Wiesenberg (s015 pan): Sophie makes a marginal play

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.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie makes a marginal play

“More fajitas?” offered Aunt Sophie.

“Please,” I replied. “And some more of the guacamole, if you don’t mind.”

The cardroom action slows down considerably from about 4:30 to 7 p.m., and so we were taking a dinner break at Los Pobres, a five-table Mexican place distinguished solely by the quality of its food.

“Last week,” she remarked, “you said you might tell me how I decide whether or not to play a marginal hand when there might be a few players in the hand.”

Whether or not to play

“Aunt Sophie,” I sighed, “can’t we enjoy a meal without thinking about pan?”

Tsatskeleh,” Sophie cajoled, “who better for me to ask for advice than you? And when do I see you except meals? Not very often, and so I have to take advantage of our time together.”

“There is no free lunch,” I muttered.

“Listen, Dollink,” she responded, “I know you can afford your own meals, and I also know how you’d be having them if I didn’t take you out once in awhile. Alone, that’s how, and likely greasy cardroom food because you wouldn’t want to take the trouble to go to a nice place. Or maybe to come over to me sometimes for a kosher meal.”

“Right you are, Aunt Sophie,” I admitted, “and I certainly do enjoy your company. And your cooking. And your ability to find these wonderful little out-of-the-way surprise places. So please ignore my occasional lapses into grumpiness and I’ll be glad to answer your questions.”

“Before you answer the question,” Sophie interjected, “I’ll tell you something interesting. You remember Bernie Schwartz?”

“Yes,” I answered, “he’s the president of the congregation, and he’s also a regular in your pan games. Once in awhile he gets into the 20-40 lowball, so that’s how come he knew me.”


“Right,” continued Aunt Sophie, “last week at shul he begged us not to tell anyone else in the congregation that we knew him. The $5 pan game we were in broke up early yesterday, so he asked me to have a drink with him at the bar. I think he was trying to make sure I’d keep my promise. Anyway, he bought me a drink at the bar, and we talked for a while. He explained how pan is his relaxation, but that the members of the congregation wouldn’t understand, particularly with his being the president and all, and not only that, he’s always the one in charge of all the fund-raising drives. Of course, I said that I understood perfectly, and that I was sure that you did, too, and he seemed much relieved, and said he’d see us both in a couple of weeks at Yom Kippur services. So I think we should go.”

“Aunt Sophie,” I assented, “I used to go to every service, Shabbat, all the yamim tovim, with Uncle Max. And I know that the High Holiday Services are special to you. Of course I’ll be glad to go with you. I don’t think we have to be there when the doors open, though.”

“Dollink,” she gushed, “thank you. We don’t have to be there the whole time, either. But I would like to be around for the memorial service.”

“Certainly,” I agreed. “And now, about your question. I see that you’re still trying to find excuses for playing those marginal hands.”

“Well,” she temporized, “you gave me a lot of good advice on what hands to play when there were a lot of declarers or when I was first to play, but you didn’t go into what to do when it’s just me and one or two others, or someone in late position has declared and maybe picked up one hitchhiker and it’s up to me. That situation comes up an awful lot, and…”

Swim the river

“And,” I filled in, “you’re playing in too many of those and losing money.” Sophie signalled the waitress to refill our sangria pitcher, and I helped myself before continuing. “I know, I know; it’s boring sitting around waiting for hands, watching the others play all the hands. So, you know how to evaluate your hand in those situations in which you need good cards, but you’re not sure what to do the times when you obviously don’t need as good a hand. Well, your reputation is such that you’re not going to be hurt by playing a few less hands; even if you wait for slightly better cards to get in, they’ll still likely swim the river to get in with you. But, anyway, here are a few hints on how to evaluate the marginal hands.”

“Just what I need,” she beamed.

“Say you have a very iffy hand. Two loose players in the last two positions ahead of you have come in. You know that the declarer plays everything, and that the other came in because he, too, knows that. Maybe the second player is either on a rush, and likely also to play anything, or stuck and just as likely to play anything. You have something like four or five pairs, maybe some of them are comoquers, not a hand you’d normally play, but under these circumstances, truly marginal. Whether you do end up playing or not you can base on a couple of things. Watch what’s running. That’s really important. If threes and fives are two of your pairs, and threes and fives are running, that might be just enough to get you in. But if they’re not running, you might decide to stay out. Pay attention to the dealer’s idiosyncrasies, particularly shuffling. Does he disperse the valles and spades throughout the portion of the deck he has yet to shuffle? Does he distribute them just in part of the deck, and is that part going to come out soon, or not? Does he just scoop up the cards after the players throw them in, and, because he’s always so far behind the action, that he doesn’t get a chance to separate those key cards? If that’s the case, you can often determine where they’ll end up. Watch how he clumps the sections of the deck he shuffles. You might be able to tell when the cards you need will come out, even if they haven’t been running.” I paused for a sip of sangria.

He?” she rumbled ominously.

“I know, I know,” I placated. “Pan dealers can as easily be women as men. And I’m as much for women’s rights as you are. It’s just that it’s too hard to keep saying `he or she’ all the time, and, although some publications insist on `s/he,’ that’s not something you can say in casual conversation. Well, where was I? Oh, yeah; watch what’s running, particularly if the way the dealer shuffles and deals might affect that. There are other criteria you can use, too, but I’ll get into them another time.”

“And so now,” Aunt Sophie concluded, “I can have a reason for playing some of those leaky peekers.”

Next: 016 Aunt Sophie gets spiritual help


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