 4:5
No one's ever won a poker tournament by folding every hand. In fact, the rules might require you to play once in a while - when the Big Blind comes and no one raises. The only way to make a gain is to make a bet. The key, of course, is knowing when to do it.

But in this case, "folding your hands" means something a bit different - not doing any work. You'll "starve to death," warns the Contemporary English Version. Yet note the verses around it....
And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor.... There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless - a miserable business! - Ecclesiastes 4:4, 8

This gets to a core question - why you do what you do. Do you play poker simply to get even with a big-money opponent? Do you grind in cash games for hours or days, because you have nothing else to do with your time?

The key, it seems, is to have a mind focused in the right direction:
Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. - Ecclesiastes 4:6

How do you get this tranquil mind? We don't think it comes from within.
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.... - Romans 8:6

The Holy Spirit can give your life real peace - the ultimate peace of knowing what will happen after this "tournament" of life is over. It comes by repenting of your sins and accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior (Acts 2:38). Is it time for you to "fold" to something better?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In the Presence of a Princess

We don't watch poker movies - to be honest, we scarcely watch any movies - but word came today that another one is on the way.

The trailer was released for Molly's Game, the story of an Olympic skier who becomes a "poker princess." She develops a private poker game with a star-studded clientele of players. The first reviews indicate it's a true story. And the back story is a bit lurid - with one Hollywood star reportedly offering her $1,000 to "bark like a seal."

Would you ask someone from a real royal family to do something like that? Somehow, we doubt it. But what if we said you're walking in front of royalty all the time - every day?
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. - Psalm 47:7

Ace may be the high card in poker, but God is the highest King of all. And He's paying attention to all of us, whether you want Him to do it or not.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.... - Psalm 33:13-14

An old song said, "God is watching us from a distance." But it won't be that way forever - because God plans to send a King named Jesus who will get close. Too close for comfort, some might say....
"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud the laborers of their wage, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the Lord Almighty. - Malachi 3:5

If those traits describe you - perhaps committing "perjury" with your poker hand, or something worse - it's time to "fear God." Here's how you do it, for starters....
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.- Ecclesiastes 12:13

And so we'll conclude our own matter here. Obey God. He's watching. He's planning to testify against your sins. And living as if you're in front of royalty can be a noble thing to do.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poker Day 505: Missed-8-ment

"I'm here for the food," we told several people over the weekend. We drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma to claim "free birthday burger" offers from restaurants that are not in our home area. Before heading to Ruby Tuesday for a Sunday burger dinner, we stopped at a casino to see if we could win money to cover the trip.

Two Tulsa casinos compete against each other for poker players quite a bit. In fact, both have Sunday morning tournaments. River Spirit's "Sunrise Showdown" at 9:30 a.m. costs more, at $60 including "dealer appreciation." But that meant it offered the biggest reward - and since we won money there last year, we hoped to succeed there again.

BLINDS: 300/600


It's been a stormy Sunday for us - with fairly big losses, but also fairly big gains. In the second hour of play, a Jack of diamonds led to a big flush win. Now with two tables left, we have good starting cards at a table of seven and about 10,000 chips. We're relatively late in the order, but we decide to call and see if others raise. They don't. About half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: 6-6-8

Small cards look good to us. But as we recall, a man across the table mishandles his chips a bit - putting one in, then announcing a bet of 1,700. The dealer makes him take back all but the minimum 600.

"I know what he meant to do," we say a bit tongue-in-cheek, "so I'll bet 1,700." That man calls; everyone else is out.


This still looks good - and now our opponent checks to us. We bet 1,700 again.

"Raise," he says - and doubles the bet to 3,400. We consider what he wanted to do on the flop, and conclude he has an 8. Therefore, our second pair tops his - and we call accordingly.


We've seen enough to win, right? Well, not so fast. Our opponent now puts out 4,000. We're still not convinced, and think he's trying to scare us away. Besides, if he happens to have a 10, we're still better.

"I only have 600 more to go all-in," we say - and we do. A shove earlier in the hour brought a good read that our A-10 was better than an opponent. He had A-5, but we wound up splitting the pot.

