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.
Aunt Sophie’s kindness is repaid
“Come in,” rang out a familiar voice through the door, “it’s open.”
When I got the dreaded 24-hour flu not too long ago, Aunt Sophie came to minister to my inner needs with her excellent cooking. Now it was my turn. Aunt Sophie had caught the same disease, possibly from me, although I had not permitted her to remain within breathing distance of me for more than a few minutes when I was sick.
Jewish soul food
I had stopped at Canter’s, the best deli this side of Barney Greengrass at 86th and Amsterdam in New York City. It’s in L.A., on Fairfax above Farmer’s Market, and sells the best corned beef on onion roll you’ve tasted outside of the Big Apple. My arms were loaded with bags of Jewish soul food, plus two six packs of Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry and Cel-Ray sodas. I had even managed to find a bottle of Himbeersaft concentrate to mix with Canada Dry sparkling water.
I loaded the fridge, and walked into the living room, where Aunt Sophie lay on a day bed, bundled in a hand-knit blanket, watching the tape she had made of “Tales from the City.”
She looked up wearily, and said, “Nu, tsatskeleh, you’re all well now?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I only had that flu for 36 hours. I don’t imagine you’ll have it much longer. And how do you feel?”
“Well,” Aunt Sophie returned, “I’ve felt better. What do you have there?”
“Here,” I said, “is a corned beef sandwich from Canter’s, still hot. And I mixed up some Himbeersaft for you. And if you’re hungry later, I put a bunch of other stuff in the fridge.”
“Dollink,” Aunt Sophie ventured, “you’re a jewel, and it’s so kind of you to bring me those things, but could you just give me maybe a glazel varmss? I got no appetite, but some Cinnamon Rose maybe I can force down.”
“Of course,” I threw back over my shoulder as I headed for the kitchen to put a kettle on. “And then you can have the sandwich. If it’s not hot, I can put it in the microwave.” I returned in a few minutes with a steaming, steeping cup.
Aunt Sophie pressed the mute button on the clicker. “Oy, Dollink,” she continued, “I’m so sick. I really don’t think I’m long for this world. Soon maybe I’ll join your Uncle Max.”
“Aunt Sophie!” I admonished, “you just have a little flu. I know you feel awful now, but by tomorrow night it should be gone. You’re not going to die from this.”
“From this,” she resumed, “maybe not. But I’m talking how I’m getting that arthritis in my hands. And my eyes are getting worse. Maybe I’m getting cataracts, or glaucoma.”
“Aunt Sophie,” I interrupted, “you just had a thorough eye test a few weeks ago. The only thing wrong was you needed a new prescription for eyeglasses, and that wasn’t surprising, since you hadn’t been in for a checkup in a year. At our age, you know, we need to have our eyes checked once a year.”
“‘At our age!’“ she scoffed. “Listen to him. I’m old enough to be your mother. And I am your aunt. That’s the problem. I’m old, and I’m just getting tired of life. I got nothing left to live for.” She fixed a bleary eye on me. “And it doesn’t seem likely there will be another generation for a comfort in my old age.”
Looking for sympathy
I could see now that Sophie was just looking for sympathy, a not-unreasonable request in her present condition. I understood, having just been through it. “Just relax,” I soothed. “Your tea has cooled down enough to drink. I’ll go heat up the sandwich in a bit. You’ll feel better with a little food in you.”
“You didn’t have to get me all that stuff,” she insisted. “And look where you went. Canter’s, of all places! I never go there; it’s too expensive.”
I thought I better cut off her complaining. “Remember you asked me,” I began, “about manufacturing in the pan game?”
Aunt Sophie’s eyes brightened considerably. “Yeah?” she queried. “What about it?”
