Wiesenberg (s029 pan): Sophie gets a computer

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card 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 gets a computer

“Wait’ll you see what I just got, Dollink!” exclaimed Aunt Sophie, as she let me in to the apartment.

“What might that be?” I inquired cautiously.

“A computer, Tsatskeleh,” she beamed.

“A computer, great. What are you going to do with a computer?” I probed.

“What am I gonna do with a computer?” Sophie echoed. “I’m gonna become a nerd, of course!”

“Really?” I temporized. “Tell me more.”

“My secret weapon,” she went on, “to beat the pan games this is gonna be.”

“Oh,” I wondered, still mystified. “How will that come about?”

Oy, oy, oy!” lamented my aunt. “Always the skeptacle.”

“I think,” I interjected, “the word is `skeptic.’”

Skeptic, schmeptic!” she riposted. “Machs nichts. What matters is all the money I’m gonna make.”

“All right, Aunt Sophie,” I sighed. “How’s it work?”

Mike Caro’s pan engine

“Ah,” she chortled, “Mr. Saykhel suddenly is interested. I’m going to put Mike Caro’s pan engine on my computer, and then I’ll become the smartest pan player, and no one will be able to beat me, even if I play $100 condition. All I need is for you to help me hook it up.”

“Aha,” I smiled, “I thought there might be a catch. So let me see this wondrous machine of yours. Anything that can turn you into a winning pan player has to be something.”

She led me into the den. There it was, on her sewing table, a slightly dented Commodore 64, wires trailing out of the back to the floor. “Ta da!” she crowed.

“Aunt Sophie,” I began, “I’m not sure I know how to say this, but…”

“You mean,” she growled, “you ain’t gonna help me set it up?”

“No, dear,” I continued, “I’ll be glad to help you set it up. I presume you have documentation with it?”

“Documentation?” she demanded. “What documentation?”

“Manuals, of course,” I explained. “Wait, let me backtrack a bit. Where did you get this little gem?”

“At a garage sale, of course,” she responded. I knew her penchant for garage sales. Normally the only driving Aunt Sophie did was on the weekends looking for garage sales. She had three bumper stickers on the back of her Trans-Am: “Born to shop,” “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping,” and, “Caution: This car stops at all garage sales.”

“And how much,” I bore on, “did you pay?”

She looked worried. “Such a bargain I got,” she returned hesitantly, “at least that’s what the man said. He showed me ads in the paper for all these IBM Pieces…”

PC’s,” I corrected.

“Well, whatever,” she stated; “anyway, they all cost at least a thousand, and most of them cost several thousand.”

“That’s true,” I agreed, “but you didn’t buy a PC or a compatible. You bought a Commodore 64. How much did you pay?”

“Only $150,” she answered. “He showed me the receipt. He paid $220 for it.”

“Only $150!” I roared. Then I quieted down. How could she know? And she was my favorite aunt. “Aunt Sophie, you can buy a new Commodore 64 at Toys `R’ Us for under $100. Yeah, when they first came out they cost close to $300. But when other companies came out with cheap competitors, the price of the 64 went way down. And what you got is used. Which of course is why you got no manuals. That’s no big deal; I can help you set it up. But do you know why they cost so little now? They’re obsolete, that’s why. Commodore doesn’t make them anymore, and I imagine they’ll soon stop supporting them. For heaven’s sake, you could have got a 128 for less than that.”

“What’s a 128?” she demanded.

“That,” I told her, “is the machine Commodore has replaced the 64 with. It runs all the 64 software, and also much software of its own. Very nice machine, for a toy.”

“A toy!” she exploded.

“Yeah, a toy,” I insisted. “And the 64 is even more of a toy. Look, it’s a wonderful computer for games, but not for serious software. And Mike Caro’s software is serious. Not only did you get taken on the price, but you could never run any of his software on it. He wrote all his early stuff on an Apple, which, although it uses the same microprocessor, is not compatible. His poker engine runs on an IBM PC AT. You could never get it to run on any eight-bit machine.”

“Eight-bit?” she laughed. “From what you’re saying, it sounds like I got a two-bit machine.”

“No,” I chuckled, “that’s not quite the same. It has to do with what kind of microprocessor it uses. I don’t need to go into that. Let’s just say that you can’t run his software on a Commodore 64. But, even if you could, you still couldn’t.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” she queried.


“It means,” I interpreted, “that you could never run Mike Caro’s pan engine on any computer, mainly because he hasn’t written such a thing. And there’s no way you or I could do it. He has thousands of lines of code in his poker engine, and pan strategies would be even more complex to program. It took him years to do that programming. We couldn’t do it in less. But, let’s say we could. We would never do it on a Commodore 64, because the computer just doesn’t have enough memory to store or run that big a program, and because there’s no good development environment on it.”

“Talk in English, Bubelenko,” she hissed.

“Sure,” I offered. “There are no good computer languages nor easy way of working in them on the Commodore 64. It’s mainly a BASIC machine. BASIC programs are relatively easy to write, but they run excruciatingly slowly even on the more powerful machines; on a 64, it might take years to run the programs, even if they could be written. You can also do machine language on the 64, and that runs fairly swiftly, but it’s painfully difficult to do. I wouldn’t care to write a pan simulation in 6502 assembly language. But, let’s say such a thing were possible. Let’s say someone did the program. Let’s say it ran reasonably quickly. What would you do with the results? Just having a computer is no guarantee of becoming an expert. You’d have to run the program, examine the results, and then, most difficult, learn them. You don’t need to do that. Just play the way I’ve been trying to teach you and the other players won’t beat you, at least not too bad. And you know what, on top of all of that, I’m not even sure anyone can beat pan! I think maybe the house take on most games is too high to overcome. Maybe a really good player would have a 10% edge on the average player, but I suspect the house percentage, usually taken in the form of a drop, is higher than that. No, my dear, just play pan for fun and relaxation. And you can also have fun and relaxation with this machine, if you want. I’ll get you Space Taxi and Flight Simulator, and you can have a blast.”

“Maybe I’ll just give this thing to Goodwill,” she sighed. “I thought I had found a short cut to instant riches.”

“Why don’t you give it to your cousin Moishe’s kid for Hanukkah?” I suggested. “That little guy is really sharp, and he’d love it.”

Next: 030 Aunt Sophie goes out early

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