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.