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?