The opponent calls without hesitation. "I have a 6," he says - and proves it. Ouch!! This time our read was all wrong - and we wind up leaving the room in 15th place, out of 34 players.

We should have realized a couple of things here. We got burned by a hidden three of a kind early in the tournament (a Big Blind 3-10, that turned into a full house for a woman). And we should have been more careful, saving our last 600. At least that would have kept us in the game for a few more hands. One too many bad decisions cost us dearly.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We're not sure what topic they were discussing, but one poker room staff member said to another before the tournament, "You're preaching to the choir."

To which we responded: "Sometimes the choir needs to be preached to."

Our apologies for the bad grammar. But we've sung in a few church choirs over the years - and while we realize the woman's phrase is a common cliché, choirs are not filled with perfect people. In fact, neither is the community of preachers. A New Testament writer seemed to realize this well....
...You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?... You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? - Romans 2:21, 23
Paul wrote these words to Jews who considered themselves morally superior (verses 17-18) - but we all have to be careful. Nothing says "hypocrite" more than someone accusing others of doing the very "wrong" that they do. How did Paul know that so well?
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. - I Timothy 1:15
Paul undoubtedly recalled his track record of persecuting believers in Jesus. But Jesus intervened in his life by striking him down on a trip to Damascus (Acts 9:1-16). Paul turned into a believer - but even believing ministers like him can face battles with sin. We'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD:  183 final tables in 505 games (36.4%) - 37 cashes. Our record in Oklahoma now stands at two final tables in four games.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Plug Here, Unplug There

Some people hope Scott Blumstein's win of the World Series of Poker Main Event will lead to more legal online gambling on poker in the U.S. But in other places, the exact opposite is occurring.

Australia's Senate voted this week for what some news sources call a "ban" on playing "online poker legally." But one article quoted an email from PokerStars in April, that explains what's really going on:

It’s with great sadness that we have to say that if this bill is passed it means we will have to halt real money poker play for you and all other Australian players,” the email read.

We think this is about "real money" poker play - as in online cash games. That's because there are plenty of sites in the U.S. where you can play poker, and even win prizes. But they're free to enter.

Australian officials made it clear their concern is about stopping "problem gambling" - as in addictive behavior. Our dictionary defines "addict" as "to have or give (oneself) habitually or compulsively." Based on that, religious anti-gambling groups can sound like they're encouraging a swap of one "addiction" for another:
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. - Psalm 119:97

All day?!?! Does that mean a believer in God should lock himself in a room and only read the Bible (especially the first five books) from sunrise to sunset? Well....
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.... - I Thessalonians 5:16-17 (NASB)

So are we supposed to only speak to God all day as well?!

Those seem like very extreme views to us. And the Bible tries to balance out that thinking....
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." - II Thessalonians 3:10

Time by ourselves with God is good. He established a Sabbath day for that (among other reasons). But people who cloister themselves non-stop and don't do anything else might be surprised when "manna from heaven" stops.

People can become addicted to all sorts of things, from poker games to religious cults. We think the key is to have a balanced approach in life - and add God to that balance, if He is missing. That's where we think many people go astray:
"For in him we live and move and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, "We are his offspring." - Acts 17:28

Without God, you wouldn't have life - much less a brain to make decisions at a poker table. Plug Him in to your life agenda, even if it means tossing a few things away.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Moment of Hesitation

The flop has come. Your hand is OK, but not too great. You check. The player to your left waits a moment or two, then offers a big bet.

What have you just learned about your opponent? Anything?

You probably should learn something, according to one poker writer we found recently. He says hesitation is a "physical tell" - revealing someone has a strong hand. On the other hand, players with weaker hands or bluffs will act quickly to avoid getting analyzed.

Isn't real life sometimes exactly the opposite of this? People who hesitate to make decisions might be considered weak and indecisive. Yet consider one of the most important decisions ever made....
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray"... Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." - Matthew 26:36, 39

Jesus Christ knew what He had been sent to do. Prophecies in the Old Testament spoke of it. Yet the Lord went to the garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested to be crucified. There He took time to pray - and even appeal to the Father for some kind of alternate course. A spiritually strong "man" hesitated, to be sure of what was coming and how to act.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. - Psalm 130:5

Even if you're sure about your situation - in poker or otherwise - stop a moment to think things through. If you're in a strong position, you'll be more sure of your actions. If you're in a weak position.... well, you might scare some opponents away.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Freedom from Want?

