Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Why Factor

Make a smart read in a poker room, and some people might consider you a genius. Make a bad move that costs you all your chips, and a simple question may come up. Why did you do that?

Why do some players take an aggressive approach to hands? Why do others lay back and wait for the big moment?

An article posted this week gets into the psychology of poker, and what motivates people to do what they do. The author puts it in terms of winning vs. losing - that some hot players are more likely to quit while they're ahead, while losing players want to recoup at least some of their losses.

Perhaps your decisions in poker are more muddled than that. But outside the table, our motivation ultimately matters....

All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. - Proverbs 16:2

Or to put it another way, all of our whys seem innocent. At the moment of decision, we may think our decision and logic are wise. But time ultimately shows whether or not we're right. And deep down, God often knows the "why" of our actions better than we do. As one prayer put it:

...Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since you know his heart (for you alone know the hearts of men).... - II Chronicles 6:30

Does our motivation behind our actions really matter? The Bible indicates ultimately, it will....

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. - I Corinthians 4:5

This speaks of a coming judgment of all humans by Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:11-15). So what should our proper motive be? Ponder your answer, and leave a comment if you wish. We'll get to that in a future post.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Mind Games

We wrote in a recent post about the risk of being a hypocrite. You can do it in many ways. You might play poker privately online, while railing against those who play in public. Or you might be discourteous at the table in one way, while complaining about those are do it in a different way.

An apostle in the Bible realized he could be guilty of that very thing - and perhaps at times felt he actually was. At one point he wrote:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. - Romans 7:21

They're competing thoughts, battling for the same brain.
...But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. - Romans 7:23

Knowing what to do, versus actually doing it. Does that describe you? Truth be told, it describes many of us - and the "law of sin" leads to death (Romans 6:23). But Paul found a solution to that dilemma....
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. - Romans 8:1-2

God provided the solution through His Son, who became a "sin offering" for us (verse 3).
You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.... - Romans 8:9

You can have the Holy Spirit of God by repenting of your sins and being baptized (Acts 2:38). The mind games you face at poker tables might not disappear completely. But if you're walking with God and studying His Word, they should become easier to handle.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

On Auto-Pilot

Some casinos now have "digital" blackjack (for lack of better wording) - where the table, cards and good-looking dealer appear on giant TV screens. In a world with computer-driven poker websites, perhaps you can guess where live poker might go next....

Jackpot Digital of Canada has developed "poker tables with virtual cards." Players sit around it to take part in hands, but there's no human dealer present. The "cards" and "chips" are moved around by computer. And if you fold a hand before the flop, your part of the table might bring up other games to play.

For people used to online poker, this probably is a great idea. They could get out of the house for a day of action without leaving their "comfort zone" of experience. The chances for rule violations and misdeals go way down - not to mention the fact that cards can't be marked.

But for others, we can see why this approach seems quite impersonal. For them, part of the poker experience is having camaraderie with dealers. And if hands are disputed, they tend to trust human dealers more than impersonal machines where a "fix" might be in.

Yet in reality, both cases have "human" elements. Someone has to program the virtual table to do what it does, whether it's right or wrong. So in both cases, an old phrase can be true....

...For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. - Romans 3:23

Now hold on here - sin?!?! Why bring that word up in this?

Because in the original Greek of the New Testament, a "sin" can mean making an error - to "miss the mark." And let's be honest: we all make mistakes. Human dealers can fumble and expose a card too soon. Human players can play out of turn, make bad raises - and even spill their drinks on a felt table.

So mistakes and sins still will happen, whether a dealer at the table or a computer under your feet runs the game or not. Our job is to avoid those sins - and that's not easy. But the Bible offers hope along that line:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. - I John 3:9

Is this for real? Can someone actually stop making mistakes? Some Christian ministers might turn this verse that way, but we think that sets an impossibly high standard for believers. After all....

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. - I John 1:8

The notes of the NLT Study Bible explain it this way: "This does not mean that we live perfect lives.... but that we keep ourselves in a good relationship with God." Another study Bible calls it "a life that is not characterized by sin."

To some extent, poker always will be an "imperfect" game. Poor timing with cards can turn pocket Aces into bad-beat losers to a royal flush. But if we're "born of God" and develop a proper humble relationship with Him, sins and mistakes of a larger nature should go down. Search for the phrase "born again" in this blog for a better understanding of what that's about.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Remember As You Play....

The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. - Ecclesiastes 4:5
No one's ever won a poker tournament by folding every hand. In fact, the rules might require you to play once in a while - when the Big Blind comes and no one raises. The only way to make a gain is to make a bet. The key, of course, is knowing when to do it.

