About 10 or 12 years ago I was playing poker at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. At the table with me was an older gentleman from South Carolina and we got involved in a hand against one another. I check raised him on the river and he thought for several minutes before folding his cards. As I was stacking his chips he asked, “Did you have it?” I smiled and said, “Sorry, no. That was a bluff.” He leaned back in his chair and in his deep southern drawl announced loudly, “Deceit has no place in the game of poker.” The whole table cracked up. Well I’d like to steal his phrase and announce, in all seriousness, that religion has no place in the game of poker.
What prompted that announcement? I was watching the final table of the World Series of Poker main event on ESPN the other day and there was a hand between Jerry Yang, the eventual winner, and Lee Watkinson, the only pro at the final table. Watkinson was all-in. The camera moved back and forth between Watkinson’s fiance and Yang as they fervently prayed to win the hand.
Watkinson’s fiance was exhorting the Lord, saying, “Come on God. Now weapon can stand against you.” Then the camera goes to Yang who says, “In the name of Jesus, you have a plan for my life today.” Then back to Watkinson’s fiance who says, “Please God, make Lee a believer, show him that you’re real.” It was, quite frankly, appalling.
First of all, how stupid is Watkinson’s fiance? Make Lee a believer and show him you’re real by letting him get lucky to win a poker hand? Well lady, he lost that hand. Does that mean God isn’t real? Of course not. She’ll rationalize it away, but almost certainly without bothering to question the idea of praying to God to win a freaking poker game. If that isn’t using God’s name in vain, what could possibly be?
And the same goes for Yang. Yes, he’s got a compelling story, having escaped Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand, then to America where he is now a therapist for at-risk kids. I’m sure he’s a great guy. But Jerry, God doesn’t give a shit whether you win a poker game. And you’re behavior is just as stupid as hers because if you’d lost that hand and lost the tournament, you would still have believed that God has a plan for your life.
Religion has no place in the game of poker.