Wiesenberg (s025 pan): Sophie throws a party

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Card 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 throws a party

“Why do pan players treat beginners so shabby?” demanded Aunt Sophie.

A strolling quartet played unobtrusive Bach while she and I sat observing the party guests in the game room of her apartment building. Through the sliding glass windows we could see fat raindrops disturbing the surface of the illuminated pool. Beyond the ten-foot hedges that shielded the area from passers-by, wind-whipped palm trees bespoke an unusual cold January Southern California night. A roaring fire in the hearth behind us kept it cheery inside.

“The cynical viewpoint,” I replied, “would be that pan players want to discourage newcomers, that they can tolerate only other seasoned complainers.”

A waiter came by with a bottle of Dr. Thanisch, refilling my half-full glass. A plate on my lap held the remains of the roast duckling in orange sauce I had just enjoyed.

“But,” I continued, “why do you ask?”


“Because,” she explained, “I read recently in PAN PLAYER+ a writer complaining about a dealer helping a player in the pai gow poker game, and how, if that happened in a pan game, all the players would be `outraged.’”

“Yes,” I said, grabbing a slice of Palo Alto Prolific Oven plum tart proffered on a tray by a perambulating waitress, “I saw that too. And it just reminded me of how pan players in general act. They are completely intolerant of beginners. You probably remember the first time you sat down to a pan game. I don’t know how anyone ever gets the nerve up to play in the second session. If a newcomer holds up the action for a second trying to decide what card to discard after getting hit, some oldtimer invariably yells, `Cahmon, piss er get off the pot,’ or, `What’s takin so long? We’re all waitin fer ya.’ And heaven forbid the beginner should ask the dealer for help in making a decision. `I’m sorry, sir or madam, I’m not allowed to tell you how to play your hand. If you ask me, I can tell you how much a card is worth when it hits or how much your hand is worth when you go out, but I can’t tell you how to play.’ What kind of a rule is that? And I’m not even so sure it’s a rule. I’ve certainly never seen it written down.”


“Yah,” interjected Aunt Sophie, “but the beginners do slow down the game.”

“Of course they do,” I riposted, “but not for long. We were all beginners once, and we all learned. You play pan partly for social reasons, I know, but you’d also like to make money, wouldn’t you?”

“Sure, but …” she ventured.

“Of course you would,” I went on. “And if you play against only the steifspielers because you’ve driven all the beginners out, who ya gonna beat? Be nice to beginners. They have money that’s much easier to win than somebody like Marty Goldlum. Let them ask the dealer for advice once in a while. They won’t abuse it. They’ll make a lot of decisions themselves, particularly if they feel at ease because the so-called experts aren’t rushing them. And yet they won’t make as good decisions as the seasoned players, but they will keep playing because they don’t feel threatened, and they’ll supply money to the good players. So what if the dealer helps out once in a while? Most of the dealers don’t know the best decision in close calls, anyway. Most dealers are notoriously bad players. They get so impatient behind the block that when they sit down they play every hand. Or maybe they get glassy-eyed from seeing the dummies put out pisser after pisser, and figure they can catch some of that luck too.”

“Okay,” Aunt Sophie opined, “I can see the players treating the beginners nicely, but maybe that guy has a point when he says the dealers shouldn’t help out. I’m thinking of the example he gave of the pai gow poker dealer who told a player how to play a hand. If he hadn’t given the advice, the writer’s friend would have won a huge pot, but, with the advice, he just pushed.”

“You can’t possibly make a case,” I rejoined, “from one example. First off, the guy wasn’t necessarily going to make a bad decision. As I recall, he was going to play king-jack up front and two pair behind, and the dealer had him split the pair. The guy was gambling, thought he’d take a chance on possibly winning both hands, with otherwise a real good shot at a push. The dealer counseled him to make the more conservative play of a pair in each hand, and it just so happened that the banker had two pair behind and ace up front. The dealer’s advice may not have been all that good, but, in any case, if it was, the banker was upset because he supposedly played his hand against an `expert’ instead of the novice. And why should that make him angry? He should be glad about taking advantage of a beginner? Oh yeah, it’s money they’re playing for. Anything that wins is okay, including taking advantage of the beginners. See, the guy wasn’t upset because his skill didn’t win, but because he didn’t have the opportunity of winning by capitalizing on someone’s supposed mistake. The writer made a point of saying that was a beginner, but that the beginner shouldn’t have got the dealer’s help because he wouldn’t have got it in a pan game. And what I’m saying is it’s that sort of attitude that keeps more people from jumping into the pan game, which, in the long run, actually hurts those who are in it for the money they can make. But, in answer to your original question, I don’t know why pan players treat beginners so poorly. I guess it’s because they’re in such a hurry. To go where, I don’t know. I suppose so they can play more hands. It probably comes down to all pan players secretly want to play every hand.”

Next: 026 Aunt Sophie gets a divorce


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