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:

...as 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

IN THE POCKET: Q-Q

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.

ON THE FLOP: J-9-5

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.

ON THE TURN: 8

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

ON THE RIVER: 4

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.

Courtesy FTVLive.com
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.

ON THE TURN: 3h

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.

ON THE RIVER: Js

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%.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Poker Day 497: A Boat for Fishing

He was not the "elephant in the room" during Friday's poker tournament at Kansas Star Casino. In fact, we were a bit surprised that Brandon Steven's name did not come up at all. We thought about mentioning him - but instead tried to stick to the game and win some money:

BLINDS: 25/50

IN THE POCKET: Q-J offsuit

We were third on the waiting list to enter this six-table tournament. We split one pot with an A-2 straight after sitting down, and now have these cards sitting one off the button. We call, and no one raises. About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: Js-8s-8c

Two pair and a strong kicker look good to us. The play checks to us, and we bet 200 to take the pulse of the table. Only a man at the opposite end of the table calls. We doubt he has a third 8 - maybe a Jack of his own.

ON THE TURN: Jc

Ahhhhh - now this looks very good! We have a superior full house. But how much can we gain from it? Our opponent checks, and we smooth-check in response (if there is such as thing).

ON THE RIVER: As

Now three spades are showing. No big deal for us - but maybe for him. Our opponent makes a modest bet of 100. Nope, not enough. (In fact, the tournament rules say we have to raise with best hand at this point.) So we bump it up to 400.

"I have to call," the man says - and flips over K-Q of spades. Sure enough, he went fishing and caught the nut flush. Trouble is....

"I have a full house," we declare. That wins us a nice pot, and a "nice hand" compliment from the man we beat. Of course, that leaves open the question: could we have bet more and kept him in?

We had ups and downs in the first period, reaching a high of 4,050 but reaching the break at only 2,325. Then a comeback came for us in period two - as pocket Kings came twice, and we won healthy pots with both of them. Our stack hit a high of 5,400.

But moderate risk-taking with rising blinds proved costly for us. We finally had to go all-in with A-J and 1,100 left. Another player paired the board with a Queen, and sent us out the door in 36th place out of 83 players - up 11 places from last time, but still far from the final table.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "Who wants my ticket in the $5,000 drawing?" we asked during the break to a few people at our table. Our casino card gave us a free entry in that Friday night drawing. But it was a drawing we knew we could not win.

"Just put it in the barrel," a man suggested. But we noted the fine print - that the casino didn't  even roll out the barrel for tossing in your entry until 6:00 p.m. At this moment, it was about 1:25 p.m.

"Besides," we added, "you have to 'be present to win.' And I don't plan to be here at 9:00 p.m."

"Can't you come back at 9:00?" a man asked.  Yes, physically, we could. But...

"I plan to be at home keeping the Sabbath."

"The what?" the dealer asked. We had to spell the word for him: S-A-B-B-A-T-H. He'd never heard of it. But another player had.

"Are you a Seventh-Day Adventist?"

"No."

"Jewish?"

"No."

"The Sabbath starts on Friday night at sunset, right?"

"Yes."

"And it ends on Saturday? At sunset?"

That's correct. The Sabbath goes back a long way....

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the Sabbath day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God... - Exodus 20:8, 9


The concept of keeping a Sabbath actually has its origin in creation, when God rested from His work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). We consider it a time for rest, Bible study and worship - not standing in a casino, hoping for a slip of paper to be drawn so we can win money.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as your please on my holy day.... and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or 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


If that sounds like a nice change of pace, we attend a small Sabbath-keeping church denomination. In fact, there's a location in the town where the dealer lives. We invite you to find a location near you, and give Sabbath worship a try.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 497 games (36.6%) - 36 cashes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Even Steven

We'd planned to address a different topic in this post. But we're a journalist by trade, so breaking news always takes top priority. Especially when it's about arguably the most famous poker player in our city.

No, it's not us.