"Still in shock," Scott Blumstein wrote on his Twitter feed after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. But he's apparently back on the circuit now - playing in a World Poker Tour event in Oklahoma this week.

Immediately after winning the Main Event, Blumstein said something interesting about the $8 million prize. "It's nice to have some freedom now. That was the goal, to get to the point where I can do what I want."

If that's your goal in playing poker, we suggest being very careful. A little "freedom" can be a dangerous thing. Consider....

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. - Galatians 5:13

Does money really give people freedom? In some ways, yes - but not completely. For instance, we presume Blumstein still has to pay federal and state income taxes on his winnings. That could take a million or two.

But the apostle Paul's warning is about using "freedom" - whether it's money, time or something else - to engage in sin. The Bible indicates at the end of our lives, we'll discover freedom truly has a limit:

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

A judgment day is coming, with Jesus Christ serving as the ultimate judge (verse 27). Those who "have done good", as in serving others in a loving way, will "live" with God and Jesus eternally. Those who went the other way will be condemned to a lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

So ultimately, any freedom we obtain from playing poker is not about doing "what I want." It's about doing what God wants. Have you read the Bible carefully to see what that is? We encourage doing that. Here's a verse to help you get started:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

Ponder in prayer what that might mean for your life. If you're still free to play poker, do it with God in mind.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Diamond Life

In a recent post, we talked about the four suits of playing cards in a poker deck. We noted the Bible doesn't mention spades and clubs, but it does mention diamonds.

Yet consider this: have you ever thought of yourself as a diamond? It's the stuff of old country songs. But we were reminded of a sermon we heard nearly 30 years ago on this topic (apparently based on an old book) - so we looked up the notes to see what the Bible might have to say:

And they shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him. - Malachi 3:17 (KJV)

Some Bible translations have different wording for "jewels". But the original Hebrew refers to "wealth" - and someone with diamonds has a wealth-building item. So who are the "jewels" the "Lord of hosts" is talking about here?

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. - Malachi 3:16

These "diamond" people fear God, yet don't fear humans - because they're willing to talk about Him. What else do they do?

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. - Proverbs 1:8-9

These are people who fulfill the Biblical command to "honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12). Yet one Bible concordance surprised us here - as the Hebrew word for "chain" can mean "as if strangling". That's a very tight relationship!

So God would like to think of you as a diamond, or perhaps some other jewel. And He can provide what you need to accomplish that:

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoiced in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. - Isaiah 61:10

God offers you salvation and His righteousness. If you choose to accept them and His way of life, then a more current song can come true - and He'll make a diamond out of you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When a 2 Will Do

Poker's biggest tournament this year came down to two players - and a 2 of hearts.

Scott Blumstein may forever have A-2 attached to his name, the way 10-2 is to Doyle Brunson's. Blumstein called an all-in bet by Daniel Ott, who held A-8. The board didn't pair until that 2 of hearts came on the river - making Blumstein the World Series of Poker Main Event champion, winning more than $8 million.

Blumstein seemed quite humbled by his moment of victory. For one thing, he only had a seven percent chance of hitting that winning river card. Blumstein called it a "normally inconsequential" card.

Sometimes we make decisions that don't seem to matter, only to find they eventually do. That may really be the case at the end of our lives:
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." - Matthew 25:34-36

Jesus Christ, the coming "King of Kings," indicates His Kingdom will be given to those who do good deeds all the time. But the attitude goes beyond that....
Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?" - Matthew 25:37

It's as if the helpful, giving approach is second nature to them. They do it without much thought. But God sees and keeps track of it.

In Blumstein's case, it may have been as simple as letting people pay part of his $10,000 buy-in. Four people paid $60, and will wind up with more than $40,000. So much for "building wealth slowly" on Wall Street.

