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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Redeeming Moment

A man at the poker table took a big loss. His stack of chips was quite low. But a few hands later, he went all-in and won. He more than doubled up.

"Redemption," he said with a sigh and a smile.

"Jesus Christ is my redemption," we said quietly in response.

We're not sure if anyone caught what we said. But do you catch it? What sort of redemption are we talking about?

"Redemption" is a big religious-sounding word. But it's an important word, that's all over the Bible in various forms....

Therefore, say to the Israelites: "I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." - Exodus 6:6

The classic movie The Ten Commandments isn't 100-percent Biblical, but it told an ancient story of Israel coming out of Egypt. The nation was "redeemed" from slavery, with the goal of becoming servants of God. And yet the Bible also says....

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. - Psalm 130:7-8

Huh - redemption again? Yes, because this isn't from physical bondage. This is spiritual - about being redeemed from sin. And it's not only Israel that needs it:

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23-24

We all need to be redeemed from sin. If we aren't, we're doomed to eternal death (Hosea 13:14). But Jesus came to Earth to change all that....

When Jesus came.... he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. - Hebrews 9:11-12

If we might go deeper for a moment: we heard a preacher say recently that God the Father is "the redeemer", with Jesus the Son being "the redemption." And yet....

...Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. - Isaiah 60:16

Both "God" and Jesus Christ are described as "Savior" in the New Testament. So why can't they both be considered "Redeemer" as well? (Remember, Jesus was God who became flesh.)

Parsing of words aside, you can be redeemed from the death penalty through Jesus Christ. Will you accept Him, and take Him up on that great offer?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Biggest Loser

When you hear about big-name poker players, the news is usually impressive and positive. Player A made a final table. Player B walked away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But then there's Player C - and we offer Dan Cates as an example of that. He calls himself on Twitter "one of the most successful online poker players of all time." Yet he made a poker news website this week because of how much money he's lost - nearly $500,000 since the start of the year on PokerStars. (He clearly plays for money on that site; we only use play money, and don't even buy extra chips.)

Perhaps more surprisingly, Cates seemed to call attention to his own losing streak by writing on Twitter:

for someone who has played games all over the world and on many stakes, I have to say has the WORST games by FAR (toughest)

The fate of Cates is a reminder of why some people warn against playing poker. in the first place. When someone when money, especially in a cash game, someone has to lose money. But believe it or not, sometimes losing a lot can be a good thing:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. - Philippians 3:7

The Biblical apostle Paul's resume didn't have poker tournaments on it. But for his day and his religious circle, it was impressive....

If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.... as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.... - Philippians 3:4-6

In other words, he was a Jew's Jew. But there's one item on the resume we left out: for zeal, persecuting the church... - Philippians 3:6

And that was the problem. Paul (originally called Saul) thought he knew what God was doing, and thought the new "church" movement after the resurrection of Jesus Christ couldn't possibly be it. But God proved him wrong by striking him down.

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." - Acts 9:5-6

Saul left that moment temporarily blind, and had to be led to Damascus. But once there, he was healed and began preaching Jesus "is the son of God" (Acts 9:18, 20). The success he had doing that led him to write later:

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

Maybe you're like Paul, or like poker's "Jungleman Dan.". You've lost a lot, at the table or in life. Maybe God is trying to tell you something. Ask Him in prayer to show you what that message is. Ask for His wisdom, which - pardon any offense - is far better than yours (I Corinthians 1:25). Serving God is the real path to victory, in this life and beyond.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Poker Day 499: Good or Bad?

"As far as I'm concerned, they're all good." We borrowed a "Good Friday" line we heard years ago on an Atlanta radio station as we sat down to play poker at Kansas Star Casino. It was our first live poker tournament in about two months, due to a busy schedule. But three recent top-100 finishes in online events with more than 1,000 players gave us some hope....

BLINDS: 100/200


The game got off to a good start for us, as A-K allowed us to win a big pot with a pair of Kings over a couple of chasers. We were above 5,300 at that point. But then the cards went dry, and hopeful pairs hit bad flops.

