Wiesenberg (s007 pan): Sophie gets cheated

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 gets cheated

“How can one player get four pat specials in one hour?” asked Aunt Sophie in the middle of Shabbas dinner.

“That hardly seems right,” I responded.

“What’s a ‘special’?” asked Amy Sheitel. You may wonder how a third character had inveigled herself into one of these heretofore bilateral exchanges. Aunt Sophie, it seems, had mistaken my confirmed bachelorhood for some sort of lack in my life and, putting on her shadchen cap, invited the daughter of one of her pan-playing friends to share the meal. Perhaps she thought that the nephew she had practically raised would be attracted enough to this golden-tressed, shapely beauty to want to exchange some of his cardroom time for social activities such as communal Purim dances, social work, and, heaven forbid, a walk down the aisle.

Was condescension the proper approach, or disregard?

Even more unusual

“A special,” I vouchsafed a reply, “is three or more valles in spades, an unusual occurrence when part of one’s original ten cards, and even more unusual happening four times in an hour.”

“‘Valley spades’?” the demoiselle pursued. “Do they use different garden tools in the San Fernando area from L.A.?”

“Some more knishes, Shirley?” Aunt Sophie hastily offered.

“Threes, fives, and sevens, all spades,” I sibilated. “Aunt Sophie, where were you playing,” I gently probed.

“At the Pasatiempo,” Sophie somewhat guiltily admitted.

“Mm-hm,” I continued, “and for what stakes?”

“Well,” she grudgingly confessed, “I was doing real well in the $2 game, and the cards were running all over me, so I thought I’d play a little higher, and …”

“How high?” I bore on.

“Well, $10 condition,” Sophie allowed, “but everyone was playing doubles and double-doubles.”

“Oh my,” I sighed. “And who was dealing?”

“Let’s see,” Aunt Sophie concentrated, “I believe his name was Jack M’Dack.”

Four bongs

“Yes,” I proceeded, “and how much did you lose while this other player had his four bongs? Am I correct in assuming that you joined the sporting majority in playing double-doubles?”

“Well, not right away,” she hedged, “but when I saw my rush was continuing, and Sammy Cohen and Nate Shapiro both wanted to play double-doubles, and they’re both good Yiddishe bochers …”

“‘Double, double, toil and trouble,’” quoth Amy, displaying her Vassar education. Aunt Sophie and I both ignored the interruption.

“Jewish they may be,” I supplied, “but hardly ‘good.’ I doubt you’ve ever see either inside a shul. And with Jack M’Dack dealing … Tell me, dear heart, how much did you lose?”

“Well,” Aunt Sophie procrastinated, “a stack doesn’t last long at double-doubles.”

“How much?” I persisted.

“Oh dear,” Aunt Sophie ventured, “ten stacks. What would my Max have said if he had ever caught me losing that much?”

“Two thousand dollars!” I exclaimed, followed by a gasp from the Vassarette. “Which of them took off the chips?”

“Nate Shapiro,” responded Sophie, “won all the money. He was the one who had four specials.”

Playing at the Pasatiempo

“Aunt Sophie,” I gently recommenced, “you may recall during an earlier conversation upon the subject nearest and dearest to your heart you asked me about cheating in pan, and I responded with a discourse upon that bending of the rules that seems to have become part of the game. I promised sometime to tell you about the ‘real’ cheating. I’m afraid you ran into it before I could fully arm you. Of course, I did warn you about playing at the Pasatiempo. In case you’re wondering why Sammy Cohen and Nate Shapiro absent themselves not only from the synagogue, but also are never seen playing in other than the Pasatiempo Club, it’s because they’re barred everywhere else. I don’t know; maybe Rabbi O’Rourke has barred them from shul, also. And Jack M’Dack. He does business with any thief that’ll give him a piece of the action. His shtick is slugging the pan deck. Whenever a special is thrown in after a hand, or when he can cull those cards together, he carries them intact during the shuffle, and carefully places them in such a way that whoever he’s working with gets those cards. And it looks like it was Nate Shapiro this time, although Nate and Sammy undoubtedly were working together. No wonder they were so eager to play double-doubles: all the faster to get your money.”

Nu,” murmured Aunt Sophie, “so how can I get my money back?”

“Yes,” interjected Amy, “that’s terrible, that they cheat in those places. She should go to the police.”

“Unfortunately,” I sympathized, “she can’t. She has no proof. Jack was in possession of no cheating devices. Nate and Sammy likewise had no illegal equipment. Years ago a man could get shot for wearing a holdout machine. Even now you sometimes see advertisements for such things in the guise of ‘magic tricks,’ but that’s strictly for suckers trying to bilk their friends in ‘friendly’ home games. A knowledgeable thief wouldn’t be caught dead with such a thing nowadays — or maybe he would be caught dead! But the average thief has one or two moves — sleight of hand involving nothing literally mechanical — and usually he’s working with somebody. In this case, Jack M’Dack always needs a confederate among the players, and furthermore he can only deal in a house that isn’t too careful about noticing such chicanery, in this case, the Pasatiempo. I guarantee Phyllis would never let him into the Bike, nor would he be hired at just about any other club in the L.A. area. They might not know him in the Central Valley, but I know that he’s already run out of places to deal in in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

No recourse

“Well,” Aunt Sophie continued, “if I have no recourse, what can I do to protect myself?”

“I think she should sue,” insisted my intended dream date.

“She’d never win,” I sighed. “No, you already know one thing. Don’t play in clubs like the Pasatiempo. A joint usually earns its bad reputation. Learn about players like Sammy Cohen and Nate Shapiro, and dealers like Jack M’Dack. And watch for their moves. When the cards are thrown in, a good pan dealer separates like cards. You’ll often see a dealer take several valle spades and insert one of each into the deck as it leans against the block, each separated some distance from the other. That’s in addition to performing a good shuffle. If a dealer on the other hand seems never to separate those specials, and in fact even may deliberately scoop them up together, watch out. And if those things are happening and one player seems to be getting a lot of big hands, get up. Don’t make a fuss; just leave. Forget about any money you might have lost, and be happy you have sense enough not to lose any more.”

“But,” persisted the harridan, “shouldn’t she at least complain to the management?”

“Won’t do any good,” I retorted. “Any place that has a dealer and two thieves working together, the house already knows about it. In the worst case, she might not be safe walking out to the parking lot. In the best, the manager would just insist she must be mistaken, or promise to keep an eye out and if he saw something, to put a stop to it. Of course, he never would. No, Aunt Sophie, you shouldn’t be in there in the first place. But if you are in a strange place and you see that kind of stuff going on, just get the hell out. And play only in places that you know are clean.”

You’re wondering, of course, what happened to the young lady. Sophie continued to ask for advice on detecting pan thievery, the while plying me with postprandial delectations in the form of chocolate mousse, café filtre, and Metaxa Seven-Star. Aunt Sophie could talk about pan all night, while I was of a mind to humor her for as long as she wished. Eventually the lady got bored and quietly slipped off into the night. Aunt Sophie didn’t notice, and I was not displeased at the withdrawn threat to my celibacy.

Next 008 Aunt Sophie learns about etiquette


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