Wiesenberg (s026 pan): Sophie gets a divorce

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.

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Black and white photo of Michael Wiesenberg

Michael Wiesenberg

Aunt Sophie gets a divorce

The rain in Southern California is not like the Midwest. In the flat Central States, when it rains, it pours. The rain comes down so heavily you can’t stay out in it without getting soaked. It’s not like the Southwest, either, Texas in particular, where the ground gets soggy because the water table is so near the surface.

Not proper rain, an East Coast transplant might complain. Back East, when it rains, you know it. Not here.

In Southern California, when it rains, sometimes you can hardly tell. The rain often falls into one of two categories: you can see it through the window but when you go outside you can’t feel it; you can feel it but you can’t really see it. A fine mist in the air sometimes better describes the latter condition.

This general wetness had been continuing more or less steadily for weeks. It kept the bums out of the culverts and the invisible people out of the dry washes that sometimes they inhabited, because now the dry washes with names like Puta Creek and San Diegisquito Creek were not dry, and the winos out of doorways.

Seeking shelter

The parking lot of the Pasatiempo Club was filled with cars, unusual for a winter weekday midmorning, but the miserable weather had sent them in seeking shelter from the penetrating damp. Street people tried to look like cardroom bums, generally with success. In a beatup ‘69 Chevy in a far corner of the lot, two young longhairs shared a joint, while listening on the radio to the Doors singing “Riders on the Storm.” (“There’s a killer on the road/His mind is squirming like a toad…”)

The air inside was heavy and damp. I sat alone at a small table against the far wall of the lounge, not wanting to make a play, reluctant to get out into the depressing grayness. A familiar voice, laced with urgency, promised distraction from the stultifying atmosphere.

“Dollink,” began my Aunt Sophie, “how long do I gotta stay married?”

“I didn’t know you were contemplating another commitment,” I replied.


“No,” she returned, “I mean in the pan game. I remember you told me about not splitting and saving, and I wanted to follow your advice. I’ve been splitting tops with Marvin Lieberman for about a year now, and I just now realized he’s getting all the best of it. That steifspieler never gets in unless he’s got a patsy and almost a dropout. Which means he doesn’t play very many hands. Which means that I’m feeding him a lot more chips than he does me. I probably play twice as many hands as he does, even since I’m playing a lot better which means a lot fewer hands since you’ve been telling me what hands to play, which means for every time he splits tops with me I split twice with him.”

“Well, of course,” I agreed. “It’s greatly to a tight player’s advantage to split with a more liberal player. Even better for him is if he also pushes antes with the loose player, because there he gets the benefit of the loose player getting into a lot of hands and consequently winning more total hands than he does, even if his ratio of hands played to hands won is much more favorable than the more liberal player’s.”

“Oh, yes,” she continued, “we do that too. Anyway, the other day I got to thinking about it, like you said, and I realized that I’ve practically been supporting him all this time. And so I said, `Marvin, I don’t want to split any more and I don’t want to push antes,’ and he said, `Sophie, once you’re married, you gotta stay married.’ And by that he meant that we couldn’t quit this arrangement since we’d been doing it so long. And he’s costing me money in another way, too. Whenever some of the players start playing doubles, he insists that him and I play doubles too, and when I say I’m not ready to play doubles, again he says to me, `Once you’re married, you gotta stay married.’ I don’t want to play doubles with him any more. He hardly ever plays a hand, and when he does and I’m in it it costs me far more than it costs him when he’s in a hand with me. I don’t wanna play doubles with him, I don’t wanna split, I don’t wanna push antes. How do I get out of it?”

“Get a divorce,” I responded.

“Very funny,” she sniffed, “but that doesn’t help my situation.”


“No, no,” I went on, “I’m serious. The next time he says that about staying married, tell him you want a divorce. Kid about it. Say it with a smile in your voice, but be like the tiger, with teeth behind the smile. Be firm in your resolve. There’s absolutely nothing that says you have to stay married to someone, particularly in a pan game. Remember that splitting is good for the house, because fewer hands played out means more hands dealt per hour and more tops to go into the box, and good for the tight players who arrange to split with the loose players. It’s not good for the liberal players who get talked into the arrangement. He knows you get into far more pots than he, so he sits on your left. If you weren’t splitting, he couldn’t afford to declare everytime it’s just him and you left, because his cards don’t meet his minimum playing requirements that often. Better he is guaranteed half the tops each time in that situation. If there’s a tight player sitting behind you, and he’s first to open when just you and the tight player remain to declare, he couldn’t come in on too many of those. But now he knows that anytime he declares, you get in, and the tight player doesn’t, he’ll split with you. He knows the tight player, on the other hand, won’t come in very often when he declares and you also come in, which he figures, correctly, is most of the time. So he declares with much less of a hand than he would if he weren’t splitting, knowing that most of the time he’ll just be splitting the tops with you. This is almost a bluff, about as close as you can get to one in pan. And as for pushing antes with you, that’s a play that the sharpies like to pull in all games, not just pan. The guy that doesn’t play too many hands makes the arrangement with someone who’s in almost everytime. The sucker likes it, because he is associated with a winning player, and because it doesn’t hurt him to give up a chip when he wins a pot, and he doesn’t realize how much it costs him overall to make that kind of arrangement. The sucker goes for it also because of reasoning if his `partner’ goes on a rush, he’ll get hurt less by it since he receives part of the proceeds. He just doesn’t realize that he wins more total hands than the tight player, even if the tight player wins a far greater percentage of the hands he plays.”

“But he’ll tell me,” objected Aunt Sophie, “that we can’t get a divorce. He’ll say something to embarrass me.”

“Be firm, my dear,” I offered. “What’s he gonna do, beat you up?”

“He better not!” she exclaimed. “I’ll just tell him, `I don’t split or save no more — especially with a wife beater!’”

Next: 027 Aunt Sophie gets a heart


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