Thursday, March 30, 2017

Losing the Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that sort of a jumpstart....

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Put Your Hands Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Luck or Something Like It III

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Luck, or Something Like It II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Luck, or Something Like it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Marathon Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

AI v. A-J

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Games Back On?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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