He's Brandon Steven, a Wichita businessman who's had some success in major poker events. Steven disclosed Tuesday he's the target of an FBI investigation - and he thinks his high-stakes poker games are part of the reason.

A lot of rumors are swirling about this case, but we're going to stick to what's on public record. Steven has cashed 13 times at the World Series of Poker, earning close to $2 million. He almost made the November Nine at the Main Event in 2010. And as for high-stakes: he's had two top-ten finishes in the WSOP "One-Drop" - the game with a buy-in of more than $100,000.

But is Steven playing high-stakes game in our area? In a newspaper interview Tuesday, an attorney had these telling words:

Around Wichita, Joseph said, “It’s not a big secret” that large poker games have been going on.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132777274.html#storylink=cpy

And that could be the problem. We documented here the Wichita police crackdown on poker rooms last winter. They're all out of business now. And those tournaments were small; we could play on a Thursday night for less than $20. If large games are happening these days outside a casino, they're against the law.

This is why in our state, we only play in tournaments that are above-board - either at casinos, or freeroll tournaments either in person or online. We're reminded....

Everyone must submit themselves to the governing authorities.... it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. - Romans 13:1, 5


We must emphasize here that we don't know if Brandon Steven broke any laws. That will be up to a prosecutor and a jury to determine. But no one is above the law - not even Steven. And that's true in more than a local legal sense:

...For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.... - Romans 13:1-2


A song from the last decade encouraged people to "fight the powers that be." But God made those powers "be" by putting them in place. It's far better to stay under them, whether you like them or not:

Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid.... - Romans 13:3-4


An old movie had the title Do the Right Thing. (A friend of ours who saw it told us it was mostly about doing the wrong thing.) Doing what is right not only pleases God, but usually keeps you away from investigations.

We'll keep tracking the Steven case. But in the meantime, as those "gambling help" brochures say, play responsibly - not to mention legally.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Poker Day 496: J-Hawks

"My last two times here, I had a sixth and a ninth," the man next to us said Friday before the tournament began at Kansas Star Casino.

"I consider myself warned," we said in response. For either of us to make the final table, we'd have to work through dozens of opponents - and face challenging hands like this one:

BLINDS: 50/100

IN THE POCKET: J-J

We've lost a pot or two, and start this hand with about 3,100 chips from a starting 3,500. We're also in the Big Blind - so when a player doubles to 200 ahead of us, we can call and try to hide. About four players get in.

ON THE FLOP: 2-4-6

Pickup sticks?! This is a second-grade flop in more ways than one. Sitting early in the betting order, we check to the raiser. So he makes a continuation bet of 400. A man across from us calls. We're not sure what they have, but we think they're fishing. We call with our overpair. Three players remain.

ON THE TURN: 8

The even-number trend continues. We check again. Now the raiser at the far end of the table does as well. But the man across from us senses an opportunity. He bets 700 - and now we're wondering. Did he get in with something weird like 5-7 suited, and hit a straight?

After thinking for a moment, something tells us to be daring. We call. And to our surprise, the man at the far end folds.

ON THE RIVER: 8

The board pairs, but we still don't feel too comfortable about this. We check. If our opponent bets 700 again, we probably bail out. But maybe he's unsure as well; thankfully, he checks.

"A pair of Jacks?!?" we say with uncertainty as we show our cards. We're delighted to see that's good enough! Our opponent had 4-5! A superior two pair wins us a huge pot.

Our stack reached a high of 5,400 in the first hour, but then started fading. We had 3,150 at the first break. But then in the second period after changing tables, we went all-in with A-Q and the board showing A-J-10-10. Trouble was, three of those cards were spades - and another player had two more to make a flush. No final table on this day, as we wound up 47th out of 81 players.

MINISTRY MOMENT: This was one of our best days in a long time for talking about maters of faith. It started when the successful player to our left saw our card protector - a small electric plug.

"I brought this to remind me that I receive power from Gods Holy Spirit," we explained. Then we asked the man what he thought of the Spirit.

