Wiesenberg (s005 pan): Sophie doesn’t get caught


Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Pan Player+. This entry in the “Aunt Sophie” series covers pan (or panguingue), which is a multi-player form of rummy, often played for money.

Michael Wiesenberg index.


Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg


Aunt Sophie doesn’t get caught cheating

“What can you tell me about cheating in pan?” asked Aunt Sophie.

“A lot,” I replied, “but is it cheating you want to know about, or that bending of the rules that seems to have become part of the game?”

“I’m talking,” she said, “about not playing according to the rules. Yesterday that goniff Marty Goldlum went out with four spreads, and no one even saw until the hand was over.”

I put a pained expression on my face, which Aunt Sophie incorrectly interpreted as a need for sustenance. She disappeared into her apartment, presently returning poolside with a plate of caramel brownies, a teapot filled with Jackson’s of Piccadilly Earl Grey tea, and a shot glass of Kirschwasser. She set the brownies and tea on the marble-topped ice cream table closest to me, and the schnapps by her side. Although the sour look had been occasioned at the thought of having to introduce my father’s sister to the facts of life of pan, I would put up with a great deal as long as she plied me with her excellent cuisine.

Too late

“And,” I picked up her story, “when someone complained to the dealer, Marty insisted it was too late after the hand was over to rectify the oversight, and the dealer concurred.”

Sophie regarded me suspiciously. “Are you sure,” she demanded, “you haven’t been hiding behind that potted palm on the rail watching my game? How do you know that?”

“Because,” I sighed, “I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times. No matter what offense a player appears to have committed, the dealer cannot correct it after the hand is out of play. That goes for poker as well as pan, but pan has an added complication. In poker, certain actions are considered cheating, and getting caught at them is excuse enough for a player getting barred from a club, certainly for incurring the justifiable wrath of the other participants in the game. In pan, though, such actions are considered merely a judicious ‘bending’ of the rules, not actual cheating, and permitted if the player is not caught.”

I call it cheating,” Aunt Sophie declared huffily.

“Yes,” I affirmed, “I’m sure you do, and a lot of others would like to see that aspect removed from the game, but, until it is, the sharp players will continue to get away with things their less-than-eagle-eyed opponents miss. There seems to be a very fine distinction in pan between actual cheating and this sanctioned bending of the rules. Regarding your erstwhile inamorato’s going out with twelve cards, I must say that’s the most blatant infringement I’ve heard of, but I’m not surprised he got away with it. Pan players are constantly watching for an opponent to foul his hand and looking for an opportunity to force a card back on him, but they miss the daring coup carried out right before their eyes. I once saw a blue-backed blackjack deck in play with one red-backed ace of spades, and no one at the table noticed anything unusual. Dealers say if an elephant walked across the table, the players would never even notice. They’re too engrossed in their own cards. That of course also explains why players hit breaking hands against the dealer’s up-card of a four, five, or six, or stand on sixteen against an ace. It’s not just that they don’t know anything about basic strategy, it’s that they have no idea of anything that’s going on around them. Same in pan. The players are more watchful there, but they don’t know what to watch for. They miss the obvious.”

Should be illegal

“Yeah, but four spreads,” Sophie cried, “that should be illegal.”

“It is illegal,” I agreed, “in a way. But illegal only if you get caught. In poker the penalty for having too many cards is forfeiting the pot, and anyone can bring it to the attention of the table, including the dealer, or actually, in particular the dealer, because it’s his job to keep the game honest. But in pan, the dealer must not say anything unless asked. The dealer is not allowed to foul a hand. Only a player is permitted to do that, and in most clubs the unspoken rule is that only a player actually involved in a hand can foul another’s hand. The punishment is similar in pan, that is, the player forfeits anything he’s collected so far, and must ‘pay through,’ that is continue to make payments until the hand ends. But since there is no social stigma to remedying a foul hand by apparently foul means, most players try to get away with it. What would you do if you suddenly noticed you had only nine cards?”

“Why, I’d tell the others, and quit the hand,” Sophie asserted.

“I believe you would,” I gently responded, “but Marty Goldblum and most of the others wouldn’t. With nine cards, he would draw and not discard, and hope no one noticed. Or he might go out with ten cards and hope no one bothered counting. Four spreads, though, that could only be twelve cards. Obviously no one was paying attention. Now, what you can get away with, that’s a matter of interpretation. Dropping a card on the floor is frowned on in most pan circles, yet I’ve seen players with an extra card do just that, and then later pick up the card from the floor, saying, ‘Hey, look what I found down here!’ You just have to know what to watch for. If you’re in the hand, foul the other player’s hand, because not doing so costs you money. If you’re not in the hand, and you see someone do that, don’t say anything.”

“But that’s not fair,” she gasped.

“I agree,” I agreed, “but until they change the rules, you have to just go along with them, or quit playing pan.”

“Never,” she blurted out.

Drawing more than once

“No,” I continued, “I didn’t think you’d ever do that, so just go along with it. But you can suggest changes. Maybe you could convince the management at your favorite club to not permit what you term cheating in the pan games. But, in the meantime, here are some things to watch out for. Make sure a player draws only once each round. Drawing more than once in a round is the way to correct a short hand. Make sure that a player also discards only once each round. That’s a convenient way of getting rid of an extra card. The rules say it’s okay to try. Just if anyone challenges your move, you have to dump your hand. If you see someone with too many cards, watch for that card to drop to the floor, and then immediately bring it to the attention of the others. And don’t forget to always count your cards before you pick them up. Count them face down on the table, and the dealer has to rectify the total. If you discover too few or too many immediately, that is after picking up the cards, but before your first draw, the hand is supposed to be redealt. If you discover the incorrect total after play begins, your hand is foul if you’re caught; the error cannot be undone. That’s when most players try the bit of legal chicanery, when it’s too late to have the dealer fix the mistake. And another thing to watch for is a spread to be good on the board as soon as a player puts it down. If he draws a card that makes a previously illegal spread good, it’s too late to complain after he’s discarded.”

Nu,” Sophie wondered, “you think if I bring the pan manager some of my cheesecake he’ll consider changing the rules?”

I would,” I ventured, “but I think you’ll encounter some resistance from the old-time players, who like that aspect of the game. And, you know what, we never did talk about the ‘real’ cheating. Perhaps another time.”

Next: 006 Aunt Sophie holds back

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