Wiesenberg (s008 pan): Sophie learns about etiquette

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 learns about etiquette

“Tell me about etiquette at the pan table, Dollink,” said my Aunt Sophie, pouring me a double cappuccino.”

“Do you mean,” I requested, “like the mucker saying ‘Throw them underhanded’ when an angry player pitches in his cards a bit too forcefully at the end of a hand?”

“Not exactly,” she replied. “The players I’m with regularly get into a lot of arguments.”

So little patience

“Ah yes,” I observed. “One player yells, ‘No calling for cards.’ Another has so little patience he hits the deck before the player on his right has a chance to discard.”

Sophie ran into the kitchen, reappearing momentarily with a plate of her homemade sacher torte.

“That’s it, Dollink,” she went on. “There are rules of conduct for poker games, but no one seems to know the proper way to act at the pan table.”

“Well,” I hesitated, “I know how I would like players to comport themselves, but I don’t want to be laying down any universal laws.”

My cup was empty. Aunt Sophie disappeared again into the kitchen, whence emanated the sound of freshly roasted beans being ground, followed soon by the hiss of the espresso machine, and then a strange metallic sound, as of wires on a metal surface. Sophie emerged bearing a silver tray on which reposed a silver coffee urn, a silver pitcher full of steamed milk, a silver cocoa shaker, and a silver cup filled with freshly whipped real cream that explained the metallic whipping sounds I had just heard. She filled my cup halfway with coffee, the rest of the way with the steamed milk. Whipped cream she lathered on the top almost to the point of overflow, followed by several generous shakes of unsweetened cocoa.

Tsatskeleh,” Sophie laughed, “your opinions are worth more than anyone at the club. The only time a floorman says anything about the conduct of a pan game is to ask us to keep it down when we get a little too raucous. No floor person dares say anything about matters of courtesy in a pan game.”

Rules of conduct

“Of course not,” I ventured, “that’s because there are no official rules of conduct for pan games, and they don’t want to establish any precedent. Let me just talk off the top of my head, and come up with some ideas about how I think pan players ought to comport themselves.”

I took a sip of the scalding concoction. “First, a rule that has equal applicability in poker and pan games. In poker games, the house dealer usually tries to enforce the rule of players discarding in turn. In pan, that’s somewhat more complicated. If one player hasn’t yet discarded, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether or not the player to his right draws or not. Even if the player sees a card he needs, that probably won’t affect his discard, because he knows that another card of the same rank and suit might be coming shortly thereafter. And, players reason, if the action of one player behind him makes no difference, neither does that of the next player. Or the next. It only becomes critical when it is the turn of the player just to his left to draw. That player should wait until the player on his right has completed his play, because that obviously could affect the discard.

“For example. The player on your right has been hit on the board. He has four cards left in his hand, from which he must now discard one. He holds two fives of spades, and two queens. Does he keep the queens, which are much easier to hit? Or does he ‘go tough’ with the fives, hoping to hit a special? Maybe his decision is complicated by his having sixes and sevens on the board, and fives work better with them than queens. While he mulls over his decision, the action works its way back on around to him. Sure, he’s just naturally a slow player. You’re impatient, and you turn a card up from the deck. Well, if that card is the five of spades and you don’t have any fives on the board, that sure makes his decision easier. He’ll take a chance that you can’t use the five, and break his queens. Even worse, if you’re so impatient that you immediately discard that five of spades in disgust because you can’t use it, you’ve just given him a free shot on the card. Or, if you do use the card, he now knows that you’re stopping fives, and is better off staying with the queens.

“So, there are several sides with respect to the etiquette of this situation. The first and most obvious is, if it’s your turn, and the player on your right has not yet discarded, don’t you draw until he does. Even if you’re not going to hit the deck, that is, if the player on your left has discarded a card you want, don’t let on that you’re going to take that card until the player on your right has discarded.

“The other side of this coin is, don’t be that slow player for whom the others always have to wait, the one the action always seems to get back around to before you’ve discarded. Play faster, so that the action never–or hardly ever, anyway–gets back to you before you’ve completed your action. And on those rare occasions that it does, politely remind the player on your left that you haven’t yet discarded, and would he or she please wait a moment until you do. If you don’t abuse that privilege, the others won’t object.


“And here’s another aspect of the same situation. If the player to your right is one of those impatient types who never waits, even if reminded, and you see that the slowpoke to his right hasn’t yet discarded, you wait a moment until he does. That way speedy on your right can’t give anything away by drawing too soon. And if someone else tells you to hurry up, remind that person that the player two positions to your right has not yet discarded.”

“That seems pretty obvious,” Aunt Sophie observed, “but the pan players I know break the rule all the time.”

I put another slice of sacher torte on my plate. “That’s because,” I explained, “in poker it’s a rule, but in pan it’s not. In poker, it’s usually in the rule book. In fact, in many rule books it says that a player who allows two players to act behind him without stopping the action by calling `Time’ loses his action, is forced to stay with the draw he requested, etc. The house dealer enforces the rule. He asks players to act in turn. Most players realize that it’s not smart to give away their draw before all the players ahead of them have acted. In pan, it’s only common courtesy to wait your turn, but that rule is not written down anywhere, and no one knows how to enforce it. Pan is a different game from poker. It’s much faster. Play is for the most part open, and players don’t always realize how their draws affect the actions of other players. It’s easy for players to get ahead of themselves, to the point that sometimes two or three players act before one player has discarded. But the line should be drawn so that the action never gets back around to someone who hasn’t yet drawn.”

Hurry up

“Well,” admitted Aunt Sophie somewhat sheepishly, “I must admit that sometimes I am the one on whom they’re waiting. Sometimes I haven’t decided the best discard before the action is already back to me. And then the player on my left is yelling at me to hurry up.”

“Part of the courtesy,” I continued, “you asked me about consists of not yelling at a player having obvious difficulty with a discard.”

“Yes,” Aunt Sophie concluded, “and part of it that I will have to learn is to act more speedily.”

Next: 009 Aunt Sophie learns more about etiquette


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