Blumstein had more to say about his win. We'll comment on what he said another day - but for now, we offer congratulations to poker's new "Ace," and his willingness to share the wealth. Even if he needed a deuce to do it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Poker Day 504: Create Your Breaks

Poker tournaments sometimes can be a test of patience. When you sit down at the table 70 minutes later than everyone else, that's even more true. That was our challenge Sunday at Kansas Star Casino - arriving more than 20 minutes before the start of the big weekend tournament, yet sitting seventh on the "interest" list waiting for other players to be tossed.

It helped that the Sunday tournament is "deep stack," with everyone starting at 10,000. So we still had time to try to make something happen....

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-J offsuit

A few nibbles haven't worked due to pre-flop raises and missed flops. We reached the first break at 9,125. Now we're "chipped up" to 9,200 and looking at our best cards of the day.

Sitting one off the button, we decide to try something creative for us. When no one raises ahead of us, we simply call instead of raising. About five players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 2-2-10

Did anyone hit that? When the players in front of us check, we conclude they did not. So we offer 500. As we recall, two other players call. Our Ace might be best.


Now we're more confident it's best. With two pair plus an "over-kicker," the other players' checks lead us to bet 1,000. One man folds, the other across the table calls.


The runners come around to score for us. A check by our opponent brings another bet of 1,000 from us. Again he calls.

"Three pair," we declare. (Of course, in Texas Hold 'em there's no such thing.)  But that Jack on the river matters, because our opponent has A-Q. We would have been outkicked, but we wind up with a big gain to 13,000.

That kept us going for awhile.... until he dropped 3,000 in a big hand where two players clashed all-in.  We never recovered from that, finally going all-in with A-Q with 3,600 to go. A man called with K-9, and he made a 9 on the flop while we never paired. Our standing improved from our last casino trip, but still only finished 37th out of 70 total players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: For once, our card protector was one-upped.

"I have to say, I've never seen anyone with a cross at the table," we said to a man across from us. It looked like a magnet - small, with no markings on either side.

"And he brought it on Sunday," a man down the table noted.

"You can have a cross every day," we responded. While many people think of crosses as symbols inside church buildings for Sunday worship, it actually refers to an event which happened on another day of the week.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). - John 19:16-17

This happened during "the day of Preparation of Passover Week" (verse 14). The timing of events from Jewish calendars indicates Jesus carried the cross on a Wednesday, since He was discovered to be resurrected on a Sunday:

...And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. - Luke 24:21b

But what about us? Are we only supposed to "carry a cross" on Sundays? Jesus said no....

Then he said to them all, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Luke 9:23

What sort of cross is this? We don't think meant the tall wooden kind like He carried to Golgotha (better known as Calvary). But we also don't think it means a small magnet.

We think Jesus meant carrying the things that weigh us down in this life, much as He bore the sins of all humans and their penalties on our behalf. It can mean denying ourselves, as Jesus put a death for all of us above His own life. What do you think it means? Your comments are welcome.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 504 games (36.5%) - 37 cashes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Kid on the Block

Poker's biggest tournament quickly has moved to its final table. The "July Nine" at the World Series of Poker Main Event was settled Monday night, and will return for the decisive concluding hands beginning Thursday night.

The man currently in second place is standing out in more ways than one. John Hesp of Great Britain is considered an "amateur" - someone who normally only plays in tournaments once a month. He's 64 years old, which is considered ancient in final table history. And he's wearing a borrowed jacket that looks like it was passed along from the late sportscasters Bud Collins or Craig Sager.

Hesp told he went to the main event because it was an item on his "bucket list." A movie ten years ago made that phrase popular - but we wonder how many people take it seriously.
The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.... Like the fool, the wise man too must die! - Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16

Some people want to play poker before they die. Others want to tour the world. But are they forgetting something?
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.... - Hebrews 9:27

The Bible warns a judgment day is coming. Your skills at playing poker probably won't matter then. But other things will....
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

If your "bucket list" contains things that are good in God's sight.... well, perhaps then the whole idea of a "bucket list" will be a misnomer.
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." - Matthew 25:34
As a part of God's Kingdom, you'll get to live forever! You'll be able to serve and rule under Jesus Christ - and maybe even make lists of buckets, if you wish.