"Real good," he said. "Part of the trinity."

"What's the Holy Spirit done for you lately?" we probed.

"I don't know," he admitted.

We think there are ways to know what the Holy Spirit is doing in your life. For instance....

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23


These traits should be evidence of God's Spirit at work. Verses 19-21 list signs of the exact opposite - "the sinful nature" at work. Also....

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.... - Isaiah 11:2


It's a good idea to pray each day for God to renew His Spirit in you. We specifically ask for His wisdom to guide our decisions, whether they come at the poker table or the workplace. ("Wisdom" to us means applying knowledge at the right time and place.)

Can you think of other signs of the Holy Spirit? Offer comments with your suggestions; we'll get back to this table and the Spirit in our next scheduled post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 496 games (36.7%) - 36 cashes.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Biggest Blind

Newcomers to the game of poker learn right away what a blind is.

It's a bet put on the table before any cards are dealt, to start a pot. A typical tournament has a "small blind" immediately to the left of the dealer or button, and a "big blind" to the left of that. Many cash games require new players to post a big blind on their first hand, no matter where they sit.

But are you sitting "in the blind" right now, as you read this - whether you're playing poker on a second screen or not? If you don't believe in God and Jesus the Son, you very likely are....

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - II Corinthians 4:4


This is a spiritual "big blind." And the "god of this age" (or "world," as the King James Version puts it) is not God in heaven....

The great dragon was hurled down - that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.... - Revelation 12:9


Satan wants to steer you away from God, and into spiritual darkness. But....

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him is no darkness at all. - I John 1:5


This leaves you a choice. Would you rather be in the "big blind" of darkness, or in God's light?

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. - John 3:19 (KJV)


If you're playing high-stakes poker illegally - sorry, you're not getting any sympathy from us. Most cases of law-breaking are evil, even if you consider them fun and games. It's time to come out of that darkness - and most importantly, come out of spiritual blindness and "the condemnation." Instead, walk in the warm light of God's love.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Clear Heads, Heads-Up

Thursday night was an amazing night for us in online poker. We survived at least eight all-in moments in a National League of Poker tournament - and out of 1,238 players, we finished 17th! Only the top five received prize money under NLOP's rules. But at a casino, we might have won six times our buy-in.

One player in the third hour suddenly decided to push a lot - but had an explanation. As best we recall the chat:

Friends are coming over.
Gonna have some beers.
Haven't seen them in a long time.

To which we responded: "The beers?! :-)"

We cut our teeth on live poker playing weekly bar and club circuits. But since moving to Kansas, we've noticed very few players in tournaments bring bottles of beer to the table. We think that's because serious players know what alcohol can do to their mind and judgment - and it's not good. That's really old news, of course....

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. - Proverbs 20:1


On this Sunday when a lot of people will drink while watching U.S. football, these are words to remember. Too much alcohol can make you look silly, and even get you in trouble with the law. But does that mean all alcohol is wrong?


Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.... - John  2:7-9


As much as some religious folks try to explain these verses away, your Bible shows Jesus Christ turned water into wine - and it was considered "the best" (verse 10). If all wine is wrong, why would He do such a thing?

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." - Matthew 26:27-28


Jesus spoke here at a Passover observance (verse 19). It was His "last supper" before shedding His blood for our sins - and under Jewish tradition, the cup would have had wine inside.

We doubt Jesus drank much that night, because He faced a high-pressure situation greater than any poker tournament: sacrificing His life for us as the pure "lamb of God." And by extension, we shouldn't drink so much that we become mocked and brawling.

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


We think that's good advice for playing poker, as well as what you drink around the table.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Winner Takes It All

In a recent post, we presented a choice - a choice that can seem very difficult:

Does not wisdom call out?.... "Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold." - Proverbs 8:1, 10


These Bible verses might give the impression that you should never enter big-money poker tournaments. Simply open the Bible and put your nose in it all day - right?