But in this case, "folding your hands" means something a bit different - not doing any work. You'll "starve to death," warns the Contemporary English Version. Yet note the verses around it....
And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor.... There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. "For whom am I toiling," he asked, "and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?" This too is meaningless - a miserable business! - Ecclesiastes 4:4, 8

This gets to a core question - why you do what you do. Do you play poker simply to get even with a big-money opponent? Do you grind in cash games for hours or days, because you have nothing else to do with your time?

The key, it seems, is to have a mind focused in the right direction:
Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind. - Ecclesiastes 4:6

How do you get this tranquil mind? We don't think it comes from within.
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.... - Romans 8:6

The Holy Spirit can give your life real peace - the ultimate peace of knowing what will happen after this "tournament" of life is over. It comes by repenting of your sins and accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior (Acts 2:38). Is it time for you to "fold" to something better?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In the Presence of a Princess

We don't watch poker movies - to be honest, we scarcely watch any movies - but word came today that another one is on the way.

The trailer was released for Molly's Game, the story of an Olympic skier who becomes a "poker princess." She develops a private poker game with a star-studded clientele of players. The first reviews indicate it's a true story. And the back story is a bit lurid - with one Hollywood star reportedly offering her $1,000 to "bark like a seal."

Would you ask someone from a real royal family to do something like that? Somehow, we doubt it. But what if we said you're walking in front of royalty all the time - every day?
For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. - Psalm 47:7

Ace may be the high card in poker, but God is the highest King of all. And He's paying attention to all of us, whether you want Him to do it or not.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.... - Psalm 33:13-14

An old song said, "God is watching us from a distance." But it won't be that way forever - because God plans to send a King named Jesus who will get close. Too close for comfort, some might say....
"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud the laborers of their wage, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the Lord Almighty. - Malachi 3:5

If those traits describe you - perhaps committing "perjury" with your poker hand, or something worse - it's time to "fear God." Here's how you do it, for starters....
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.- Ecclesiastes 12:13

And so we'll conclude our own matter here. Obey God. He's watching. He's planning to testify against your sins. And living as if you're in front of royalty can be a noble thing to do.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poker Day 505: Missed-8-ment

"I'm here for the food," we told several people over the weekend. We drove to Tulsa, Oklahoma to claim "free birthday burger" offers from restaurants that are not in our home area. Before heading to Ruby Tuesday for a Sunday burger dinner, we stopped at a casino to see if we could win money to cover the trip.

Two Tulsa casinos compete against each other for poker players quite a bit. In fact, both have Sunday morning tournaments. River Spirit's "Sunrise Showdown" at 9:30 a.m. costs more, at $60 including "dealer appreciation." But that meant it offered the biggest reward - and since we won money there last year, we hoped to succeed there again.

BLINDS: 300/600


It's been a stormy Sunday for us - with fairly big losses, but also fairly big gains. In the second hour of play, a Jack of diamonds led to a big flush win. Now with two tables left, we have good starting cards at a table of seven and about 10,000 chips. We're relatively late in the order, but we decide to call and see if others raise. They don't. About half the table is in.

ON THE FLOP: 6-6-8

Small cards look good to us. But as we recall, a man across the table mishandles his chips a bit - putting one in, then announcing a bet of 1,700. The dealer makes him take back all but the minimum 600.

"I know what he meant to do," we say a bit tongue-in-cheek, "so I'll bet 1,700." That man calls; everyone else is out.


This still looks good - and now our opponent checks to us. We bet 1,700 again.

"Raise," he says - and doubles the bet to 3,400. We consider what he wanted to do on the flop, and conclude he has an 8. Therefore, our second pair tops his - and we call accordingly.


We've seen enough to win, right? Well, not so fast. Our opponent now puts out 4,000. We're still not convinced, and think he's trying to scare us away. Besides, if he happens to have a 10, we're still better.

"I only have 600 more to go all-in," we say - and we do. A shove earlier in the hour brought a good read that our A-10 was better than an opponent. He had A-5, but we wound up splitting the pot.

The opponent calls without hesitation. "I have a 6," he says - and proves it. Ouch!! This time our read was all wrong - and we wind up leaving the room in 15th place, out of 34 players.

We should have realized a couple of things here. We got burned by a hidden three of a kind early in the tournament (a Big Blind 3-10, that turned into a full house for a woman). And we should have been more careful, saving our last 600. At least that would have kept us in the game for a few more hands. One too many bad decisions cost us dearly.

MINISTRY MOMENT: We're not sure what topic they were discussing, but one poker room staff member said to another before the tournament, "You're preaching to the choir."

To which we responded: "Sometimes the choir needs to be preached to."