We now come back from the first break with 3,400 chips. Sitting two seats from the button at a table of nine, we see these cards and raise to 600. The man in the dealer's seat calls. So does one of the blinds. Everyone else says no.


The man in the blind checks, so we can have a bit of fun. "I'm making a classic continuation bet," we say. It's 700.

"I'm all-in," the button man says in response.

The blind folds. Yet we don't feel very worried. We bluff-bet this opponent out of a hand to win a modest pot when we had the button two hands earlier. And this is a table where some people have been betting big with relatively little all day. So we quickly conclude this man hit Jack-something - maybe Jack-Ace. And we have him topped.

"I have to call," we say. After all, 1,300 of our 3,400 already is committed.

Then it happens. Our "dealer" turns over J-J! He hit the Jack-pot on the flop. "I need some help," we admit.


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


No escape. Only a trip to the rail, finishing 54th out of 89 players. Perhaps we were overconfident?!

MINISTRY MOMENT: Noting what day it was, we took our "Lord's Supper" card protector and showed it to a man who called himself a poker rookie. (He lasted longer than we did.)

"What do you think of Jesus?" we asked him. He clearly did not expect that sort of question in a poker room.

"You mean Chris Ferguson?!" he answered, straining for some humor.

No.... not the poker champ who's been given the nickname "Jesus" because some people think he looks like the Savior (at least the way He's been depicted since the Renaissance). The real Jesus.

"I grew up in a town full of Catholics," the man admitted. In fact, we checked and found that small town of around 600 people was founded by a Catholic priest. But the man at the table said little more than that about our question.

Here's the good news for him, and even for you. You don't have to be Roman Catholic to be a Christian. In fact, the word "Catholic" isn't in the Bible at all. Here's a bit of how it really works....

Peter and the other apostles replied, "We must obey God rather than men!.... We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." - Acts 5:29, 32

There's obedience involved in being a Christian - and some simply some nebulous "god."

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth.... - John 14:15-17

These are words of Jesus Christ. While countless churches might give you differing set of rules about how to serve God, the real Jesus said you should obey what He commands. That means reading the Bible carefully, beginning with the four "gospels" which begin the New Testament. Among them....

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

That's what we try to do in poker rooms. We start small, simply by bringing up Jesus and God the Father. Where it goes from there is up to God. Just as big things can happen in a poker tournament, we believe God can make big things happen in your life. Will you obey the real Jesus, to open the door for it?

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD: 182 final tables in 499 games (36.5%) - 36 cashes. We're not sure yet when tournament #500 will happen.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

High hand, or high-handed?

Today we reach a milestone - 1,500 posts on this blog! That's something to celebrate, much like winning a big poker tournament.

If you want to win the tournament, you'll probably need to have the highest hand most of the time. If you win a pot with a royal flush, that's the highest hand of all.

But there's another kind of "high hand" that we're thinking about right now - and so are observing Christians and Jews. It's this one....

And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the 15th day of the first month; on the morrow after the Passover the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of all the Egyptians. - Numbers 33:3 (KJV)

It's easy to crack poker jokes about what this "high hand" might have been. A full house? Nope; the Israelites left their homes empty. A straight? Well, maybe - but they wandered around to get to the Red Sea.

But to be serious, we're in a season picturing the time when Israel was allowed to leave Egypt and head for the promised land. Other Bible translations say they went out "with boldness" or "defiantly." The English Standard Version says "triumphantly" - but the victory was only partially their doing.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. - Exodus  12:13

These were instructions from God. The Israelites did their part, marking homes with blood from sacrificed animals. Then God did His - striking dead the firstborn of all Egypt, and causing such anguish that the Egyptians were happy to get rid of a people which had been slaves.

Yet in our time, a third definition of "high hand" has developed. "Arrogant or arbitrary in manner" is how our hardbound dictionary defined someone who is "high-handed." That is something God does not want to see - even if you have a high hand at the table:

The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the forward mouth, do I hate. - Proverbs 8:13 (KJV)

Arrogance is linked here to pride. God wants your attitude to be exactly the opposite, when you play poker and live your life....