We wish everyone well at the final table. But we can understand why the casual poker fan is drawn to John Hesp - if only for his "technicolor dreamcoat". But that's another Bible topic for another time....

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Gambling Town?

With a title like that, you might think we're going to comment on Las Vegas. Or Atlantic City. Or maybe Monte Carlo. But we're not.

We heard a radio preacher say this morning that Antioch was a place where people "loved to gamble." Antioch was a major city in the Roman Empire as the early Church developed.

Yet when we did an online search for "Antioch gambling," we didn't find a New Testament place - we found a town in northern California with a casino. When we added "Bible" to the search, ancient Antioch came up. But Bible resources didn't mention anything about the city's gambling history. And the preacher didn't give a source for his statement - simply "historians."

So maybe ancient Antioch isn't famous for gambling after all. But it became famous for other things:
Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. - Acts 11:20-21

Perhaps some people were persuaded to give up gambling and start serving God. The Bible doesn't say. If they did, they made a good choice. But it may not have been easy....
...Persecutions, sufferings - what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. - II Timothy 3:11

A church group developed in that city, with this Biblical note....
The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. - Acts 11:26

This may explain why many church groups today have "Antioch" in their names. Skeptics may have thought the believers took a wild chance with their lives. But the Christian way is the path which leads to eternal life - a grand prize, if ever there was one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Perfectly Timed

The more we ponder our last poker tournament, the more we think about the hand we saw, but couldn't play - the "bad beat" shown on ESPN. We mentioned how Vanessa Selbst had pocket Aces, and developed a full house with Aces over 7's.

But Gaelle Baumann (pictured) had pocket 7's which turned into quads by the turn. One bet led to a raise, and Selbst was put all-in and eliminated. Selbst was wise enough to ask Baumann if she had quads after calling.

The timing of the cards was terrible for Selbst. But it was perfect for more than Baumann. It was perfect for ESPN, which had the two ladies at a feature table playing "live" on a Sunday afternoon (tournament rules require a 30-minute delay). A lot of poker hands can be mundane, but that was great TV drama.

We can think of Someone else who has a tremendous sense of timing....
...A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light.... - Titus 1:2-3

God lives beyond time and space. He had no "beginning" in eternity past, as hard as that is for humans to understand. Yet God timed out a "season" for bringing meaning to Old Testament scriptures - especially the prophecies of a messiah.
...This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus.... - II Timothy 1:9-10

When the time was right, Jesus came. In fact, some Bible scholars say Jesus's ministry began in exact timing to fulfill prophetic times of Daniel 9 - a topic too complex for us to explain here.

But there's one remaining time mystery in the Bible. It's one many have tried to figure out, sometimes to their own embarrassment....
"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." - Acts 1:11

When will Jesus Christ return? Lots of believers want to know. While we don't know for sure, it's a good idea to be ready for Him now....
So you must also be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. - Matthew 24:44

The Boy Scouts would say, "be prepared" - even for the return of Jesus. To miss out on that could be the worst play of all.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Poker Day 503: The Best of Intentions

"See ya, Vanessa!" someone said at the Kansas Star Casino poker room today as the first few hands unfolded.

It wasn't aimed at anyone in the room, but the big screen TV on the wall. The opening round of the World Series of Poker Main Event was on ESPN, and Vanessa Selbst was being bad-beat eliminated -- A-A for a full house falling to Gaelle Baumann's 7-7 for quads.

It was easy to be distracted by the high-stakes poker game on the big screen. But we tried to learn some tips from the ESPN coverage, as we competed in our own Sunday tournament.

BLINDS: 300/600


We've won a few modest pots during the day, but taken some chances that didn't work. We've never been above the 12,000-chip starting point, and start this hand at 6,600. Sitting in the leadoff seat, we quietly call and wait to see if others jump at a fairly active table. No one raises, but five players are in.

ON THE FLOP:  J-4-7 (third card might not be precise)

An overpair will work for us. After the blinds check, we bet 2,000. A man wearing a Missouri sweatshirt calls, while everyone else folds. We suspect he paired the board, but nothing more.