Well, no. That's going to a religious extreme. But then again, maybe spending every waking hour playing online poker and touring the world for the next high-stakes cash game is an extreme as well. We think the key is in finding a balance....

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven....  - Ecclesiastes 3:1


We think wisdom is not really wisdom unless you apply it in daily situations. Otherwise it's simply knowledge.

...But wisdom is proved right by her actions. - Matthew 11:19b


You can know how to play pocket Aces. But doing it properly at the table takes wisdom - and you could be rewarded handsomely for that. That's why we said in the previous post that if you seek wisdom, you could get nice extras.

So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart.... Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for - both riches and honor - so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings." - I Kings  3:11-13


King Solomon asked God for wisdom and discernment (verse 9). God granted him so much that Solomon is credited with writing Ecclesiastes and much of Proverbs. And he had a lot of wealth to boot (I Kings 10:14-29).

So it seems to us the choice is clear. Seek God's wisdom first, as opposed to poker riches. Search for it in the Bible. Pray for God to provide it. And you might actually become wise enough to stump the table and get the riches, too.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Poker Day 495: Straight? No? Chaser?

Maybe the bank ATM downtown was trying to tell us something. We tried to withdraw money from our account to enter Friday's tournament at Kansas Star Casino - but the machine froze and wouldn't process our request. So we hurriedly drove to Mulvane, paid extra to use a casino ATM.... and then:

BLINDS: 25/25

IN THE POCKET: A-K offsuit

A couple of early nibbles have missed flops, so we start this hand with about 3,400 chips. Sitting in leadoff position, we limp in. No one raises, and about five players go to battle.

ON THE FLOP: 5h-Ks-2s

Top pair + top kicker = action from us. After the blinds check, we bet 100.  As best we recall, a couple of players call.

ON THE TURN: 8h

Looks to us like all is still well. So we bet 150 - only to find a player to our left raising to 300. Did he stumble upon two pair? We still feel confident, so we call to go heads-up to the river.

ON THE RIVER: 5s

The board pairs, giving us two pair and top kicker. But three spades are showing (we don't have any). Yet our opponent raised on the turn with no possible flush, so we think he's simply testing us.

We try to show we mean business by beating 225, but he responds with a raise to 600. We remain skeptical, especially of the flush threat, and conclude he also has a King.

"As they say in Colorado," we tell the dealer next to us, "I'm pot-committed." Our new poker joke of the day gets a slight smile. But we mean what we say, and call. Then our opponent flips over.... 8-J of spades! We were right about our read on the turn, but he did hit the flush to give us a big loss.

Perhaps a bigger bet on the turn would have run everyone away. But early in a tournament with cheap blinds, some players will go on long chases. In this case, it worked and he won.

It was far from a winning day for us, as we never won a pot. We finally pushed with A-K again, and received a call from a man with A-J. But the flop brought a Jack and the turn an Ace, to eliminate us in 44th place on a 65-player day.

MINISTRY MOMENT: "I'm patiently waiting to play a hand," a man sitting to our right said at one point. He was a replacement player, who perhaps took a re-buy after losing his chips.

"Patience is a virtue," we told the man quietly.

"Impatience is a...." we didn't quite pick up how he ended that reply. Did he say a "vice"? That's what some would call the opposite of a virtue.

Our old saying has a Biblical basis for it:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience... And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:12, 14


This list of virtues appears to be a rerun of something the apostle Paul wrote to another group - only with a different heading:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23


"Patience is a fruit," we added in our short discussion with the man. In Galatians, the source of that fruit is noted as the Holy Spirit of God.

Ironically, seconds later we saw Q-Q and went all-in for our last 1,125 chips - a push that failed. Perhaps that was our moment of impatience. But a man had raised ahead of us, and we were down to about five big blinds.