Now I knew I had her. Soon she would forget all about dying. “The possibility of manufacturing,” I resumed, “might influence your decision whether or not to play a hand in a marginal situation. Remember, these are those situations you have to be very careful about. Most pan players, you included, find too many excuses to play too many hands. I’m referring here to a truly marginal situation. A fairly tough position is first to declare when everybody else but you and him have thrown in. You know he knows that it’s just you left, and you believe he thinks of you as an extremely loose player. He probably thinks you’ll play almost anything, so his hand, while not extremely good, is not completely hopeless either. He’s not trying just to steal the tops, because he thinks you’ll come in on just about anything. He doesn’t realize that you’ve been trying to improve your play, and are no longer `Mrs. Automatic’ every hand.”
“Right,” she interjected, “I’ve been listening to you.”
“In a situation like that,” I went on, “or the situation in which you’re next to last to declare and no one has opened, you can afford to play some marginal hands. Hands that would never be playable from early position, or to get in with when others have declared. I’m thinking about something like two ropes and a pair, none of them made. Possibilities for pay, maybe, not a hand you can put out quickly, but likely to be better than the hand the last player would get on the average. If a player in last position plays every hand when you open just ahead of him, then such a hand is better than average. Now, if the hand were just two ropes, you wouldn’t play. But let’s say you have a chance for manufacturing, then that might be just enough to swing you in the direction of playing the hand.
“For example, you have four-five-six of clubs, two kings, and nothing much else. Much as you’d like, if the tough player declares on your left, or if you’re first and only the player on your right remains, you should pass up that hand. It’s not worth a shot on the tops for a piece of cheese like that. But, all that it might take to make the hand playable is the addition of an odd three of any suit other than clubs, particularly if you notice that threes have been running. Now look what happens. If the three of clubs comes along, put down the four-five with it. If another three comes along, you can put down the six of clubs, and see what you’ve done? You manufactured threes, starting with only one of them. And why didn’t you put down all of the club run to begin with? Two reasons. One, if another six of clubs comes along, you put it on the run, and now you’ve manufactured a comoquing pair. If one more six of clubs comes, you’ve got three of them, for a pay. Two, and this is more subtle, you want your opponent to think you’re playing absolute garbage. Let him think that that three-card rope is all you’ve got. Of course, if a king now comes along, you snap it up as fast as you can. Your opponent still thinks that you’re no more than six-card flat, but, in fact, with the three in your hand, you’re on another pair, and any noncomoquing three puts you nine-card flat with a pay. Now, don’t get me wrong. Adding a three to the original hand does not change it from a bad hand to a good hand. It can, however, provide just enough more to make the hand marginally playable in the situations I described.”
Aunt Sophie sat up, holding the blanket about her gold lame dressing gown. “You mean,” she demanded, “some of those hands I been throwing away when it’s down to just two I should have been playing?”
“Oh dear,” I sighed. “You haven’t lost much by not playing those hands. Remember I said that for most pan players it’s much easier to find excuses to play hands than to throw them away. The difference between playing and not playing one of those hands is close. If you don’t play, all you lose is your ante chip, and, potentially, a percentage of the tops and of a few chips you might get from one opponent based on how often you put out the hand. If your opponent plays anything in that spot, you might win as much as 60% of those hands — although I doubt the figure’s that high.” As I talked, I walked into the kitchen, removed the meat from the sandwich, and put it on a glass plate, which I popped into the microwave. I raised my voice a bit, to carry to her ears. “But say it is, then that represents 20% of the tops, plus maybe 20% of an average of three more chips. For seven players, that’s two chips, probably less. And remember, the house gets either one or two of those chips. And you might toke the dealer a chip if you win. You’re not hurting yourself by not playing those hands. I was just trying to give you an added perspective on the game. You’re not going to get very many good hands, and so it helps to know what to do with the bad ones. Most of them you throw away. A few you can reassess.”
I brought the sandwich in. She picked it up and eyed it critically. “Look at this,” she accused. “From the most expensive deli in town, and look how much fat.” The bite she took indicated little actual objection to the condition of what I knew to be the best sandwich in L.A., outside of maybe one of her own. I could tell the illness was breaking.