At this moment, the dealer notices our card protector - so our MINISTRY MOMENT will be mixed in with this.  "That looks like the last supper," he says.

"It is," we respond.


"Well, this could be my last supper," we remark. We go all-in for the last 4,000.

"You've got me," our opponent says. Yet he reaches for chips and calls, anyway.  He shows what we expected - a Jack, with a 10. He's being courteous to us, so....


OUCH!!!! Our opponent really didn't expect that. But he gets a third Jack on the river, and a handshake from us. It's not quite Selbst v. Baumann, but the result still hurts. We're knocked out the hard way, finishing 54th out of 77 players.

Now back to the Ministry Moment. Do you know why Christians refer to it as the "last supper"? It's because of these words of Jesus:
And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." - Luke 22:15-16

The meal was an evening Passover feast - something Jesus kept as a Jew by birth, but also as the God of creation:
The Lord's Passover begins at twilight on the 14th day of the first month. - Leviticus  23:5

After that "supper," Jesus was arrested and executed. So it was His last one as a human on earth. But here's the good news - Jesus was resurrected, and is preparing to come back to earth. When that happens, another supper is coming!
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are they who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' And he added: 'These are the true words of God.'" - Revelation 19:9

This is the "Lamb" once described this way....
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" - John 1:29

Jesus's execution actually fulfilled God's great plan - as a human "Passover lamb." His blood can remove your sin if you accept Him, then clear the path for you to be part of His great wedding supper in the Kingdom of God. If you're not sure how to secure your place at that magnificent banquet, leave a comment and we'll be pleased to help you.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 503 games (36.6%) - 37 cashes.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

On the Diamonds

As poker hands go, a flush is pretty good. It's slightly better than a straight, because it's mathematically tougher to achieve. And it beats any pair, or even three of a kind.

In classic Texas Hold 'em, only one suit in a hand can be a flush. Other games open the door for more than one, and that's when suit rank might matter - with spades at the top, followed by hearts, diamonds and clubs.

But let's ask a silly-sounding question. If you were a flush, what suit would you want to wear? A spade might be more impressive at the table, but you won't find the word "spade" anywhere in the King James Bible. You won't find "club" there, either. But you'll see a reference to the other suits:
You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz and the diamond.... - Ezekiel 28:13 (KJV)

Some Bible translations replace "diamond" with "emerald" (which appears later on the King James list). But if diamond is correct, how nice it would sound to be covered by fancy jewelry. Someone was long ago.... but then:
You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.... - Ezekiel 28:15-16

God discovered this well-jeweled being was a sinner, so He cast it out of Eden. Here's the root cause of it:
Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. - Ezekiel 28:17

Other Bible references indicate this "guardian cherub" (verse 16) was what we now call Satan, or the devil. Satan let beauty get to its head, became corrupted with sin, then was tossed away by God.

Does that mean diamonds and other jewelry are wrong? Some Christian groups think so, but they overlook another place in the Bible where diamonds come up:
And you shall make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work.... And you shall set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones.... the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond. - Exodus 28:15-17 (KJV)
This breastplate was worn by ancient priests, when they did ministry service. God instructed the stones on the breastplate to be made that way. This indicates diamonds are OK, and not something to be avoided. They're as good on your body as they are in a poker room, as long as you let God position them as He wishes.

And here's the amazing thing: some people say we are to become diamonds. We'll get into that in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Wise Guys (and Gals)

The World Series of Poker seems to have something for everyone. There are tournaments in games most people probably have never played, such as Razz. And this year, there were two events for "seniors."

The Seniors Championship, for people 50 and older, had almost 5,400 entries. The "Super Seniors" contest was smaller, at 1,720 entries - but perhaps that was because you had to be 65 or older to play. It's interesting to compare those tournaments with the WSOP Main Event, where the final table tends to skew younger; it's a rare year anymore when someone in "senior" range is there.

It's easy to assume older poker players would be smarter and better than younger ones. As a famous book puts it:
Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding? - Job  12:12

Of course, we should note that some people start playing poker in their "aged" years. So game experience matters as well. But in general, older people have seen and experienced more of life - so they can pass on their lessons to younger people.

