Life is a game of Texas Hold’em poker, said the rabbi


Life as an analogy

As a clergy person, I feel compelled to have at least one good, “life-is-like-metaphor.” In the past, I had compared life to a roller coaster – with ups, and downs, and reasons to scream. I even maintained that enjoyment was proportional to how much faith you had in the engineer who designed the contraption and if you really felt like you were in danger. I have a new analogy – life is like a game of Texas Hold’em.
I only recently got interested in playing Texas Hold’em because I was struggling with how to engage a group of second semester high school seniors with probability. A trip to Goodwill and $24 dollars worth of chips later, my 1st period students are interested. One day in class, we were calculating the all-important difference between the odds of making a hand and the cost of paying to get the total money in the pot. (My principal stopped into the classroom to observe my lesson, and he twice referred to what I was doing as “inspired.”)

A little about Texas Hold’em

To understand the analogy about life and Texas Hold’em, you need to know a little bit about the game. I’m going to assume you know some basics about regular poker – that a flush beats a pair and that there are 4 suits of each of the 13 cards. What makes Texas Hold’em different than other games is that you are only dealt two cards. Then, there is something called “the flop” where 3 cards are turned face up on the table. There are two other cards, called the “turn” and the “river” that will eventually be revealed.

In the scenario pictured below,
your cards are the Queen and 4  that are showing.

The goal is to make the best hand using the two cards you have combined with the five cards on the table.
A recap – there are two cards that only you know, three cards face up that everyone sees, and two cards to be revealed later.

The analogy

The face down cards

We all were dealt some cards. Those are the two hidden from the other players. The analogy is that we all have things that happened to us (and didn’t happen to us). Some of us got riches, some of us got love, some of us did not. Some of us got dealt what is considered a good starting hand, and some got a poor one. Some didn’t know they had good hands until they lived a bit and realized that the cards they had, while not perfect, were relatively good. And, some of us got mismatched cards, such as 4 and 7, which, by themselves aren’t good.
We all have the cards that were dealt to us in private. It is up to us if we choose to hide these cards or show them to the world. If we so choose, we can “bluff” to the world that we were dealt a better, worse, or any other hand than we received.
We need to remember that everyone with whom we interact has been given some cards. And, ultimately, it is up to them if they decide to show the world the cards they have been dealt.

The three exposed community cards

In life, the community in which we live affects all aspects of our lives. In Texas Hold’em, the same holds true; we exist and think about ourselves within the framework of our community. For example, my weaknesses might look worse when I compare myself to others. Or, my proverbial mismatched 4 and 7 cards can be redeemed with a 3, 5, and 6 showing up to give me a straight; it’s just that I might never have anticipated that this would happen. Or my pair of twos, which felt like winners, might seem relatively weak compared to what other people seem to have.

The turn and the river.

The cards we have yet to see are like the hope we feel in life –there are still two more cards. Anything can happen.

Stretching the analogy:

My BFF Larry says that if you stretch an analogy too far, it will break. This is true. This analogy isn’t perfect. But, it’s kind of fun. So, let me stretch it a little more.


You can’t win if you don’t play and if you don’t bet. If you fold before the three community cards are shown, how can you win?
Moreover, to do well in Texas Hold’em you have to do a little calculating. (This is why I started teaching this to my students in the first place.) The math is relatively simple and there are some easy ways to cheat that make it even easier. The rule is this – you compare your chances of the cards that are going to be turned over giving you a good hand to the return on your bet. That is, if you figure you have a one out of four chance of having a good hand, but the stakes would require you to put in $25 to get $75 back, you don’t bet – the possible return has to be worth your gamble.
What does this has to do with life?
Most of us are frightened to gamble big stakes. I know I am. But, what if we couldn’t lose? Or, more accurately, what if we knew we were going to lose but dared to enjoy playing (and losing) more?

Bringing it to God.

What if we were playing Texas Hold’em with God?
You, God, me, and your friends are all at a table playing Texas Hold’em with God.

This is a friendly game, so don’t worry (the stakes are not your mortal soul).
If you did assume that your eternal damnation is on the line, please, please email me. I would like to talk to you about pursuing spiritual direction.
I’m pretty certain it would be God enjoying the game, wanting to just enjoy our company – like I enjoy playing cards with my children and my friends. Even if I know that I am more skilled playing, it’s about the company.
A poem by the 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz, eloquently puts a conclusion to this analogy to Texas Hold’em with an analogy of playing chess with God.

A beautiful poem


What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

Hafez, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy
This week’s #wisdom_biscuit: Enjoy the game.

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