Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Deep Poker Thoughts

A friend of mine pointed me to this blog entry, and then we proceeded to have a bit of a discussion with some other friends about Christians playing poker. It is interesting as they suggested maybe hockey and bridge as alternatives for relationship building. Not sure if they have seen Christians play hockey - but give a Christian a stick and they act like the devil. But nonetheless it is a great question: should Christians play poker?

First off I am not a proponent of gambling. I think there is a world of difference between obsessively playing a game that is designed to make the house rich spending money that should be spent on the essentials in life. So you aren't going to get me advocating gambling even as a pasttime. But is poker exclusively gambling?

We have friendly non-cash games at our house. They are loads of fun. You play for bragging rights. But not everyone gets that - some people want money involved to make the game worthwhile??? Even little bits of money??? I am a gamer at heart so I love strategy and I love winning - so I have a bit of trouble understanding that mentality. My dad is like that - he can't play a serious game of poker unless it is for money. So I don't end up playing with gamblers.

But there is a lot of buzz about games like Texas Hold-em and Omaha. And rightly so these are games that mix skill and luck in perfect proportions. Games that you can really connect with emotionally and play with your whole heart. Plus they are all the rage on TV right now (thank you Hockey Strike!) and this has a certain allure - what other game can a fat man win and be treated like an olympic hero? Not many. So that means it has fad status.

Let's see - easy to learn, lots of opportunities to play, unlikely heros, great mix of skill and luck. What is not to love? Well there is that attachment to gambling.

Here is the rub. Most gambling games favour the house. But in poker the house only takes a rake - and if you are playing at home a rake is, I'm pretty sure, illegal. So that puts poker in a slightly different class of games, in my mind anyway. So buying into a tournament for $20 is about the same as paying $35 to buy into a D&D minis tournament (pay for sealed boosters) where I might win other boosters that you know the cost of my entry paid for. What is the difference?

One other thought is, we all know that some folks are going to get addicted to poker. There are even disturbing ads on TV right now about this. My thought is, as a Christian, do I want to abandon folks to that? Or would I rather be there as someone who isn't completely alien to the game but through Christ is able to help others overcome addictions and personal problems that lead to addictions? Yeah, I want to be there. I want to know that there are Christians in that world ready to share the light of Christ where it is needed. I think that is important. Protesting on the sidelines is the last thing I want to see Christians do, addicted to poker is also the last thing I want to see them do (if you are addicted then let's chat, I might be able to help). Here's an idea - look for opportunities to pray for those you play with, I do and it is pretty cool.

My final word on poker is, "shuffle up and deal!"


DMofKor said...

Very insightful closing comment. Much of that can be said of many topics that have been made taboo by christians.

One of Freedom said...

I've had a few opportunities to pray for people I was playing poker with online. Not just to myself, but the conversation revealed a real need so I asked if they would mind me praying about that for them. Most people won't refuse prayer and it gives an opportunity for someone to experience God stepping into their points of need.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem playing 'cards' with my friends at our homes, as long as money is not involved. It's a fun activity to be shared during fellowship. As far as playing with 'gamblers', I don't have a problem with that either. I think we are all 'gamblers' in some way or another...we're all sinners.

My only objection is with playing poker on-line. It's only my opinion, but I think this is very addictive. You may feel that you are able to control yourself, but what about the addiction you are fuelling at the other end of the computer? Dangerous I think. Just my opinion though...

One of Freedom said...

I'm not sure what you mean by other end of the computer? Are you implying that I am somehow culpable for the actions and addictions of others? There are two issues I have with that - first they are going to play anyway so I'm doing them a favour taking their chips and being a non-addicted player in that environment (live games have just as much potential for addiction, maybe even more). Second it means giving up a whole area of social interaction to the devil just because it happens in a medium that is not completely understood (and therefore often feared). I happen to enjoy internet interactions (NGs, Blogs, online games, etc.) I've been doing it for at least 12 years now (ran my own BBS for about 4 years) so it is in my blood. Maybe it has more to do with comfort in an environment - my hope is that God is rising up people like myself who operate well in both the online and offline environments and are able to reach people who have retreated into purely online social environments.

Actually for the record, I gave up online poker for Lent. It has been a good measure of my "addictedness" to the format.

Tim Kantel said...

Great Post Frank. I think as a church we shouldn't be afraid to connect with culture as you're doing here. I think it's the notion of knowing your strengths and weakness' and using them to connect with people. If poker is a weakness, then strike that off your list. But if you've got a strength or passion for it, then why not use it as a medium to connect with people and show them that we Christians can really be a normal bunch if we try.