And yet the Bible also says....
I thought, "Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom." But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. - Job 32:7-9

These words came from Elihu, who described himself as "young in years" (Job 32:6). Read the book of Job from beginning to end, and you'll discover his comments about Job's trials made more sense than the "counsel" of Job's older but close friends.

To be wise in playing poker, or in anything else, it's best to consult a God who was around before any of us:
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. - Proverbs 2:6

Ask God for His wisdom, and it may come at times you don't expect it. Even in the midst of a poker game.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Aaron Sells-Out

At our last live poker tournament, the name "Aaron" came up - and we noted that's a famous name from the Bible. We meet him first in Exodus 4, as the older brother of Moses and a spokesman for both of them.

Aaron accompanied Moses in several showdowns with Egypt's Pharaoh. They ended with Israel coming out of Egyptian slavery - and the support was more than vocal:
As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amaliekites were winning. When Moses's hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up - one on one side, one on the other.... - Exodus 17:11-12

How many "poker wives" support their spouses quietly and loyally - whether in big tournaments or small? They may not literally hold the cards up so the players can see them, but they can give moral support and encouragement in many ways. It's easy to overlook them, but we shouldn't.

God set up a line of priests through Aaron (Exodus 28:1/Leviticus 8:21-30) - but then he made a big mistake:
Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.".... He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it into a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf.... - Exodus 32:3-5

It's one thing to win a gold bracelet, at an event such as the World Series of Poker. It's another thing to idolize it - making it a god and presuming it's like the God of heaven. Even though God was displaying His power in amazing ways to Israel, Aaron defaulted to something Egypt had done. And then....
"They said to me, Make us gods who will go before us'.... Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" - Exodus 32:23-24

Really.... really?! Aaron lied by denying he'd "fashioned" the gold, and claiming it looked like a false god by sheer coincidence. It's easy for us to say it now, but Aaron should have stood his moral ground and pointed the people to the God who was talking with Moses on Mount Sinai.

If poker consumes a lot of your time, either in person or online, you might have turned the game into your god - and you have a false god. You might need to do what Moses did for Israel....
So Moses went back to the Lord and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin...." - Exodus 32:31-32

Seek God's forgiveness, and make Him the true God of your life. After all, He was around long before poker - and He offers the gift of eternal life, to last far beyond it.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Choice Is Yours

"Can I see that?" a man to our left asked during our last live tournament. We happily showed him our card protector - a "Lord's Supper" depiction given to us years ago by a man at a poker night in Alabama.

The man then pulled out a gold-looking coin of his own. He wasn't using it for a protector, but apparently carried it around in case he needed one. "They say it's gold, but I think it's bronze," we recall him saying. (We don't think ours is gold at all.)

But then the man pondered about what we were showing him. "Are you a Mennonite?" he asked. We're not sure what led him to think that. No, we're not - although we've met in their church buildings for worship several times.

We explained we attend a Sabbath-keeping group called the United Church of God. Sabbath (Saturday) services allow us to play poker on Sunday afternoons. But a comment by our Pastor this weekend reminded us of this conversation. He said we have no choice in what way of life we live. Is that really true?

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.... - Deuteronomy 30:19

Moses actually did set a choice before Israel in his farewell address: life or death. The late singer George Michael and his group Wham wore "CHOOSE LIFE" T-shirts in their first hit song. Whether they realized it or not, they promoted God's choice for humans. But that's not the only choice we have....
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable for you, then choose for yourselves this day who, you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. - Joshua 24:15

This world offers all kinds of "gods" to follow. In the U.S., you can also choose from many church denominations (even different Sabbath-keeping groups). Joshua made his choice to "serve the Lord." What does that mean?
If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17
Now we have the words of Jesus Christ - the One who claimed to be the Son of the true God (John 8:54). He invites you to choose to "do God's will." Finding that will requires some study. In fact, it can take a lifetime. But examining the Bible to find it truly is worth the time and effort.

Poker players have many choices these days - playing in person or online, in a tournament or a cash game, then raising pocket Kings pre-flop or trapping with a call. When it comes to the bigger choices of life, may you make the correct ones. The denomination we attend is ready to help.