Wiesenberg (s020 pan): Sophie and the diet

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 and the quick-weight-gain diet

“Dollink, line one,” boomed over the loudspeaker. The shift boss on days at the Anaheim Club had a sense of humor that extended to gentle needling. I hurried to the courtesy phone before he could say it again.

“Dollink,” said a familiar voice, “come over for dinner when you’re done for the afternoon.”

“Aunt Sophie,” I replied, “it’s not Shabbas, nor even yontif. Why are you inviting me over for dinner.”

“Aren’t you just looking for an excuse to get out of that miserable game?” she accused.

“Well,” I returned, “that’s certainly true. “Is there someone else there for me to meet?” I continued suspiciously.

Bubeleh,” she sighed, “I know I’m never going to have grandnephews and -nieces if you don’t meet some nice young lady, and you’re never going to meet one in a cardroom. Nonetheless, I’m not going to risk alienating you by surprising you with an accidental meeting at a dinner at my apartment. This is just dinner for you and me. And if you feel like talking about pan, that’s fine. It’s fine if you don’t, too.”

“Okay, Aunt Sophie,” I concluded, “just checking. I’ll be right over.”

I picked my few chips up from the table, and cashed out. It was already getting dark and a brisk wind set leaves and torn-up lottery tickets swirling through the parking lot as I headed for the Biarritz.

Aunt Sophie met me at the door of her apartment, wearing an apron lettered, “Kiss me; I’m Yiddish.” Amazing smells beckoned me inward. Barley soup, brisket, fresh-baked bread, and something chocolaty and fruity.

“Sit down,” Aunt Sophie invited. “The dinner is already on the table.”

I did not have to be asked a second time. Soup was at my place, along with a glass of golden wine. In an ice-filled antique silver cooler at mid-table reposed a recently-opened bottle of Dr. Thanisch. No treacly Manischewitz Concord Grape would be forced upon me at this table. Aunt Sophie passed a plate containing slices of La Petite Boulangerie sourdough, the perfect accompaniment for her delectable barley soup.

“What’s the difference between cheating in pan and cheating in poker?” she began.

“Why do you ask?” I cautiously inquired.


“Because,” Aunt Sophie urged, “you said you’d get into more about cheating in pan. I read an article from a writer who said if it’s okay to play a hand with too many cards in pan, it’s okay in the poker game, if you can get away with it.”

“Oh dear,” I sighed. “I read that same article a long time ago in what was then known as a reputable gaming publication. I didn’t want to get into that. Knowingly playing too many cards in a poker game is always cheating, whether you get caught or not. And even if the management doesn’t catch you, if anyone sees the move it’s really bad for your reputation. And a good reputation is one of the most important things a professional poker player can have. Of course, this fellow was not really a professional poker player; no one could make a living at $2 and $4 poker. Nonetheless, he was offering gratuitous advice, which, since it appeared in the pages of a respectable gambling publication took on the guise of official sanction and acceptance, and I’m afraid that if everyone adopts it, we’ll end up with clubs full of players making questionable moves at best, and out-and-out cheating at worst.”

I reluctantly put aside my second bowl of soup, which Aunt Sophie replaced with her own creation, something called “Tipsy Brisket.” That was your usual brisket simmered for hours in its own sauce, livened up by the addition of a cup of beer. This too was immeasurably improved when served with the sourdough. Steamed broccoli and boiled small red potatoes completed the dish.

“So how come,” she queried, “it’s okay in pan?”

“Well, now,” I proffered, “there’s the rub. In pan it’s not considered cheating. There it’s considered `bending the rules.’ And, in fact, it’s not even that. There are no real pan rules, at least not covering those actions. Somehow there seems to have grown up with pan a tradition of allowing players to get away with certain things that are never permitted in other games. Pan has been called `The Backward Game.’ Players act in reverse order from almost any other game. They play their cards face up. At the end of a hand, they throw them away face up. Except for the ones originally dealt them, they never, ever put cards in their hands. They often don’t play in turn. Perhaps because of that kind of tradition the rules receive a strange interpretation. Most pan players think that the rules of pan permit them to get away with whatever they can get away with. I happen to disagree, but there’s how it seems to work.”

I finished the main course, and discovered the source of the fruity, chocolaty smell. Aunt Sophie brought in a chocolate-mousse-like cake covered with chocolate cream sauce, and spooned raspberry sauce over the whole thing. “You remember my cousin Moishe?” she asked. “The one who owned the movie theater in Vienna? He sold it when he came to the States, and invested the money in a computer firm, Moon Microsystems, or something. Anyway, he made a killing, and is now worth a considerable amount. For my birthday he gave me a year of the Dessert of the Month. Each month a different dessert comes in the mail. This one is Chocolate Decadence.”

Too many cards

She gave me freshly brewed coffee along with the dessert. “A player gets dealt a terrific hand,” I went on, “and declares in. Halfway through the play he discovers he has too many cards. The penalty for getting caught with too many cards is being forced to discard the hand, pay back all he has collected, and `pay through,’ that is, continue to make payouts to all entitled to collect, right until the player who goes out makes his final collection. Pretty severe penalty. If he can `get rid of’ his extra card without anyone seeing, there’s no penalty. Or, to put it another way, if he gets caught discarding twice in one round, the penalty is the same as if he announces he has too many cards. So why not try? In fact, many pan players claim that even dropping a card on the floor in such a situation is okay as long as you don’t get caught. I happen not to agree.

“I think the clubs ought to get together and standardize their pan rules just as they are doing with poker rules. I think that the penalty ought to remain the same for having too few or too many cards during play, and the penalty ought to be worse for double discarding or dropping a card on the floor. Maybe banishment from the pan game for 24 hours. That would certainly cure a lot of pangoofies of those bad habits. I believe that the rules bending is sanctioned only because no one has written down the official pan rules.

“It’s hard enough to beat a pan game without worrying about whether another player is discarding twice in one round. Of course, what lets them get away with it is that the dealer is not permitted to foul a player’s hand. Only another player can call attention to one of these cheating moves. In a poker game, however, it’s certainly permissible for the house dealer to call a player on having too many cards, or to announce that a player has dropped a card on the floor. Just changing that one supposedly official rule — that the dealer can’t foul a player’s hand — would cure most of the hanky panky. And then players would be a lot more careful to do what they should right now as a matter of course. Before picking up any cards, each player should count his or her cards to make sure there are precisely ten. That would eliminate 90% of the problem situations, and the dealer being permitted to enforce reasonable rules would solve almost everything else. As soon as the players start lobbying for reasonable rules, the clubs will put them in. This wholesale license to cheat is unfair to beginners, and fosters a bad attitude among pan players in general, some of whom bring it to the poker tables.”

Next: 021 Aunt Sophie feels the weight


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