Poker experts on TV say it's good to push when you're at ten big blinds or less. We went by "the book," and it didn't work for us. But as we said elsewhere in the casino, a different book is more reliable - the "good book" known as the Bible, where the Holy Spirit and other things are revealed.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 495 games (36.8%) - 36 cashes. We will need to make three final tables in the next five outings to get the percentage up to 37 percent at 500 games.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Read You Can Trust

"I grew up in a super-religious family," the man sitting to our left at a poker tournament said. "But I've always wondered how you can tell a story over thousands of years, and not have some changes in it."

This man was expressing skepticism about the Bible. How could today's translations be anywhere near the same as what was originally written in the years "B.C.", or before Christ? After all, poker players often stretch the truth or forget key details of their greatest victories or bad beats.

We could try answering that skepticism with the Bible's own words....

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.... - II Timothy 3:16


For the believer in God, this is accepted as truth. But for the skeptic, it can seem like a boast any delusional street-corner preacher might make about himself.

We could try pointing to fulfilled prophecies....

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in the was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. - I Peter 1:10-11


Believers can list many Old Testament prophecies which were lived out by Jesus Christ. But skeptics can point to prophecies still not fulfilled....

First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." - II Peter 3:3-4


We tried to point the poker player next to us toward the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were discovered in the mid-20th century, and include more than 200 "Biblical texts" which show little change over a 1,000-year period compared with other Biblical scrolls.

Other ancient writings, such as those of Aristotle and Confucius, don't face the same doubts and skepticism that Biblical writings do. Perhaps that's because not as much rides on those writings - while the Bible challenges readers to accept that there is a God, and we should obey Him.

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


Are you a Biblical skeptic? Or are you concerned about what you might have to do, should you find the Bible really is accurate?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Poker Day 494: Show and Tell

It always helps a poker player to know what his opponent has. But let's face it - how often does that happen? Well, check what we encountered Friday at Kansas Star Casino....

BLINDS: 300/600

IN THE POCKET: Q-5 offsuit

If the blinds are this high, we've done pretty well. It's level seven, and we've won some nice pots to reach a high for the day of 11,500 chips. We honestly don't remember how many we had at this point. And we don't recall anyone raising pre-flop. We recall three players entering the hand, out of seven or eight at the table.

ON THE FLOP: Q-10-3

At this point in the tournament, top pair on the flop is nice. Out notes indicate we checked, then a woman to our left bets 1,300. A man to the right folds, but we call.

"I want to go play cards," the woman says (she means at some other casino table) - and turns over K-10! The rest of the table wonders what she's doing, since she has plenty of chips left.

"I'm sorry, I thought you were all in," she says to us. No, far from it. We have several thousand chips left - and we suddenly have a huge advantage which goes beyond top vs. second pair.

"I'm going to have to call the Tournament Director," the dealer says. While that woman comes over, the play continues....

ON THE TURN: A

We have first position, and we're neither showing nor telling what we have. Instead we bet 1,200. The woman seems resigned to her fate, and calls. As we recall, a flush threat was on the board at this point....

ON THE RIVER: A

....But that card settled that. Now we know we've won the pot. So we pretend to do some math, and bet 1,200 more. She calls. We show our Queen. We won a big pot. And the Tournament Director now makes her ruling.

"You'll have to take a ten-minute penalty," she tells the woman we beat. That woman still has a good-sized stack of chips - and now has time to go play "craps," as she put it.

When we win a big pot that way, we get the feeling it's going to be a good day for us. It wasn't easy, though, with a couple of all-in escapes from three tables down. But a big win with a pair of 6's allowed us to reach the final table with 13,500 chips!

Once we got there, a pursuit with A-8 lost. That forced us to push with A-5 - and while a 5 appeared on the board, another man made a pair of Kings to eliminate us. Out of 71 players, we finished in ninth place. That missed the money by two spots, but allowed us to match a final-table start to 2016 in live play.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We took our "Lord's Supper" card protector, which gained the attention of several people. One dealer figured out right away what it displayed.

"The church I attend will take that in about 11 weeks," we told him. "We only take it once a year."

