Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Getting the Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Biggest Blind II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poker Night 498: Expecting the Unexpected

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

BLINDS: 100/200

IN THE POCKET: A-5 offsuit

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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).


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?"




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


"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


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.


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.


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.