Our apologies for the bad grammar. But we've sung in a few church choirs over the years - and while we realize the woman's phrase is a common cliché, choirs are not filled with perfect people. In fact, neither is the community of preachers. A New Testament writer seemed to realize this well....
...You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?... You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? - Romans 2:21, 23
Paul wrote these words to Jews who considered themselves morally superior (verses 17-18) - but we all have to be careful. Nothing says "hypocrite" more than someone accusing others of doing the very "wrong" that they do. How did Paul know that so well?
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. - I Timothy 1:15
Paul undoubtedly recalled his track record of persecuting believers in Jesus. But Jesus intervened in his life by striking him down on a trip to Damascus (Acts 9:1-16). Paul turned into a believer - but even believing ministers like him can face battles with sin. We'll talk about that in an upcoming post.

UPDATED POKER SCOREBOARD:  183 final tables in 505 games (36.4%) - 37 cashes. Our record in Oklahoma now stands at two final tables in four games.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Plug Here, Unplug There

Some people hope Scott Blumstein's win of the World Series of Poker Main Event will lead to more legal online gambling on poker in the U.S. But in other places, the exact opposite is occurring.

Australia's Senate voted this week for what some news sources call a "ban" on playing "online poker legally." But one article quoted an email from PokerStars in April, that explains what's really going on:

It’s with great sadness that we have to say that if this bill is passed it means we will have to halt real money poker play for you and all other Australian players,” the email read.

We think this is about "real money" poker play - as in online cash games. That's because there are plenty of sites in the U.S. where you can play poker, and even win prizes. But they're free to enter.

Australian officials made it clear their concern is about stopping "problem gambling" - as in addictive behavior. Our dictionary defines "addict" as "to have or give (oneself) habitually or compulsively." Based on that, religious anti-gambling groups can sound like they're encouraging a swap of one "addiction" for another:
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. - Psalm 119:97

All day?!?! Does that mean a believer in God should lock himself in a room and only read the Bible (especially the first five books) from sunrise to sunset? Well....
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing.... - I Thessalonians 5:16-17 (NASB)

So are we supposed to only speak to God all day as well?!

Those seem like very extreme views to us. And the Bible tries to balance out that thinking....
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." - II Thessalonians 3:10

Time by ourselves with God is good. He established a Sabbath day for that (among other reasons). But people who cloister themselves non-stop and don't do anything else might be surprised when "manna from heaven" stops.

People can become addicted to all sorts of things, from poker games to religious cults. We think the key is to have a balanced approach in life - and add God to that balance, if He is missing. That's where we think many people go astray:
"For in him we live and move and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, "We are his offspring." - Acts 17:28

Without God, you wouldn't have life - much less a brain to make decisions at a poker table. Plug Him in to your life agenda, even if it means tossing a few things away.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Moment of Hesitation

The flop has come. Your hand is OK, but not too great. You check. The player to your left waits a moment or two, then offers a big bet.

What have you just learned about your opponent? Anything?

You probably should learn something, according to one poker writer we found recently. He says hesitation is a "physical tell" - revealing someone has a strong hand. On the other hand, players with weaker hands or bluffs will act quickly to avoid getting analyzed.

Isn't real life sometimes exactly the opposite of this? People who hesitate to make decisions might be considered weak and indecisive. Yet consider one of the most important decisions ever made....
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray"... Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." - Matthew 26:36, 39

Jesus Christ knew what He had been sent to do. Prophecies in the Old Testament spoke of it. Yet the Lord went to the garden of Gethsemane before He was arrested to be crucified. There He took time to pray - and even appeal to the Father for some kind of alternate course. A spiritually strong "man" hesitated, to be sure of what was coming and how to act.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. - Psalm 130:5

Even if you're sure about your situation - in poker or otherwise - stop a moment to think things through. If you're in a strong position, you'll be more sure of your actions. If you're in a weak position.... well, you might scare some opponents away.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Freedom from Want?

"Still in shock," Scott Blumstein wrote on his Twitter feed after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event. But he's apparently back on the circuit now - playing in a World Poker Tour event in Oklahoma this week.

Immediately after winning the Main Event, Blumstein said something interesting about the $8 million prize. "It's nice to have some freedom now. That was the goal, to get to the point where I can do what I want."

If that's your goal in playing poker, we suggest being very careful. A little "freedom" can be a dangerous thing. Consider....

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. - Galatians 5:13

Does money really give people freedom? In some ways, yes - but not completely. For instance, we presume Blumstein still has to pay federal and state income taxes on his winnings. That could take a million or two.

But the apostle Paul's warning is about using "freedom" - whether it's money, time or something else - to engage in sin. The Bible indicates at the end of our lives, we'll discover freedom truly has a limit:

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

A judgment day is coming, with Jesus Christ serving as the ultimate judge (verse 27). Those who "have done good", as in serving others in a loving way, will "live" with God and Jesus eternally. Those who went the other way will be condemned to a lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

So ultimately, any freedom we obtain from playing poker is not about doing "what I want." It's about doing what God wants. Have you read the Bible carefully to see what that is? We encourage doing that. Here's a verse to help you get started:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

Ponder in prayer what that might mean for your life. If you're still free to play poker, do it with God in mind.