That may come as a surprise to some people. In fact, we were in a congregation about a week earlier which takes communion at every worship service. Which approach is right?

We don't think the Bible gives a flat-out answer, but it offers some clues....

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year.... Take care of them until the 14th day of the month...." - Exodus 12:1-2, 6


This was the mention of a Passover in the Bible (verse 11). A lamb was set aside and prepared for days, before the Israelites left Egypt. Many observant Jews still do something like this once a year, in the spring.

Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." - Luke 22:7-8


Jesus's physical heritage was Jewish, so He followed the ancient example.

And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." - Luke 22:15


Instead of departing Egypt, Jesus was able to enter about 18 hours of personal darkness - with an arrest, persecution and crucifixion. Yet He took the Passover (or communion or "Lord's Supper") first - following tradition, but adding new symbols (verses 19-21).

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. - I Corinthians 11:26


Jesus Christ died for us. The Bible leaves no doubt about that (I Thessalonians 4:14). "It's that big a deal," we told the dealer - something we don't think should be diminished by taking the Passover/Lord's Supper repeatedly. So we would ask: how big a deal is Jesus's sacrifice to you? And how big should it be?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 494 games (36.8%), 36 cashes. We've finished 12th and ninth in our last two trips to Kansas Star, both in tournaments with 70-plus players.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The End of an Era

Tomorrow will be a historic day in the U.S., as a new President takes office. We wonder how many poker players will be rooting for him to undo what the outgoing one did.

Poker players with long memories will remember Barack Obama's administration for the "black Friday" crackdown on internet games in 2011. Many regular players lost a lot of money. Several famous names even were affected.

Yet at the end of 2011, the Obama Justice Department ruled states can set up their own Internet poker games. So far, hardly any have.

And did you know President Obama probably is the first U.S. leader to have his own poker website? Thus far, you can't play him there. In fact, you can't play at all. But the site explains his personal history of playing poker, his actions concerning online poker, and the claims that President George W. Bush was even more against online poker.

But it's inevitable in our society that leadership changes. It could be good, or....
Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. - Exodus 1:8
Joseph was a Biblical hero, who was given vast power to help several countries through a time of great famine. He helped the Israelites relocate in Egypt - but a change in pharaohs made things worse for them instead of better.
They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. - Exodus 1:14
Any leader in any walk of life has the capability to do this to us. It could be a king, a President, a supervisor on your job - and even a different tournament director at your poker room.

So how should poker players respond? Very few probably will follow this advice, but it's hard to top....

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior... - I Timothy  2:1-3
As we mentioned after the U.S. election, we should pray for all leaders. Even the ones you don't necessarily like. After all, God could turn their hearts around and make them leaders you do like.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A King on the River

Today is a holiday in the U.S., marking the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Do a search for his name and "poker," and you might find "bonus points" offers at casinos or special holiday tournaments.

If you really want to "honor King" by playing poker, you can order a King Memorial deck of playing cards online. For only ten dollars, he can stare at the other players for you. And if you really wanted to have a holiday theme, we suppose you could have a poker game where Kings are wild.

People old enough to remember Dr. King's causes and campaigns probably would find these things tacky at best, and insulting at worst. But some people invoke Dr. King's name in support of poker cash games and similar gambling. One casino website put it this way several years ago:

The Reverend spoke of equality, and the freedom of every American to have choices. Gambling is a choice that Americans should have the right to decide whether they want to take part or not.

If Dr. King made a direct statement on gambling in a speech or sermon, we could not find it. (If you know of one, please let us know in a comment.) But that website strikes us as turning words out of context. In fact, Dr. King's semi-rival of the time Malcolm X gave up gambling because he thought white people had "forced" it on black people to keep them economic slaves.

Yet the website has a valid point about choices. As a minister by trade, Dr. King might have said God gives humans choices. For instance....