But he gives us more grace. This is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - James 4:6

Some believers go so far as to eat unleavened bread (such as matzo or crackers) for seven days - what some call the "bread of humility."

So we're really celebrating a seven-day Biblical feast, more than we are 1,500 blog posts. But we're trying to do so with the right kind of "high hand" - thankful for God providing triumphs in our lives, from poker pots to victory over stubborn sins. We humbly thank all of you who take time to read these posts, and invite you to comment on where you're reading and what we can do better.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

King-Queen Winners?

Can someone play poker and have a happy marriage at the same time? Some of the stories that make the news can make you wonder.

The latest comes from New York, where poker pro Beth Shak has filed for divorce. She's been married to cable TV news reporter Rick Leventhal only ten months. But an attorney says "irreconcilable differences" have developed.

We're struck by what Shak said about meeting Leventhal:

"I’ve never been lucky in love, but meeting in him proved that my luck has changed...."

Disclaimer: We've never been married, so we won't pretend to be experts at this. But we'll go to a great guidebook on the topic, and ask: is love a matter of "luck" - or something more?

He who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord. - Proverbs 18:22 (NLT)

Both Shak and Leventhal will be ending their second marriages. Assuming "she who finds a husband" also receives favor from God, both of them found it twice. But we think finding it is one thing, while maintaining it is something else....

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.... - Ephesians 5:25

We don't know what sort of "differences" Leventhal and Shak have. But this verse says love is about giving - in this case, a husband going "all in" for his wife. How far did God and Jesus Christ go with that?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. - Romans 5:8

It's about going all in, even if the other party is sinning and doesn't deserve a thing. At a human level, that can take a lot of work and resolve - but that's what God's love is, and that's the example we're supposed to follow.

(In a few days, some Christians will recall that giving sacrifice by taking part in "Lord's Supper" services. Some call them Passover or communion services. This article may help you understand that better.)

Giving isn't something players at a poker table are supposed to do. Tournaments are won by collecting the most chips. But to show love in a marriage, somebody's got to give. It's even better if both do. May all married couples learn to do that - even to have a "love Shak."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

A Quiet Time?

They're holding the U.S. Chess Championships in St. Louis right now. People who have played the game know it is not a place for cheerleaders and marching bands. Some legendary players have been known to demand absolute silence in the room, so they can think through their moves.

Should poker be the same way? Some people think so - even online. Consider this exchange from our last National League of Poker tournament, where we took on a player with a dog picture for his avatar:

Dealer:  boatbrat wins Main Pot ($1,040) with Straight, ten to ace
Me:  Very good - couldn't run you off
boatbrat:   blah blah blah
Me:  Happy National Puppy Day, by the way.
Dealer:  Emma168 wins Main Pot ($975)
boatbrat:  gsus u tak too *** much
boatbrat:  tak
Me:  :-(

Some folks are talkative at poker tables. Some clearly are not. But for us to do one of our main purposes, we feel we have to chat at least a little. Here's why...

Therefore go and make disciples in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. - Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus told His disciples to go make more disciples. There are many ways to do this. You could stand silently outside a poker room or train station handing out tracts. Or you can talk about the things of God as you go through your game or your day.

We prefer to chat as the opportunity presents itself, because we've found from decades of experience that merely setting a silent example is not enough. Many people won't get that.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? - Romans 10:14

As we mentioned in a recent post, we realize there are proper times to be quiet in a poker room. That's true in all walks of life, of course....

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.... a time to be silent and a time to speak.... - Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7

But when it's time to speak, whether about the game or your beliefs, you shouldn't be afraid to do it. To borrow from our last post:

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

May your words at the poker table be timely, proper and uplifting. Not necessarily "preachy." Set an example that properly reflects.... well, let's correct that misspelling by "Boatbrat." May it properly reflect Jesus Christ.