Wiesenberg (s006 pan): Sophie holds back

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 holds back

“When should I hold back a pay?” asked Aunt Sophie, nearly tripping me with her foot extended into the coffee shop aisle. So much for attempting to sneak past her from the bar to the cardroom floor, though how she knew I was coming without having turned around in the booth I’ll never figure out. I sighed and sank into the seat opposite her.

“I presume you’re talking about your favorite game,” I ventured, “and not mah jongg, mad mix, pan 9, super pan 9, mad pan, poker, pai gow poker…”

“Pan, Dollink,” Aunt Sophie interrupted, “of course, although I hope we can talk about those other games another time soon. I need another game so I can become a triple-threat player.”

“You mean,” I interpreted, “you need another way to lose your money. Better you should learn how to be a triple-tough pan player.”

Hold back and get peckered

“Never mind the snotty remarks, Mr. Smotty,” Sophie bristled. “Just tell me about holding back pays. Marty Goldblum always seems to know just when to do it, and I never seem to. Either I hold back and get peckered, or I don’t, and miss out on all I could collect.”

“Without coffee,” I opined, “it’s hard to deliver myself of such weighty advice.” No sooner had the words coalesced in the air than the waitress materialized from seemingly nowhere bearing fresh coffee and chocolate cheesecake. Now I could truly marvel. Not only had this amazing woman discerned my presence unseen from behind, she had apparently divined my appearance far enough in advance to have ordered one of my favorite desserts for me. I settled in for a long Q&A session.

“Well,” I began, hiding my hesitation with a sip of coffee, “the main reason for holding back a pay is to increase your possibilities of putting out the hand. The next most important reason is to increase your possibilities of further pay. You remember last time we talked about getting a grand switch. Sometimes if you put down all your pay at once, you can’t possibly make a grand switch. And the reason, you will recall, for wanting to make a grand switch is not for the glory, but for…”

“Oh, yes,” Sophie interjected, “for increasing the number of outs.”

Wait for the right card

I dived into the chocolate cheesecake, la specialité de la maison of this casino’s coffee shop. “Aunt Sophie,” I declared, “I think you’ll make a pan player yet. It may be tempting to collect several more chips, but if you weigh that against the potential of the hand with the pay held back, you sometimes find the best play is to wait for the right card to come along. Here’s an example that shows holding back for the chance of more pay. You’re dealt three of diamonds, three of clubs, three of spades, a nice pat for one. You also have ace of spades, deuce of spades, which, with that three of spades makes you pat for two if you decide to play it that way. That accounts for five of your cards. You also have three kings of diamonds for another patsy. Your two remaining cards are queen of hearts, queen of clubs. If a queen comes along right away, you can go nine cards flat, but otherwise those will be your discards. You won the last hand, making you first to declare this time. Not a bad hand, so naturally you say, ‘Spiel!’ Okay, you’re first to draw. Seven of spades. Not much use to your hand. The next card off the deck is a three of spades. Wonderful! You put down the three kings of diamonds, the three threes, the ace-deuce-trey of spades. You say, ‘Four please,’ and dump one of the queens. You’re nine-card flat on the board with three spreads, two of them pairs. Are you with me so far?”

“Of course, tsatskeleh,” answered my favorite aunt. “Who could ask for a better hand? And an easier one to play?”

“Well, my dear,” I chided, regretfully scooping up the last crumbs of the cheesecake, “I’m afraid that was a trick question. If you played it that way, you played it wrong. That was the time to hold up on a pay. It’s hard to do, and you collect only half as many chips. You should, however, have put down the three kings and the threes of diamonds and clubs from your hand with the three of spades you plucked. You keep the ace-deuce-trey of spades in your hand. That of course is holding back a pay. You don’t put the three of spades on the board and do keep the ace-deuce in your hand for two reasons. One, it’s unnecessary to have all four threes on the board. The threes are worth one with or without that extra three of spades. Another is you don’t want to scare anyone from dumping another three on you, particularly the three of spades. If you don’t have two of them on the board, the player on your left may take a chance dropping a three of spades, but if you have two of them, he may run a three of spades through his hand, even to the point of completely destroying his own possibilities, just to keep from giving you the card. So you hold the ace-deuce-trey of spades in your hand, plus one of the queens, ask to be paid two chips from each active player, and then discard the other queen. You’re still nine cards flat, but no one knows but you. Now, if the four of spades comes along, you can take it, and go ten cards flat, collecting two more in the process. But if the three of spades comes along, then the reason for having held back the pay becomes apparent. With the three of spades, you can collect three more chips from each player. The threes are worth four now, but you already collected one. And you continue to hold the ace-deuce back, this time because to put them down you would actually decrease the value of the hand. You’re flat, of course, but no one knows.”

Flustered by their confusion

“Yes,” Aunt Sophie added, “and you don’t have to remind me to ask for my three chips before discarding the other queen.”

“Of course not,” I replied, “but you’d be surprised how many players get flustered by a big hand and in their confusion throw their discard and then ask for pay, at which point the dealer has to gently remind them that they can collect the next time they get hit, but it’s too late after discarding. Okay, now you’re flat. What you’re hoping for is another three of spades, but you’ll take anything, even a hot stove, as they say, to the hand. The worst cards you could get are three of diamonds or clubs or four of spades, because then you have to cut off a pay to go out. If you get a three of spades, it’s a bustout, worth 11. That makes three distinct spreads, cutting nothing off. Two when it hits, two for the outs, and then you get paid all over again for everything: two for the spade rope, four for the three spade threes, and one for the diamond kings. If you get a three of hearts, remember that magic word ‘And,’ because you have to cut off a pay to go out. You say, ‘One, and,’ and everyone groans and gives you one chip. Then you put down the ace-deuce of spades with one of the threes of spades. You have not increased the value of the hand when you go out, so it’s not a bustout. Just before you put down the ace-deuce, the hand is worth how much?”

“Well,” Aunt Sophie responded, “let me see. One for the kings, four for the threes of spades, and one for the other three threes. That’s six.”

“Right,” I assented, “and how much after you make the spade rope?”

“Hm,” Sophie mused, “one for the kings, two for the ace-deuce-trey, and now the threes are worth only one, so it’s four.”

“Very good,” I agreed. “So you get what the hand is worth, plus two for going out, plus that one you collected when the three of hearts hit, for a total of seven. That ‘And’ was worth one extra chip from each player. Not as good as 11, of course, but you did pick up five chips earlier. And do you see why you held back on the ace-deuce-trey rope? In case another three of spades came along so you could get full value on the threes. If you had put down the rope first thing, and only one more three of spades came along, you could never collect for it. You’d be sitting flat, with three threes of spades on the board, and unless one more three of spades came along, you’d never get paid for those three threes, which you did, of course, by playing the percentages and holding back on the pay.”

“Yes, but,” Aunt Sophie objected, “with my luck I’d get stuck with them in my hand. Marty Goldblum would probably go out while I was waiting for the right card to come along.”

A bird in the hand

“Perhaps,” I supposed, “but remember I said that you were first to draw in this situation. No one else had hit the board. If it was later in the game, and others looked in danger of going out, you should put down all of your pay at once. Better the bird in the hand in that situation, four chips and three spreads on the board, than collecting just two and holding back two with a somewhat better chance of making more pay and of going out. You’re still playing the percentages. You still have a decent hand, and if someone else does go out, at least you picked up an extra two from each player to help pay the freight.”

“I see,” observed Aunt Sophie, “you have to weigh the increased going out and possible payoff percentages against the likelihood of someone else going out.”

Next: 007 Aunt Sophie gets cheated


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