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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poker Day 502: Dressed to the Nines

We felt a touch of guilt about going to Kansas Star Casino for poker this week. The tournament was on Father's Day - and we're not a Dad. But then again, the casino handed out free toaster ovens to slot players Sunday. What kind of a Father's Day gift is that?

The attendance surprised us, by being down for the Sunday tournament. We didn't have to wait for a seat. That meant we didn't have to miss amazing hands like this one....

BLINDS: 75/150


After a slow start with small lost pots, we're starting to turn things around. We've taken a hand or two, and nearly have our starting stack of 12,000 chips back. Now we're in the Big Blind, and are happy to check with a hidden Ace when the table doesn't raise. About four players are in.

ON THE FLOP: 9-9-9

"The Cox Cable flop," we call this - although we're not sure that's the company's introductory rate for anything anymore. But if anyone is holding a pocket pair, they picked up a full house in a hurry. We didn't, so we check. Yet no one bets.


"You don't see that very often," someone at the table says. Indeed - we have quads! And for that matter, so does everyone else in the hand! But that means our Ace kicker gives us the best hand. When the Small Blind bets 300, we assume he does as well. We call. So does a third man across the table.

"If this next card is a 9," we joke, "I want an investigation...."


A meaningless card, if there ever was one. Now the Small Blind bets 300 again. Not enough for us.

"I'll add 1,000 more," we say. The man across from us calls. So does the Small Blind.

"I've got an Ace," we say and show. Sure enough, so does the Small Blind. But the man across from us has King-high! What was he thinking - a table full of bluffers?

It winds us being a split pot for the blinds, a gain for us, and an embarrassment for that third player whose thinking clearly was wrong.

There was a pattern to the day for us - with small declines early in the 80-minute terms, and nice gains in the second half. Our chip count grew to 13,800 at the first break. Then more than 20,000 at the second break, as all-in bets with cards such as K-K and A-K started winning big. Then huge gains in the third term, to reach more than 37,000!

We reached the final table with 54,000, then made a Jack on the river with A-J for two pair to knock out two opponents! But we feared we'd blown it badly when our A-K lost a race to J-10; the opponent made three 10's and cost us more than 80,000. But we won a couple more hands, to reach the money with seven to go!

But then other players slowed down the game, and we ran out of time on our schedule. We work an overnight shift these days, so we felt compelled to push with second pair and A-9 (as best we remember). An opponent with a King had top pair and took us out.

Out of 66 players, we finished in fifth place and made a $300 payday. We're thankful that out tenth anniversary live poker tournament was one of our most successful.

MINISTRY MOMENT: Since it was Father's Day, a little of the table talk was about children. One dealer recently had a son, named Aaron.

"That's a football name," one player said.

"That's a Biblical name" we responded. "The right-hand man of Moses."

That comment brought no response. Perhaps you've forgotten someone named Aaron was even in the Bible. We meet him first in Exodus....
Then the Lord's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well." - Exodus 4:14
Moses wanted someone else to do the talking, in Pharaoh to let the Israelites out of Egypt (verse 13). Aaron became the "spokesman" for the two, with help from God (verse 15).  What else do you know about Aaron? Share a comment, and we'll add to this in a future post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 184 final tables in 502 games (36.7%) - 37 cashes. We've made final tables three times in eight trips to Kansas Star this year, and cashed for the first time since a trip to Tulsa last December.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Decade of Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017


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

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

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

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

Honor for parents should begin in our youth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Game Within the Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A League of Their Own

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

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

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

We've heard of local poker leagues in places where we've played. We suppose they can promote friendship and good competition. But we think there's a better "team" to be on....
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage each other... - Hebrews 10:24-25

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lest Ye Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Poker Day 501: All Jacked Up

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

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

BLINDS: 75/150


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

He Works Hard for the Money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Wait Is (Almost) Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

After 500: Counting the Cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus doesn't stop there:

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

After 500: Before and After

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

After 500: All About the Money?

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Poker Day 500: The Greatest Race of Them All

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

BLINDS: 400/800


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Seventh-Day Adventist?!"




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Deals and Dads

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

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

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

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

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

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