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


God does more than offer a choice. He tells humans the right answer. For instance, "choose life" - a phrase we're sure would get the late George Michael in some trouble, if he wore it on a T-shirt in a music video today.  But back to our point....

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable for you, then choose for yourselves this day whom 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


You can serve "the Lord" - the God of the Bible - or some other god that is fake and false. Joshua chose to follow the Lord which led Israel into a land of promise. We face that same choice today. If you make poker your "god", as in the thing you worship and idolize more than anything else, consider this...

Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold.... - Proverbs  8:10


Will you pay attention to what God instructs, or your desire for money and riches? In reality, living God's way could lead you to all these things. We'll develop that concept in an upcoming post.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Call Me Irresponsible? III

In our series based on a pamphlet waiting at a casino gate, we come to the third and final "warning sign that you might be at risk" of a gambling problem:

3. Have there been periods of two weeks or longer when you spent a lot of time thinking about your gambling experiences, or planning future gambling ventures or bets?

Based on the wording of this question, every player who makes a "November Nine" at the World Series of Poker Main Event could be a "problem gambler." After all, they have three or four months to think about "future bets" - between the preliminary tournament days in July and the final table in the fall.

Beyond that, we doubt many players in the WSOP simply decide on a whim to drive to Las Vegas and try their luck. For one thing, the Main Event normally has a $10,000 buy-in. Doesn't a player have to do some planning, to save up money for that?

But we think the real point here is to see if gambling has become all-consuming for you. Is it "top of mind" all the time? If so, that could indeed be a warning sign. So what should be at the top of our thinking instead? We're glad you asked....
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.... - Philippians 2:5 (KJV)

Having "the mind of Christ" (as I Corinthians 2:16 puts it) sounds a long way from thinking about a poker schedule. But that's OK - and that's a good thing:
....Declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. - Isaiah 55:8-9

The mind and thoughts of God (Father and Jesus Christ) are "higher" because they're greater in size and capability than ours. Only God could have made such a perfectly-timed and positioned solar system for human existence. They're also higher in holiness and righteousness....
For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.... Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.... - Philippians  3:18-20

As an outgoing U.S. First Lady might put it: When man's ways go low, God's go high. And he wants us to have high thinking - as in heavenly.

So if you're planning a poker junket of some kind for 2017, do so carefully - but don't make the only thing on your mind between now and then. If you haven't done it yet, ask God in prayer to work with you on your thinking:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.... - Romans 12:2

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Call Me Irresponsble? II

Let's return to a pamphlet we mentioned in our last post, which we picked up at our last casino poker day. It offered three "warning signs that you might be at risk" of a gambling problem. We called the first question unfair. Now let's continue....

2. Have you ever lied to family members, friends or others about how much you gamble or how much money you lost gambling?

We agree that this is a warning sign - especially when it comes to your family. While bluffing and "Hollywooding" are accepted parts of a poker tournament, outright lying should not be a part of a believer's game.
A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering tongue works ruin. - Proverbs 26:28

Let's apply this verse away from the table, to our question. You might think that lying "hate" is really love - that you don't want to hurt the feelings of people close to you, by revealing how big your losses really are. But the opposite is true,,,,
Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. - Ephesians 4:15-16 (CEV)

Yes, the truth can hurt. But it's always better than lying about what you're doing, and adding layers of distrust to a relationship. The Bible warns it can also ruin a relationship with God:
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. - Revelation 21:8

Believe it or not, the Bible speaks of two deaths. The first involves our physical flesh (Hebrews 9:27), while the potential second death follows judgment at the throne of Jesus Christ:
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. - Revelation 22:15

These people are placed outside the "holy city" known as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10). It's a truth so important that the end of the Bible mentions it twice - the liars get fire.

If you're lying to other people about gambling, it's ultimately about more than their friendship. Eternal life in God's Kingdom is at stake. So stop it. Tell the truth about what you're doing, as difficult as it may be. It ultimately will benefit you - and hopefully others around you.

(We'll address the third warning sign in a future post.)